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History of Zamboanga


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History of Zamboanga - circa 1700s

1700s A.D. – Divine Intervention and Expansion

The San José Fort of Zamboanga was re-taken in 1718 under orders of newly elected Governor-General of the Philippines Fernando Manuel de Bustillo Bustamante y Rueda. It was first demolished and then reconstruction began on April 5, 1719, under the command of General Gregorio Padilla y Escalante.8  The new fort was greatly strengthened to ward off continued Moro Pirates' resistance and other invaders from foreign countries, and was renamed Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa after it was completed in the latter part of 1719.

By the act of the General Council of the Philippine Treasury, two permanent galliots were maintained at Samboangan since the year 1729, as necessary in those seas, so rough and so infested with enemies, for transporting from the province of Ogtong and the storehouses of Yloylo the rice and other provisions which are needed in this post.  The amount needed for the pay of these seamen is sent from the Royal Treasury of Manila.8

Coastguard Galleys at Samboangan – 1730 A.D. (as described by Don José Antonio Niño de Villavicencio of the Fort Nuestra Señora del Pilar at Samboangan in the Ventura de Arco MSS. (Ayer Library):

1730 Samboangan, two Spanish coastguard galleys (a flagship and an almiranta)"At this post are maintained, as a measure of precaution by this superior government since the past year of 1730, two coastguard galleys (a flagship and an almiranta), with [a crew of] 96 impressed men [forzados], and with all the supplies necessary for their outfit; care is also taken to repair and fortify them.  They have been kept up as an armament necessary at this time for checking the insolence of the neighboring Moros, who attack the villages of the territory under the royal crown.  In regard to the maintenance of these galleys, and the amount of supplies and the number of soldiers and sailors [required for them], although all this is found in included in the expenditures of the royal treasury as actual expenses, it must be borne in mind that they are not perpetual, but accidental and extraordinary, according to the movements of our enemies.  For this reason, these items of expense are sometimes included and sometimes omitted in the statements of accounts, according to the differences of time and occasion."8

The new fort was said to have miraculous powers from its namesake statue that was placed in 1734 as a religious centerpiece above the East wall. As a result of the fabled miracles of the Lady of the Pilar, the statue was converted into an open-air shrine with an altar and section for worship. The shrine’s miraculous tales not only attracts Christian worshipers today, but also some Muslims who feel they have been touched by the miracles attributed to the Lady of the Pilar.  Thus started the era of numerous changes that has made Zamboanga the place that it is today. To start, the Spaniards drew up a plan for the city.

During the protracted struggle with the Mohametans, Zamboanga was continually fortified and became the headquarters of the Spaniards in the Southern Philippines. After Cavite, Zamboanga was the chief naval station, and a penitentiary was also established here.  Its maintenance was a great burden to the Treasury - its existence a great eyesore to the enemy, whose hostility was much inflamed thereby.6

Don (General) José Antonio Niño de Villavicencio provides us a 1737 description of the Fort Nuestra Señora del Pilar at Samboangan in the Ventura de Arco MSS. (Ayer Library):

"This fort is in the town of Samboangan, a separate jurisdiction with a chief magistrate, who is the governor of this military post.  It is situated in the great island of Mindanao, near the promontory which is called Punta de La Caldera, in 7o - 4' North latitude, and 160o - 30' East longitude; it is distant from the capital, Manila, 134½ leguas South by East, and four degrees to the East.

This fort is constructed of stone and mortar, with a terreplein (a platform or level ground surface on which heavy guns are mounted), at the entrance of the town, on the seashore; the beach surrounds it on the Eastern and Southern sides, along which it has also, externally, a palisade.  On the western side, where the gate is, it has a marsh for a moat; and on the northern side, which faces the dwellings, it has an artificial moat.

Its shape is that of a rectangle, with four full bastions - three with straight flanks, and one with an orillon (a semicircular projection made at the shoulder of a bastion for the purpose of covering the retired flank, - found in old fortresses); it has a circuit of 820 feet, and in it are enclosed the necessary buildings, as the plan shows.  The town has its own special fortifications; for on the eastern side it has a long curtain of palisades, in the midst of which there is a semicircular platform, which defends it.  On the northern side there is a long curtain of stone and mortar, flanked at the east by a bastion with orillon, called Santa Cathalina; and at the west by a cavalier or rectangular shape, called Santa Barbara.  This curtain has its palisade, which end on the western side of this town, at some distance from the said cavalier; and the rest of this said side has some marshes for defense.  The said wall and curtain of this town is surrounded by a canal, full of water, ten or twelve feet wide; and it connects with the said marshes."8

In 1738, the fixed annual expenses of Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa and its equipment were 17,500 pesos, and the incidental reimbursements were estimated at 7,500 pesos.  These sums did not include the cost of scores of armed fleets which, at enormous expense, were sent out against the Mahometans to little purpose. Each new Zamboanga Governor of a martial spirit, and desiring to do something to establish or confirm his fame for prowess, seemed to regard it as a kind of duty to premise the quelling of imaginary troubles in Sulu and Mindanao.  Some, with less patriotism than selfishness, found a ready excuse for filling their own pockets by the proceeds of warfare, in making feigned efforts to rescue captives.  It may be observed, in extenuation, that, in those days, the Spaniards believed from their birth that none but a Christian had rights, whilst some were deluded by a conscientious impression that they were executing a high mission; myth as it was, it at least served to give them courage in their perilous undertakings.  Peace was made and broken over and over again. Spanish forts were at times established in Sulu, and afterwards demolished. Every decade brought new devices to control the desperate foe.  Several Governor-General headed the troops in person against the Mahometans with temporary success, but without any lasting effect, and almost every new Governor made a solemn treaty with one powerful chief or another, which was respected only as long as it suited both parties.  This continued campaign, the details of which are too prolix for insertion here, may be qualified as a religious war, for Roman Catholic priests took an active part in the operations with the same ardent passion as the Mahometans themselves. Among these tonsured warriors who acquired great fame out of their profession may be mentioned Father Ducos, the son of a Colonel, José Villanueva, and Pedro de San Agustin, the last being known, with dread, by the Mahometans in the beginning of the 17th century under the title of the Captain-Priest.  One of the most renowned kings in Mindanao was Cachil Corralat, an astute, far-seeing chieftain, who ably defended the independence of his territory, and kept the Spaniards at bay during the whole of his manhood.6

From October 1, 1754, the troops were quartered in barracks, Commissariat Officers were appointed, and every man and every officer was regularly paid fortnightly.  The soldiers were not used to this discipline, and desertion was frequent.  They much preferred the old style of roaming about to beg or steal and live where they chose until they were called out to service, and very vigorous measures had to be adopted to compel them to comply with the new regulations.  In May, 1755, four artillery brigades were formed, the commanding officer each received P.30 per month pay.6

In 1757, there were 16 fortified provincial outposts in the Philippines, at a total estimated cost of P.37,638 per annum.  Zamboanga, the chief centre of operations against the Mahometans, alone cost P.18,831.6

In 1784, the La Caldera fort was re-built by the Spaniards as an additional defense system to the mighty Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in downtown Zamboanga, and "principally for protection against the Sulu pirates, who were in the habit of visiting the settlements, and carrying off the inhabitants as slaves, to obtain ransom for them. This fort, and others of the same description, were therefore constructed as places of refuge for the inhabitants, as well as to afford protection to vessels." The resurrected La Caldera fort measured "about seventy feet square, and was built of large blocks of red coral, which evidently have not been taken from the vicinity of the place," as was stated by the lieutenant in command of the fort in an 1842 survey by a US Navy expedition.

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