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371 Years




The principal peoples of the Philippine archipelago were the Negritos, proto-Malays, and Malays. The Negritos are believed to have migrated by land bridges some 30,000 years ago, during the last glacial period. Later migrations were by water and took place over several thousand years in repeated movements before and after the start of the Christian era.1

Not much is known of the early inhabitants of the Mindanao Island peninsula during this time line.  Although Western time line puts Philippine history in accordance to their discovery of the islands, this short-sighted view point cannot erase the factual history of the people who discovered and inhabited the islands long before the western world arrived.  The barangay method of government of these peoples, in use for over a thousand years, was the biggest dividing line between their nation of small enclaves and the present geographically defined country that is The Philippines.

*900 A.D. - Western timeline is pushed back a few hundred years

A Philippine Document - The Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI) reveals a literate population.

*1000 A.D.

The vegetation and flowers are growing profusely and beautifully, just waiting to be discovered.

*1100 A.D.

The vegetation and flowers are growing profusely and beautifully, still waiting to be discovered.

*1200 A.D. – The Beginning

In the beginning, there was Jambangan (not Samboangan, as others erroneously insist) the ancient place that was settled in the 1200s by the Subanons, who are considered by historians to be the founding fathers of the place they called the “Land of Flowers.” (interesting historical note: The mainland of the North American continent was first sighted by the Spanish explorer and treasure hunter Don Juan Ponce de Leon on Easter, March 27, 1513. He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers". ) They are of Malayan decent who traveled away from their homeland in Indonesia to find their new home on the tip of the Mindanao island peninsula.  They are a farming-based people who choose to settle along the banks of the rivers (called suba in their native tongue) and consequently derived their ethnic name from it.  The Subanons (“People of the River”) mostly grew root and tree crops, along with their rice staple, which they still do to this day.

One can only imagine how Jambangan must have looked back then, with its profusion of native vegetation and flowers.  It is said that Marco Polo’s ship probably spent some time exploring the coasts of Mindanao and Sulu in 1292 while waiting many months on the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia for a favorable monsoon to deliver a royal bride from the court of Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan and supreme leader of the vast empire of Mongolia (1215-94), to the Khan of Persia and may have made contact with the new inhabitants of the region.  The monsoons around this area of Southeast Asia were constant and reliable, well known to all the seasoned mariners and widely credited for the profusion of early commerce in the area.2

*1300 A.D. – The Malayan influx

Then came the Badjaos and the Samals from Malayan decent who settled along the Jambangan shoreline in the 1300s.  They made contact with the founding Subanons who told them the namesake of their newfound home.  The new settlers however preferred to call it Samboangan, which to this day is what they sentimentally call it.  However, those who still insist on referring to Samboangan as the original name of Zamboanga City are privy to folly and not to historical facts.  One can only imagine the migration route that was founded by the Malayan settlers into Jambangan and Mindanao, and the trade route that ensued along the Sulu Archipelago between them, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the traders from the Middle East, India, China, and Japan who were plying the waters of this area.

The Tausugs came next along with the Yakans, both of Malayan decent also.  The Tausugs eventually became the most dominant and aggressive ethnic group of the entire region, establishing their own Sultanate based in the island of Jolo, and was part of the bigger Sultanate of Brunei in north Borneo, a thriving trade center of more than 70,000 people.  The world at this time was in a trading frenzy and the Malays were leading the way to new products, commerce, and exotic shores, and Jambangan was a contributor to this trade activity.

The Badjaos, Samals, Tausugs, and Yakans from Malaysia and Borneo/Brunei still consist a big majority of the minority group that make up today's area population.  On the other hand, the founding Subanons of Indonesia have long moved their nucleus on to the hinterlands of the Mindanao Island peninsula to pursue their ancient ways, leaving behind only a semblance of their numerous presence.  One can catch a glimpse of what it must have been like in the early days by visiting their mountain home.  The Yakans would choose to establish themselves in the island of Basilan, with a small thriving community present here today.  The Badjaos are a sea-faring tribe in its truest sense, and have a loose foothold on residency here.

*1400 A.D. – Mohammedanism takes hold

In the 1400s, the new settlers of Jambangan, Mindanao Island, and the Sulu Archipelago region experienced a spiritual transformation that is evident to this day.  Mohammedanism was introduced to these people of Malayan decent, and eventually spread out to the Visayas and as far north as Manila, and preceded the Spanish arrival by only sixty years.  The Mohammedan conquest of the Philippine Islands was almost complete, and the country would have been a Muslim state today.

