De Castro of History revisits Old Manila under Spanish rule

Assoc. Prof. Eloisa P. De Castro, PhD of Department of History lectured on the history of Manila and its present-day significance on November 7, 2020 via livestream on Vibal Group Facebook page.

The Palisaded Settlement

When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, they first touched down on the islands of Visayas, and to expand the Spaniard’s food supply, Spanish navigator Martin de Goiti was sent on a reconnaissance trip to Luzon to locate a hospitable place where they can secure resources for their everyday needs.

According to De Castro, Manila was a strategic location for the Spaniards since it was one of the largest settlements in Luzon. “They had heard reports that there is a big settlement in Luzon that was most likely a better place to settle instead of Cebu or Iloilo,” she said.

“Martin de Goiti went and saw May-nilad, as it was called, a palisaded settlement,” she said. “It has some kind of urban walls supported by bamboos, which offered some kind of protection at that time,” de Castro added.

Miguel Lopez de Legaspi affirmed that Manila was a vantage point because of its proximity to the Bay, making trades via galleons and other naval activities more feasible. Manila officially became the capital of the Philippines under the Spanish Colony in 1571 with de Legaspi as its first Governor-General.

A Series of Conquering Events

Aside from Spanish conquistadors, De Castro narrated how Manila survived a series of invasion attempts from other countries. The Battle of Lepanto in 1646 was one of the most notable battles in Manila because the victory against the conquering Dutch was attributed to the intercession of Nuestra Senora de Santisimo Rosario de La Naval, which the Roman Catholic Church recognized as a genuine miracle.

“There was a time when the Dutch forces joined with another power that wanted to control the Philippines, and this would be the English,” de Castro said. “These attempts to capture Manila had all failed. God was on the side of Manila. She (Nuestra Senora de Santisimo Rosario de La Naval) did not let Manila be captured by the English nor the Dutch,” she added.

However, De Castro underscored that the battle did not stop because in 18th century, the British succeeded in occupying Manila from 1762-1764. “But after a treaty settlement in Europe, the British withdrew and returned the Philippines to Spain,” de Castro said.

Moreover, de Castro said the Chinese working class held revolts that rattled the stability of Manila. “The Spaniards are outnumbered. There are only a very small number of Spaniards in the Philippines, so they needed the help of Indios,” she said. “Without the help of the Indios, the Chinese immigrants who would revolt against Spanish colonial goverment would be successful,” de Castro added. The Spaniards had tapped Indios from different parts of the country to counter Chinese revolts.

According to de Castro, the fabled reputation of Manila keeping so much wealth due to the Galleon trade was the cause of invasion throughout the centuries. “The reputation of this so-called Galleon trade was widespread, many people wanted to control the Philippines. Together with galleon trade, which incidentally is the longest and the most historic trade route in the whole history of world navigation, together with that would be brought so many other influences to the Philippines,” she said.

Cosmopolitan Manila

De Castro narrated that different races lived alongside Indios and Spaniards in old Manila, and these included Chinese, Creoles, Persians, Americans, and Africans.

“You will have a lot of Africans living in Manila especially from Mosambique. Why are they in the Philippines? Because there was an ongoing slave trade at that time. Remember that slavery will be outlawed only around in 17th century,” she said. “Some of them served in the galleons, some of them served in personal servants, and some of them served In the hospitals,” de Castro added.

De Castro said the galleon trade made it possible for Manila to connect with different race and to serve as second home for everyone. “In Manila, we are colorblind; we accepted everybody,” she said.

Why study Manila?

According to de Castro, Manila and its historical, social, political, and economic aspects earned its significance as something worth studying.  Moreover, Manila witnessed one of the most important events toward the end of Spanish civilization: the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal.

“The focus on Rizal was already a part of outbreak of revolution, so if the Spaniards thought that executing Rizal would put down the revolution, or preventing the revolution from spreading, actually had the opposite effect,” she said.

“The death of Rizal signaled that there is no going back. The road toward independence, the road toward the revolution is set, and there is no looking back until the proclamation of independence on June 12, 1898.” she said.

“The significance of Manila is timeless; it will never become irrelevant,” de Castro said.

De Castro is the editor of the second edition of National Artist for Historical Literature Carlos Quirino’s book of essays entitled, Old Manila, published by Vibal Press on November 3, 2016.

Revisit the lecture here: https://www.facebook.com/vibalgroup/videos/682550825986100

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