Article is reposted from Tagba, The Harvest Continues. It’s the official academic research journal of Aquinas University of Legazpi. Sorsogon City, considering the focus is about Masbate, includes this on the list of articles due to its mention of the astilleros in Pilar and the Galleon shipyard in Magallanes.

By Raffi Banzuela

The Manila Galleon is a large, heavy Spanish ship made of wood, fastened together by nails, metals, and ropes; glued by some kind of paste from saps of trees and other sources (Blair & Robertson Vol. 41, 382). The winds move it through its sails.

Ships of this kind were called Manila Galleon because they, or most of them, were built in the Philippines, using Philippine timber, abaca fibers for their rigging, and sailcloths from the Ilocos. Thousands of Filipinos were forced to work in the astilleros (shipyards) where the galleons were built. The metals used in the ship, however, came from China, Japan, Macao, and India.

The Manila Galleons sailed the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean for over 250 years, from 1565 to 1815. Through all these years, the Manila Galleons passed through the seas of Masbate in its voyages to Aca­pulco in Mexico and back to Manila, most of them stopping in San Jacinto, Ticao Island.

The first galleon that sailed to Acapulco was from Cebu; it was the San Pablo. It was 1565. It was under the command of Felipe de Sal­cedo. It carried a cargo of cinnamon bark from Mindanao. San Pablo was not made in the Philippines yet.

For more than two centuries, more galleons sailed the Pacific Ocean using that route discovered by San Pablo. It would develop the Galleon Trade, which brought large profits for their investors. The Galleon Trade did not begin in Acapulco, Mexico. It originated in Manila.

The Ibalon Region

While the first galleon departed from Cebu, it will be nice to know that the first place, in what would be known today as Luzon, to be reached by the conquistadores was Masbate. In 1569 Captain Luis Enriquez de Guzman with the Augustinian Friar Fray Alonzo de Jimenez chanced upon the island of Masbate. Then they crossed over to the islands of Ticao and Burias. In the accounts of Blair and Robert­son, Masbate would be called Masbat, in some other books it would be called Masbad. Ticao was Tiago in the ancient times but Burias was already Burias. From these islands they hopped on to a bigger mass of land landing in a settlement called Gibalon. The settlement exists to the present. It is in the town of Magallanes, Sorsogon. It still carries its old name… Gibalon. From there they went farther inland to discover the thriving balangay or rancheria of Camalig (Reyes 1992, 86).

But the Spaniards did not stay for long in Camalig or in what they would call Yvalon (Blair and Robertson) because they heard stories of a kingdom which had more gold farther up north. Yvalon or Iba­lon was the ancient name of Albay; it was sometimes applied to the entire island of Luzon (Blair & Robertson Vol. 3, 171). Historically then it can be claimed without doubt that the Spaniards made their land-fall in the Bikol Peninsula, particularly in Masbate. The Bikola­nos were the first in Luzon to be Christianized, the first also to bear the heavy cross the conquistadores would sling on the shoulders of the Filipinos.

In 1570, Captain Andres de Ibarra, again with Fray Alonzo de Jime­nez, took on from where Captain de Guzman left off in Yvalon. They reached what are now the towns of Bato and Nabua bordering Lake Bato. That captain, de Ibarra, was very cruel to the natives (Blair & Robertson; Reyes 1992, 87). He robbed the natives, burned their villages, dispersed their popula­tion, massacred them.

How could Captain Andres de Ibarra do what he did to the ancient Bikolanos who, according to Span­ish Governor Guido de Lavezares in his letter to King Philip II, “. . . are the most valiant yet found in these parts” (Blair & Robertson; Reyes 1992, 89). Augustinian Fray Martin de Rada supported the ob­servation of Lavezares, with a let­ter to the Viceroy of Nueva España he told him that “the people there are the most valiant and the best armed men of all these islands . . . Although they never attacked the Spaniards, still they defended themselves in all their villages and would not surrender unless conquered by the force of arms.” Andres Cauchela and Salvador Aldave also reported to the King of Spain, that “the men are warlike and well armed for Indians—for they have corselets of buffalo hide, iron greaves, and helmets set with fish bones and stout shells which no weapon except what ar­quebus can damage” (Reyes 1992, 89). The arquebus must have been the secret of the conquistadores which the machetes of the natives could not beat. In other words, the conquistadores bore arms which could not be matched by naked bravery. The Bikolanos, brave war­riors they may be, accepted defeat only after the enemies proved their superiority.

