Carigara a Brief History
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Carigara's Brief History

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(This historical essay is based on, and includes liberal excerpts from , CARIGARA , a publication of Carigara 400, Inc,, Quezon City, 1995.)

Some Philippine towns, which date back to pre-Hispanic and early Hispanic times, have names so corrupted by usage over the years that it is difficult to trace their origins. This is the case with Carigara.

The town, some historians say, was once called Tandaya. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, in his letter to the Royal Audiencia of Mexico, narrating his arrival in, and conquest of, the Philippines, mentions a place called Tandaya which may have referred to Carigara. An unsigned manuscript, recounting Legazpi's conquest, lumped Tandaya with other towns of Leyte. He wrote that "... Baybay, Bayugo, Abuyo, Cavalian, Tandaya ... are divided among the citizens of Cebu", that is, the towns had been assigned as Encomiendas (lands entrusted to colonists) to the Spanyards of Cebu, obviously, the men of legazpi.

The historian Jaime de Veyra in his book,Tandaya 0 Kandaya, avers that Carigara is the Tandaya or Candaya mentioned in Loarca's "Accounts of the Encomiendas."

Did Tandaya really refer to Carigara? Kalgaranons would rather leave this matter to the historians to decide; they have their own version of the origin of their town and its name. In their account of beginnings, their town got its name from the original settler, the founder of the town, a certain Datu Gara, who landed on the shores of what is now Carigara Bay, with his clan of 77 members, sometime in 1379.

Gazing at the pristine vegetation before him and trying to decide where to put up his household, Gara saw a break in the dense growth of trees and plants caused by a river emptying into the bay. He and his party entered the mouth of the river and followed it upstream for about a kilometer, until they reached a glade. They then disembarked, cleared the glade for more space,and established a village.

The new settlers didn't bother to give their new village a name. Months later, when traders from Bohol chanced upon the village, they found an organized settlement under a chieftain named Gara. There upon, they referred to the place as Kan Gara (belonging to Gara). The name stuck, evolved to Kalgara, and finally to Carigara.

This is the legend of the founding of Carigara. It may or may not have a factual basis. But a legend, some say, is a story of an actual event handed down, orally, from generation to generation; until memory blurs and ctuality becomes a mere legend.

Two hundred years later, in 1571, Legsazpi assigned Carigara, which at that time had a reported population of 1,500, as an encomienda to one of his men, Juan de Trujillo. Trujillo left Cebu to assume the post of encomendero of Carigara on September 6,1571. He may have been the first Spaniard to set foot on Carigara soil.

Carigara in 1571, was still where Gara had originally set camp. In the immediate surroundings were fields planted to rice; beyond the rice fields was luxuriant forest where game could be hunted. On one side of the town was a vast swamp with nipa and mangrove, nipa provided thatches for roofing and the mangrove made excellent firewood. Fronting the town was the Carigara River which flowed into the Carigara Bay. The River and the Bay provided abundant fish and other marine products. Gara had selected his town site well; it was not paradise but it was a comfortable place to live in.

In 1580, nine years after the town became an encomienda,

three Augustinians arrived, Fray Alfonso Velasquez, as head of the mission, Fray Alonzo Gimenez, who was later assigned to Bicol, and Fray Mguel Perpinan, who was captured months later by Muslim pirates. With the departure of Gimenez and the capture of Perpinan, Velasquez was left alone to evangelize the whole island of Leyte.

In 1591, Trujillo reported to Governor Dasmarinas that Carigara had justice and was peaceful but had no minister. If by minister, he meant a minister of God, then Fray Velasquez, must have left, or must have died, by 1591. or much earlier. Trujillo also reported that he was collecting tribute from 434 tributaries representing 1736 persons.

Four years later, in 1595, Antonio Sedeno, newly designated Vice-Provincial of the Jesuit mission in the Philippines, asked for and obtained missionary jurisdiction over the islands of Leyte and Samar. He ordered Fathers Pedro Chifino, Juan Campo, and Cosme de Flores, and a lay brother, Gaspar Garay, to proceed to Leyte and open a mission there, with Chirino as the mission head.

Chirino's group sailed for Leyte. in the middle of June 1595, passing by Panay, on instructions of Sedeno, to close the mission there (temporarily until the Leyte mission was stable), and pick up Fr. Antonio Pereira. They arrived on the shores of Carigara on a Sunday, July 16,1595. On the beach, they offered a mass honoring the Triumph of the Holy Cross.

After the mass, they erected a cross to mark the place and date of their historic landing. They then walked to the town proper where they were welcomed by the encomendero, Cristobal de Trujillo, and by the residents of the encomienda. There was festivity and rejoicing. This was the first celebration of the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross in Carigara and in Leyte. From that day on, Carigara has celebrated its town fiesta on July 16, as much to honor the Triumph of the Holy Cross as to commemorate the historic arrival of the Jesuits.