With all due respect to the views of the Mohammedans of the Philippines, the religion of Islam was highly tolerant of other religions even at the zenith of its empire building.  Jews and Christians were, to name a few, allowed to practice their beliefs in, of all places, the center of the Islamic world at this time - Baghdad.  Their many contributions would also enrich the culture of Islam.  If one is inclined to understand a more detailed history of Islam, we recommend: Islam - Empire of Faith.

1500 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 as the base of their operations in Mindanao and against the Cotabato Moros (the Buhahayens, and their alliance with the king of Terrenate, Mollucas) 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 king.

1575Mindanao 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, inspite 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"11 by 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

*1600 A.D. – A formidable Fort, militant Catholicism, Zamboanga, and Chavacano arrives

In the 1600s, Jambangan would experience its transition from the Muslim community it has become into the Catholic dominated city it is today.  In 1635, Don Juan Cerezo de Salamanca, interim Governor-General of the Philippines, received reports relative to the Moro power concentrated near the site of the present downtown of Zamboanga. During that year, Padre Juan Batista Vilancio, who had been for years a captive in Jolo, escaped to Manila and brought to the ears of the Governor-General an account of the town where "the nobility of Mindanao held court."

Governor Salamanca resolved to take possession of this strategic peninsula, hoping in this manner to strike a heavy blow on to the Moro power. A fortress in Jambangan would command the Basilan Straight, the waters of which were the ordinary course of the Moro pirate vessels infesting the coasts of the Visayas. The region of Jambangan, while not as important as the seats of the Sultans of Sulu and Mindanao, was nevertheless the territory of a minor Moro king whose authority reached along both sides of the peninsula for a hundred miles on either side. Salamanca hoped to divide this unbroken front and his efforts would prove successful.

Thirty-seven (37) years after the ill-advised destruction of their La Caldera Presidio and Mission, the coffers of the Manila-centric Filipinas Spanish government is once again enriched and well-supplied with new troops from Nueva España and other native settlements in the Visayas and Luzon islands, who have suffered tremendous losses from the Moro attacks on their villages, leading to a more concerted effort in restoring their important sentry in the Mindanao island peninsula.

B & W-Ship of 1630.jpg (87699 bytes)After due preparation for their voyage, a conquering force of 300 well armed Spaniards from Luzon and 1,000 Cebuanos under the command of Captain Juan de Chaves landed at Jambangan on April 6, 1635. There, de Chaves temporarily founded the town of Bagumbayan, which was the first Spanish-given name for Jambangan, and from this station he soon attacked and cleared the town of La Caldera, now barrio Recodo in Caldera Bay, and eventually the rest of the Jambangan peninsula, of Moro Pirates. Their two-month long campaign would provide them a temporary relief from the Moro Pirates and allow them to start construction on the fort. 

Soon, the construction of one of the finest and most important Spanish forts in the East was put into effect. Upon careful choice of locating the fort at the southern-most tip of the peninsula for its military vantage point of the main water routes that converges in what's called today the Basilan Straights, the foundation of the grand fortress of Fuerza de San José was laid by Father Melchor de Vera7, a Jesuit priest and engineer of the Spanish army, on June 23, 1635, establishing a permanent Spanish presence here brick-by-brick.2  Zamboanga City, as we know it today, was thus born.

In the best evidence we have found so far relating to the early beginnings of Zamboanga, a letter to King Philip IV of Spain from the Bishop Fray Pedro of "Santissimo Nombre de Jesus" (locally known as Cebu) dated October 17, 1635 states that he requested, and got approval, from interim Governor Salamanca, the building of a fort in "Samboanga or Samboangan" to preclude their enemies in Mindanao and Sulu from raiding his "people" and "burning villages, firing churches, destroying images, and capturing many Indians" (their description of the locals), especially worst during the previous year.3  Bishop Fray Pedro also advised the new Governor Don Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera, ex-governor of Panama, that the work on Fort San José be continued for the benefit of church and state.  The efforts of the Bishop of Cebu would prove fruitful for the coffers of Spain, and a handful for the few Jesuit priests from Cebu he "entrusted" to do the religious conversion of the natives, who numbered in the "many thousands."  The inadequate number of Jesuits for their religious mission resulted in the Bishop requesting from the King "forty" (40) more devoted and "efficient" fathers of the Society of Jesus.3  The local scenery at this time must not have looked that much different than a picture scene in the late 1700s, proving that early Jambangan was already a major trading town with thousands of residents.

