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

Masbate in the Galleon Times
In one of our meetings in Aquinas University of Legazpi with Bish­op Baylon, Father Mon, and Dr. Gerona, Dr. Gerona noted that we hardly have a fuller account of Bikol history. Bishop Baylon said that what we have are nuggets of history (March 7, 2008). This is true. My study of the Manila Galleon, particularly the role of Masbate in the Galleon trade took me all over the pages of Blair and Robertson’s The Philippine Islands, over so many books about Bikol . . . anything about Bikol, so many authors, and so many websites. Scanty accounts seem to jump from one page to another, from one book to the next, from one website to another.

I came across the account of Fr. James J. O’Brien, S.J. on Masbate in the July 12, 1970 issue of the Bicol Mail, page 11. He wrote that Masbate is a province unusual for its many islands, and also many languages. Forty-eight percent of Masbateños speak their mother tongue, Masbateño; 32 percent speak Visayan; 18 percent speak Bikol (Naga); 8 percent speak Panay-Hiligaynon. Masbateño is spoken in the municipalities in northern Masbate near the capital. Visayan is used in the southeast. Bikol (Naga) in northern Burias. Panay-Hili­gaynon around Milagros.

The town of Cataingan saw the first of the pulahanes movement during the revolution. On August 19, 1898, the Spaniards feared the pulahanes, they became apprehensive of the revolution they all left Masbate by boat to Iloilo.

In the 70s, the town of Palanas became very popular nationwide be­cause of boxer Pedro Adigue. Adigue became a world welterweight champion by defeating Adolph Pruitt.

In Burias, San Pascual appears to be an ignored historical place. There are a lot a archeological finds in that place. Twenty-one ancient burial jars were found in barangay Mabuhay, 36 more were found in baran­gay Aguada. In barangay Oma, a box of rare Chinese jewelry was found including a little solid gold “book” with Arabic-like inscrip­tions. In Mabiton, large numbers of dao tree trunk coffins were found in a cave. Occasionally, after a heavy rain, old coins and ancient pot­tery turn up around the town. Where could these artifacts be now?

In Volume 5, page 53 of Blair and Robertson’s The Philippine Islands, we can find an account of Masbate. It says, “[f]arther to the north-northeast of this island of Leyte lies the island of Masbate, which is about thirty leagues in circumference, and six leagues wide. It has about five hundred Indians, who belong to one encomendero. It has also gold mines from which much gold was dug, for the natives of Camarines went thither to work them; but they have left the place on account of the Spaniards, and therefore the mines are not worked.”

In Volume 16, page 74 of the same source, we find an account of how our Bikolano ancestors looked like. It describes them as, “[t]hey are of medium height, with a complexion like stewed quinces; and both men and women are well-featured. They have very black hair, and thin beards; and are very clever at anything that they undertake, keen and passionate, and of great resolution. All live from their labor and gains in the field, their fishing, and trade, going from island to island by sea, and from province to province by land.” Meaning, our ancestors lived their own lives and enjoyed it before the Spaniards conquered them.

In Chapter V, Volume 41, pages 241 -242, we have the following ac­count, “[t]he Recollects [Augustinians] assumed charge, in addition to the fields already mentioned of the island of Masbate with the neighboring islands of Ticao and Burias. Those islands belong to the bishopric of Nueva Caceres in ecclesiastical matters, and to the al­caldeship of Albay in political affairs. Masbate is sixty leguas from Manila, in a latitude lying between twelve and thirteen degrees. It is about fifty leguas in circumference, nineteen leguas long and five or six broad. It was formerly famous for its rich gold mines, which when they tried to work them, it was found did not produce expense [sic]. The island also has fine copper mines, samples from which in very recent times were excellent. Information was given of them by Don Francisco Salgado; and when everything necessary and expert Chinese for working them had been prepared, he abandoned them, for he saw that they had much less metal than he thought.

“The island of Ticao is about twenty-three leguas in circumference to twenty-six leguas, twelve in length, and four in width. These calcula­tions must be understood only approximately for they had not been exactly determined. All three possess excellent timber, from which pitch is distilled in plenty, and makes excellent pitch for vessels. One of those trees produces the fragrant camanguian (incense or storax) . . . . They have many civet-cats; civet is a drug which was obtained there long before this time, and had a good sale in Acapulco, although that product is not in so great demand now.”

On the role of the friars (Blair & Robertson Vol. 41, 243), “Protected by arms, Fray Alonso Ximenez, an Observant Augustinian, introduced the evangelical law. In that he did excellent work and obtained much fruit in Masbate. Other religious, imbued with the same spirit and of the same institute, followed, and spread the work into Ticao and Burias. By that means a suitable mission field was established, and the Augustinians conserved the administration thereof until the year six hundred and nine. At that time they resigned that district into the hands of the bishop of Camarines, who employed seculars instead of those regulars. There were various seculars in charge of the adminis­tration there, until the year one thousand six hundred and eighty-eight (1688). The district handed over by the Augustinian fathers had 250 regular families; but that number was diminished by the terrible inva­sions of the Moros, so that the corresponding stipend was not suffi­cient for the maintenance of one cura, and no one could be found who was willing to take care of that district.

