“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis


Church of Guiuan, taken before Super Typhoon Yolanda. (Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo)

An Historical Essay on the Beginnings of the Evangelization of Guiuan
by Lope Coles Robredillo, SThD

(Though for a number of reasons it has no technical apparatus, this work is a result of a preliminary research done by the author at the following institutions: University of Santo Tomas Library, Philippine National Library, Cebuano Studies Center at San Carlos University, Lopez Memorial Museum, Divine Word University Museum and Library and Philippine National Archives. He is grateful to Dr Bruce Cruickshank, a professor of history, and the late Dr Pablo Fernandez, OP, a professor of Church history, for materials they gave him.)


ALTHOUGH THE AUGUSTINIANS were the first Spanish missionaries to set foot on the bungto of Guiuan (in 1585), it was not until 1595 that a systematic process of evangelization was introduced here. It must be recalled that on April 27, 1594, the Council of the Indies in Spain directed the governor-general and the bishop of the Philippines to assign particular areas of the archipelago to the various religious orders. The islands of Samar and Leyte were allotted to the Jesuits.

Upon instruction of Father Antonio Sedeño, vice-provincial of the Jesuit order in the archipelago, Father Pedro Chirino, together with a small band of missionaries, sailed to and landed in Carigara, Leyte on July 16, 1595, and established a mission there. After founding another mission in Dulag (on the eastern part of Leyte, which was transferred to Dagami in 1630s and finally to Palo) later in the year, the Jesuits from Dulag came to Guiuan in 1595 to

evangelize the inhabitants in a systematic way. Guiuan was thus the first township (pueblo) on Eastern Samar (formerly known as Ibabao or Cibabao) to be Christinized by Spanish missionaries.

What about the rest of Samar island? The bungtos on the western littorals were brought to the faith by the Jesuit missionaries who had set up a mission on October 15, 1596 at Tinago (now part of Tarangnan, Samar) with Father Francisco Otazo as head. But before 1598, another mission was opened in Catubig, and was later moved to Palapag from which the Eastern Samar pre-Hispanic bungtos were serviced. These were the bungtos of Bacod (now part of the Dolores river bed), Tubig (Taft), Libas (later moved to San Julian) and Boronga(n).

However, the Jesuit mission on Guiuan did not last until the end of the Spanish

regime. When the Jesuit order was suppressed in 1768, Guiuan was given to the Augustinians who ceded it later to the Franciscans in 1795. From the Franciscan parish of Guiuan were separated the following parishes: Balangiga (1854), Salcedo (1862), Mercedes (1894/1964), Quinapondan (1894), Giporlos (1955), Sulangan, Guiuan (1957), Matarinao-Burak, Salcedo (1959), Lawaan (1961), Casuguran, Homonhon Is., Guiuan (1979), Buenavista, Manicani Is., Guiuan (1999) and Sapao, Guiuan (1999).

The major aim of this short essay is to demonstrate how the Jesuits ministered Guiuan and how the Guiuananons responded to the former’s missionary efforts.

The Pre-Hispanic “Guiguan”

The Origins of Guiuan and Its Social Structure. To appreciate the Jesuit missionary work,it is important to have a once-over at the pre-Hispanic Guiuan. Historically, Guiuan—or Guiguan, as the bungto was formerly known—was called Butag, (“Guiguan que llamaban en su antiguedad Butag”) no doubt because the place now designated Butac was its earliest settlement. The name Guiguan, according to a 1668 manuscript, was derived by the natives from the term gigwanum, a Binisaya term for salty water: “Esta este pueblo de Guiguan que, segun la significacion es lo mismo que fuente o pozo de agua salada.” (The present popular tradition which traces the name to the Binisaya word guibang is not found in any Spanish document and, it seems, cannot bear historical scrutiny; it should accordingly be treated as no more than an aetiological legend.)

Evidently, the place lacked dulce agua (fresh water), which was obtainable from the island of Manicani . Before the Spanish missionaries came, Guiuan was already a bungto—a term which does not exactly correspond to the word town, because it was no more than a relatively large cluster of houses. Rather, this means it had a number of haops, groups headed by datus. In its vicinity could be found numerous scattered tiny hamlets, known as mga gamoro in Binisaya, which the Spaniards identified as rancherias. The datus (whom the Spaniards later called principales) governed the people, regulated tribal life, and sustained customs. In return for their responsibilities and services, they received labor and tribute from the people. Thanks in no small measure to geography, the inhabitants were politically decentralized; the Guiuan society was fragmented.

Economy, Social Customs and Religion. They had communal land ownership, but rice was not cultivated, not even within a distance of two leagues around the bungto. Their most ordinary food was taro (Colocassia), but palawan (a kind of tuber) abounded, and made

a satisfying meal when taken along with fish or shell fish. Even though they never cultivated rice, they never suffered from lack of it, because they engaged in barter trade. From the coconuts, which were abundant in Solohan (or Suluan) and Homonhon, they bartered their oil which they produced in relatively great quantities, and in this way accumulated rice.