Again Fray Martin de Rada report­ed that “ . . . all the villages were entered in the same way, by first summoning them peacefully and to pay tribute immediately un­less they wished war. They replied they would first prove to those to whom they were to pay tribute and consequently, the Spaniards, attacking them, an entrance was made by force of arms and the vil­lage was overthrown and whatever was found was pillaged. Then the Spaniards summoned the natives to submit peacefully. When the na­tives came, they asked them to im­mediately give tribute in gold and in an excessive amount, for which they promised to give them writs of peace. Therefore, since all the people defended themselves, more have perished in that land than in any other yet conquered” (Reyes 1992, 89).

And so the ancient Bikolanos were conquered. Consequently, the Spaniards were free to do whatever they wanted, until Juan de Sal­cedo set up the Villa of Santiago de Libon in honor of St. James, The Apostle. Libon became the first Spanish settlement in the Bikol Re­gion, and one of the four special villas the Spaniards would set up during their stay in the Philippines.

A Footnote in History

I would like to mention, at this juncture, that the ancient Bikolanos were not only warriors but they were also gold smiths, farmers, fishermen, and excellent carpenters and boat builders. For instance, it was reported that in Catanduanes “[t]he men of these islands were excellent carpenters and shipbuilders. ‘They make many very light vessels, which they take through the vicinity for sale in a very curious manner. They build a large vessel, undecked, without iron nail or any fastening. Then, according to the measure of its hull, they make another vessel that fits into it. Within that they put a second and third. Thus a large biroco contains ten to twelve vessels, called biroco, virey, barangay, and binitan.’ These natives were ‘tattooed, and were excellent rowers and sailors; and although they are upset often, they never drown’” (Blair & Robertson).

It is no wonder for Governor Juan de Silva to decide on Bikol as the center of the galleon shipyard of the conquistadores when the Span­ish power was challenged by the Dutch fleet based in Malacca. Bikol has safe ports, abundant supply of good timber, and plentiful supply of native labor. These are the three big requirements for an efficient and productive shipyard during those times. It is not fanciful to think that galleons and the men-o-war lost in shipwrecks or in battles, the Bikol astilleros replaced.

Talking of shipwrecks, in the Catanduanes area alone I listed five galleons which were grounded or wrecked. The San Geronimo, one of the first galleons, was wrecked in Catanduanes in 1601. In 1576, Espiritu Santo was wrecked in Catanduanes due to pilot error. This was followed by San Felipe in 1577, also in Catanduanes. In April 1601, the Santo Tomas was also lost in Catanduanes. Between 1604 and 1605, another galleon was dashed to pieces in Catanduanes.

In 1726, Santo Cristo de Burgos, on its way to Nueva España, anchored in San Jacinto to wait for good weather as there was a brewing storm. It got wrecked there. Among the survivors in that wreck was Don Julian de Velasco, a minister assigned to the audiencia in Mexico. Among the things he saved was a beautifully hand-carved ivory crucifix which can still be found above the altar of the church of San Jacinto.

Many ships of various nationalities have been wrecked in the sea of Ticao and survivors settled in this island. It is said that there were Italian, Portuguese, English, and Spanish seafarers who settled there; that is why the people of Ticao are noted for their fair complexion and well-formed noses (James O’Brien, The Historical and Cultural Heri­tage of the Bicol People, Reported by Victor Magdaraog, 174-175).

Our search for information about galleons even led us to a diver/treasure hunter. He claims that in the vicinity of the lighthouse in Bagamanok, Catanduanes lies a galleon wreck. He also said that he knows of a wreckage site in the San Bernardino Strait. Well, in 1608, San Francisco was wrecked near the island of Capul. Of interest also was the plight of San Martin in 1581, who had Bishop Domingo Salazar, O.P. as passenger. San Martin went into bad weather and sought shelter in a harbor just inside the embocadero, in the province of Ibalon (now Sorsogon). After waiting for 18 days for the wind to change quarter, Bishop Salazar decided to complete the journey over­land . . . two months later, on September 17, 1581, they made their entry into Manila ( DsnprU80ffaUdTg_?p=17 9-8-08).

In 1967, a galleon wreck was discovered in the waters of barangay Buhatan in Sto. Domingo, Albay. It was believed to be that of Nuestra Señora de Guia which reportedly sunk in 1744 due to a heavy storm.