With Carigara as their base, the Jesuits established other mission stations in the island: Dulag, Ormoc, Palo, Alangalang, others. Mission stations in neighboring islands Samar, Bohol were also established. Eventually, the Jesuits were also given jurisdiction over Mindanao.

In 1596, Father Encinas was put in charge of the mission in Carigara which had under itsjurisdiction the towns of Barugo, Leyte, and Sampuatan. He was assisted by Brother Alfonso del Barco. Encinas put the principal truths of the creed and several hymns into the verse form of The traditional Visayan folk songs. His compositions were instantly popular, especially in Carigara, where they were sang not only at Mass but also in the people's homes in the evening. Encinas also started a day school for boys in Carigara with a Filipino school master who taught reading, writing, and music.

By 1597, two thirds of the population in Carigara had been baptized. During Lent, Chirino observed that the new converts went about their penances with so much devotion and fervor that it was sometimes necessary to estrain them. In July 1602, Chirino went back to Rome. In his report to the Jesuit superior in Rome, Chirino described the members of the Christian community in Carigara as "fervent... (who) go to confession very often... those who are not Christians are catechumens, and there is no one who does not want to be baptized. In this church, which was finished this year and turned out to be very handsome, a fine choir has been organized among the boys, who are very musically gifted, so that the divine services are now most solemnly celebrated.

In 1612, Carigara which had become the central residence or cabecera had jurisdiction over 13 towns, each with a church, with a total of 2,420 tributaries. The twelve other towns under the mission in Carigara were Barugo, Alangalang, Jaro, Leytt, Ormoc, Camotes Island, Baybay, Canamucan, Ymasava, Cabalian, Panaon, and Nonangan.

Like other missions on the seacoast, Carigara. was subjected to Muslim raids during the monsoon season. In one of these raids, the rector of Carigara, Alfonso Rodriguez, and three lay brothers hastily gathered a volunteer force which gave battle to the raiders. Although they were no match to the seasoned raiders,, their resistance gave the children, women, and the aged a chance to flee to safety, but were unable to save the town itself In two days, the pirates looted the town and burned it to cinders including the church (which Chirino had described in his report as "very handsome") and mission house which had just been completed. They took with them twenty captives.

The interrmittent Muslim raids prompted Father Melchor de Vera, superior of Carigara from 1606 to 1646, to build defensive walls and forts. He erected watchtowers on the shores of Carigara which became the model of similar forts in other coastal towns in Visayas and Modanao. From these watchtowers, a watcher could spot from a distance an approaching fleet of marauders and warn the town. Women and children would have time to flee to safety while the men prepared to defend the town. Still visible today are the ruins of the watchtowers built in Tangnan and Guindapunan. Another watchtower built in Sawang at the corner of Triunfo and del Carmen streets has been completely demolished.

In 1622, Bangkaw who, in his younger days was one of the chieftains of Limasawa, was baptized and had moved to Carigara,launched his revolt. He convinced one of his sons and another man, Pagali, to renounce Christianity and return to their pagan beliefs, with Pagali as a priest. With Carigara as their base, they erected a place of worship and convinced the people in six villages, including Carigara, to join them.

Bangkaw's revolt was short-lived. Fr Melchor de Vera, superior of the Carigara mission, left for Cebu to ask for help in putting down the rebellion. Juan de Alcarazo, alcalde mayor of Cebu, who had just suppressed another rebellion in Bohol, immediately sailed for Carigara with a fleet of 40 vessels and a combined force of Spanish and Filipino soldiers. With their superior arms, they pursued and killed Bangkaw's followers, including women and children. Among those killed was Bangkaw whose head was cut off and impaled on a stake and exhibited to the public as a warning to other would-be rebels.

The Muslim raids and Bangkaw's revolt were mere temporary setbacks in the Jesuits' campaign for evangelization. The zeal, dedication, and self-sacrifices of Chirino, Humanes, Encinas, de Vera, Sanchez, and other Jesuits left an indelible mark on the minds and hearts of the people which is still apparent today in the religiosity of the Kalgaranons.

In the years that followed, Carigara prospered. It had become not only the center of the Jesuit spiritual empire, it was also the capital of the province and was a commercial center, servicing the needs of towns within a radius of thirty to forty kilometers. The whole island of Biliran depended upon Carigara for its commercial supplies.

On February 27, 1767, Charles 111, King of Spain from 1759 to 1788, issued a royal order expelling the Jesuits from Spain and its colonies. This order reached the Philippines on May 17, 1768. After 173 years, the Jesuits bowed out of their spiritual empire in the Visayas and Mindanao.

