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
One way ticket
The role of Masbate in the Galleon Trade cannot be gainsaid. While only Salvador was reportedly built in the royal astillero of Mobo, we have no account of how many galleons were repaired in its dockyard. We have no account of the smaller vessels built there. We have no idea as to how many vessels used for warfare were built there. We have no idea how many natives died building those vessels.
Aside from the construction of vessels, Masbate provided anchorage for galleons as they begin to embark on the perilous voyage across the Pacific Ocean which would last for five to even seven months. San Jacinto was a stop over to wait for better weather in the embocadero. It was also there where supplies were replenished.
For all the hope that went with every galleon made in the Bikol astilleros, with the anticipation among the Spaniards for every successful trip to Acapulco and back to Manila, the Indios were left with nothing more than their sore palms, wrecked dignity, and anxiety for an afterlife in paradise.
Galleon building became the biggest set back in the development of the native population. In his letter to King Philip III in 1618, Alfonso Fajardo de Tenza noted, “The shipbuilding carried on in these islands on your majesty’s account is the total ruin and death of those natives, as all tell me. For, in addition to the danger carried by it in withdrawing them from the cultivation of their lands and fields—whereby the abundance of foods and fruits of the country is destroyed, many of them die from severe labor and harsh treatment. Joined to this is another evil, namely, that every Indian who takes part in the shipbuilding is aided by all the neighborhood where he lives with a certain number of pesos on account of the small pay that is given them in behalf of your Majesty. Hence, many are being harassed and worn out by these methods” (Reyes 1992, 139).
In “Remonstrance addressed to the governor and captain-general of Filipinas Islands, on October 1701, by the provincial of the religious orders, in regard to the wrong and abuses that are committed in the said islands,” it was noted that “. . . although the building of [of the galleon] costs his Majesty the amount of 40,000 pesos for the wages of the Indians, besides the poor of these provinces, [they] carry among themselves a burden more than 100,000 pesos—or even more—because those who are designated for the repartimiento of the woodcutting search for others who can take the place of each one; and the cost of these substitutes usually reaches five or six pesos, and sometimes ten. For the payment of this, the former pledge or sell, or enslave themselves; and from this cause result very serious evils—thefts, withdrawing to the mountains to roam as vagrants, and other crimes (Blair & Robertson Vol. 44, pp. 120-141).
“Other burdens which the natives miserably suffer, and which ordinarily fall on the poorest and most wretched, arise from the fact that the alcalde mayor who makes his apportionment of men and adds to it a greater number as is necessary, and those who are thus added redeem themselves from this oppression by money, and then the [list of] repartimiento goes to the gobernadorcillo, in order that the heads [of barangay] may summon for the woodcutting six or eight men even though only four may be necessary (Blair & Robertson Vol. 44, pp. 120-144).
“The gobernadorcillo collects in money that amount in excess, as a redemption from an imaginary woodcutting, a proceeding which does not impair the number of those assigned. Still more, after all the men go to woodcutting, if any are lacking the [native] overseer pays the superintendent of the work at the rate of two reals a day for the failure of each man. To this is added that the superintendent himself is wont to grant exemptions of his own accord, with injust [sic] benefit to some, to the great injury of the main work, [the burden] of which falls on those who remain; moreover, he usually establishes shops, and this the fund which his Majesty provides to aid these poor peoples by the purchase of some of their commodities remains therein (Blair & Robertson Vol. 44, pp. 120-144).
“His Majesty orders that the men be called out and paid for one month; but many poor creatures do not get away from the woodcutting in a month and a half, during which time they are so overtaxed and harassed that they hardly have time to eat, and of sleep they will have some three hours, as a result of their labors on the account of his Majesty and outside of his account. Such is the sorrowful course of experiences and the unjust acts which they encounter in the woodcutting, . . .” (Blair & Robertson Vol. 44, pp. 120-141).
Now, we can talk about labor laws, usury laws, and even include value added tax. This is what we can idiomatically imply as “ginisa sa sadiring taba.”
Now, is it possible that no one proudly talks about the Bikol Peninsula as the zone for and at the forefront of galleon building, because it did not only ruin the Bikolanos but that in a space of ten years it caused ruin to the entire country in great measure? If it caused ruin to the entire country, what then happened to the Bikol Region which had four very big royal astilleros?
Today, the Bikol Region is only a little better off than ARMM in terms of economic development. The Bikolanos are wanting while living in a land of plenty. This is a paradox. We are wanting in a land of plenty. Does the Manila Galleon still have something to do with it? Is the trauma of corvee labor in the astilleros still haunting us? Has it created a psychological block even among us the 21st Century Bikolanos so that we tend to treat life with indifference. Afterall, 1815, when the Galleon Trade was stopped, is only 193 years away.
When a galleon was lost, the Indians became more distraught than the Spaniards. The Spaniards may only be thinking of lost investments or lost cargoes. The Indians thought of the hardships of building a replacement galleon.
Aside from the harshness of the conquistadores running the astilleros, the Indians were often under threat of abduction and even death from the Moro pirates. The astilleros were like magnets for the Moro pirates. In 1617, the royal astillero of Pantao, for one, was raided by the Moro pirates burning one galleon and two pataches—these were already half-completed, capturing more than 400 workmen, killing more than 200 others (Blair & Robertson Vol. 18, 186).
In 1616, Moro pirates burned three ships in the dockyards of Masbate (Blair & Robertson Vol. 18, 105).
From 1565 until 1815, the Galleon Trade spawned all sorts of rackets and corrupt practices. There were contraband, smuggling, misdeclaration of goods, over shipment, and under payment of ship dues.
There was this account of the galleon Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which, of course, stopped at San Jacinto, Ticao. While the galleon was anchored, there arrived four champans (Chinese vessels) loaded with merchandise. The ship captain loaded the unregistered merchandise over the opposition of the shippers on board even to the extent of locking up one of them. Due to the overloaded condition of the galleon it had difficulty navigating and was exposed to great danger of sinking (Reyes 1992, 142). Of course, forest denudation is not new to us. It was already there since 1565. Also, if only the Internet and computers were not invented, we can endlessly talk about globalization in our own language and in our own terms as early as the arrival of Magellan with his slave Enrique who was killed in Cebu because of the cruelty of John Serrano who took over the post of Magellan.
There was one thing which is being sorely missed in all the studies of the Manila Galleon: the records on weather and climate as the galleons travelled. These could be very helpful in understanding wind, ocean currents, weather, El Niño, and even the now phenomenal climate change. Records in the galleons could assist in better understanding the present climate through historical records.
On April 23, 1815, the Governor and Captain-General of the Philippines received the following order: It being the King’s purpose to provide means for prosperity and development of commerce in those Islands and considering the representations made by your deputy, Don Ventura de los Reyes, His Majesty has graciously approved the parts of the decree of the so-called extraordinary Cortez of September 14, 1813 in which they determined the suspension of the Acapulco ship, leaving the people free to engage in commerce in private ships.”
The Magallanes, the last of the Manila Galleons then raised its rusting anchors, unfurled its yellowed sails to the wind and slowly sailed out of Acapulco Bay toward the setting sun, never to return.