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History of Zamboanga - circa 1500s

1500s A.D. – The Spaniards arrive

The early 1500s brought along the Spaniards and their Catholic religion into the Philippine Islands, in search of spices and riches. The Spanish's recorded presence in Jambangan can be dated as far back as November 1596, when a small Spanish settlement and garrison was established in the port of La Caldera, the present-day Caldera Bay area barrio called Recodo, located about fifteen miles north-east of present downtown Zamboanga City. Captain Don Juan Ronquillo del Castillo built a presidio with a fort (La Caldera Fort) as the base of their operations in Mindanao and against the Cotabato Moros (the Buhahayens, and their alliance with the king of Terrenate, Moluccas) after withdrawing from the Tampacan and Lumaguan area (present-day Cotabato), and burning their fort and settlement there (which was founded by Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa in February, 1596), then left Captain Juan Pacho (or Paches) behind to man it before returning to Manila.

February 1596 - Mindanao Island (Cotabato) is first settled by the Spaniards:

"While these things were happening in Camboja and Cochinchina, orders had arrived from España from his Majesty to conclude an agreement that Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa had made with Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, under which the former was to pacify and settle the island of Mindanao at his own expense, and receive the governorship of the island for two lives {58} and other rewards. The said agreement was effected, after certain difficulties that arose were settled. Don Estevan Rodriguez prepared men and ships, and what else was necessary for the enterprise, and with some galleys, galleots, frigates, vireys, barangays, and lapis, {59} set out with two hundred and fourteen (214) Spaniards for the island of Mindanao, in February of the same year, of ninety-six (1596). He took Captain Juan de la Xara as his master-of-camp, and some religious of the Society of Jesus to give instruction, as well as many natives (from Luzon island) for the service of the camp and fleet.

He reached Mindanao River (in Cotabato), after a good voyage, where the first settlements, named Tampacan and Lumaguan, both hostile to the people of Buhahayen, received him peacefully and in a friendly manner, and joined his fleet. They were altogether about six thousand men. Without delay they advanced about eight leguas farther up the river against Buhahayen, the principal settlement of the island, where its greatest chief had fortified himself on many sides."11

November 1596 - La Caldera Presidio is built and garrisoned:

Juan Ronquillo is sent to Mindanao and takes over the command there, but being discouraged by the outlook advises an evacuation of the river of Mindanao (located in modern-day Cotabato) and the fortifying of La Caldera (in Jambangan, now barrio Recodo in Caldera Bay) on the Mindanao coast. However he gains a complete victory over the combined forces of Mindanaos and Ternatans, which causes him to send another despatch to (Governor Francisco) Tello.

But the latter's reply to the first despatch having been received, in accordance with its orders he burns his fort in Tampacan (Cotabato).

Then after burning their fort and settlement, the Spaniards embarked all their forces as soon as possible, left the river, and went to La Caldera (in Jambangan, now barrio Recodo in Caldera Bay), twenty-four leguas farther down in the direction of Manila. Having entered port, they built a fortress and left there a garrison of one hundred (100) Spaniards, with some artillery, provisions, and boats for their use.

After establishing a garrison at La Caldera, he returns to Manila with the rest of his command."11

It is curious to note that while official Spanish records show the year 1596 as being linked to the reference of La Caldera in Zamboanga's history, there are also other writings that note the year 1569 as being the year the La Caldera fort was established. While this year has no recorded account as being what it is purported to be, the numerical date ending does lend to a possible visual impairment called dyslexia, wherein original numbers are transposed, in this case noting 96 as 69, thus 1569. So, historically speaking, 1569 cannot be substantiated as the date the Spaniards established their presence in La Caldera, making the year 1596 the historical La Caldera year according to official Spanish records.

It is also feasible, and highly likely, that the prominently exposed area of Jambangan was discovered much earlier (in 1575) by the Spaniards, whose location lay at the very tip of the western peninsula of the Mindanao island, and whose sea passage (which is now known as the Basilan Straight) is the most logical navigable route of the Spanish ships, and those of many other country origins, including the nearby Joloans, Mindanaoans, and frequent Chinese traders.

In 1575, the newly appointed Filipinas Islands' Governor and Captain-General Doctor Francisco de Sande, who succeeded after the death of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the colonial founder (the islands were discovered by Ferdinand Magellan) of the Filipinas Islands and the town of Cebu, personally led an expedition to the island of Borneo where he attacked and captured the enemy's fleet and the principal house and residence of the island's king.