On that account, his Excellency, Master Don Fray Andres Gonzalez of the Order of Preachers, their bishop, asked the King of Spain to ap­portion the curacies in a manner that could bring about just spiritual administration in his bishopric. Part of this arrangement was the as­signment of the Franciscans in the Bikol Region. But as it would hap­pen, Masbate was not covered by the Franciscans for it remained in the hands of the Augustinian Recollects. Masbate, therefore, is differ­ent from other Bikol provinces, in this account. While the other Bikol provinces had the Franciscans, Masbate remained in the hands of the Augustinians.

The Augustinian Recollects founded their headquarters in Mobo, a famous village of Masbate in the northeastern part of Masbate, locat­ed on a river a short distance from the capital village called Masbate. They built a church there, under the advocacy of Our Lady of Rem­edies. It was a costly edifice adorned with good reredoses, and had a sacristy well supplied with vestments, besides a capacious house with its suitable quarters and dormitories for the resident and the transient religious.

It was the Augustinian Father Fray Ildefonso de la Concepcion who opened a road through the interior of the province from Mobo over rough mountains, to the opposite coast to get away from the dan­gers of sea travel. But he had to contend with threats from the ci­marones.

It was reported that the ministers who were assigned in Masbate said that, although they have been many years in other doctrinas and mis­sions, they had not so much to suffer and endure in any of them as in that of Masbate. Masbate then was a difficult assignment even for the Augustinians.

But Masbate had all it takes to be an astillero—good supply of timber, safe ports, and native labor. And Mobo, aside from being the seat of the church, also became the province’s shipyard.

Building the Galleon
This was how a galleon was built. It starts with a royal commission from the King exercised by the governor-general. A Spaniard was designated and commissioned to initiate the works in any of the roy­al astilleros. In the early part of building galleons, the person com­missioned to build a galleon was compensated by giving him ten or more tons of cargo space once the galleon sailed for Acapulco. Some were given as much as 40 tons of cargo space, especially the favorites of the governor-general.

That system of compensation was stopped because it occasioned “great thefts” and what we now call smuggling. It spawned a num­ber of graft and corrupt practices. It injured the royal treasury and the natives. One chronicler noted that “this system unduly enriched the builder who would fill his assigned tonnage with gold forcibly pur­chased from the natives at 40 reals per tae in order to afterwards sell it at 96 reals per tae in the flourishing markets of the New World.”

Is it possible that the concept of what we now have as Export Process­ing Zone came from the system of building galleons in the royal astil­leros? Afterall, an export processing zone is a specialized industrial estate located physically or administratively outside customs territo­ry, predominantly oriented to export production. Enterprises located in export processing zones are allowed to import capital equipment and raw materials free from duties, taxes, and import restrictions. The astilleros could have been like that.

By another decree of the King, malpractices were attempted to be eradicated. The decree provided, among others that those who build galleons will now be paid from the royal treasury in the same man­ner as the other crown officials in the Royal service, by fixed stipends or salaries. There were occasions when in “consideration for super­vising the building of a galleon, the master-builder designated was promised its command” as in the case of the Bikol made Nuestra Señora de Buen Socorro where Governor-General Diego de Salcedo gave its command to Diego de Arevalo, its assigned builder (Reyes 1992, 139).

The astilleros had two principal work activities: cutting and hauling of timber from the mountains and the actual building of the galleon. At this point, I am reminded of Mandaon. Can we imagine the hardship of hauling molave timber from Mandaon to Mobo, when at that time there were no roads yet, perhaps no carabaos even to help in the hauling.

An astillero required no less than 8,000 cutters and haulers of tim­ber, mostly natives who were under corvee or forced labor or the so-called repartimiento system (Reyes 1992, 139). It was reported that they worked under conditions which were most oppressive.

When the timber was brought down to the shipyards, Chinese car­penters and Filipino pandais would work on them. But still, the rough works in the shipyards fell in the hands of the natives. They sawed the lumber into flitches and flanks. And to think too, that not only a galleon would be completed but also a patache which also acts as a consort to the galleon. There were no less than 4,000 carpenters in the shipyard. This means that in one galleon building project, no less that two vessels had to be constructed.

The woodcutters, or hewers or planers of wood were each paid seven or eight reals a month and were given daily rations of one-half ce­loemin of rice. The pandais generally earn ten to twelve reals a month. “Those who are masters—the ones who lay out, prepare, round and make the masts, yards and topmasts are each paid three to four pesos or eight reals a month and double rations” (Reyes 1992, 139).

The galleons were stoutly built that it was said that each was a “strong castle in the sea” (Reyes 1992, 137). But the French called them “bailles” (tubs), and the Spanish sailors dubbed them as “pa­jaros puercos” (flying pigs).

The records on the construction of galleons can give us an interesting look at the wealth of Philippine natural resources. Our hard woods, according to Casimiro Diaz (Reyes 1992, 137) were “the best that can be found in the universe . . . if it were not for the great strength of the galleons and the quality of their timbers such dangerous voyage could not be performed.”

