Sunday, January 27, 2008

The islands between: Babuyanes

Located between the northern tip of Luzon and Taiwan and China mainland’s southern coast, the Dominicans saw the northern island groups of Babuyanes and Batanes as a convenient staging point for their dream of penetrating China, leading to its Christian conversion. But the process of settling and evangelizing the islands proved to be more difficult that imagined. Distance from the mainland, rough seas, and scarcity of resources forced the Dominicans to abandon the missions and then to take them up again.

Babuyanes’s first mention in colonial writing appears in Antonio Morga Sucesos de Islas Filipinas (1609). An oidor or alderman of the City of Manila, Morga launched an unsuccessful naval campaign against the Dutch fleet that threatened Manila in 1600. Engaging the Mauritius at sea off Fortune Island, the San Diego, which Morga captained sank to the briny depth, leaving questions about Morga’s naval experience and ability to command. Sucesos, a narrative of Spanish conquest of the Philippines, was probably written by Morga partly to exonerate himself from the debacle off Fortune Island. Despite the account’s intentions, it is valuable source of information about the Philippines, written by a layperson. In this book, Morga writes: "The Babuyanes consist of many but small islands, and they lie on the head or point of Cagayan Province inhabited by natives whose principal trade is to come to Cagayan in small vessels carrying pigs, chickens, provisions and ebony spears, to sell."

About two decades later (1619), the Babuyanes, which consisted of five large (Babuyan, Calayan, Dalupiri, Fuga and Camiguin) and many small islands were evangelized by the Dominicans. Fray Jerónimo Morer and Andrés Sanchéz are sent to the islands. They opened a mission dedicated to St. Ursula and the 10,000 virgins (Patroness of Cologne, Germany) which was accepted as a house of the order during this year (DNS 211).

Construction of the church and convent is attributed to Fr. Morer (Moder) the first Vicar or superior of the mission. The large convent intended as was a house for Dominicans intending to enter China. The convent also had a sanitarium for sickly missionaries. Stones and construction material are said to have come from Luzon.

Fr. Mateo Gonzales brought together the inhabitants of the neighboring islands to settled in Fuga in 1680. On 14 August 1685, An English frigate attacked the Babuyanes. Caught by surprise in the convent of St. Ursula were Frs. Jerónimo de Ulloa, vicar, Antonio de Seijas and Jacinto Sampar. The English pirates sacked the convent. Most of the inhabitants had sought refuge in the hills, but Fr. Ulloa was left behind. The pirates captured him, the other two Dominicans and some inhabitants who had remained in the settlement. The English demanded a ransom. Dominican writers do not say clearly who was responsible for the attack; later writers blame Koxinga or Dampier. However, Koxinga had died in 1661 in Formosa and the Dampier’s Cygnet did not enter Philippine waters until the following year.

The English attacked a second time after receiving the ransom but without releasing captives. Meanwhile, the Dominicans had been able to sent word to Cagayan for military assistance. Ultimately, the pirates tiring of the islands set free Fr. Seijas, who died shortly because of the pains inflicted on him during his captivity. Many years later, the Dominicans received word that Fr. Samper had been left by the English in Palawan (Paragua), where he died in the hand of other pirates.

In March 1686, the Cygnet under Capt. Swan with William Dampier on board set sail for the Philippines from Mexico. The Cygnet crossed the Pacific Ocean in a record time of seven weeks. By May , the Cygnet caught sight of Guam and dropped anchor to replenish food and water supply. In the years 1686 and 67, the Cygnet was in Philippine waters until it left in January 1688 for New Holland (Jakarta). Fom Dampier we find a description of the islands of Batanes and its inhabitants. The Cygnet had sailed south along to Mindoro and returned to the Bashee islands (i.e. Batanes). Then returning south, the Cygnet followed Luzon’s eastern coast and reache Mindanao, which it left in November 1687 (October, according to Dampier).

From the Babuyanes, the Dominicans in 1686, make a first attempt to evangelize the neighboring Batanes Islands. Fr. Mateo Gonzales traveled to Batanes to begin a mission but difficulties cause him to return to Babuyanes. Later, he brought Fr. Diego Piñero with him. Piñero stayed in Batanes and learnt the Ivatan language.

A congregation called by the Dominicans in 1688 decided, that despite setbacks they would Batanes. Once more Fr. Gonzales returned to Batanes accompanied by Fr. Gonzales and Rois, who succumb to illness. Fr. Piñero who has stayed all this time in Batanes left with a promise to return with more Dominicans.

By the early 1700s, Dominican presence in these northern island groups was firmly established. Fuga, Calayan and Batanes administered by small band of Dominicans who moved from island to island. In 1739, Frs. Manuel Yanes and Antonio Nuñez took charge of the Babuyanes. The believed it was to the advantage of the people that the residents of these islands to Cagayan in the mainland. In 1741and 42, residents of Babuyanes were transferred to an area between Iguig and Nassiping, at a town later called Amulung. Other settled in Camaliniugan, a few were scattered elsewhere in Cagayan Valley. Over time, many eventually returned to Fuga and Camiguin but at this time, the missions in the Babuyanes were apparently closed.

The closure of the Babuyanes mission and the house in Fuga is attributed to an epidemic that was decimating the population.

In 1719 and 1754, there were two more attempts to establish permanent missions in Batanes. Finally in 1783, the foundation of missions in Batanes and establishment of political rule in Batanes and the evangelization the northern islands, Babuyanes and Batanes, resumed. In the 17th and 18th centuries, these northern islands experienced sporadic attacks by Dutch, Chinese and southern raiders.

From 1896 to 98, during the Philippine Revolution, Dominican missionaries were forced to abandon their parishes. Babuyanes became a dependency of Appari and Claveria. In 1950, a separate diocese, Batanes-Babuyan, was created from Tuguegarao.

Hill Station: Baguio City

Although Baguio was already known to the Spaniards and it was, in faact, a Spanish report that confirmed the U.S.-Philippine Commission to go ahead and establish a hill station, it was the Americans who were reponsible for getting Baguio started.

Spaniards in the Highlands: But it was in Benguet’s capital La Trinidad that Spanish presence was most felt. Guillermo Galvey in one of his military expeditions between 1829 and 1839 discovered a flourishing community in La Trinidad of 500 dwellings and irrigated fields planted to gabi, camote and sugar cane. Galvey’s military campaign decimated the people reducing the dwellings to about 100 and the population estimated at contact to 2000 to 400.

The last decades of Spanish rule, saw La Trinidad converted to a hispanized small town of about 3000. The traditional shape of a colonial town took shape with a prominent church and attached convento dominating the plaza, a government tribunal, jail, school and teacher’s house. Private dwelling clustered around this nucleus. The military barracks, parade ground, armoru, district headquarters surrounded by a formal gardens and four general stores marked La Trinidad as a military establishment.