Along with the new formidable fort, the Spaniards would forever change the area’s original Jambangan name (which came to be known and spelled Samboangan in the early 1600s by Spanish historians) that stood for over four centuries into its present one – Zamboanga.  Little did Captain Chaves foresee that it will someday be considered by some of the leading travel writers today to be the most beautiful and exotic sounding name for a tourist destination city.

Another historical transformation will take place henceforth and will forever embody the character of Zamboanga – the evolution of the Chavacano Dialect and its People - the Chavacanos.  The conglomeration of the multitudes of ethnic and foreign peoples and languages from the surrounding Philippine Islands and European countries would force upon the fort and city builders a rudimentary form of survival communication, evolving into the unique dialect of today, based on Creole Spanish: Chavacano

June 23, 1635, the day Zamboanga and Chavacano were founded, should also be symbolically known as “Dia del Chavacano de Zamboanga.”

Thus, the veil of Catholicism began to slowly spread across the region with the spirited drive of the militant Jesuits.  With no spices or gold to enrich the king’s coffers, except for local taxes, the Jesuits refocused the Spanish government’s agenda and made religion the object of their expansion and conquest here.  It is conceivable that eight hundred years of Moorish domination over Spain that ended in 1492 with the fall of Granada must have left bad blood in the Spanish conquerors’ dealings with the region's transplanted Malayan residents who were converted to Mohammedanism.  In this crossroads of Zamboanga’s storied history, Filipino people of the same Malayan decent fought each other to the death in battles for religious domination.  The Spaniards and Filipinos from the Visayan and Luzon Islands, backed by the bigger guns and resolve of the Spanish empire to stop the murdering Moro Pirates, eventually made their secure foothold in Mindanao with the strategically placed San José Fort in Zamboanga and have not relinquished it to this day – 371 years later.

In the history of Spanish conquest, there is no other place that symbolizes their greatest achievement as the success of the Zamboanga campaign and the formidable San José Fort that saved them, erasing almost a century of their failure to win against the resilient Moro Pirates.  It is even more remarkable what the severely outnumbered Chavacanos have accomplished given the isolation of Zamboanga in the middle of predominant Moroland.

The erection of this fortress was accompanied by serious interruptions in the way of Moro Pirate attacks. With only a portion of the massive walls in place, the Spaniards awoke one morning to meet the attack of some 5,000 Moro Pirates, who entered Rio Hondo and attacked the unfinished fortification.  Canons were hastily mounted upon the fragmentary walls and the Spaniards retired to the partial shelter to pour a terrible canon fire towards the advancing Moro Pirates. The Moro Pirates' wave broke on the uncompleted walls and the force eventually retired, with severe casualties inflicted upon the Spaniards.

With the completion of the San José Fort, a convenient base of operations paved the way for a long-awaited Spanish victory in Moroland. This strong fortress, only ninety miles from the Moro capital of Jolo, always remained as a serious deterrent to Moro Pirates' aggression. The meter-thick walls withstood numerous attacks, and in all of the long history of this fort, the Moro Pirates never captured it.

The first victory for the men of the fortress and also the first major victory for Spain was the destruction of a Moro Pirates' fleet.  In 1636, Tagal, brother of Kudarat- the Sultan of Maguindanao (Mindanao), gathered a large fleet recruited from Mindanao, Sulu and Borneo and made a cruise to the Visayan Islands. The result was a glorious field day for the pirates. Every town of importance on the whole coast of the Visayas was attacked and looted.  When Tagal wearied of the slaughter and raised his hand to turn the prows of the pirate vessels to the south again, 650 captives lay trussed like chickens in the pirate hold.

