(Second of a series on Iloilo, “The Queen’s City in the South”)
Historical data trace the origins of the Manila galleons to the port of Oton to the west of Iloilo City.
Oton (then known as Ogtong) was where the Spaniards under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established a settlement when they arrived in Panay Island in 1566 as the Spanish conquest of the Philippines was underway and moving toward Manila.
According to Wikipedia, the first Manila galleons were constructed at Oton in the early days of Spanish rule. Since there was no precedent in Spain for the immensity of a Manila galleon, the prototype Manila galleons were arguably of Visayan design; after all, the Visayans were already constructing huge multimasted “caracoas” in their wars against other kingdoms. Thus, the technical know-how to construct the first galleons was an amalgamation of Visayan and Spanish shipbuilding. Oton built the first Manila galleons before the ship-building operations were transferred to the Bicol and Cavite shipyards.
The Spanish-Moro wars spurred the building of the galleons. In the year 1600, as part of the Spanish-Moro conflict, a large Muslim force of 70 ships and warriors were raiding several Visayan islands, abducting natives to sell as slaves to their allies in the sultanates of the Sulu Archilpelago.
However, when the Moros attacked Iloilo City, they were repulsed by a force of 1,000 Visayan warriors and 70 Spanish arquebusiers. The Moros suffered heavy losses.
(In 1635, in response to the Islamic slave-raiding into the Visayan islands, Christian Visayans from Iloilo, together with Spanish officers and their Latino soldiers from Peru, founded Zamboanga City, using it as a fortress to prevent Moro attacks in the Visayas and as a staging ground for Christian campaigns into Muslim Mindanao.)
In 1700, due to the ever-increasing attacks especially from the Dutch and the Moros, the Spaniards moved their settlement some 25 kilometers eastward, to a village called Irong-Irong or Ilong-Ilong, which provided them natural and strategic defense against raids. At the mouth of the river that snakes through Panay Island, the Spaniards built Fort San Pedro, to better guard against the raids, which were now the only threat to their hold on the islands. Eventually the Spaniards changed the name of Ilong-Ilong to Iloilo. With its natural port, the place quickly became the capital of the province.
According Friar Gaspar de San Agustin, “In Panay, there was in the ancient times a trading center and a court of the most illustrious nobility.”
In October 1889, due to the economic development that was transforming the town, the Queen Regent Maria Cristina of Spain raised its status to a city through a royal decree. Thus Iloilo was officially established as a royal city and soon after was conferred the perpetual title, “La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad” (The Most Loyal and Most Noble City).
Following the outbreak of the 1896 Revolution in Manila, Ilonggos immediately responded with protestations of outrage and affirmed their loyalty to Spain. The recalcitrant ayuntamiento (municipal council) of Iloilo affirmed that allegiance and loyalty to Spain in a letter to the governor general, condemning the uprising: “Those dark betrayals, the mere notion of which embarrasses good and loyal Filipinos, have produced a unanimous sentiment of protest among the Ilonggo people.” The foreign community in the city also asked its representatives to visit local authorities and to elevate their protests against the revolt.
According to historical documents, the Ilonggos themselves were united in their support of Spain during the first two years of the revolutionary period. Other towns in Iloilo province also condemned the Manila uprising, and before long those in the neighboring provinces of Antique, Capiz and Negros followed suit. This emboldened the Ilonggo elite to initiate the organization of loyal volunteers from the region to be sent “to quell what was seen as a mostly Tagalog rebellion.” The move was backed by the Spanish and foreign communities Iloilo. Sources cited by Wikipedia said, “A battalion of 500 volunteers was raised, which was divided into two companies, and placed under the cadre of mostly Spanish officers… . They arrived in Manila on Jan. 16, 1897. They were one of the largest native contingents to serve against Katipunan troops led by the Tagalog General Emilio Aguinaldo in the battlegrounds of Cavite province.” The Ilonggo volunteers were reported to have established for themselves a distinguished combat record.
Following the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, they returned to Iloilo in April 1898 and were met with much fanfare “that galvanized Ilonggos into more public outpourings and manifestation of loyalty to Spain.” Moved by the Ilonggos’ loyalty, the Queen Regent Maria Cristina honored the City of Iloilo, in the name of her son King Alfonso XIII, with the title “Muy Noble,” in a royal decree signed on March 1, 1898. Thus Iloilo City earned the reputation of being “The Queen’s Favored City in the South” or, simply, “The Queen’s City in the South.”
Suffering defeats from the Katipunan and later the Americans, the Spanish authorities fled Manila and established the colonial capital in Iloilo, thus making Iloilo the last overseas province of Spain. On Dec. 25 1898, the last Spanish governor general, Diego de los Rios, surrendered Spanish sovereignty over the Philippines to Gen. Martin Delgado, during turnover ceremonies held at Plaza Alfonso XIII (now Plaza Libertad), after which the governor repaired to Zamboanga City on his way to retirement in Spain. (To be concluded on Friday.)