In time, La Trinidad’s salubrious climate convinced the miltiary of the importance of establishing a military sanatarium in the highland. Land was surveyed, plans drawn but in 1891, the project was cut short for some unexplained reason. Yet La Trinidad grew in fame as a healthful site. The government in Manila did improve the lodging at the tribunal, increased its boarding capacity so that in the later part of the 1890s, as many as forty to fifty military invalids were sent to recuperate. By 1897, capacity was increased to 300.

The news about La Trinidad was not limited to the military the lowland’s European population began trooping to Benguet. José Camps, an entrepreneur who owned a lodging in La Trinidad reported to the U.S. Philippine Commission on 26 July 1899 that his establishment was well patronized by wealthy lowlanders. Some remained for months attracted to the uplands bracing climate.

That same climate encouraged the planting of high-value “temperat” crops. A botanical garden of aesthetic and functional value was established in La Trinidad as a place for agricultural experimentation. In the 1870s, botanical and agricultural research was well underway and in the 1880s Gov. Gen. Valeriano Weyler ordered the development of a small military-agricultural colony near the cabecera. Attempts to develop plantations for coffee, tea and cacao in Benguet produced not as expected but substantial nonetheless. Mid-latitude vegetables and berries were introduced and European and Igorot farmers began to produced cabbages, peas, tomatoes, Irish potatoes, and other cool climate vegetables. Although some produce made their way to the Manila market most were consumed locally by the growing European population.

Americans in the Highlands: In the 20th century, the Cordillera was the scene of American interest. Protestant missionaries, notably Baptists, Methodists and Episcopalians, entered the Cordilllera to bring their own brand of Christianity. Establishing mission stations and schools, and teaching English, they penetrated communities that the Spanish friars had not touched.

American civil government brought democratic institutions and its iconic buildings to the Cordilleras: municipal halls, libraries, schools and hospitals. And an extensive road system to link the towns and settlements and circumvent the tortuous route up rivers.

But the center of American interest was Baguio, a settlement called by the Ibaloy inhabitants Kafagway. Here, the American colonial government would build a sanatarium. The impetus began within less than a year after the arrival of the Americans in 1898. The Schurman Commission began making inquiries about La Trinidad and the Spanish sanatarium there. Pivotal in the development of Baguio was Dean Worcester, who served as US-Philippine Commissioner from 1899 to 1913. Worcester had arrived earlier in the Philippines in the course of two zoological expeditions conducted between 1887 and 1893. He spent a total of three years in the Philippines and in 1892 was preparing for an expedition to Benguet to confirm reports of its extensive pine forest, temperate weather and occassional forts. But about of typhoid brought his plans to an abrupt end forcing him to return to the US. But six years later he was back as a member for the Schurman Commission. Worcester got hold of a Spanish report on Baguio in the government archives in Manila, which contained more technical data that he was able to assemble by interviewing Europeans who had visited the highlands. Returning to Washington in the winter of 1899-1900, he convinced Secretary of War Elihu Root to recommend the development of Baguio.

Following, Root’s verbal instruction the Taft Commission of 1900 appointed Worcester and Luke E. Wright as leaders of a special commitee on Benguet. Organizing and exploration party, a small contingent of American soldiers, army physicians, a Filipino metreologist, and the English engineer, H.L. Higgins who built the Manila-Dagupan railway accompanied the two commissioners on their trek to Benguet. The left on 1 August and upon arriving in the Cordillera stayed for a week. A meteorological station was set up which continued on functioning until the summer of 1901. The party stayed with Otto Scheerer in Baguio. This German planter and scholar had settled in Baguio in 1896. Returning to Manila, Worcester and Wright confirmed the Blanco report and recommendes Baguio as an ideal site for a hill station.

The government moved rapidly. Transportation was important. As the railroad has already been laid, studies were made if a railroad to Baguio was feasible. A new road, to complement the old Spanish trail that passed through Naguilian, Ilocos Sur, was planned. Intially called Benguet Road, it was to follow the course of the Bued River. This was recommended as the best and shortes route too for the railway. To prepare for the rail, a cart and wagon road to Baguio was necessary. Construction began in mid-January 1901 with Captain Mead as general supervisor. By July, the onset of the rainy season, Mead had completed a mere 10 kilometers. Reassigned to Manila as city engineer he was succeedd by N.M. Holmes who did not quite succeed in his task as torrential rain flooded the Bued, forcing Holmes to modify the route planned in earlier surveys. Despite Holmes’ labor force of 2000, he reported the completion of 18 kilometers. It was a long way to go. Complaints were heard about the extravagant waste of money, being poured into the Benguet Road.

Benguet Road is now known as Kennon Road, named after Major L.W. V Kennon, who assumed responsibility for the road project after Holmes’ failure. Under Kennon the road was finally completed in 1903. For various reasons, the train project did not go beyond the planning stage, and Benguet Road was used primary as a road for motor driven vehicles. On 13 October 1904, city planner and exponent of the City Beautiful movement, Daniel Burnham and his assistant Pierce Anderson set sail from San Francisco arriving in Manila in early December. Secretary of War William H. Taft and Commissioner W. Cameron Forbes were responsible for inviting this famous planner of American cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Burnham spent a scant six weeks in the Philippines, enough time to survey Manila, Baguio and Cebu. Returning to Chicago 16 January 1905, Burnham began working on his plans while on board ship. By 5 October, he was ready to present to Taft the “Plan of Baguio.” With the plan as guide, a roadway, public buildings began to rise.

To encourage the peopling of Baguio, the US Philippine Commission invited to well-to-do families and major institutions, like schools and Church groups to bid for property in Baguio. The first such public auctions occured in May 1906. Baguio was on its way to becoming the “Summer Capital of the Philippines” where the civil bureaucracy migrated annually to run affairs of state there for a period of between two to four months.

In 1902, a sanatarium was constructed near the site of the former Pines Hotel, now SM Baguio, but was transferred to the site of Baguio General Hospital. The sanatarium building became Pines Hotel. Camp John Hay had been acquired in 1903 as a recreational and recuperative site for the military. Except for tents set up nothing permanent was built until 1906 when Captain M.L. Hilgard was assigned to convert the tent city to a base. Under Hilgard a hospital, officers quarters, barracks and recreational facilities were constructed.

From 1907-1913 under the supervision of W. Cameron Forbes who was commissioner 1904-09 and civil governor general 1909-13, infrastructure construction in Baguio took a fast pace after bureaucratic hesitation and inaction about the wisdom of continuing with the hill station project because the construction of the Benguet Road cost 4 million dollars, way above the intially budgeted cost. But with Forbes firmly at the helm construction went on. Baguio was beginning to take shape as a government, education and recreation center.