1575 Mindanao exploration by Governor Sande possible first Spanish encounter of Jambangan place and people

"When the news of the entrance and conquest of the Filipinas Islands by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and of his death, reached Españia, his Majesty appointed as governor and captain-general of the islands, Doctor Francisco de Sande, a native of Caceres, and alcalde of the Audiencia of Mexico. The latter journeyed thither, and took over his government in the year one thousand five hundred and seventy-five (1575).

Among other enterprises, the governor made in person the expedition to the island of Borneo with a fleet of galleys and frigates.{27} With these he attacked and captured the enemy’s fleet, which had come out to meet him. He captured also the principal settlement, where the king of the island had his house and residence.

After a few days he abandoned it (Borneo) and returned to Manila, on account of sickness among the crews, and his inability to support and care for the Spaniards in that island. On the way back, and by his orders, Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa entered the island of Jólo; he came to blows with the natives and their chief, whom he conquered, and the latter rendered him acknowledgment and submission in the name of his Majesty.  Captain Figueroa commanded the Governor's fleet of galleys and frigates, with more than 1,500 Indian bowmen from the provinces of Pangasinan , Cagayan, and Pintados, according to San Agustin's accounts.

Thence Governor de Sande went to the island of Mindanao which he explored (most probably the peninsula tip of Jambangan , which is the closest and first area of Mindanao island you see coming from the island of Jólo - see map), reconnoitering its river (possibly the formerly great "Tumaga " river) and chief settlements (the barangay Tetuan was formerly a sizeable river delta community called "Lama-Lama" by the natives in honor of their chief named Datu Lama). On his way he reduced other towns and natives of the same island, who had been pacified, to friendship and alliance with the Spaniards (it should be noted that no captured Joloans or Mindanaos ever signed a friendship or alliance pact with the conquering Spaniards - they only acknowledged and submitted temporarily to Spanish authority, until the Spaniards departed or became weakened)."11

It is popularly written that the earliest Spanish settlement of Jambangan dates back to sometime in 1593, when a Catholic mission was established in the La Caldera area. This common story is however unsubstantiated in any official historical account by Spanish records or any other means. It would be interesting to find out how this aspect of local founding first came about. Regardless, we will present our own analysis of how the La Caldera Mission came to be established in 1593, according to actual chronological events in the same year, bridging the wide gap between local fact and fiction.

The Society of Jesus missionaries are widely known for accompanying the fleet of Spanish soldiers during their missions for prayer support of the troops and pacification of natives in their newly conquered territories, and especially in the establishment of Jambangan.  The Jesuit order first came to the Filipinas in 1580, founded by fathers Antonio Sedeño and Alonso Sanchez, who were personally selected for accompaniment to the islands by newly appointed and the first bishop of the Filipinas, Don Fray Domingo de Salazar, of the Dominican order, during the administration of Governor Don Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa .11

During this same term period of 1580, the king of Spain had assimilated the kingdoms of Portugal after Spain defeated Portugal in the Battle of Alcantara in August 25, 1580, uniting the previously divided New world of maritime exploration along the demarcation line as directed by Pope Alexander VI in May 4, 1493, and officially implemented with the signing of the Treaty of Saragossa between Spain and Portugal in April 22, 1529. The aforementioned Spanish victory will bring ever closer the happenings in the Filipinas and the beginning of La Caldera, as it lead to the eventual joint Spanish-Portuguese expeditions against their long-time nemesis in the kingdom of Terrenate and their Dutch protectors.

After August 25, 1580, the King of Spain and his newly conquered Portuguese empire, "ordered the governor of Manila to maintain good relations with the chief captain of the fortress of the island of Tidore, in Maluco, and to assist him when necessary, he sent a fleet and soldiers thither from Manila, under command of Captain Don Juan Ronquillo del Castillo. This he did at the request of Diego de Azambuja, chief captain of Tidore, for the expedition and conquest of the island of Terrenate. But after reaching Maluco, the expedition did not succeed in its object. {28} Thenceforward, supplies of men and provisions continued to be sent from the Filipinas to the fortress of Tidore." 11