One hundred miles from Jolo, a Spanish fleet that was operating from their base in Zamboanga, intercepted the victorious Tagal as he rounded the treacherous angle of rough water at Puenta de Flecha in the Dumanquillas Bay. Hampered by the hundreds of captives in the holds, the garays (a Spanish term given to the swift Moro-built pirate ships) of Tagal were slow and unwieldy, and in the naval engagement that followed the Moro Pirates suffered a crushing defeat. Three hundred Moro Pirates, including Tagal, were killed, and 120 captives were set free. Tagal jettisoned many of the captives as the tide of battle turned against him, and the sharks at Puenta Flecha fed well on the bound bodies of Christian slave girls bound for the harems of Jolo.2

After twenty eight years of rapid conversion of the locals in Zamboanga, areas of Mindanao and nearby Basilan Island, by the Jesuits, the supporting Spanish troops from Zamboanga, and Ternate (Spice Islands, Moluccas), were suddenly recalled to Manila in May 6, 1662 to spruce up its defense against possible invasion after the Dutch were expelled by the warlord they called Koxinga (Guo Xing-ye in Chinese) from Formosa, and did not return until 1718.  They left behind some of the Jesuits who decided to stay, along with their numerous Chavacanos, to continue their work of spreading the Catholic faith.  Amazingly, the Chavacanos, Jesuits included, will amazingly endure another fifty-six (56) years (1662-1718) of isolated existence and proliferation amidst the hostile threat and return of the Moro Pirates who overtook and destroyed the abandoned fort. 

*1700 A.D. – Divine Intervention and Expansion

The San José Fort of Zamboanga was re-taken, demolished, and rebuilt in 1718 by orders of newly elected Governor-General of the Philippines, Fernando Manuel de Bustillo Bustamante y RuedaIt 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.  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 Mahometans, Zamboanga was 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

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.

*1800 A.D. – The Climax and The Transition

Zamboanga's Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in the 1800s.In 1831, the decision was made to open up Zamboanga's maritime trade to the rest of the European powerhouse empires operating in the region for many years, ending the almost 200-year monopoly that the Spaniards closely maintained.  This agreement was part of the deal made when the British gave back control of Manila to the conquered Spanish rulers.  Consequently, a customs clearing house was established that year and the Zamboanga port opened up to international trade - although selectively privy to a few powerful signatories.

The circumstances which directly led to the opening of Zamboanga as a commercial port with the southern-most customs processing for the Spanish government in the Philippines are interesting when it is remembered that Mindanao Island is still quasi-independent in the interior - inhabited by races unconquered by the Spaniards, and where agriculture by civilized settlers is as yet nascent.  It appears that the port of Jolo in Sulu Island had been, for a long time, frequented by foreign ships, whose owners or officers (chiefly British) unscrupulously supplied the Sulus with sundry manufactured goods, including arms of warfare, much to the detriment of Spanish interests there, in exchange for mother-of-pearl, pearls, gums, etc.  The Spaniards claimed suzerain rights over the islands, but were not strong enough to establish and protect a Customhouse, so they imposed the regulation that ships loading in Jolo should put in at Zamboanga for clearance to foreign ports.  The foreigners who carried on this illicit traffic protested against a sailing-ship being required to go out of her homeward course about one hundred and twenty miles for the mere formality of customs clearance.  A British ship (and perhaps many before her) sailed straight away from Jolo, in defiance of the Spaniards, and the matter was then brought to the notice of the British Government, who intimated that either Jolo must be declared a free port or a Customs house must be established there.  The former alternative was chosen by the Spaniards, but Zamboanga remained an open port for foreign trade which very rarely came.6

Zamboanga (La Caldera fort) in 1842 - Two days in the city’s life


After the La Caldera Fort was burned down by the Spaniards in 1598 and its entire garrison returned to Manila, it was again rebuilt in 1784 as a secondary defensive citadel to the main fort Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in downtown Zamboanga, 186 years after that fateful decision.

(excerpts from: Narrative of The U.S. Exploring Expedition, Vol. V, Chaps. 8 and 9.; by: Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Commander of the Expedition)

"On the January 29th (1842), at noon, we had been wafted by it far enough in the offing to obtain the easterly breeze, which soon became strong, with an overcast sky, and carried us rapidly on our course; my time would not permit my heaving-to. We kept on our course for Mindanao during the whole night, and were constantly engaged in sounding, with our patent lead, with from thirty to forty fathoms cast, to prevent our passing over this part of the sea entirely unexamined.

[Mindanao.] At daylight on the January 31st (1842), we had the island of Mindanao before us, but did not reach its western cape until 5 p.m. This island is high and broken, like those to the north of it, but, unlike them, its mountains are covered with forests to their very tops, and there were no distinct cones of minor dimensions, as we had observed on the others. If they do exist, they were hidden by the dense forest.

