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THE DEFENSE STATEGIST, PADRE CURA OF BOLJOON

1804-1848

By DIONISIO A. SY
November 12, 1992 , The Freeman

Situated on the southeastern part of the island of Cebu , the town of Boljoon will celebrate its annual fiesta on November 14, in honor of its patroness, Nuestra Señora Patrocinio de Maria.

The Beginnings of Boljoon . As more missionaries arrived in the Philippines in the 17 th century and both civilian and military officials were on hand to extend Spanish domination here, a number of towns were established in the island of Cebu .

This was done by encouraging Eeven at times forcing Ethe scattered residents of villages to group themselves in denser groups. The scattered type of settlement which had worked well before the arrival of the Spaniards was not conductive to civil administration and control, and to religious proselytizing .So the farmers living sparsely near on their cultivated plots and the fishermen dispersed along the seashore gathered together to form communities.

By 1690 this process of concentration was considered accomplished in Boljoon, and the Augustinian friars established there a convent of parish.

Church records in 1890 said that Boljoon had a population of 6,674, ranked 35 th among 55 towns in Cebu at the time. The same source credited Argao with a population of 31,058 persons Ehaving the highest number of residents.

Defense Against Muslim Raids. Throughout its 208-year-history under Spanish regime(1690-1898), Bojoon once became the central focus of a report to the Spanish governor-general, Gov. Gen. Ricafort. However, Boljoon's parish priest- Fray Julian Bermejo was the driving force that created the situation which was the subject of the report.

This report said that:

“Because of its location, the island of Cebu used to be much harassed by the Muslim (raiders). Today (1826), however, it is one of the safest (of the Visayan Island ), and muslims are seldom seen near Cebu .E

This happy state of affairs was brought about by the strategy and dynamism of the Augustinian Friar Julian Bermejo. Upon his arrival in the Philippines , Bermejo was first assigned to the Argao parish in 1802-1804. Then he was transferred to Boljoon Parish where he stayed from 1804-1836, and again in 1846-1848, or a total of 34 years.

Deeply troubled by the annual raids, Fr. Bermejo successfully motivated the other priests and the townspeople to construct a series of baluaretes or watch towers from Sibonga to the southmost tip of the island and then northward for some distance along Tañon Strait. Canons were mounted on the baluartes. On months were raiders could be expected (from June to October when the southwest monson or “habagatEis blowing) regular watches were kept by armed men.

Furthermore, Bermejo ordered the construction of an early warning system. Tall poles, on which flags were raised whenever raiders appeared on the horizon, were planted at distances where the raised flag could be clearly seen by the sentinel. When Muslim pancos appeared on the horizon, the sentinels raised the flags, and all the able-bodied men stood ready to face the marauders. The residents were organized into groups, each group serving as guard for a week.

This self-defense network worked so well that in number of encounters the raiders got the worst of it and took to fight. Northern Cebu towns followed the example successfully worked out in Southern Cebu .

On the Offensive . Fray Bermejo was not satisfied with the relative success of the defense network. He was determined to take the offensive.

He enlisted the talents of boat carpenters and constructed barangayes (boat specially designed to sail very swiftly to pursue Muslim boats called pancos). Two small canons were mounted on each barangay. Specially designed bolos were also issued to those manning the boats in order to effectively counter the Muslim's Krises as hand-to-hand combat ensued when a barangay got locked to a panco during a naval fight. The town of Boljoon , which became the center of this anti-raider's organization, had ten such specially designed boats. Other towns had one or two each.

As this developed, the early warning system incorporated the designation of pre-determined spots where the boats would assemble when raiders appeared on the horizon.

Several encounters subsequently occurred with barangayes manned by Cebuanos pitted against pancos manned by Muslims. In these encounters, the Cebuano defenders turned attackers inflicted heavy losses on the raiders. Victories raised the Cebuano's morale. A report claimed that groups on duty boarded the barangayes “as if they were going to a town fiesta.E

Then, one day, Muslim boats appeared on the horizon off Boljoon. Commanded by several datus, the Muslim marauders headed straight towards Boljoon, determined to fight the core of the Cebuanos' civilian fleet to avenge past losses.

Boljoon's defenders set out to meet them, and a naval battle ensued, ten barangayes against seven pancos.

The fighting lasted for more than three hours, the boats drifting towards Sumilon Island , off Santander town. Three pancos were sunk, one was captured and the remaining three took flight. They never returned for three decades. They did return, however in 1853, when the baluartes were no longer studiously manned, when the specially designed barangayes had surrendered to the elements, and when the intrepid Padre Cura of Boljoon had been laid to rest.

The report to the Governor-General included the financial aspect of Fray Bermejo's work. It noted that:

EFray Bermejo ) put this endeavor into effect with no other resources than his own determination and ability and the cooperation of his parishioners; he occasioned the royal treasury (that is, the government) no great expenditure.E

(It is also pertinent to mention here the comment of the Jesuit historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa regarding these Muslim raids in the past centuries. He wrote that:

“Because Muslims were Moros at home( Spain ), The Spaniards called Moros the Mulslim Malays of Maguindanao and Sulu. These were seamaen who lived on trade, and trade in that period was almost indistinguishable from piracy.E

Negotiator For Peace. Boljoon's Padre Cura Bermrjo was also mentioned in historical accounts in connection with the revolt led by Juan Diyong in 1814.

Some years before this, a rich Chinese mestizo from Parian, Cebu City, succeeded allegedly through, misrepresentation and the connivance of corrupt government officials , in acquiring pasture lands in Tinaan (Naga), San Fernando and Sibonga. In reality, these lands were already cultivated by farmers-residents.

As the cows and horses of the rich Chinese mestizo multiplied in number, the problems/suffering of the farmers became more grave because the animals also fed on the plants of farmers.

Then in 1814, the affected farmers and their symphatizers led by Juan Diyong decided to confront the Spanish civil and military officials in Cebu City .

Armed with bolos, they started their march from Sibonga. When they reached san Fernando, more marvhers and sympathizers joined and in Tinaan, Naga still more disgruntled residents swelled their number to several hundreds, detrmined to settle their problem with bolos if the Sapanish civil and military leaders in Cebu City would refuse to amend the injustice which caused their suffering.

Fortunately for the peace loving Cebuanos, their patron saint intervened and used the padre cura of Boljoon as instrument for peace and injustice.

On the midnight prior to the confrontation, a five –year old boy awakened Juan Diyong and told him that the bishop wanted to talk to him before the armed confrontation. The two met, and Diyong acceded to the bishops' admonition that Diyong would met with the government officials to thresh out matter before blood is shed.

The church leaders, civil and military officials and socio-economic leaders of Cebu then authorized Boljoon's parish priest to talk with Diyong.

Fray Bermejo with about 300 men, faced Diyong and his several hundreds of supporter. Diyong and his leaders acceded to the amicable settlement proposed by Bermejo . It specified that all the pasture lands formerly cultivated by farmers would be returned to them and that the animals of the rich Chinese mestizo would be placed inside fenced areas within one month.

The confrontation ended peacefully, and, Cebuanos believe, through the intercession of Cebu 's patron saint who also used Fray Bermejo as instrument for peace and justice.

Fray Bermejo was said to have built the church and convent in Boljoon and Oslob, both of strong materials, and three chapels of wood and nipa.

Likewise he produced some literary works, including one on the “Zebuana language.E

However, in the secular history of Cebu , 1804-1848, the parishioners of Boljoon and Fray Julian Bermejo will be remembered for having successfully repulsed Muslim raiders through a brilliant strategy and community cooperation.

 
     
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