The pre-Hispanic Guiuananons were also remarkable seafarers. They went to as far as Cebu, Oton and Manila in their caracoas (double-ended cruisers), heavily laden with oil. The men donned bahags (G-strings), which were larger than those worn in Cagayan Valley, while the women put on lambong (tube skirt), which the Spaniards called sayo (smock). Their typical house, which stood around four feet above the ground, had no doors, still less privies, partitions or tables. When they ate, they just sat on their haunches. And like other maritime settlements on the east coast of Samar, they had an alphabet, though their literature was unquestionably oral. Religion-wise, they were animists, believing that the forces of nature had or were controlled by spirits who were rendered either beneficent or harmless by the performance of magical rites. Their best known and the greatest diwata (Malay-Sanksrit word for god) was Macatapang, son of Malaon, who lived in the island of Homonhon . (Recent tradition identifies this diwata of Homonhon as Samrayan; but this tradition suffers from lack of documentary support). They offered many pag-anitos to him to obtain favors.

The Early Jesuit Missionaries

The Cabecera-Visita Complex. Such was the Guiuan that the Jesuit missionaries—from Dulag, Letyte, the cabecera or residencia (central mission center)—saw when they began the work of evangelization in Eastern Samar . This is not to say, of course, that the Jesuits and, before them, the Augustinians, were the only Spaniards the Guiuananons encountered. Even before the Jesuits arrived in Guiuan, the island of Samar was already parceled out among encomenderos, holders of encomienda or tribute-collection areas, who in theory were responsible for the administracion de justicia (defense and protection) and the doctrina (doctrinal instruction) of the natives, and who collected tributos (adult head-taxes) from the villagers of Samar .

It is true, of course, that Miguel Loarca, in his Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas,

explicitly stated that as of 1582, no Spaniard has ever gone to Guiuan. But as early as 1549, Francisco de Molina was already collecting tributes from the settlers of Eastern Samar . It is not, therefore, impossible that, the Homonhonanon and Suluanon encounter with Magellan and his men in 1521 aside, the people could not have seen Spanish government representatives earlier on. Nevertheless, it was the Jesuit missionaries from the Residencia de Dulac who really brought the faith, and mediated Hispanization to the inhabitants.

The Jesuits who were stationed in Samar and Leyte worked under what was known as cabecera-visita complex. Under this arrangement, the missionaries formed themselves into “task forces” consisting of three or more members based in the residencia or cabecera, from where they spread out in teams to the small villages of the area they covered to preach, administer the sacraments and give medical assistance. As soon as one “task force” returned to the residence, another group set out, and so on throughout the year.

The First Jesuits to Serve Guiuan. This was how the Jesuits reached Guiuan, and it cannot be doubted that the first to evangelize the bungto systematically were Father Alonso de Humanes and Father Juan del Campo. I do not have records of the missionaries who from time to time came to Guiuan from Dulag and, later, Dagami. But as it appeared in Nominal relacion de todos padres que han servido la parroquia de Guivan desde su fundacion, the first twenty were: Father Antonio Belancio, Pabercoco, Mendoza, Miguel Solano, Alonso, Ignacio Campeon, Bernardo, Baltasar, Abarca, Juan Torres, Francisco Angel, Cosme Pelarez (Pilares), P. Ballejo, Esteban Jayme, Francisco Deza, Lorenzo de la Horta, Bartolome Visco (Besco), Juan Calle, Javier and Cristobal Millares.

According to the relacion, the first to say mass in Guiuan was Father Antonio Belancio of the Domincan order (“el primero que dijo misa en este pueblo en casa de un tal Tandodo de Bucas fue el P. Antonio Belancio de orden de Sto. Domingo”). At least two points are not clear here. First, it is contestable whether Belancio (sic) was a Dominican, for the friars of St Dominic were almost exclusively concentrated in Luzon. On the other hand, he may not be identified with Giovanni Domenico Belanci, an Italian who entered the Jesuit order on Sept 27, 1589, arrived in the Philippines on May 1, 1602 and became captive of the Sulus of Jolo in 1633.
Second, though he headed the list of Jesuits in the relacion, this can hardly be taken to mean that he was the first parish priest. Writing in 1668, Father Alcina said that the first minister of Guiuan was Father Julio de Torres. This name, however, is not found in the catalogue, unless he is associated with Father Juan de Torres (No. 10 in the list) who came to the Philippines in 1596, served Samar for a number of years and died in Manila on Jan 14, 1625. But the designation first minister in no way implies that he was the first parish priest; for it could only signify that he was the first to be assigned in Guiuan, under the cabecera-visita arrangement . There is dearth of evidence to indicate that Guiuan was a parish before 1697.