In order to better understand Spain’s conquest of the Filipinas in 1575, and the subsequent zeal for Christianizing the island archipelago and its diverse inhabitants by the various Orders of Spanish priests sent there, in spite of the fact that the islands were not a profitable venture for the Crown, we need to look back – way back – into Spain’s ancient history. Spain only began its existence as a single country on October 17, 1469 when the independent kingdoms of Aragon and Castile united after the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Portugal used to be part of Castile until after a then count Alfonso was proclaimed the first king of Portugal, and subsequently declares independence from Castile on July 26, 1139. Early on, Spain used to be a conglomeration of states and kingdoms. One of its states – Gibraltar – was invaded by Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711 A.D., beginning the 900-year Moorish conquest of Spain, which was ironically first settled by the Iberians from a Libyan tribe in North Africa. The Moors were Arabic Muslims of Africa, and their Islamic religion was spread far and wide into the Christian society of Spain. Islam transformed Spain into a Muslim kingdom, and its 900 years of influence will live long and prosper like no other conquerors before or since. The citizens of Moorish-Spain during this time period were essentially "Moros," and they were the forefathers of the "Spaniards" who conquered the Filipinas. The mere thought of encountering the Moros of the Filipinas and their Islamic religion made the conquering Spaniards’ blood boil with revenge, and the Catholic priests’ zeal burst with religious conversion and complete assimilation of all Muslims. Whether they liked it or not, the blood that ran deep in the veins of the Spaniards, and the Mindanao and Sulu pirates, was the same ancient " Moro" blood that was spilled between them –"brothers against brothers!" Nevertheless, no matter what the significance of the link may be, atrocities were committed by everyone, and profit was made by many. Today, all this travel through ancient Spanish and Moorish history brings us to a place we simply call home – Zamboanga, La Bella Ciudad de Flores!

November-December 1593 - La Caldera Mission's possible founding:

We will quote critical historical events that happened during the year of 1593, and assimilate them into our belief on how they helped in the establishment of the La Caldera Mission by Spanish priests, most probably Jesuits

"From the moment that Governor Gomez Perez Dasmariñas received his charge in España, he had cherished the desire to lead an expedition from Manila to conquer the fort of Terrenate in Maluco, on account of the great importance of this enterprise, and its outcome, in which no success had been attained on other occasions. He was constantly making necessary arrangements for undertaking this expedition, but so secretly that he declared it to no one, until, in the year ninety-three (1593), seeing that the preparations for his intention appeared sufficient, he declared his purpose, and made ready to set out in person, with more than nine hundred (900) Spaniards and two hundred (200) sail, counting galleys, galliots, frigates, vireys, and other craft."11

Governor Gomez Dasmariñas ordered his entire galley to go ahead of him, as he was still preparing his ship for the journey, placing his son, Don Luis Dasmariñas, as his lieutenant in the rank of captain-general, to the provinces of Pintados (Visayas) - probably more likely in the island port of Sebu. After the governor's ship was readied and took sail from the port of Cabit (Cavite) on October, 1593, he and most of his Spanish crew were attacked and killed by his chosen Chinese rowers a few days later, and the ship and cargo stolen then made sail for China.

When news of this incident reached Manila from the few who escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to shore, the Royal Audiencia elected Licentiate Pedro de Rojas as governor and captain-general. Then, the elected governor and the Audiencia decided to chase after their galley to inform them of what happened and to recall them for the protection of Manila:

1. "They sent Captain Don Juan Ronquillo del Castillo and other captains with two frigates (for there were no other vessels) in pursuit of the galley, a fruitless attempt, for the galley was nowhere to be seen."11

2. "The new governor also sent a message to Don Luis Dasmariñas and to the army and fleet who were awaiting Gomez Perez in Pintados, informing him of the latter’s death and of what had happened, as well as of his own recent election to affairs of government.  He also ordered them to return with all speed to Manila, for the city was left almost deserted, and without the necessary precautions for any emergency."11

With this bad news, both Don Luis Perez Dasmariñas and Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa speedily set sail for Manila in the best ships and crews of the fleet, arriving there forty (40) days later, and Don Luis was made governor after succession ruling. The rest of the armada eventually arrived in Manila afterwards.

It is unspecified whether all the ships of the Spanish armada was anchored solely in the Pintados (Visayan provinces) or anchored elsewhere, awaiting the planned rendezvous with the governor's lead ship that was trailing behind. This is the only known event of major proportions that can effect a possible landing in La Caldera of the balance of the advance galley that was not found by the first dispatch of governor-elect Licentiate Pedro de Rojas. Thus, it was the only historical event we can suspect that led to the establishment of the La Caldera Mission. We suspect that since the above #1 dispatch by Captain Don Juan Ronquillo del Castillo and other captains with two frigates could not find the galley, and the second dispatch successful, it is plausible that some of the ships went ahead of the ones anchored in the port of Sebu, and found a refuge place in the big bay area on the tip of the Mindanao peninsula, naming it La Caldera for how it was shaped. While the advance galley waited in this safe harbor for over a month, the Spanish priests who usually go along with these vessels did their duty of religious pacification of the friendly natives, who we deduce "had been pacified, to friendship and alliance with the Spaniards" 11by the late Governor Doctor Francisco de Sande, in 1575. Then, in getting word of the Chinese rowers' revolt and subsequent killing of their governor most probably from their troops in Sebu, the galley returned to Manila as ordered, but left behind the priests who had already began to spread their missionary work.