In 1908, a civil hospital was innaugurated in the city replacing the earlier sanitarium. On 6 April of that same year, the Bureau of Education held training sessions for American and Filipino teachers in what came to be known as Teachers’ Camp. And camp it was initially as the teachers and their trainors lived and held their lectures in tents. By 1913, Teachers’ Camp had several large and permanent dormitories, athletic fileds, mess halls, and a road system. Between 1909-11, the Government Center was constructed and so began the yearly exodus of officaldom to the highlands. A wooden market building was constructed in 1908, later upgraded to a stone structure in 1917 using German prisioners or World War I. Between 1910-1913, the construction of a city hall was authorized. The building was up and functioning by 1911. An slaughter house was built and a garbage system was put in place.

Several public and private buildings were built during this time: Mansion House (1907-08), Topside (Forbes Baguio residence, 1908), Jesuit Mirador observatory and residence (1907), Brent School (1909), Country Club (1909, although the Club itself was established in 1906 in a grass-thatched, wooden cottage). Recreational facilites like Bell Amopitheater (1913) in Camp John Hay and Burnham Park (1914) added to the growing hill station.

Later other development happened. The Dominicans built the largest stone building on a hilltop south of Mirador. The hill came to known as Dominican. Easter School on the road to Trinidad established by Rev. Walter P. Clapp in 1906. By 1920 the school had church, print shop, weaving room, dormitories and school facilities. In 1913, a race track with a rough course was built encircling Burnham Park and the following year an upgraded track was inaugurated. Session developed a commercial strip, by the 1920s it had Japanese and Chinese stores, photoshops (Pines Studio was the best-knwon, silversmiths, and a tailoring shop, bakery and refreshment parlor. The Baguio Post Office building was completed in 1918.

The initial buildings gave Baguio a unique charm. Those constructed by government followed the New England clapboard cottage style for residences and smaller structures. These were whitewashed houses of pine lumber, with galvanized iron roof and green trim. The color scheme blended well with Baguio’s green pine forest and the fog that would creep through the city in the afternoons and the cool months of the last and first quarter of the year. Public buildings had touches of the Tudor style where exposed reinforcements accentuated the whitewashed walls. The stores along Session were more electic in style, some were in the New England style, others were wooden versions of shophouses found in Manila and other cities. None of these stores, however, were taller than two stories and were gentle on the landscape. Session Road began to metamorphose because of the 1933 mining boom. Session was widened and the wooden structures replaced by reinforced concrete. By the 1940s most of the old buildings had disappeared replaced by concret Art Deco style buildings. Moviehouses were also added to the streetscape.

Ecclesiatical style was even more eclectic. The Baguio Catherdral was in the neogothic style as were the Recollect seminary Casiaco, the convents of the Pink Sisters and the Holy Spirit School. The 1907 Jesuit buildings in construction technology and design used elements from Spanish colonial style. The Dominican building was castle-like complete with crenelations. But like the stone market, these buildings blended well with the enviroment because they employed local stone, much quarried at the foot of Dominican and Mirador Hills, a site now known as City Camp and Quarry.

The war years saw Baguio a theater of bloody battles. Japanese troops under General Yamashita made their last stand against invading American troops in the mountain passes of Baguio. After the Second World War, Baguio recovered its traditional role as Summer Capital. In the 1950s its public buildings were fully functioning and the mines near it, many opened by Americans, were rehabilitated, Baguio was on its way to recovery.

During the postwar years, Baguio maintained its charm as a highland retreat. The government exodus inaugurated by the Americans continued until 1966 when the Philippine government decided to do away with the practice. By the late 70s, the heritage buildings of Baguio were being replaced by new structures some five stories or even more.

In 1991, Baguio suffered a devastating quake which brought down several buildings, including recently built ones like the Hyatt Hotel. Death and destruction, and the damage on the access roads to Baguio hit the city badly. It took the decade of the 90s to restore Baguio to its present vibrancy.

Baguio is experiencing the problem of uncontolled growth as the mountains are being bulldozed to make way for new sudivisions and other developments. Mountains are being filled with houses. Baguio has become the education center of the north, and the yearly influx of students, estimated at about 150,000, and the seasonal tourists during the summer months and the dry but cold season strains Baguio’s carrying capacity. The atmosphere of Baguio downtown is polluted with more than 7000 taxis plying the city. When Daniel Burnham drew up plans for the city, he though that it would have a modest population of 20,000 to 30,000. Baguio’s population is estimated at 275,472 (year 2005) and has a growth rate of 5% per annum. Of the total population, 65.5% is below 30 years. During tourist season, the population trebles.

The City of Baguio received its official charter in 1909, as the city inches toward its centennial, Baguio has much to do integrate its historic past with the presurres of the present. While no comprehensive heritage plan for Baguio exists, there are initiatives here and there. National Government through the Department of Education has restored Central School one of the first school buildings in Baguio and Teacher’s camp. Both are gleaming in their new coat of green and white, as if freshly minted as they were around 1913.

The Highlands: Gran Cordillera Central

Mountain range. English has just one word for it; Spanish is more precise distinguishing between sierra and cordillera. Sierra literally means saw-toothed, and by analogy is applied to a mountain range longer than it is wide, and characterized by lofty peaks that give it a ripsaw outline. Cordillera refers to mountain ranges, packed alongside each other, numerous peaks some not too high, others not too low spread out more widely rather than in a straight line as the Sierra Madre of Luzon. Sierras tend to form where the continental plates subduct beneath another as in the case of the Pacific Plate, which subducts along the Philippines’ eastern coast forming the Sierra Madre.

The provinces of Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet which with Abra forms the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR, created in 1987 by Executive Order 220) was formerly known as one Mountain Province before 1966 when political correctness and sensitivity (or is it gerrymandering) subdivided the uplands between the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley. Mountain Province, established 1908, was the American translation of the Spanish Provincia Montañosa by which this seemingly impenetrable cordillera was known. The cordillera itself was labeled in old maps as Carballo, later the term applied to the southeastern side of the cordillera.

The Highlanders

These highlands in the center of northern Luzon is fraught by a number of misconceptions, principal among these is that its indigenous inhabitants are “primitive.” This an unfortunate legacy of colonial xenophobia, which classified peoples according to preconceived and unsupportable stereotypes of race, the white Caucasian being the most advanced and the colored races the least. Typical is Fray Francisco Antolin’s assessment of the highlanders as “warlike,” or his dismissive attitude toward the Igorot’s claims at “the contentment they take in their own land with their poor clothes and rough foods, sleeping on the trails wherever night happens to catch them, and praising the government of their leaders.” He says that they are like the deluded ancients who feigned enjoyment of a Golden Age, when they are nothing more than “Indios just like the rest—difficult to understand because of the variety and contradiction of their actions and customs” (p. 33).