Hispanization and the Reduccion Program

The Rationale of the Reduccion Program. It should be emphasized that the fragmentary character of the pre-Hispanic Guiuan society was in collision course with the Spanish world-view. As John Phelan, in his book, The Hispanization of the Philippines, remarked, “the decentralization of Philippine society clashed with one tradition deeply rooted in Spanish culture. As the heirs of Greco-Roman urbanism, the Spaniards instinctively identified civilization with the city, whose origins go back to the polis of ancient Greece . For the Spaniards, man was not only a rational animal gifted with the capacity to receive grace. He was also a social animal living in communion with his fellowmen. It was only through his daily contact with other men that he might hope to achieve a measure of his potentiality. The Spanish chroniclers endlessly repeated that the Filipinos lived without polity, sin policia, and for them that term was synonymous with barbarism.”

Moreover, the Spanish missionaries, who belonged to the Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation and the Age of Baroque, came with the mission to persuade the Guiuananons to accept Catholicism as the whole truth. As men of their time, they viewed the Samareño native religion as simply an error and, worst, a work of the devil which could not be allowed to prosper. It is in the context of this world-view and theological framework that the missionary efforts of the Jesuits who brought the gospel to Guiuan should be understood.

The Consolidation of Guiuan. In view of this, the Jesuits did remarkable achievements in Guiuan. Among others, they worked for the consolidation of the bungto by embarking on a program called reduccion, which served as basis for cultural integration. This refers to an organized process of resettling the natives from their infinitely scattered tiny hamlets into a large village, where the introduction and growth in the faith could become more viable, and social intercourse could become more feasible. The Jesuits assumed that unless the pre-Hispanic hamlets were congregated into large villages, it would be difficult to indoctrinate them in the faith, reorganize their tribal society, and exploit the material resources of the land. This was how the bungtos of Guiuan as those of Basey and Balangiga were concentrated.

Before the reduccion, there were ever so many tiny hamlets that dotted the southern part of Samar . But since the social structure was not conducive to the introduction of the faith, the missionaries united them to these three bungtos: “todos estos se redujeron a los tres dichos de Basay, Balangiggan y Guiguan.” As a result of the reduccion program, the town of Guiuan was so designed that the church, the convento, and the church plaza formed a nucleus around which stood the residences of the principales and other Guiuananons. For it was ideal to have the people within earshot of the bell tower (de bajo campana). Town streets, which were unknown in the pre-Hispanic Guiuan, were likewise provided. As of 1612, there were six consolidated towns on Eastern Samar:

Consolidated Bungtos Tributes Population (Approx)

Guiguan (Guivan, later Guiuan) 180 540
Bacor (Bacod, now part of Dolores river) 150 450
Unasan (Jubasan until 1630, then it became 200 600
part of Paric, which became Dolores)
Tubig (Taft) 120 360
Boronga (Borongan, formerly in Sabang) 200 600
Libas (in 1886 transferred to Nonoc (now, 230 690
renamed San Julian)

(These figures, taken from Gregorio Lopez, et al., Status Missionis en Filipinas, represent those who had access to the Church and were incorporated to the Spanish rule. The rest of the population, who fled from the town—los huyen de pueblo—settled elsewhere, especially near fields and mountains.)

Samareño Settlement Patterns and Guiuan’s Response to the Reduccion Program

The Guiuananon Distinctive Response. It is important to notice that the reception by the Guiuananons of the reduccion program set them apart from the rest of the Bisayans of Samar. In general, the early inhabitants of Samar met the program without enthusiasm, and it was evident that the Jesuits felt frustrated. The lukewarm reception arose not so much from the fact that the natives scarcely cared for civilization as from their clinging to their fields; to relinquish them was simply contrary to their settlement patterns. “Ellos estan en los montes y rios a su voluntad, done hacen sus sementeras de que viven y su sustenan.” Archbishop Miguel Garcia de Serranos’ comment perfectly reflects the general feeling of the pre-Hispanic Samareños: “they considered it such an affliction to leave their little houses where they were born and have been reared, their fields and other comforts in life that it [i.e., reduccion] could be attained only with difficulty and little fruit would result therefrom.”

It is not known to what extent most of the still scattered Samareños resisted the relocation program. That not a few preferred living far removed from the consolidated bungtos was too obvious. As Father Alcina complained about the Samareños to Rome in his Status Missionis de los Pintados, “to es huir de la doctrina y del ministerio y querer a sus anchuras, asi de la fe, como el Rey.” That is why, many Samar towns were only in name except on Sundays, since, after the mass, the inhabitants went back to their fields. But save for the minority, the Guiuananons were different. After the reduccion, the principales of Guiuan continued to dwell permanently in the bungto without absenting themselves, apart from their trading stints and only a few returned to their farms. Obviously, they never troubled themselves with rice fields. Because of their continued presence in the bungto, the people greatly profited from the labors and attention of the Jesuits. Meanwhile, there was an increase of population from 450 in 1612 to 900 in 1660.