CONCLUSION: By the time we get our first recorded history of La Caldera's existence in 1596 when Captain Don Juan Ronquillo del Castillo retreated from Tampacan (in Cotabato), the La Caldera Mission was already well established, but thereupon further expanded to included a fort and garrison. Unless there is another historical account detailing the establishment of the La Caldera Mission in 1593, we hereby present that the aforementioned chain of events led to the founding of the La Caldera Mission, possibly within the months of November-December 1593 because the Spanish armada did not leave Manila until the month of October 1593, and given the length of time it took them to travel the distance based on the above 40-day travel time from Cebu-Manila by Luis Dasmariñas.

In 1598, affairs in Mindanao and Jolo assume a threatening aspect. One Juan Pacho, commander of the La Caldera Presidio, is killed in an incursion into Jolo with twenty of his men, and a new commander of La Caldera is appointed until a punitive expedition against Jolo can be undertaken.

"Captain Juan Pacho, who commanded the presidio of La Caldera in Don Juan Ronquillo’s absence, having sent some soldiers to barter for wax, the Joloans maltreated them and killed two of them. Juan Pacho, with the intention of punishing this excess of the Joloans, went there in person with several boats and thirty soldiers. As he landed, a considerable body of Joloans descended from their king’s town, which is situated on a high and strongly-fortified hill, and attacked the Spaniards. Through the number of the natives and the Spaniards’ inability to make use of their arquebuses, on account of a heavy shower, the latter were routed, and Captain Juan Pacho and twenty of his followers killed. The rest wounded and in flight took to their boats and returned to La Caldera.

This event caused great grief in Manila, especially because of the reputation lost by it, both among the Joloans, and their neighbors, the people of Mindanao. Although it was considered necessary to punish the Joloans in order to erase this disgrace, yet as this should be done signally and just then there was not sufficient preparation, it was deferred until a better opportunity.

Only Captain Villagra was sent immediately as commander of the presidio of La Caldera, with some soldiers. Having arrived there, they spent their time in pleasure, until their provisions were consumed, and the garrison suffering. They were maintained and supported because of the slight protection that the people of Tampacan felt, knowing that there were Spaniards on the island, and hoped for the arrival of more Spaniards, as Don Juan had promised them, and for punishment and vengeance upon the men of Jolo."11

1598 - La Caldera Presidio and Mission is abandoned, signifying weakness of the Spaniards, and causes rise of Moro offensive

The continued mismanagement of the La Caldera Presidio by its Spanish captains and the little attention given to it by the governor, eventually lead to the area's decay and final demise when the fort was burned down by the Spaniards and the garrison retreated to Manila in 1598. This ill-advised decision by Governor Don Francisco de Tello de Guzmán will remove the only significant sentry they have in Mindanao island dividing the fragile line of safety for the rest of their northern Filipinas settlements and the sinister forces of the Moros and their alliance, who were steadily gaining strength and resolve to avenge the Spaniards' previous pacification attacks on them. It will signal the shift in military power in this region for many years to come.

"The Spanish garrison left in La Caldera, at the withdrawal of Don Joan Ronquillo’s camp from the river of Mindanao, passed into command of Captain Villagra at the death of Captain Joan Pacho in Jolo, and was suffering for lack of provisions; for neither the people of the river could give them to the Spaniards, nor would the Joloans furnish any on account of the war declared upon them. Therefore the garrison urgently requested Governor Don Francisco Tello either to aid their presidio with provisions, soldiers, and ammunition, or to allow them to retire to Manila—a thing of which they were most desirous— since there they gained no other special result than that of famine, and of incarceration in that fort, and of no place wherein to seek their sustenance.