The Cordillera’s indigenous peoples continue to surprise with their level of sophistication in technology and governance and practical knowledge of nature. To cite an example UNESCO has recognized the Cordillera’s rice terraces as “World Heritage,” citing it for the happy marriage of natural site and a human site, or to use UNESCO’s heritage term, a synthesis of natural-site and built-site. The terraces have been singled out as an outstanding example of hydrology;precious water is conserved and used efficiently by the careful planting of communal forests on the peak of the mountains and a well-planned system of canal and sluices to irrigate the rice paddies carved on the steep mountain slopes. As for governance, the Cordillera peace pact, known in some languages as budong or pechen in Bontok is an example of tribal democracy in action. Pacts between villages and clans, and today even whole areas, are forged through careful negotiation and respected.

Great care, then, must be taken when speaking of the Great Cordillera’s inhabitants because as Fray Antolin says there are a variety of them. The generally accepted list include the Apayao or Isneg, Bontoc, Kalinga, Kankanai (northwest), and Ibaloy (southeast) of Benguet, Ifugao, and Tinggian or Itneg. The Cordillera Schools Group spells Bontok with a “k” when referring to people and “c” when referring to a place and adds Ikalahan as a group name.

While these are convenient divisions, based on ethnolinguistic characteristics, the list hides the diversity found among peoples who identify themselves with specific communities or ili. An ili is a closely-knit cluster of villages usually bound by ties of kinship. Each ili has a more or less defined territory, based on tradition and custom. The Apayao, last to fall under American rule in 1923, referred to themselves in relation to particular places, for instance, Ibulus from Bulus, or Imandaya for dwellers upstream and Imallod for dwellers downstream. The term Isneg is probably of Ilocano origin and is used as a convenient term although some of the people prefer to call themselves as Apayao.

Furthermore, and this is the second grievous misconception, the ili or communities are not as isolated as labels like taong bundok, taga-bundok or primitive tribe connote. These are lowlander terms applied disparagingly to peoples and communities that the lowlanders may have not even met.

Long before the colonization of the lowlands, peoples of the Cordillera were actively trading with the lowland. Fray Antolin, writing in 1788 reports that while the highlanders wore loincloths made of bark or a tough fiber, but some groups, especially the Igorotes, traded gold with the lowlanders in Ilocos and Pangasinan for such items as cloth and cotton G-strings. On the eastern side, Ifugaos traded rice in Nueva Vizcaya for animals, iron implements made by their blacksmiths forged from cast iron originally obtained from the lowlands for other commodities. The mountaineers also brought down copper for trade. The presence of heirloom Chinese porcelain, used for ritual drinking, attests to the porosity of the mountain culture and the activity of the highland market.

It might be safe then to think of the peoples of the Cordillera as a continuum of relations, relations of trade even of culture brought about by intermarriage and constant exchange. Many technologies and artifacts are shared by these people: upland rice cultivation, backstrap or back tension loom, basket weaving, woodcarving. Dwellings while differing in details all are made of wood and grass thatch. Some are built above ground others ground hugging. Dress may differ in color and accessories but traditionally women wore a skirt and jacket, and men G-string called wanno by the Ibaloi. Some wore a jacket and older men, wrapped their torso with a blanket. Ornaments include headgear, jewelry of gold, glass and stone beads, and heavy earrings called ling-lingo.

Music and chants, usually of oral epics, and dance have similarities. Social organization, where the leaders come from the elders of the clan and clan villages are the smallest unit of organizations, and belief systems are similar.

A third misconception, again spawned and fostered by colonialism, is calling the indigenous peoples “wild and ferocious.” Some groups have been labeled as “head-hunters.” This stereotype is perpetuated by erroneous etymology given the word igorot; some writers claim without any linguistic or philological warrant that the term means headhunter. Perhaps they mistake its word root to gilit which in Tagalog means to flay, generally applied to fillet fish for salting and drying. Or gulok meaning knife. The root of igorot as Cordillera historian William Scott points out is golot, meaning mountain range. Its Tagalog cognate is gulod. Hence igorot simply means mountaineers or highlanders.

“Head-hunting,” as the unfortunate term seems to connote, was not and never was a quotidian sport. While severed heads have been documented, these should be taken in the context of conflict and retribution. When tribal wars occur there is death. Or when an injustice has been committed, for instance violations of the peace pact, destruction and stealing of property, and murder, the highlanders had to seek justice. Cordillerans had a graduated system of retribution for various crimes but murder created a blood-debt which a clan or family was obliged to honor. It is in this context that the taking of heads occurred as proof that the blood debt usually assigned to a clan member to avenge had been satisfied. Colonizers seizing this spectacular display of “tribal savagery” as they labeled it would project the practice as characteristic of the “salvajes infieles” the savage infidels. On the balance colonialism had its own savage practices like the Spanish garotte and other forms of torture. And during the Philippine-American war, the American military introduced the notorious “water cure” to extract information from prisoners.

Colonization and the Search for Gold

If the peoples of the Cordillera did attack lowland settlements, these attacks were often provoked. Colonialism exerted the pressure of upland migration, as lowlanders unwilling to submit to the exactions of the colonizers moved into territory that was traditionally recognized by the Cordillerans as their own. These “remontados” or “vagamundos” as the Spanish authorities called them eventually settled in the highlands and pushed the mountaineers, whom anthropologist have theorized began themselves as strand dwellers up and up, further into the mountain fastness of northern Philippines. These pressure may have been one reason why the mountaineers attacked Christianized frontier settlements, like Aritao, forcing the military to build fortifications and assign a detachment of soldiers.

The Spanish can also be faulted for its insatiable need for gold as a way to balance the finances of the colony and not depend on the annual situado or subsidy from Mexico. The search for the fabled mines of the “igorot gold” was official policy.

