This 3 part post is an introduction to the Muslim slave raids focusing on the middle of the 18th – middle of the 19th centuries in the Philippines. It is important to understand and put into context the different watchtowers, fortresses and fortress churches that can still be found in the coastal areas of Luzon and the Visayas. Read Part 1 | Part 2
The Muslim slave raids in the middle of the 18th to the middle of the 19th centuries were indeed one of the darkest years of colonial Philippines. It is estimated that during this period, around 200,000 natives were abducted. Because of the ineffectiveness and lack of political will of the governing colonial power to stem these raids, and prior to 1848, the navy vessels were often outrun by the faster prahus, or, in the case of Bicol, refused the request of the mayors to arm their towns for fear that the townspeople will revolt against them, these depradations dragged on for more than a hundred years. The social and economic costs were incalculable as town populations were affected (or even abandoned) and during the habagat months, no one ventured out into the open for fear of being captured.
Like every situation, it also brought something good out of it. As coastal towns were abandoned, new ones were formed inland. Roads were opened instead of depending solely on waterways. With the Spanish friar the only Spaniard representing the colonial government, he became not only the priest but the town’s leader and captain. During this period, several so called friar-soldiers rose of which Fray Julian Bermejo of Boljoon is known for the “telegraphic stations” he constructed running the whole length of southeastern – southern Cebu starting in Carcar down to Santander. These watchtowers were manned by appointed native sentries who, upon sighting the dreaded prahus of the raiders signaled the next station with flags, smokes, horns or fires triggering an alarm system down the coast and telling the local fighters to prepare and arm themselves.
There were other reactions to these slave raidings of which several fortifications were built. We have the fortress-churches of Miag-ao in Iloilo; Danao, Argao, Boljoon in Cebu; Boac in Marinduque; Guiuan, Laoang and Capul in Samar; Agutaya, Cuyo, Cagayancillo in Palawan; several watchtowers that can be seen in Ilocos, Bicol, Samar, Leyte, Negros, Cebu and other Visayan islands. Fortified settlements also cropped up with thick walls to drive out invaders. Unfortunately, most of these structures are in great danger of being lost forever as they lay crumbling and disintegrating. There is no clear cut plan to save these remnants of our people’s struggle to live.
To further understand this important but forgotten part of Philippine (and perhaps Southeast Asian) history, The following are perfect references:
Warren, James Francis. The Sulu Zone 1768-1898 THe Dynamics of External Trade, Slavery, and Ethnicity in the Transformation of a Southeast Asian Maritime State. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1985.
Warren, James Francis. Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 2002.
JAVELLANA, Rene B., S.J. Fortess of Empire: Spanish Colonial Fortifications of the Philippines, 1565 – 1898. Makati City: Bookmark, Inc., 1997.