The governor, in view of their insistence in the matter; and having but little money in the royal exchequer, with which to provide for and maintain the said presidio—and for the same reason the punishment that was to be inflicted upon the Joloans for their outrages upon the Spaniards, and their insurrection was deferred—and thinking that the return to Mindanao matters would be a long question: he was inclined to excuse the difficulty and anxiety of maintaining the presidio of La Caldera. In order to do it with a reasonable excuse he consulted the Audiencia and other intelligent persons, and requested them to give him their opinion. But he first communicated his wishes to them and gave them some reasons with which he tried to persuade them to give him the answer that he desired.

The Audiencia advised him not to remove or raise the garrison of La Caldera, but to reënforce and maintain it, and to attend to the affairs of Jolo and the river of Mindanao as soon as possible, even if what was necessary for those two places should be withdrawn from some other section.

They said that this was the most urgent need, and the one which required the greatest attention in the islands, both in order to pacify those provinces and to keep them curbed; lest, seeing the Spaniards totally withdrawn, they should gain courage and boldly venture still farther, and come down to make captures among the Pintados and carry the war to the very doors of the Spaniards. {120}

Notwithstanding this reply the governor resolved to raise and withdraw the garrison, and sent orders to Captain Villagra immediately to burn the fort which had been built in La Caldera, to withdraw with all his men and ships, and return to Manila." 11

NOTE: The above historical account of how the Filipinas governor acted concerning the fate of the La Caldera Presidio and Mission, deciding to burn it down against the strong advise by the royal Audiencia and their wish to reinforce and maintain it instead, is very similar to how the current Philippine government is handling their long-standing decision to NOT re-invest and maintain the health of perennially neglected Zamboanga City and "attend to the affairs" of Jolo, Sulu and poverty-stricken Mindanao. It's amazing to observe that in over four-hundred (400) years of the Zamboanga Peninsula's and the Philippines' history, nothing has changed in the way Manila-centric government treats the people of the southern Philippines. Nevertheless, Zamboanga City still continues to prosper astoundingly on its own accord, leading the way for many of its now peaceful neighbors.

"The Joloans and Mindanaos are emboldened by the final abandonment and dismantling (burning) of the fort at La Caldera -- which is decided upon by the governor against the opinion of the Audiencia-- and, joined in self-defense by the peaceful natives of Mindanao, make an incursion against Spaniards and natives in the Pintados (Visayas) in 1599, in which they take immense booty and many captives. The next year they return with a larger force, but are defeated by the alcalde-mayor of Arevalo (Panay Island), whereupon they resolve to be revenged."11

After a relatively easy time in subjugating the Luzon and Visayan islanders, the Spaniards would suffer many losses against the marauding and murdering surprise attacks of the Moro Pirates who retreated to their strongholds in Mindanao Island and the Sulu Archipelago. They would roam the gamut of the Philippine Islands on their numerous deadly pirate raids, taking loot, capturing hundreds of slaves for their prosperous slave trade, and women as harems for the sultans who made merry with them, and slaughtered thousands of village people left behind.  The Visayas Islands were constant targets and suffered the most.

It would take the ill-prepared and ill-equipped Spaniards over thirty (30) years to recover from these crippling pirate attacks and make another attempt at conquering the Moros in the southern Philippines. Meanwhile, the locals would suffer greatly as the Moro Pirate attacks and pillaging continued to reign terror throughout the islands. Spanish and Philippine history will weigh heavily on the ill-advised decision and the deadly results of retreating from and destroying the very important La Caldera Presidio and Mission, in the annals of present-day Zamboanga City.

During the time of Alimud Din, the Spaniards forfeited all claim to sympathy in the conduct of their feud with the Moros. The Mohammedans of Mindanao and Sulu have indeed proved to be barbarians of the first order, no different than others like them in Europe or Asia, i.e. the barbarians of Norway and Mongolia. However, history does not elaborate which ones of the handful of Malayan tribes that made up this part of the southern Philippines their new home accountable for the attacks on the other islands' residents, and are usually described as plain "Moros" - whether they are from Mindanao, Jolo, nearby islands, or their friends from the southern island kingdoms of Borneo, Ternate, and elsewhere.  For the purpose of historical and descriptive accuracy, "Moro Pirates" will be used to describe the actual band of people who committed the acts of piracy and not the Moro People in general, just as Nazi Germans did not represent the German people.  The Moro Pirates have been historically known by most of the ship traders and island residents of the Southeast Asia region to be constant in their way of life for over 500 years.  Historical accounts show that the Moro Pirates have been practicing their way of life almost 100 years before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines- it was their nature. In contrast, the Spaniards also had their share of barbarism against their Filipino captives and willing subjects.2

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