During the second decade of the 17th century there were a number of expedition up and into the highlands. In 1620, Pangasinan governor Garcíaa de Aldana y Cabrera led a party of soldiers, two Dominican military chaplains, a brother and a notary of mines and registry to the highlands. This expedition was organized for the expressed purpose of making a preliminary survey of gold mining near the contemporary site of Baguio. The group reached as far as La Trinidad but no further. Along the way, the Domincans celebrated Mass, which was duly noted by the notary public, Thomás Pérez. Jesuit chronicler Francisco Colin reports that in 1623 an army marched for seven days at the rate of three leagues a day to conquer and pacify the tribes of the Cordillera and search for their fabled gold mines. The expedition was headed by Sargeant Major Francisco Carreño, commander of Pangasinan and Ilocos. The expedition was marked with minor clashes with the indigenous inhabitants. The 1623 expedition led by Captain Alonso Martín Quirante involved exploring a wider area, visiting numerous villages and mines and collecting samples of ore for assay in Manila and Mexico. The Quirante expedition resulted in a comprehensive picture of land, resources and peoples of Benguet. Robert R. Reed (1976) remarks: “during the two centuries that followed, scarcely a decade passed without military of religious thrusts into some part of the mountain realm. But the Manila officialdom was usually occupied with more immediate political and military challenges elsewhere and proved unable to amass sufficient resources for permanent occupation of the high lands. Accordingly, the would-be conquerors were always repulsed and the Igorots remained independent” (p. 36).

Spanish explorers, whether military or ecclesiastic, ascended the highlands two passageways. Using the rivers of the plains as passageway, the highlands were entered either through the west or the east. The southwestern entrance was through the Agno River, which brought explorers from Pangasinan to the mines of Acupan and Apayao. The western entrance was through the Abra River, which explorers traveled from Vigan to the highland of Bangued and beyond. The eastern route passed through what was generically called Cagayan, later, Nueva Castilla and later subdivided into provinces of Isabela, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija. Nueva Vizcaya was the jump-off point to the land of the Ifugao. Through the western routes the Augustinians had reached as far inland as Ituy. The Dominicans followed in their track in the 18th century. Passing through Asingan, Pangasinan they reached the Ituy. The Dominicans launched various expeditions of exploration and evangelization in 1739 and 1755. In 1788, the Domincans launched more than one expedition resulting in a picture of Leaban and Tinok area accessible through Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya. Report from one of the expedition provided the names and number of settlements encountered and documented the mountain trails taken by the highlanders from Dupax to the mines in the mountains.

The 18th century, while providing an better picture of the terrain and the peoples, did not result in long lasting mission stations in the uplands. The impetus for such explorations was often defensive as raiding sorties of highlanders threatened the security of the Christianized lowland communities. The answer to such physical threat was two-fold: first, the establishment of military garrisons and fortified structures in fronteir area and second, the sending of military and evangelizing expeditions to the mountains to secure if not the pacification of the inhabitants at least an assurance to keep the peace.

It is in the 19th century, that Spanish presence in the Cordillera becomes a permanent reality. Believing in the curative properties of the upland, the Spanish military sought to establish a sanatarium and a hill station in the Cordilleras.

The Last Conquista

But the beginning of “the last Spanish conquista” of the highlands was prompted by the economic reasons. In 1780, the colonial government, wishing to put the Philippines on a sound and self-sufficient financial footing, decided to control the cash crop tobacco by supervising planting and harvesting and processing of the leaf crop and by impossing heavy taxes on its use. The north, where the crop was extensively cultivated was hard hit by this monopoly. The mountaineers involved themselves in a clandestine trade of the commodity outside the purvey of government control. The uplanders expanded their cultivation of the crop and traded with the lowlanders.

In response to this perceived economic threat and affront to the government, between 1829 and 1839, Don Guillermo Galvey led a series of more than 40 bloody military expeditions to the high country. Villages and tobacco fields were razed, trading disrupted and inavertently the troops introduced smallpox which decimated the upland peoples. While illegal traffic in tobacco did not cease, the incursions made possible the permanent presence of the Spaniards in the Cordilleras. In 1846, the Benguet comandancia politico-militar was established. Other politico-militar districts were established and although Spainish hold was tenuous and sporadic uprisings, the most serious in 1881, did occur, settlements were established that were at least superficially hispanized and were nuclei of colonial influence. These settlements were Tiagán (established 1847), Lepanto (1852), Bontoc and Saltán (1859), Itaves (1889), Amburayan, Apayos, Cabagaoan and Llavac (1890), Binatangan, Quiangán and Cayapa (1891).

The Great River: Cagayan Valley

Hemmed in by two mountain ranges: Sierra Madre along the Luzon’s Pacific or eastern sea board and the Gran Cordillera Central, the highlands of northern Luzon, is a vast fertile valley watered by a mighty river named Cagayan. This mighty river, fed by waters from the highlands, runs north and empties out to the Babuyan channel in Appari. It is the longest river in the Philippines, spanning two and a half latitudes in length, almost double its two other rivals, the Pidu Pulangi in Cotabato and the Agusan river, both in Mindanao.

Fed by headwaters and tributaries from the Cordillera and the Sierra Madre, El Rio Grande de Cagayan never dries and where it meets sea at Aparri, the river mouth is so wide that it forms a bay, affected by the sea tides, waves and currents. Where the Cagayan River meanders is an extensive fertile plain running through two provinces Cagayan and Isabela.

Cagayan Valley plays a crucial role in reconstructing Philippine prehistory because it is here that earliest evidence of human presence has been detected. The human referred to is Homo erectus, a species that lived before Homo sapiens or modern humans and from who is hypothesized modern man emerged. But paleontologist have a problem. No human remains have been found, but rather evidence of a tool-making species associated with the remains of prehistoric animals. These are tools made of stone used for scraping and cutting.

In the early 1970s, when National Museum archaeologist surveyed Cagayan Valley near the Kalinga-Apayao border they discovered simple quartz tools made by breaking off fragments from a rock to make a sharp edge. Some tools were even more shaped to give them a keener edge and better angle for handling. Large stone tools with a sharp point were made. Some tools were found on the surface others were found deep underground.

This discovery bolstered the theory that during the height of the last Ice Age, the sea level dropped exposing the ridges of undersea mounts. These bridges or stepping stones were used by animals to cross to the Philippines. This theory of migration, exposed even in elementary and high school textbooks, was first broached by archaeologist Otley Beyer the first director of the National Museum. In Beyer’ scheme, the migration is a series of waves where subsequent migrants from the Asian mainland get more complex and developed. Each new wave introduces peoples a notch higher in the evolutionary scale.

The first “wave” of migrants brought Homo sapiens ancestors of the Negritos and Mamanuas, the followed the waves of the Indonesian. As the ice caps melted with climate change, the migrants could no longer use the land bridges but traveled on boats as did the final wave of Malays, who came on board the barangay.

While Beyer’s theory has the advantage of neatness, simplicity and elegance, it cannot be completely supported by archaeological evidence. National Museum anthropologist Dr. Jesus Peralta, examining the evidence discovered after Beyer makes the precautionary note that we must not imagine the development of human history as a single linear pattern that moved inexorably from Paleolithic, through Neolithic, Metal and the Proto-historic periods but rather as a patchwork or checkerboard of uneven growth. Peralta describes the process: “Where networks of contact exist certain areas will more or less be in the same level of development, but to a greater extent, large areas remain behind in cultural progress, while still fewer others will be more advanced. Different areas and peoples progress through time in different manners and directions. The model is ‘multi-linear’, that is, events move in many lines each of which has its own character.”