I had determined to anchor at Caldera, a small port on the south-west side of Mindanao, about ten miles distant from Zamboanga, where the governor resides. The latter is a considerable place, but the anchorage in its roadstead is said to be bad, and the currents that run through the Straits of Basilan are represented to be strong. Caldera, on the other hand, has a good, though small anchorage, which is free from the currents of the straits. It is therefore an excellent stopping-place, in case of the tide proving unfavorable. On one of its points stands a small fort, which, on our arrival, hoisted Spanish colors.

At six o’clock we came to anchor at Caldera, in seven fathoms water. There were few indications of inhabitants, except at and near the fort. An officer was despatched to the fort, to report the ship. It was found to be occupied by a few soldiers under the command of a lieutenant.

Fort at La Caldera, Zamboanga City[Caldera fort.] The fort is about seventy feet square, and is built of large blocks of red coral, which evidently have not been taken from the vicinity of the place, as was stated by the officers of the fort; for although our parties wandered along the alluvial beach for two or three miles in each direction, no signs of coral were observed. Many fragments of red, gray, and purple basalt and porphyry were met with along the beach; talcose rock and slate, syenite, hornblend, quartz, both compact and slaty, with chalcedony, were found in pieces and large pebbles. Those who were engaged in dredging reported the bottom as being of coral, in from four to six or eight fathoms; but this was of a different kind from that of which the fort was constructed.

The fort was built (re-built) in the year 1784, 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, and others of the same description, were therefore constructed as places of refuge for the inhabitants, as well as to afford protection to vessels.

Depredations are still committed, which render it necessary to keep up a small force. One or two huts which were seen in the neighborhood of the bay, are built on posts twenty feet from the ground, and into them they ascend by ladders, which are hauled up after the occupants have entered.

These, it is said, are the sleeping-huts, and are so built for the purpose of preventing surprise at night. Before our arrival we had heard that the villages were all so constructed, but a visit to one soon showed that this was untrue. The natives seen at the village were thought to be of a decidedly lighter color (mestizos) and a somewhat different expression from the Malays. They were found to be very civil, and more polished in manners than our gentlemen expected. On asking for a drink of water, it was brought in a glass tumbler on a china plate. An old woman, to whom they had presented some trifles, took the trouble to meet them in another path on their return, and insisted on their accepting a basket of potatoes. Some of the houses contained several families, and many of them had no other means of entrance than a notched post stuck up to the door.

The forests of Mindanao contain a great variety of trees, some of which are of large size, rising to the height of one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet. Some of their trunks are shaped like buttresses, similar to those before spoken of at Manila, from which they obtain broad slabs for the tops of tables. The trunks were observed to shoot up remarkably straight. Our botanical gentlemen, though pleased with the excursion, were disappointed at not being able to procure specimens from the lofty trees; and the day was less productive in this respect than they had anticipated. Large woody vines were common, which enveloped the trunks of trees in their folds, and ascending to their tops, prevented the collection of the most desirable specimens.

The paths leading to the interior were narrow and much obstructed; one fine stream was crossed. Many buffaloes were observed wallowing in the mire, and the woods swarmed with monkeys and numbers of birds, among them the horn-bills; these kept up a continued chatter, and made a variety of loud noises. The forests here are entirely different from any we had seen elsewhere; and the stories of their being the abode of large boas and poisonous snakes, make the effect still greater on those who visit them for the first time. Our parties, however, saw nothing of these reptiles, nor anything to warrant a belief that such exist. Yet the officer at the fort related to me many snake stories that seemed to have some foundation; and by inquiries made elsewhere, I learned that they were at least warranted by some facts, though probably not to the extent that he represented.

Traces of deer and wild hogs were seen, and many birds were obtained, as well as land and sea shells. Among the latter was the Malleus vulgaris, which is used as food by the natives. The soil on this part of the island is a stiff clay, and the plants it produces are mostly woody; those of an herbaceous character were scarce, and only a few orchideous epiphytes and ferns were seen. Around the dwellings in the villages were a variety of vegetables and fruits, consisting of sugar-cane, sweet-potato, gourds, pumpkins, peppers, rice, water and musk melons, all fine and of large size.

The officer at the fort was a lieutenant of infantry; one of that rank is stationed here for a month, after which he, with the garrison, consisting of three soldiers, are relieved, from Zamboanga, where the Spaniards have three companies.

[Zamboanga.] Zamboanga is a convict settlement, to which the native rogues, principally thieves, are sent (this is why the San Ramon penal colony was established later on).  The Spanish criminals, as I have before stated in speaking of Manila, are sent to Spain.