Incidentally, can a woman command a galleon? There is this interesting account on the “Voyages of Pedro Fernandez de Quiroz.” It goes like this, “As regards Alvaro de Mendaña’s second voyage, undertaken with the object of again searching for the Solomon Islands . . . he left Callao with four ships on 9 April 1595; that while sailing westwards in about 100 S. lat., he discovered the Marquesas and the Santa Cruz Islands, and, after he died there on 18 October, the command of the expedition was taken over by his widow, Doña Isabel Barreto, who was compelled to abandon the colony on Santa Cruz and go to Manila in order to try to save the remnants of the expedition, which was threatened with destruction by sickness and internal quarrels. The pilot Pedro Fenandez de Quiros was in charge of the ship “San Jeronimo” and, after calling at the Ladrones, took it to Manila, where they arrived on 11 February 1596 with people and ship in the most wretched condition. During the stay in Manila Mendaña’s widow married Don Fernando de Castro, a cousin of the Governor Dasmariñas. After the ship had been repaired and again placed under the command of Quiros, the newly-married embarked for their return voyage to Peru . . . the departure from Manila took place on 10 August 1596 . . . they reached Acapulco on 11 December.” That was some woman . . . Isabel Barreto. (Bruce Cruikshank [September 2006] Manila Galleon Voyages: Listing of Voyages of the Manila Galleons between 1656 and through 1815, Manila to/from Acapulco, 9-8-08)

During the tenure of Don Juan de Silva, four astilleros were set up in the Bikol Peninsula. Captain Sebastian de Pineda reported that “[t]he shipyards of the galleons built during Don Juan de Silva’s term were thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, and eighty leguas from the City of Manila, in different places . . . fifty leguas from Manila, in Dalupaes (Dalupaon), Camarines were built ‘Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe,’ and ‘Angel de la Guardia,’ (Dalupaon is in the town of Ragay), eighty leguas from Manila in the province of Ybalon at Bagatan (Bagatao) were built ‘San Felipe’ and ‘Santiago’ . . . seventy leguas from Manila in Masbate was built the royal flagship ‘Salvador.’” (Blair & Robert­son Vol. 18, 173-174).

There was another astillero located in Pantao, Libon, Albay. And an­other one is in Donsol, Sorsogon. Not much has been written about the astillero in Donsol (

Other accounts on shipbuilding in the Bikol Peninsula mention that the galleon Nuestra Sra. del Rosario was crafted in Bagatao. But the grandest of the galleons built in Bagatao was the Santissima Trinidad y Sra. del Buen Fin.” Governor Francisco de Ovando decreed it to be built in 1750. It was completed in 1751. It was considered to be the largest and costliest ship in the 18th century. It plied the open seas for eleven years.

The astillero in Pantao built another very big ship, the biggest during her time. This was the Nuestra Sra. del Buen Socorro with Diego de Arevalo as its commander and Juan Rodriguez as its pilot. It sailed in August 28, 1667. It was said to be “the best that was ever built thus far in these islands; and its size, beauty and swiftness were amazing.”

Again, it was Governor Juan de Silva who ordered the galleon build­ing frenzy as an answer to the threat of the Dutch. In 1616, de Silva decided to launch an expedition against the Dutch in Malacca. His fleet consisted of ten galleons, four galleys, one patache, and other shallow crafts. It was said to be the “largest fleet ever seen in these islands or perchance in the Indias.” It was considered a miraculous circumstance that such a large number of ships could be gathered together in land recently conquered and the most remote and distant in all the Spanish monarchy. But de Silva who commanded the fleet got sick along the way, they returned to Manila without reaching their objective.

Unfortunately, little was written about the fact that the flagship of that fleet was Salvador (made in Masbate) and that half of the fleet was made in Bikol . . . in Bagatao, in Dalupaon, in Pantao, in Masbate.

The historian Jose Calleja Reyes asks in his Bikol Maharlika, “What would have been the fate of the Philippines had the Spaniards not been able to contain the Dutch? Without the galleons built in Bikol astilleros with so much sacrifice, would Spain have been able to main­tain its western empire in the Pacific for the next three centuries?”

I would also ask, the Bikolanos were in the forefront of that Manila Galleon enterprise, how is it that we appear to be mere footnotes of history? Or, how about this question: Would Spain be able to instill fear in its rivals without its impoverished colony, the Filipinas Islands?

Stay tuned on the next part of the series next week.

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