And while it is true that in Cagayan indirect evidence of the Homo erectus’ activity have been found to imagine that it was the cradle from which humans radiated and populated the archipelago can not be supported by our present state of archaeological knowledge. Philippine archaeology has long way to go in clarifying the prehistory of the country. Fossils of large animals now extinct similar to those found in Cagayan Valley have been discovered in Novaliches, Panay Island and Agusan Valley. Remains of such animals as elephas, stegodon, rhinoceros and others suggest the existence of land bridges which these animals traversed and possibly too early man. Elsewhere, notably in Tabon Cave, Palawan, skeletal remains of Home sapiens dated to about 22,000 BCE have been discovered. The stone tools found in Cagayan have been estimated to be about 750,000 years old (although the generally accepted date is between 500,000 to 400,000 years ago) while the animals associated with them were last known to exists 250,000 years ago. Thus, animals and Homo erectus are hypothesized to have lived together and shared the same environment. Archaeologist Robert Fox surmises that early man may have been responsible for decimating these animals which these hunter-gatherers tracked down as food. Probably their ancestors came to the Philippines because they were following the movement of the animals.

Having said all that, nonetheless Cagayan is a rich archaeological field for Paleolithic or Old Stone Age study. On the eastern side of the valley in Peñablanca, archaeologists have discovered in Laurente Cave “flaked stone tools, waste flake, burned and unburnt bone fragments and shells.” Dated to 16,000 BCE, this is the earliest evidence of the use of fire in Luzon. Another area is Musang Cave where artifacts discovered is dated to 11,000 BCE. Similar sites have been uncovered elsewhere in the Philippines in Samar and Sanga-sanga, Sulu, dated 10,000 BCE and 6,000 BCE, respectively.

Cagayan’s northern delta at Appari made it a viable landing point for seafarer’s coming from Asia. When the Spaniards arrived in Cagayan, they found not only the dwellings of Chinese traders found throughout the archipelago but also settlements of Japanese. Like these Asians, the Spanish entered Cagayan from the north. Salcedo’s northern expedition after exploring Luzon’s western coast rounded the tip of Luzon. Discovering the Cagayan River, they explored it and established outposts along the river, the most important was Lal-lo. Dominicans who arrived in the Philippines in 1587, followed in the wake of the early explorers and established a mission in Lal-lo.

Among the Dominican pioneers was Miguel de Benavides, who in 1595 was appointed bishop of the newly established diocese of Nueva Segovia. Being a Dominican, Benavides established the diocesan seat at Lal-lo. It was to remain there until 1758, when the seat was transferred to Vigan. One reason for the transfer seems to have been the inaccessiblity of Cagayan and the relatively sparse population of the east when compared with the west. Until the 19th century, the southern part of the Valley, what is Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija, cut off Cagayan from its neighbors, Bulacan and Isabela. This area was impenetrable highlands. It was the intrepid missionary Villaverde who established the mountain trails, upon which the highway connecting the Bulacan and Cagayan Valley is laid.

Batanes: The Windy Isles

The Philippines’ northernmost province is composed of three principal islands, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat, and a few smaller islands some uninhabited like Ivuhos. Official maps (NAMRIA) list the islands as North, Siayan, Mavodis, Itbayat, Diogo, Batan, Sabtang, Ibuhos, and Dequey. Yami the northernmost island of the Batanes group is 50 kilometers away from southern Taiwan. Benedek (1991) remarks: “The name of the first island, ‘Yami,’ seems to be a mistake and has led to the erroneous belief that this island is populated by the Yami people.” Moreover, he observes, the native Ivatan call the islands Mavodis, Misanga, Ditarem, Siayan, Itbayat, Dinem, Ivatan, Sabtang, Ivohos, and Jikey.

The islands’ physical isolation from Luzon and proximity to Taiwan have created an ecological niche for flora and fauna unique to the islands. In Batanes are found the ariyos, an evergreen, popularly called Taiwan or Buddha pine (Pinus taiwaniana); the riwas, a tree with half-moon shaped leaves; the voyavoy or Phoenix palm from which fiber is extracted. Found in Batanes is the extremely rare but poisonous yellow viper called MacGregori; migratory humpback whales have been reported in the area.

The topography of Batanes, except for the flat island Ivuhos, is hilly and rugged, with narrow pockets of plain, here and there. The island group is also exposed to typhoons during the season of the southwest monsoon, August being the month when typhoons hit frequently and hardest. Batanes’ physical distance from Luzon and weather condition have created a province that fells and looks so different from the rest of the Philippines. Visitors wax poetic describing the islands as resembling the Isle of Man. Isolation has also honed its inhabitants to a life of frugality, simplicity and downright honesty. Except for occasional foreign poachers, who invade Batanes’ municipal waters for fish, the provincial jail at Basco is empty. Almost no one locks his house at night and should your forget something in someone’s house, it will get back to you. Only in Batanes do you find an “honesty coffeeshop,” a shack actually, which its owner outfits with hotwater for instant coffee, a can of biscuits, and a box where you can drop payment for any coffee you have consumed, before you cross from Ivana to Sabtang or return from the neighboring isle.

The traditional inhabitants of these islands are the Ivatan. Their language is akin to that of the Yami islanders who live south of Taiwan. There are approximately 15,000 inhabitants in Batanes mostly concentrated on the islands of Batan and Sabtang. However, many more live outside the islands, and some abroad. The inhabitants village of Songsong devastated by tidal wave after an earthquake have migrated to Maramag, Bukidnon where they are model farmers and cattle raisers.

In pre-colonial times, archaeological evidence indicates that the inhabitants occupied high places for safety. Called ijang, these sites were ideal for defense. Such sites are found near Basco, the provincial capital, near the airport and at Chadpidan and Sabtang, the neighboring island to the south, at Savidug. Characteristic of these peoples was their practice of burying their dead in large earthen jars, and marking the burial area with stones arranged in a boat pattern. A number of these prehistoric sites are near Basco, some on privately owned land. The National Museum has been conducting long term excavation at the ijang and Ivuhos Island, where precolonial remains have been found.