The inhabitants of the island of Mindanao, who are under the subjection of Spain, are about ten thousand in number, of whom five or six thousand are at or in the neighborhood of Zamboanga. The original inhabitants, who dwell in the mountains and on the east coast, are said to be quite black, and are represented to be a very cruel and bad set; they have hitherto bid defiance to all attempts to subjugate them. When the Spaniards make excursions into the interior, which is seldom, they always go in large parties on account of the wild beasts, serpents, and hostile natives; nevertheless, the latter frequently attack and drive them back.

The little fort is considered as a sufficient protection for the fishermen and small vessels against the pirates, who inhabit the island of Basilan, which is in sight from Mindanao, and forms the southern side of the straits of the same name. It is said that about seven hundred inhabit it. The name of Moro is given by the Spaniards to all those who profess the Mohammedan religion, and by such all the islands to the west of Mindanao, and known under the name of the Sulu archipelago, are inhabited.

The day we spent at Caldera was employed in surveying the bay, and in obtaining observations for its geographical position, and for magnetism. The flood tide sets to the northward and westward, through the straits, and the ebb to the eastward. In the bay we found it to run two miles an hour by the log, but it must be much more rapid in the straits.

At daylight on February 1st (1842), we got under way to stand over for the Sangboys, a small island with two sharp hills on it. One and a half miles from the bay we passed over a bank, the least water on which was ten fathoms on a sandy bottom, and on which a vessel might anchor. The wind shortly after failed us, and we drifted with the tide for some hours, in full view of the island of Mindanao (the Zamboanga Peninsula in this case), which is bold and picturesque. We had thus a good opportunity of measuring some of its mountain ranges, which we made about three thousand feet high.

In the afternoon, a light breeze came from the southwest, and before sunset I found that we were again on soundings. As soon as we had a cast of twenty fathoms, I anchored for the night, judging it much better than to be drifting about without any knowledge of the locality and currents to which we were subjected.

On the morning of the February 2nd (1842), we got under way to proceed to the westward. As the bottom was unequal, I determined to pass through the broadest channel, although it had the appearance of being the shoalest, and sent two boats ahead to sound. In this way we passed through, continuing our surveying operations, and at the same time made an attempt to dredge; but the ground was too uneven for the latter purpose, and little of value was obtained."

Photo Gallery of Zamboanga's Historical Past - circa 1846.

Portraits and Stories of Samboangan life, circa 1873.

It is

Republic of Zamboanga: May 18, 1899 - Nov 16, 1899 (de facto)

Flag of the short-lived Republic of Zamboanga.
May 18, 1899 -  Fort Pilar and its Spanish troops, in Southern Philippines, surrendered to the Revolutionary Government of Zamboanga.


May 23, 1899 -  The Spaniards evacuate the city of Zamboanga for good, after burning down most of the city's buildings in contempt of the Zamboangueños' revolt against them.

President of Zamboanga Republic

From May 18, 1899 to November 16, 1899 [barely six (6)months], Vicente Alvarez was chosen by his fellow Zamboangueños to be their first president and popular leader of the revolutionary government established immediately after the former Spanish garrison troops evacuated to Manila.  The events that followed afterwards were historically described as a mob mentality, filled with divided partisanship that lent to "jealous self-interest, biter rivalry, rapacity, and bloodshed" from assassinations and cattle-shooting for amusement.  The president and his fellow Christian Zamboangueños' actions could not be considered heroic by any means, but was paralleled with that of the Moro Pirates with whom the fort of Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa was erected to defend against.6

The rivalry between the local revolutionary leadership of President Vicente Alvarez and opposition leader Isidoro Midel allowed for the easy subjugation of the city by the American forces when Midel sided with the Americans upon their arrival.  As a reward for his help, the new American rulers allowed Isidoro Midel to continue as president of the new Zamboanga Republic for about sixteen (16) months, against the will of the people, after former president Vicente Alvarez fled to Mercedes, then later to Basilan, when the Americans arrived and took control of the fort del Pilar and its remaining armament.  The saying "divide and conquer" was aptly applied to the new Zamboanga Republic.6

*1900 A.D. – The Birth of a City and a Nation

In a municipal election on March 1901, Mariano Arquiza succeeded Isidoro Midel by popular vote and became the first elected president of the Zamboanga Republic, now under American administration, for the next two (2) years: 1901 - 1903.6

With the presence and administration of the American conquerors, Zamboanga was made the capital of the Moro province, encompassing the island of Mindanao and other nearby islands.  The importance of Zamboanga was elevated to seat of regional government and diocese of Catholicism in southern Philippines.