William Lytle Schurz wrote, “. . . the framework was often made of teak, while other native woods were used in the remainder of the ship. For ribs and knees, the keel and rudder and inside work the hard Philippine molave was generally employed. The sheathing out­side the ribs was usually of lanang, a wood of great toughness, but of such peculiar nature that small cannon balls remained embedded in it while larger shot rebounded from a hull made of this timber.”

With all those timber being used in building galleons, Gat Jose Rizal noted in a footnote in Blair and Robertson that “It seems that some species of trees disappeared or became very scarce because of the ex­cessive ship-building that took place later. One of them is the betis.”
The lumber or wood commonly used in building a galleon, according to Captain Sebastian de Pineda were dangalan (dancalan), palomaria (Calophyllum inophyllum), arguijo or guijo (Dipterocarpus guiso) (local: guiso or guisoc), lauaan (Dipterocapus thurifera), banaba (La­gestroemia sp[eciosa), dongon (Sterculia cimbriformis).

For riggings for the foremast, main mast, and mizzen mast two kinds of fibers were used: one made from the fiber called gamu (arenga Saccha­rifera) also known as cabo negro or black cordage; the other is made from abaca (musa textilis). It must be noted that rope making was assigned to villagers in the vicinity of the astilleros. Everyone in the neighborhood of an astillero appear to being tasked with something for the galleon.

The sails of the galleons were cloths called liencos or mantas woven in the Ilocos Region. So thus the Salvador was built in Mobo, Masbate.

Aside from building the flagship Salvador, Mobo served as a dock­yard for galleons needing repairs. The Sagawsawan River in ba­rangay Fabrica offered a safe place for these galleons because of its depth. Polayabat Street in Mobo was named after a Spanish frigate which sank and later towed to Mobo River (Malanyaon 1991, 371).

We have no account as to what other kinds of vessels were built in Mobo. But because a patache always accompanies a galleon we can safely assume that one was also built together with Salvador. Were there men-o-war built in Mobo? We have yet to find out.

It is also claimed (Malanyaon 1991, 349) that Spanish authorities frequented the towns of Guiom, Palanas, Mobo, Masbate, Baleno, and Aroroy. Galleons enroute to the northern provinces of Cebu and Panay dropped anchor in Baleno and Aroroy. Thus, the name Baleno which evolved from the Spanish “va lleno” meaning, “we are fully loaded,” often shouted by the boat’s captain to discourage residents who wanted to board the galleon for Aroroy.

With so many galleons made in Bikol, how many ancient Bikolanos could have gone overseas at that time either as conscripted deck hands or mariners? How many were stowaways? With many gal­leons anchoring in the coasts of Masbate how many adventurous na­tives could have cast their fate to the waves and the winds?

We can imagine the number of Indians who were in the galleons as they sailed to the other end of the world based on an account by Schurz with Santissima Trinidad as reference. Schurz wrote, “The proportion of Spaniards to Malays in the crews varied from one to two, to one to five, but was generally nearer the latter ratio. . . . In 1724 hardly one third were said to be of Spanish birth (Schurz 1939, 210). In other words, if it were one to five, the bigger the galleon the more would be the need for Indians.

The natives were not only exploited in the astilleros but they too were harnessed to man the galleons for the voyage from Manila to Acapulco. As a result many died from the rigors of the voyage. Her­nando Rios de Coronel pleaded to the King in 1619; he asked him, “that it is ordered that the common seamen who serve in the said ships, who are always Indian natives, be all men of the coast, who are instructed how to navigate; and that they be made to wear clothes, with which to shelter themselves from the cold; for because they do not, most of them die in high altitudes of which (de Coronel) is a witness. Inasmuch as the factor enrolls other Indians who live in the interior and who do not know the act of sailing, they are made to em­bark without clothes to protect them against the cold, so that when each new dawn comes there are three or four dead men; besides they are treated inhumanly, are not given the necessities of life, are killed with hunger and thirst.”

Those who survived the ordeals of crossing the Pacific Ocean, would desert the ship once it docks. They would prefer the challenges in dry earth over death in anonymity in the deep blue Pacific. The native de­serters were enterprising. They started to distill palm wine along the Mexican sea coasts. The wine they produced was so good; the Mexi­cans preferred it over the wine from Spain. It will be informative to mention at this juncture that the word “Mexico” was first used in a letter printed in 1566. “Mexico” was used to refer to the non-Indian inhabitants of New Spain ( 9-17-08). The Spanish wine merchants in Nueva España as well as the wine makers in Spain were so threat­ened that they petitioned the King to ship back “all Indian natives of said Filipinas Islands . . . all the palm grooves and the vessels with which that wine is built be burned . . . the palm trees be felled and se­vere penalties imposed on whomsoever remains or returns to make that wine.”

But the King appeared to have failed to act on the petition. And Fili­pino wine making in Mexico flourished so that “all the Indians who have charge of making that wine go to the port of Acapulco when the ships reach there from Manila and lead away with them all the Indians who come as common seamen. For that reason scarcely any one of them returns to said Filipinas Islands” (Reyes 1992, 141).

How many of those Indians were from Masbate, were Bikolanos? There was no accounting. There go our first OFWs.

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

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