Boats play an important role, because travel from island to island is through perilous seas. Unlike the rest of the Philippines, Batanes boats do not have outriggers as in other regions of the Philippines. It is claimed that such outrigger-boat types cannot survive the waves and currents of Batanes; better are boats that bob rather than pierce the waves. Batanes boats are built of edge-pegged planks, carved and shaped to resemble Yankee whalers. Made of palo maria and other hardwood, the planks are shaped by adze rather than steam bent. The “Batanes winter,” (from August to February) is the season for boat repair and boat building. The small boat, called tataya and operated by oar and sail, is used for fishing; the larger boat called falua used for transporting passenger and cargo is propelled by motor

The privateer Dampier on board the Cygnet was in the Philippines from 1686-67. He was the first European to describe Batanes and its inhabitants, and the crew of the Cygnet were the first European to set on foot in Batanes arrived in the late 1686. But the attempt to colonize was aborted after two decades. Only in 1720 did the Dominicans return to establish mission stations and towns. To this day, Dominican friars remain the spiritual ministers of Batanes.

La Union

La Union. The province’s name comes from that fact that it was created by putting together towns that were originally under the jurisdiction of Ilocos Sur—Bacnotan, San Juan, San Fernando, Bauang, Naguilian and Aringay—with those under Pangasinan—Agoo and Santo Tomas. This was in accordance with a government decree, dated 2 March 1850.

La Union is situated along the northwestern coast of Luzon. With the Cordillera to the east and the South China Sea to the west, it encompasses a narrow coastal plain and the foothills of the Cordillera, an area of about 167 km north to south and 30 km at its average width. The rivers Amburayan, Agno, Benguet, Lepanto and Bacoco run through it, often defining town boundaries. Rabon River separates it from Pangasinan to the south.

La Union was under the diocese of Nueva Segovia (Lal-lo then later Vigan) until the establishment of the Diocese of San Fernando on 9 February 1970. It is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. Its titular patron William the Hermit, whose feast the diocese celebrates on 10 February, is counted among the Augustinian saints. Although San Guilliermo as he is known in Spanish did not join the Augustinian order, his followers the Williamites were among those who joined the Order of San Augustine in response to Alexander IV call in 1256 to create a Grand Union among many small but disparate religious groups at that time. By the time of the union, William had been dead for more than half a century having died on 10 February 1157. Through most of the Spanish period, the La Union province was under the spiritual administration of the Augustinian order except for a short period (1771-90) when Bishop Miguel Garcia, O.P., asked the Dominicans assigned to Pangasinan to take charge of the parishes.

The province’s coastal position exposed it to slave raids, hence, the presence of watchtowers, many in ruins along the shore.

Except for a cement factory in Bacnotan, the province depends on agriculture, trade and tourism for its livelihood. Rice and corn are principal products; in colonial times the cultivation of wheat, cotton and sugar cane was introduced. The introduction of cotton encouraged a weaving industry, which to this day produces hand-woven blankets, towels and other household items, called abel. Except for sugar cane used for the alcoholic drink, basi, the other introduced crops have ceased cultivation so weavers source their threads and fibers from outside sources. Synthetic material is routinely combined with cotton threads in the modern weaves from La Union. Tobacco was introduced in the 19th century and the existence of drying flues that one occasionally sees along the national highway is a reminder of this legacy of colonial times.

A United States naval station was built at Poro Point, a narrow tongue of whitesand that juts west out of San Fernando. The US navy has long turned over the station to the Philippine military. The fine beaches of Poro Point, Bauang, San Juan and Bacnotan have attracted their share of seaside resorts.

Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur: At the Sea’s Edge

Ilocos. It has been suggested that the name comes from “looc” or “loco”, a sheltered bay or cove. A locative marker “i” meaning “in the direction of” is prefixed to the rootword; thus, Ilocos means in the direction of the bay or cove, in fine, seaward. Loco stands in contrast to “golot” or highland (Tagalog cognate is gulod, meaning hill). Iloco is primarily a place name but by transference has it been applied to the inhabitants of bays and coves of northwestern Luzon.

Looc is an apt description for an area, which in 18th colonial cartography stretched south to include the Pangasinan province and north to Pagudpud, turned around the tip of Luzon Island and encompassed part of Cagayan Valley up to the town called Lal-lo. For the land associated with Ilocos is a narrow plain running north-south, bounded to the east by the Gran Cordillera and to the west by the South China Sea. As you travel north from San Fernando, La Union to Laoag, Ilocos Norte, a distance of about 300 kilometers, the sea is never far from you. Sometimes it disappears as the national highway snakes between mountain and hills or tongues of land that juts out to sea, but after a few kilometers, after a couple of turns it is right beside you as in Barangay Carlatan, north of San Fernando’s center, or at Narvacan where wave-battered karst boulders pierce the sea’s choppy surface. So narrow is this coastal plain that in many places it is about one kilometer wide, and as one travels north, the plain disappears completely as the mountains drop precipitously to the sea. So it is near Pagudpod that national highway had to be built on strong piers anchored to the shore as this was a more economical alternative to tunneling through mountain rock. There are, however, some areas where the plains widen—around Laoag and Vigan—making these places the most populated and developed region, even in colonial times.

The narrow coastal plains, the limestone and sandstone mountains to the east and the generally dry weather of the Ilocos have made eking a living from the land challenging, difficult but not impossible. That the Ilocano have managed to survive and flourish have given them the reputation of being industrious and thrifty. Besides, with agriculture limited, the Ilocano have taken to migration. It was a sturdy bunch of Ilocano teachers that migrated to Cotabato, manned the public school and established the first beachead of southward migration to Mindanao. It was the Ilocano manong who sought employment in the pineapple plantations of Hawaii and the fields of Salinas in California.

But that land did produce its own crops suitable to the environment, crops with, which Ilocos is identified—tomato, corn, sugar cane, onion and garlic. And in the late 18th century tobacco, a cash crop that was to shape the history of Ilocos over the last century of Spanish rule.

The land offered many small coves and sheltered bay, safe harbor for ships and boats. Poro at La Union, Quirino at San Esteban, Currimao near Laoag — these are some of the historic harbors of Ilocos. That is how the Spanish came to know the northwestern part of Luzon. Travelling by sea on board eight vessels, Juan de Salcedo with 45 men landed on an island called Biga. This was on 20 May 1571. His uncle and governor general of the islands, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, had dispatched him to explore the coastal areas and bring the inhabitants under Spanish rule. Isla de Biga—named after the abundant taro plant biga, bigaa or bigan (Alcocasia Indica) which grew on this delta hemmed by the Mestizo River, a tributary of the mighty Abra, and the sea—was a thriving pre-colonial trading post where vessels from Asia traded with the local inhabitants.

On 13 June 1572, Salcedo christened the settlement Villa Fernandina in honor of the crown prince Fernando, son of Felipe II. Villa Fernandina (later Ciudad Fernandina) became the administrative center of the north for more than two centuries. Its jurisdiction covered the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Sur, La Union, Abra, Lepanto, Bontoc and the northern part of Cagayan Valley, until 1818 when Ilocos Norte and Sur were separated as a province. Abra de Vigan followed in 1846 and La Union in 1850. Ilocos was also the staging point for the Spanish exploration and conquista of the Cordillera, which began with some earnestness in the 18th century, when Spanish troops cut a trail from the coast at Naguilian to the high altitude valley, La Trinidad.