The Jesuits’ Work in the Guiuan Mission

The Missionary Activities and the Content of the Catechesis. With the Guiuananons concentrated in the bungto, it naturally became less exhausting for the Jesuits coming from Dulag (Leyte) to bring the Catholic faith to them. But as already noted, the missionaries came to Guiuan on mission at more or less regular intervals during the year. When they did come, they spent several days in the bungto, instructing the people on Christian doctrine and life, administering the sacraments, and building usually makeshift churches in the villages. The doctrina or religious instruction almost wholly consisted of the memorization of the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Credo, the Salve Regina, and a catechesis on the fourteen articles of faith, the seven sacraments, the seven capital sins, the fourteen works of mercy, the ten commandments, the five commandments of the Church, and the act of general contrition.

The Evangelization Process. Father Francisco Colin, in his Labor evangelica minsterios apostolicos de los obreros de la compañia de Jesus, describes the process—which could be regarded as typical—of the missionary activity done in Samar during a regular visit in 1660 by Father Alonse de Humanes who, as related previously, was superior of the Jesuit residencia in Dulag in 1595:

“I visited each of these regions twice, the first time, of set purpose, the second, just in passing. My purpose was to see if steps were being taken to carry out my instructions. In all towns I preached what is necessary to instruct Christians in the truths of our Faith and to attract the pagans to follow the standards of Jesus Christ. All the Christians who have use of

reason went to confession. The younger children were baptized, to the number of more than a hundred and fifty. Besides this I also baptized fifteen to sixteen adult men who needed it in order to be able to marry them in the Church with their old wives or other one single Christian women who were to be married. I did not baptize any adult Christians. For not knowing when the Fathers will return here, I do not dare to leave more Christians without religious instructions.”

Continued Father Humanes: “We built churches in these three districts because the towns had no churches, and the Indios and the encomenderos assisted in building them very willingly. This is no small accomplishment, inasmuch as it was the time for the collection of tribute. Considerable effort was put forward memorizing the Christian doctrine, as was necessary, since they had forgotten it to such an extent that they did not even know how to make the sign of the cross. In all towns there are many others who know the whole Christian doctrine very well. The recite it in their houses at night and in the morning and every Sunday in the church, both old and young….

In all these towns, there is someone to teach the Christians who to die well, one who baptizes and prepares the adults for baptism. They have also been given instructions not to forget the Fridays, Sundays and other feasts and fasts. These people have very good natural qualities and welcome the Father with good will, showing it with gifts and gracious words. Many pagans have sincerely begged for baptism, and many of the Christians have gone to confession, which has brought them great joy and the great satisfaction at their confessions… The rest of my work was to introduce gradually the usages commonly practiced in our parishes and to establish them solidly in this region to the extent possible.”

The Guiuanaon Response to the Missionary Work

Lay Incorporation and Participation. It is very difficult to assess the response of the Guiuananns to the regular missionary visits of the Jesuits. But two visible signs may be touched upon.

It cannot be open to dispute that the Guiuananon Christians were among the best instructed in the eastern portion of Samar. What is even more of consequence is that few bungtos matched them in their fine record of mass attendance, in their eagerness and frequency to receive the sacraments, and in the number of sodalities in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the words of Father Francisco Alzina, “saco que hay pocos que la exceden en la assistencia a la misa, que oyen casi todos los que viven, en el cada dia, en la facilidad y frecuencia de los sacramentos, de las mujeres, y en la numerosa Congregacion de Nuestra Señora que hay en el.” That there were numerous sodalities further illustrates the depth of the Guiuananon reception of the faith, as they were predecessors of today’s Apostolados, Antonianas, Legionaries, etc.

In addition to their obligation to recite a set of prayers, the members had two duties. First, they visited the sick and the dying, urging them to receive the sacraments, and thereby discourage them from appealing to the babaylan (pagan priest) for consolation; and persuaded those far from the bungto to submit to catechesis and baptism Second, they attended funerals wit the hope that their presence could forestall ritual drinking, a remnant of pre-Hispanic religion. This clearly implies that the Jesuits, as in other missions in Samar and Ibabao, trained catechists to keep the evangelization work alive, while they went on tour to other villages within the ambit of the Dulag residencia. Thus, the sodalities helped in the consolidation of Christianity.

The Original Parish Church of Guiuan. The other testimony to the faith of the Guiuananons is the church edifice. Originally, the church of Guiuan was made of wood. However, no sooner was the wooden structure completed than a fire, as a result of carelessness and negligence, engulfed it entirely. Nonetheless, since the people were around, all the church furnishings were saved.