As war and conquest have been waged all over the world for hundreds and thousands of years, it is not our place to dispute any sovereignty issues here.  However, we can present that the powerful Sultanate of Brunei once controlled an area much larger than the present Philippines, but is now under 6,000 sq. km. in size, slightly smaller that the State of Delaware.  Kingdoms rise and fall, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, but the people remain and rebuild their lives as they have done for centuries, hoping for the best to come to them and peace to be permanent.

*2000 A.D. – The Future of Zamboanga City and its People

Over the past four hundred years, it is not known how many of the thousands of captured Christian Filipino and Spanish women from the islands of Visayas and Luzon actually became pregnant and delivered children fathered by their Muslim captors in harems of the Mindanao and Sulu Sultanates.

It is highly likely that thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Moros living today may have some descendant bloodline of their captive mothers.  The issue of actual lineage from these enslaved women may be culturally suppressed by the Moros in the name of war trophies or dominance over their enemies, but the genetic makeup of their ancestry cannot be denied in the eyes of reality.

It is possible that generations of descendants from these captured women are now facing each other as Moros and Christians, all the while related as brothers and sisters from a terrible past.  However, if the opposite is to be attested by the Moros of today, then it would only mean that all the thousands of women captured over the centuries were systematically eliminated by their captors before or after they became pregnant with their children.  Is anyone brave enough to tell the world, which one is the truth?

The vegetation and flowers are growing profusely and beautifully once again, waiting to be discovered by someone special like you.  The city is peaceful and hopeful with friendly people eager to indulge a curious visitor.  The spirit is lively and the future is prosperous.  The Filipino brothers whose ancestors once fought each other all coexist in harmony with each other in this place they call home.  The wounds of ancient battles lie deep, but the natural desire to be at peace with each other is even greater.

Today’s Zamboanga City is a linguistic babel exhibiting a cornucopia of sights, sounds, and frantic activity that pronounces its enduring position as a center of international trade and eclectic living.  Nowhere else can this description be aptly applied to another significant place in the Philippine Islands.  The allure of the City of Flowers continues to prosper its growth and diversity.  We only hope that skillful planning and management will help it blossom to its beautiful potential.  Peace be with us all.



Map of Zamboanga City, PhilippinesZamboanga City is a chartered city located on the western most peninsula of the big island of Mindanao, The Philippines.  Before it became a chartered city, it was the governing Capital of the Moro Province under the United States rule, encompassing the entire island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.  As other areas of this Moro Province were able to stand on their own and granted their own provincial status, Zamboanga was the first locality of the vast Moro Province to be honored with a chartered city status on October 12, 1936, reflecting its historical and strategic importance as a center of government and commerce.

At one point it was the largest province and city in the world area-wise, when it was the Capital of the Zamboanga Province, and then when the Island of Basilan was still under its domain as it was elevated to a chartered city.  From its founding name of Zamboanga ( June 23, 1635 ), the remaining Zamboanga Province was divided into two separate sub-ruling provinces after Zamboanga City was created, and were embellished with the same beautiful namesake of Zamboanga City on June 6, 1962: Zamboanga del Norte (North) and Zamboanga del Sur (South).  It was a fitting tribute to the storied history of Zamboanga, The City of Flowers!  The Island of Basilan was also split from the city and made its own province on December 25, 1973, amidst the population growth of The Philippines.  In February 2001, the province of Zamboanga del Sur was divided into two when a new province was created and named Zamboanga Sibugay.  The new province is roughly one-half the size of the old Zamboanga del Sur province, and borders the northern tip of Zamboanga City.

Zamboanga City is a busy international port strategically located on the Basilan Straight.  The city is shaped like a thick ladle, and is bounded by the marine-rich bodies of water of the Sulu Sea to the West, the Moro Gulf and Celebes Sea to the East, and is also surrounded by Tungawan Bay, Taguiti Bay, Malasugat Bay to the East, Tictabon Channel and Basilan Straight to the South, and Caldera Bay to the West.  In physiography, it is bounded by the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte to the north and by Zamboanga del Sur to the east, and also the Basilan Island to the south.  It is sheltered geographically from typhoons by the mountainous Basilan Island, Sulu Archipelago, Palawan Island, and the main island of Mindanao.