The departure of the Jesuits was a watershed for Carigara. For some inexplicable reason, the town gradually lost importance when the Jesuits were expelled. It was still a commercially active town but its political stature diminished. The seat of government was transferred to Palo, then to Tanuan, later to Dagami,and finally to Tacloban on October 15, 1774. Fifty years later, on May 31, 1824, the capital was moved back to Carigara, but three years later, on February 26,1830, the capital was again transferred to Tacloban which has been the capital of the province ever since then.

When the Jesuits left, the Augustinians took over the administration of the Carigara mission. The Augustinians had come full circle; they first came in 1580 to introduce the tenets of Christianity to the natives; they left after eight or nine years, leaving a chapel which the Jesuits found and used temporarily. After 188years, the Augustinians were back in Carigara, to a town which had propered, and to a church made of rubblework, said then to be one of the "biggest and most beautiful in the whole island".

The Augustinians stayed for 75 years during which time the town site was moved the present site. But the church remained at Canal.

In 1843, the Franciscans took over from the Augustinians. The Church and the Casa Real in Canal continued to be used, but the elements and the ravages of time were taking their toll. Extensive repairs had to be made. Since most of the people had moved to the new town site, then Bishop Romualdo Jimeno ordered the parish priest, Fr. Jose Hilarion Corvera, to build a church at the new town site instead of repairing the old church.

Construction of the new church began in 1859 under the direction of Maestro Remigio Tecson. The altar was consecrated in 1866 but the church was not completed until 1879 during the curacy of Father Bernardino de Rebolledo, who was also the last Franciscan parish priest of Carigara.

In 1896, the revolution against Spain flared up. The Franciscans left Carigara in 1898 and seculars took over the Carigara parish. Thd first secular parish priest of Carigara was Father Ignacio Mora who assumed office on October 12, 1898.

In their fight against Spain, the Filipinos got unexpected support when Admiral Dewey sailed into the Manila Bay and started bombarding the Spanish ships anchored there. While Dewey harassed Manila from the. sea, Filipino forces ringed the city on the land. With victory in sight, although fighting was still going on, Aguinaido proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898 from the balcony of his house in Kavit, Cavite. He then formed a republican government and proceeded to appoint provincial and municipal officials.

In Carigara, the following were appointed: Diego Javines, jefe local; Capt. Domingo Umbira, vice-jefe local; Mariano Enriquez; municipal treasurer; and Pedro Ronquillo, municipal secretary. The municipal delegates, corresponding to present­day councilors, were Andres Poster, Sandalio Flores, Victor Profetana, Andres Arintok, Mariano Yagumyum, and Santiago Torredes.

Dewey had assured Aguinaldo that the Americans would respect the independence ofthe Philippines, but this assurance meant nothing as America assumed sovereignty over the country after the Treaty of Paris where Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States after the latter paid $20,000,000.00. The Filipinos naturally resented this turn of events.

War between the former allies was inevitable. It started on February 4, 1899 and went on for over two years. Hostilities officially ended when Aguinaldo took his oath of allegiance to the United States on April 1, 1901. But guerrilla activities continued in Samar and Leyte until Gen. Vicente Lucban was captured in Samar on February'27, 1902.

With the liberal policy of the Americans, peace reigned in the islands for the next forty years. This peace was shattered by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Japanese forces landed at Capoocan on May 24, 1942, passed through Carigara on the way to Tacloban,and then came back on June 12 to occupy the town. War brings out the heroic as well as the baser instincts in man, compassion as well As savagery, charity as well as greed, And so it was in Carigara. Atrocities were committed by the Japanese; some of the guerrillas, sad to say, were also guilty of abuses. But some guerrilla leaders from Carigara deserve to be mentioned - Ralph Posoncuy, Wilfredo Makabenta, Briccio Aguilos, Pedro Kierulf-for their leadership during the war years. Some of those who committed abuses had to pay with their own lives immediately after the war. But in the euphoria of liberation, most misdeeds were forgotten and forgiven.

Liberation gave back to the Kalgaranons their zest for'life; social activities started anew, trade and commerce which were practically nil during the Japanese occupation, sprang back to life. Liberation gave birth to two schools run by religious organizations: the Liberation Memorial School and the Holy Cross Academy. The former closed after eleven years, but the latter will be celebrating, its 50th anniversary this year.

The town itself will celebrate this year, 1995, the 400th anniversary of its evangelization. This writer believes that Carigara, as it celebrates the 4th centennial of its christian-ness, is on the threshold of regaining its past glory.

Eduardo T. Makabenta Jr.