The tragedy prompted the Guiuananons to start making edifices of stone in the 1630s and in the 1660s. The stone church and rectory were enclosed in a muralla (wall) of stones, probably the best in the whole island of Samar and Ibabao. It is even possible these were finished before 1650. And this early, Guiuan could boast of fine furnishings and sacred vestments for divine worship. It demonstrated “great excellence in rich vestments, chalices, monstrances, crucifixes of silver and other items of fine quality to such a degree that it may compare with some of the best furnished cabeceras.”

The depth of the Guiuananon’ Christian faith, however, does not wholly explain their owning of these valuables. Part of the reason is surely that the bungtohanons themselves lived in relative luxury. As already noted, many of them were engaged in barter enterprise, and the coconut oil, which were transported to as far as Cebu and Manla, made them rich. Indeed, in the seventeenth century, they were probably the richest in the whole island of Samar. And as Father Alcina observed, “the town [of Guiuan] takes pride in having prosperous inhabitants who have numerous slaves [sic] and an abundance of gold—the two factors which go to make up their wealth and which they esteem to greatly.”

In 1718, a more permanent stone church was constructed, according to Father Murillo Velarde in his Historia de la provincial de Filipinas de la Compaña de Jesus, though, like the wooden one, this church, a single-naved structure, was burnt and later repaired.

The Blessed Virgin as Patron and the Miracles Attributed to Her

The Titular of the Guiuan Church. Among the images which the church treasured was that of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. If this was mounted on the main altar, it was because the town was under the patronage of the Virgin, and the church was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception: “Esta este pueblo bajo la proteccion de la gloriosa Virgen Maria, Señora nuestra, y a sus Inmaculada Concepcion esta edificada su iglesia.”

How the Blessed Mother was chosen as patron of Guiuan is not recorded. But what happned in Basay (Basey) is instructive and obviously reflects a pattern. Having gathered the people, the Jesuit missionary proposed that they should choose an advocate before God who would protect and defend them from natural and supernatural enemies. They were asked to select several names of saints, write them on paper, fold them and place them into an urn. The one whose name had been drawn by lot was named their patron, and every year a solemn fiesta was held in his or her honor. In Basay, the name of St Matthew, which was taken by a chosen innocent lad, came up on two consecutive draws. (Surprisingly, though, the present patron of Basey is St Michael the archangel!) It is highly likely that a similar process was observed in Guiuan.

Of course, the yearly patronal feast did another purpose. It lured the people living in scattered small hamlets in the vicinity of Guiuan, like those in Suluan, Homonhon and Mercedes, into the mission center. In the words of John Phelan, “not only did the fiestas provide a splendid opportunity to indoctrinate the Filipinos by the performance of religious rituals, but they also afforded the participants a welcome holiday from the drudgery of toil. The religious processions, dances, music, and theatrical presentations of the fiestas gave the Filipinos a needed outlet for their natural gregariousness. Sacred and profane blended together.” The feast in honor of the Immaculate Conception was therefore not merely a religious affair.

The “Crying Lady” of Guiuan. It is interesting to discover that the image of the patroness of Guiuan, the Blessed Virgin Mary in her title Immaculate Conception, was thought of by the missionaries and the people to be miraculous. And it is curious that, in the two instances in which the miracle was witnessed to by a number of Christians, there were imminent tragic events. The first one, said to have happened in July 18, 1628, as mentioned in the letter of Sebastian de Morais in July 1629, was interpreted as an announcement of the Moro attacks suffered by the people. The second, in which the Virgin reportedly shed tears, which occurred sometime in 1639, was taken as a warning, several days in advance, of an impending fire. On account of these and other miracles, the holy image was venerated with especial esteem.

This was Father Alcina’s account of the second miracle: “When the sacristans arrived

in the church at daybreak to change the frontals, as it is done here, and to prepare whatever was necessary for offering Mass, and while the boys were already at prayer—they noticed that the image at the main altar was weeping. Greatly surprised the sacristan called the attention of the other one, even some of the carpenters who were there to complete the wooden portions of the wall of the church.

“The sacristan immediately went out to notify the Father who was in his room praying and who quickly hurried to the scene. The news spread quickly and many flocked to view the wonder with amazement. The Father minister (Miguel Solana (who later was sent to Rome as Procurator of this Province and who upon his return was elected Provincial), an extremely diligent person, left no stone unturned to ascertain the truth of what all wee witnessing, because even to that moment the image did not cease weeping. Unable to find any natural cause or explanation for the shedding of tears (I was informed by someone who was an eyewitness and who affirmed it to be true), everyone looked upon it as an extraordinary and a miraculous event. The said minister of the town made an entry of this incident in the Baptismal Register. In my opinion, this occurred in 1630. However, since this entry together with the record books had been lost, I am unable to say with absolute certainty just when this took place. And so, shortly thereafter the church went up in flames. Consequently, everyone felt that the Lady’s tears were the sign and forwarning about the fire.”