The city's immediate coastal lowlands are narrow, with low, rugged hills located a short distance inland.  It's highest peak is Batorampon Point, measuring 1,335 meters high ( 4,380 feet ).  A large international seaport accommodates local inter-island shipping and international ocean going vessels and ferries.  Zamboanga City exports rubber, pearls, copra, mahogany, and other fine hardwoods, fish, abaca, and fruit products; rice is still imported.  The city is the southernmost terminus of the Pan-Philippine Highway, providing vital land transportation access to all the major cities of the country.  It also has an international airport that is serviced by daily flights from three major national airlines, and is increasing its international air traffic within the participating countries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines' East Asia Growth Area, or better known for its acronym BIMP-EAGA.

Founded by the Spaniards in 1635 on the site of a native settlement, its name is derived from the Malay word Jambangan ( "place of flowers" ); bougainvillea, orchids, and other tropical flowers line its roadsides and landscape.  Incorporated as a chartered city in 1936, it has an area of 1,671 square kilometers ( 645 sq. Miles ), which encompasses 98 official barangays ( barrios or wards ) and 68 smaller districts of some larger barangays, in addition to the administrative city center in downtown Zamboanga, and over 28 beautiful  islands.  The city was largely rebuilt after the severe devastation of World War II, of which a few buildings remain that reflect its glorious past.  Its mountainous backdrop combine with a climate that is cooler and less humid than that of Manila, and other sections of the country, to make it a favorite tourist spot.

Fort Pilar, with its world-renowned religious shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar, was built in the 17th century by the Spanish soldiers, along with their Jesuit counterparts, for the protection of Christian settlers against Moro ( Muslim ) pirates, and other marauding invaders from nearby Chinese and Dutch outposts.  It now houses the Fort Pilar Museum, one the few national historic museum chain, that houses cultural artifacts of the region, and a wealthy display of its surrounding rich marine and natural life.  

The city has long been a bastion of Spanish intelligentsia, and is home to some of the finest educational institutions in the country and around Asia.  The literacy rate of the region, and of the country in general, is one of the highest in all of Asia.

Rio Hondo, Taluksangay, and Campo Muslim are nearby Muslim villages built on stilts over water.  Indigenous peoples include the Tau Sugs, Samals, and Yakans.  The colorful Bajau, or sea gypsies, ply the waters of the Basilan Straight for fish, coral, and shells; they live on board their multi-hued vintas ( sailboats ) and take temporary shelter in stilt-raised homes during storms.

Chavacano is the unique native dialect of the city, a mixture of Spanish and various other local dialects and international languages, and is one of the oldest spoken language in the country reflecting a rich linguistic history of its people.  English is widely spoken around town, and is the main language of education and international commerce.  Numerous international languages, like German, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Italian, and Spanish, are spoken here, giving light to its historical importance as an international investment and destination haven for over three-hundred years.

Zamboanga City is also a center for Moro brassware and bronze ware, and a collecting point for numerous varieties of shells, which are exported or used locally for button manufacture and many other products and souvenirs.  The Philippine Archipelago is home to over a third of the world's known sea shells, and Zamboanga's Great Santa Cruz Island is home to many shells and corals, and the pristine "pink" sand - a coloration effect of the white sand and red coral sand mixed together.

Zamboanga City's Population in 2004: over 850,000 ( 5th largest city in the Philippines - total population: over 80,000,000 )

[ Source: National Statistical Coordination Board ]

Additional History Links:

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Must Read!

The Story of The Moros

PHILIPPINES - A Country Study

PHILIPPINES - A Country Study

United States Army in World War II
The War in the Pacific

The Fall of the Philippines

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The Philippine Survey

Imagine surveying a place 1/3 the size of the U.S.A. for 40 years with nothing in your background to prepare you for the kaleidoscopic mélange of cultures, terrain, flora, and fauna that was the Philippine Islands.  Lots of historic photos!

Barco Espanol.gif (99849 bytes)A Philippine Journey

This tale has been drawn up around the amazingly wide and varied amount of graphic documentation that has been found in the Spanish government archives: maps, marine charts, regional and urban plans, plans of the city of Manila and other Philippine and American cities, especially that of Zamboanga and Fort Pilar!  Remarkable!!!

A window into our past...

A window into our past...