In the same year, 1572, Salcedo and his men had reached Laoag where they found a settlement of a 1,000 Ilocos or Ilocanos on a hill beside the river. This is probably Ermita hill, where local lore says that the Augustinian friars built a church in 1586. Salcedo continued his exploration by rounding Luzon, reaching the Pacific coast, near Polilio Island, he found his way back to the central plain and Manila. By then his uncle and benefactor, Legazpi, had died. Guide de Lavesares, the new governor general, had no military assignments for him. But in deep appreciation for his deeds awarded him the whole of Ilocos as encomienda. In 1574, Limahong, a Chinese, had brought a large troop and threatened the Philippines. Salcedo had managed to rally the countryside to defend Manila and so with his troops was able to force Limahong to flee toward Pangasinan. Francisco de Sande, Lavesares’ successor wanted Salcedo to pursue the invader but depleted resources and manpower prevented Salcedo from pursuing the Chinese troops. Sande stripped Salcedo of his command. Betrayed, Salcedo returned to Vigan with his widowed mother and sisters to collect tribute due him for the dowry of his sister Elvira. But on 11 March 1576, Salcedo lay dying, probably from dysentery, but before his death, he willed his encomienda to the inhabitants of Ilocos, effectively laying no claims of tribute from the people. In gratitude the Ilocanos erected a monument in his honor in 1894 in the Vigan plaza, in front of the cathedral.

The Augustinians were the missionaries assigned to the Ilocos. On 30 April 1575, the Augustinians established the church and priory of Vigan and held to the position until 1622, when they handed over the place to the diocesan bishop. In Laoag they established the church and convent of San Guillermo El Ermitaño in 1586, which began as three visitas: San Nicolas, Santa Monica de Sarrat, San Juan de Sahagun. These first two would eventually become parishes but San Juan de Sahagun has disappeared without a trace. Oral lore consigns to the bottom of Paoay Lake; this was the proud and prosperous town, so the legend goes, who were mighty proud of their church bell because it was made of solid gold. But such hubris was not favored by God, so the angels of justice flung the town and its fabulous church to the bottom of the lake, from whence on very calm and quiet nights the tolling of the bells would sound and light would flash from the bottom of the lake.

Vigan and Laoag would become the twin nodes from which Augustinians would fan out and establish mission stations, which evolved into the parishes and towns of Ilocos. Meanwhile, in 1595, the diocese of Nueva Segovia was established, its first bishop was Miguel de Benavides, a Dominican, and it probably for this reason the first diocesan see was established in Lal-lo in the Cagayan Valley, which had been under the Dominicans from the very start.

Colonial rule did not sit well with the strong-willed Ilocano. In 1661, Pedro Almazan of San Nicolas, Andres Malong of Pangasinan, Juan Magsanop of Bangui and Gaspar Cristobal of Apayao revolted against Spain. Almazan sacked the church of Laoag and made off with the jewels of the Virgin. Known as the Malong revolt in history books, the uprising was immediately crushed by a superior force sent from Vigan. In 1763, during the hiatus in Spanish rule, when the British were occupying Manila, Diego Silang of Vigan lead a revolt to oust the Spaniards. He was assasinated but his wife Gabriela took up his cause and continued with the revolt. She was captured, tried and hung.

In 1758, the diocesan see of Nueva Segovia was transferred to Vigan. The church of San Pablo, which had been transferred to the diocesan clergy by 1619 after it was established and administered by the Augustinians, became the catherdral. An episcopal palace was built near the church fronting Plaza Salcedo.

In 1782, tobacco—a cash crop— was placed in the monopolistic control of the government. The monopoly while enriching the government agents, many of whom were from Laoag, caused suffering among farmers who were compelled to plant the crop and sell it a predetermined rates to the government. While Fray Pedro Blaquier, parish priest of Batac, was able to pacify the rebels. In 1806, another government attempt at monopoly stirred cailianes or the common townsfolk to revolt. The issue was over the control of basi, a liquor from sugarcane. The revolt was short-lived, however, the following year, 1807, a bigger revolt which began in Piddig erupted. The leaders of the rebellion were quickly executed. Their gruesome fate is recorded in Vigan artist, Esteban Villanueva’s narrative paintings of the revolt. The paintings hang in the Burgos Museum in Vigan.

The reprisals against the rebels did not quell unrest. Rebellion spread to Vigan, Sarrat, Laoag and Paoay. For a decade Ilocos was racked with unrest and rebellion.

A royal decree of 1818 divided Ilocos into north and south, with Sarrat as the capital of the former and Vigan of the latter. But being more inland and lacking the population and resources of Laoag, Sarrat was replaced by Laoag as capital in the 1850s. By 1868, Laoag population was placed at 34,000 making it the most populous town in the Diocese of Nueva Segovia.

In 1865, the Compañia General de Tabacos de Filipinas established a shipping route between Manila and Cagayan stopping at the ports of Ilocos. Popularly known as Tabacalera, the company was a buying house for agricultural commodities like rice and molasses, which was distilled to spirits in Manila, and not just tobacco. Tabacalera established warehouses north, some of which though abandoned are still standing.

The second half of the 19th century has been characterized as economically different from the previous eras, because notions of free enterprises began to operate in the Philippines. European and American trading houses were allowed to operate in Manila and Iloilo. The age of government monopoly was ended. In 1880, a royal decree abolished the tobacco monopoly. In gratitude a obelisk-like monument of brick and lime plaster was erected in Laoag to thank King Alfonso XII for his act.

Ilocanos figured prominently in the Revolution against Spain in 1896. Painter and patriot Juan Luna was from the Ilocos. Gregorio Aglipay established the Iglesia Filipina Indipendiente to push for the rights of the native clergy, which despite episcopal decrees to the contrary, were treated as second class clerics by the Spanish friars.

Ilocanos have been an outwardly mobile people. The impetus to migrate was catalyzed during the American period, when beginning in 1915, the public school system enlisted Ilocano teachers to assist the Thomasites, who were being assigned to Cotabato. Later with the offer of land, especially under President Manuel Quezon, many farmers migrated to Mindanao settling in Cotabato, where their province mates had migrated, and to Bukidnon. Ilocanos sought employment abroad being the pioneer migrant workers in the pineapple plantations of Hawaii and the farmlands of California. Some even worked in the salmon canning factories of Alaska, bearing the transition from tropical heat to freezing cold with equanimity and endurance.