The Major Problems of the Guiuan Mission

The Various Problems. The Jesuits were able to set up a permanent mission in Guiuan, Christianize its inhabitants and incorporate them into the Hispanization process. Yet, various factors handicapped the growth and development of the mission. The scarcity of Jesuit personnel made it impossible the soonest to provide Guiuan and other bungtos their own ministers to take care of the people’s spiritual and material needs. On the part of the natives, not everyone was very receptive to the reduccion program. The third recurrent problem were the smallpox and cholera epidemics which form time to time struck Samar and Ibabao, taking heavy toll.

In the report of the Jesuit mission in 1565, for instance, it was estimated that tributes in the whole island wee reduced from 20,000 to 7,000 during the 1601 smallpox epidemic. In Guiuan, most of the children died, and the natives readily attributed it to their pre-Hispanic diwata, Macatapang, son of the god in Homonhon, who was said to have gone along the coastlands and infected the atmosphere. To obtain health, they offered many pag-anitos to him. The Jesuits lost no time in making the Guiuananons aware of this erroneous interpretation, although even as late as the 1670s, the explanation still endured among the unlettered. With their knowledge of medicine, the missionaries took care of those afflicted by the disease. It should be added though that the women of Guiuan, as was generally recognized, were very prolific and had many children—a phenomenon the natives themselves ascribed to the abundance of fish and shellfish.

The Muslim Raids and the Bravery of the Guiuananons. At any rate, what interrupted the peaceful growth and development of the Jesuit mission were the Muslim raids. No sooner was a semblance of European polity created in Guiuan and other bungtos in Ibabao than the Mindanaoans, Joloans and Camocones pillaged and plundered them. And the missionaries unwittingly played into the hands of Muslims in their yearly incursions, because by concentrating the people in the bungtos, they made it easier for the Moros to capture the natives without having to hunt them in the infinitely scattered hamlets. On this score, the reduccion program had its drawback. The frequent raids discouraged the inhabitants from living in the bungtos, not only because being caught meant captivity and eventual sale in the slave markets in Jolo, Borneo and Maccasar for Java, but also because the raiders laid waste the bungtos, stole grains and valuables, and even set houses on fire.

The Jesuits led in organizing the people for defense, and put to good advantage the vaunted courage of the Ibabaonons of Guiuan. Compared to other town on Samar, however, Guiuan was less vulnerable due to its position and location, but also due to the great courage of its inhabitants. In his Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas, Father Alcina gave an account of the couage of the Guiuananns in shielding the bungto during the early days of the mission, and the treachery of the Moros:

“At that time, the town did not have the improvements it has presently… The principal [i.e. datu] Jiwantiwan gathered his fighting men (the people of Guiuan have always been courageous) and opposed them [i.e., the Moros]. There were dead on both sides; the Guiuananons lost seven men and some were carried away into captivity. Although the [Guiuananons] were few, they forced the [enemy] to fight; [they did not only pursued them] but struck them on the heads and brought back some ten heads of the enemy. They returned to the town victorious and with such an excellent reputation among the natvies that even until today none of the enemy, who were wont to harass these towns dared to swoop in against the Guiuananons, and even less now, since it is defended.

“However, from there the Mindanaoans passed over to the island of Sulohan and, seeing that they had fared ill in the battle with those of Guiuan, they went over to Sulohan with feigned overtures of peace, saying that they came to arrange a wedding with a daughter of the principal and datu of the island. Because of this [offer] they were received peacefully and without any opposition. But they soon showed their true intentions (for they noticed the hosts were without weapons) and began to plunder and seize all those whom they could lay hands on, that was the majority of the islanders. Taking them aboard with themselves, they carried them in chains to their homelands, thereby demonstrating their insincerity and extreme Mohammedan perfidy. Those who were left behind in the island were in such a wretched condition that they had no choice but to go over (for they had resisted this previously) on the coasts of the bigger island and joined themselves with the town of Guiuan.”

The Guiuan Fortress. In an effort to protect the people and assure their safety and the continued growth in the faith, the Jesuits took upon themselves the task of putting strong fortifications against the Moros. In Samar and Ibabao, relatively small forts were raised in Palapag, Capul,,Buad (Zumarraga0, Sulat, Catbalogan and Lauan (Laoang), but the biggest one, which was even more grandiose than the celebrated one in Zamboanga, was the fortress in Guiuan.

Jose Delgado, in his 1754 book, Historia general sacro-profana, politica y natural de las islas poinente llamada Filipinas, described the fort as follows: “The ministers built [the fortress of Guiuan] with the help of the Samareños for their own defense. It is of a square figure, every side measuring some seventy brazas, each corner has a bastion, on which six artillery pieces can be mounted. Within this fortification, which is of mortar, is the church, the nave of which is wide and commodious, and the house of the ministers with large specious rooms. It has four large courtyards; one for the cemetery which offers an appropriate place for classes, another for the garden where also is found a tall and deep storage room; the kitchen is built in the bulwark. In those bastions facing the sea, there are six bronze cannons of various capacities, and a huge one of iron with some lantacas, whip staffs, shotguns, muskets and other arms which the ministers purchased with the alms of the townspeople. These people also help greatly in making the annual purchase of gunpowder, bullets and other necessary arms for the protection against the Moro hordes… The people of the town keep vigil at night, ringing the bells of the watchtower at the gate of the bastion; over the gate is the sentry box where ten soldiers live during the week and when necessary, there can even be assembled at the ringing of the bells a thousand armed men, as I have experienced on some occasions of the challenge the enemy engaged us from a distance.”

The Sumuroy Rebellion and the Fort of Guiuan. But the fort of Guiuan was not simply used to defend the townspeople from the Muslim incursions. It was availed of to suppress a revolt at least once. It may be remembered that when Governor-General Diego Fajardo (1644-1653) ordered that a detachment of Bisayan workers be sent to the shipyards in Cavite to relieve the hard-pressed Tag-alogs, many inhabitants of Palapag, under the leadership of Agustin Sumuroy, rose up in arms on June 1, 1649. The flames of rebellion quickly swalloed up the bungtos of Bacod (Dolores), Tubig (Taft), Catubig, Bayugo (Pambujan), Bobon and Catarman, and sparked other rebellions in Leyte, Ibalon (Albay-Sorsogon) and Camarines, among others.

Since the uprising had assumed an almost unmanageable proportion, a huge military force was assembled, under the command of Don Gines de Rojas. According to Casimiro Diaz, in his Conquistas de las islas Filipinas, Captain Juan Fernandez de Leon, who was in command of the third division, was ordered to get reinforcement from the Guiuan fort, and to procure as many men as possible. De Leon passed through and pacified the bungtos of Sulat, Tubig and Bacod on his way to Palapag. This, nevertheless, remains simply as an abnormal episode in the history of Guiuan.

Later Development of the Mission

The Expulsion of the Jesuits. Such were the beginnings of the

Christinization and Hispanization of Guiuan, as well as the Guiuananons responses to the missionary work of the Jesuits. On February 27, 1767, King Carlos III of Spain issued The Pragmatic Sanctions or Decree of Expulsion, which expelled the members of the Compania de Jesus from all the Spanish colonies, including the Philippines. When the decree was received in Manila the following year, all the Jesuits there were put under house arrest. In October (1768), Don Pedro Verdote, a commander of the Royal Navy, gathered the Jesuits stationed in Leyte and the eastern coast of Samar, and brought them to Manila. At about the same time, Don Francisco de la Rosa, commander of the sloop San Francisco de Asis, gathered together those Jesuits in western and northern Samar. Thus, the Jesuit work of evangelizing Guiuan, which was carried on for about 172 years, was cut to an abrupt end.

However, years before the departure of the Jesuits, Guiuan had already attained the canonical status of a parish. Quite apart from having enough population to constitute a parroquia, the bungto had raised a concrete church, and a mestiza rectory. More important, this means that at least in the bungto, a parish life has evolved in which the people went to the parish priest, rather than the other way around, as during the mission days. The last Jesuit to serve as parish priest of Guiuan was Father Ignatz Frisch, who was assigned its pastor prior to his predecessor, Father Tomas Monton. At this time, the central residence was no longer Dagami (Leyte); the seat was already located in Palo. Other Jesuits who preceded him as parish priests included Fathes Raymundo Clamante, Juan Caayer, Ignacio Carlos Mariezo, Francisco Mortero, Francisco Hernandez de Minas, Gil Redao (Bedao?), Lorenzo Alascoy, Hortiz, Bartolome de Lugo, Juan Naet, Cayetano Martin, Manuel de Suasna, Gaspar Benito de Mora, Bernardo Esmit (sic), Geronimo Betim, Juan Delgado and Juan Bautista Midese.

The Coming of the Friars and the Subsequent History of the Parish Church. Although it lies outside the scope of this essay to trace the subsequent history of Guiuan, it may not be irrelevant to mention the minsters who became the successors of the Jesuits, and the improvements they added to the physical structure of the Guiuan parish church. With the exit of the Jesuits, the parish of Guiuan was placed in 1768 under the Augustinians who, like their predecessors, provided ministry from the island of Leyte. During this time, the territorial confines of the parish extended to as far as the present town of Lawaan. The Augustinian friars who ministered the parish were Fathers Manuel Solares (the first cura parroco), Juan Luirogo, Juan Antonio Giraldez, Cipriano Barbasan, Jose Aljan, Pedro Gomez and Francisco Villacorta. But Barbasan and Villacorta served Guiuan twice, although it was the latter who turned out to be the last Augustinian pastor. Unable to meet the demands for personnel, the Augustinian order ceded the Guiuan parish to the Franciscans in 1795. Unfortunately, the latter could not immediately provide the parish with a resident cura; instead, it was attended by a diocesan priest, Don Juan Lagajit.

But in 1804, Father Miguel Perez, a Franciscan friar, arrived. As the first Franciscan pastor, he took possession of the parish, serving ti until 1814. He was followed by Father Juan Navarette, Don Juan Nepomoceno, a diocesan (1816-1828?) and Father Gregorio Chacon (1829-1844). In 1844 and the years that followed, Father Pedro Monasterio (1844-1845; 1853-1859) and Father Manuel Valverde (1846-1852) rebuilt the entire parish structure: the church was renovated, and tiles covered the roof. Father Monasterio added two side-chapels to give the church the appearance and form of a cross. He was also responsible for making a road for carriages to Mercedes in 1860. In 1854, the bell tower (campanario) was built. The old convento (rectory) was mestiza-type: the lower floor was made of stone, the upper one of fine wood.

In 1872, Father Arsenio Figueroa (1870-1874; 1879-1880), who succeeded his brother Antonio (1865-1868), erected a new convento, also a mestiza-type, which was more spacious and of greater dimension than the previous one. Father Antonio himself was credited for extending the road from Mercedes to Salcedo. Father Arsenio was replaced by Father Gil Martinez (1880-1885), through whose initiative was constructed the town pier—measuring 120×3 meters, and Father Agustin Delgado (1885-1888). Father Fernando Esteban (1888-1897) roofed the church with zinc sheets, and built two schools buildings made of wood. In 1886, Felipe Redondo described the Guiuan parish structures as follows: “Iglesia: de mamposteria, techada de teja, de 73 varas de longitude, 17 de altitude y 9 de altura, colocada dentro de un gran recinto de cotas antiguas. Cementerio: cercado de pader de cal y piedra de 2 ½ de altura, mide 94 varas de largo y 91 de ancho. Casa parroquial: de fabrica de piedra y cal hasta mitad y el resto de Madera; techada de hierro galvanizado, ye mide 94 varas de longitude, 20 de latitude, y 9 de elevacion.”


One of the stereotypes which still perdure in the historiograohy on the Spanish regime, no doubted nurtured by the Philippine propagandists and at present guided, it would seem, by a Marxist interpretation of history is—as I noted in a past essay on Samar history—the view that the Spanish missionaries were principals of colonial appropriation and exploitation. Such an interpretation is not only an effort at placing the Philippine history in a Marxist procrustean bed, but also a projection of the Propagandist-Friar squabbles which was not true even in the most immediate vicinities of Manila.

Regional, provincial and municipal or parish historiographies give the lie to this view. And the present history of the evangelization of Guiuan by the Jesuits (1695-1768) is a case in point. To echo what Horacio de la Costa noted, the general impression that emerges is purely that of men who, to Christianize the Guiuananons, worked with courage and perseverance, whatever might have been their shortcomings. They did it often at the peril of their lives in lonely outposts, for interminable stretches of seemingly barren years. Stumbling occasionally, they never faltered nor turned aside from that long haul which drew the people of Guiuan from the darkness of paganism to the broad light of Christianity.

Of course, given the various factors which weighed down their ministry, the Jesuits, it would seem, never saw the complete realization of their vision of a Christianized Guiuan. Ultimately, the parish did not develop in complete accord with the Spanish world-view, according to which they attempted to mold the inhabitants of Guiuan. Part of the reason, to be sure, may be on what the Franciscans, as well as the Augustinians, regarded as “slipshod administration by the Jesuits”—a criticism on the Jesuit ministry of Samar that recurs in both the Augustinian and Franciscan reports. But then, an ideal is an ideal. All told, the Jesuit achievement cannot be underestimated, nonetheless.

What started as an initial effort at resettling the pre-Hispanic Guiuananons and at teaching them in the faith and in the three Rs eventually had, in more ways than one, created a better forms of political organization, conditions of law and order, new kind of spiritual and cultural unity, entirely different moral and spiritual values, and new social relationships, among others. This is not, to be sure, to downplay the role of the Guiuananons whose capacity for adjustment toward the outlook which the Jesuits had presented showed itself in the synthesizing with the indigenous elements. Indeed, if one asserts that the Guiuananons transformed Christianity, just as Christianity transformed them, there is some truth to it. But the point is, the Jesuits, like the Augustinians and the Franciscans after them, were the link between the continuities of Guiuan history. What Guiuan is today for the most part owes itself to Christianity which they brought here, and this goes deeper into almost every dimension of Guiuan life and progress.*

1 Comment on A HISTORY OF GUIUAN, EASTERN SAMAR, 1595-1768

  1. Hello,

    Very imformative article. Thank you.

    I am particularly interested to know whatever happened to Fr. Gil Martinez (1880-1885)? I am doing a research on him. Any information about him would be much appreciated such as birthday, place of birth, when did he go back to Spain, last known address and other family members he may have had in Spain.

    Thanks for your help in advance!

    Best regards, Theresa Sulse (USA)

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