Before the coming of the Spaniards in the island of Samar up to the early eighteenth century, the civilized natives of the island usually lived along or near the coasts, for the sea was the primary source of food and the main thoroughway for transportation and communication. Most of the towns of island were originally situated in these areas, except some, like, Gandara, which is in the interior.
When the Spaniards first set foot on the island, they found the natives warm and friendly. Pigafetta, one of the chroniclers of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage, described the initial encounter between the Spaniards and the Samarenos: « On Monday afternoon, March 18, we saw a boat coming towards us with men in it … when those reached shore, their chief went immediately to the captain general, giving signs of joy because of our arrival. Five of them ornately adorned remained with us, while the rest [to get] some others who were reasonable men, ordered food to be served before them, and gave them red capes, mirrors, combs, bells, ivory, bocasine and other things. When they saw the captain’s courtesy, they presented fish, a jar of palm wine which they call uraca and coconuts. They had nothing else then, but made signs with their hands that they would bring umay or rice and coconuts and many other articles of food within four days.»
The Jesuit missionaries started converting the Samarefios into the Christian faith when they came to Samar in 1596. They continued doing so until their expulsion from the country in 1786. Essentially, the Jesuits played a major role in the evangelization and conversion of the natives. Aside from religious activities, they supervised the construction of stone churches and plazas in the various pueblos where the missionaries resided.
It was in the late October 1596 when the first Spanish missionaries to get to Samar arrived Tinagon, a place where Tarangnan is today, north across Maqueda Bay and only an hour’s sailing distance from Umauas,- the place beside a river of the same name that developed into Villareal.
It has been suggested that the original site for settlement was either at Buaya or Sabang with bigger rivers and therefore easier to support a settlement of some size. The Spaniards later moved to the small Umauas River’s side where it could be better defended against the Moro attack. The first early historical mention of the place referred to was Umauas, which means to flow. It perfectly describe the rapid rushing surge to the sea of the eponymous river whose mouth continues to flourish.
In 1768, Umauas, with a population of 650 families, was listed as pueblo (a pueblo consisted of poblacion, visitas, barrios, sitios) and also a parish. It shared a priest with Calbiga. In 1772, Umauas was subordinated to Calbiga. For a time in the next century, Umauas was a visita of Calbiga. If Umauas and Calbiga were in a kind of competition, Calbiga had the upper hand then.
In 1773 Fr. Vicente was assigned as parish priest to Umauas [Villareal] and Calbiga, “theater of my tragedies” as he put it and where, he said with some exaggeration, scarcely a week went by for 7 years without an attack by the Moros. These pueblos are near the mouth of the San Juanico Strait, “the camino real of the Moros”. On July 9, when he was returning by sea from a church celebration at Paranas, he was attacked by two boatloads of Moros, with whom he had a “good battle” for four hours. Unfortunately, at the end of four hours the Moros were reinforced by 36 more boats so the priest and his companions beached their boat on a small uninhabited Island and tried to flee on foot. However, his friar’s habit impeded his agility, and he was captured. After 5 days of captivity, still in the Umauas [Villareal] area, he tried to escape but was re-captured. He was lucky, though, because 10 days later he was ransomed by the Augustinian Parish priest of Basey. He returned to his pueblos of Umauas [Villareal] and Calbiga via Leyte, barely escaping recapture twice on the way, only to find that the Moros had destroyed supplies, clothes and the church and parish house. He began once more to prepare the defenses and weapons that he would soon need.
On St. Andrew’s Day (November 30), while Fr. Vicente was saying Mass, the Moros attacked. Fortunately the church was full since the Samareños had gathered together for the Mass. While the Moros were destroying the crops and cutting down coconut trees to be used to make trenches and stockades in preparation for their attack on the church, Fr.Vicente sought the protection of Saint Rosa of Lima for the parish. Then he shot at one group of Moros with a cannon, killing two of their leaders. The Moros reorganized and the two sides exchanged fire for more than three hours, but to no avail for either group. The Moros withdrew that same day, a Thursday, but on Saturday the sentinels saw a large number of Moro ships sail past for what was to be a 21 day siege of Paranas. Fr. Vicente did not dare leave to help; instead he spent the time improving the defenses of his two pueblos, anticipating further attacks (which did not materialize).
The Moro Attacks
The main routes of Moro attacks were along the western edge of the archipelago, ranging north from the Sulu area along Palawan to Luzon and the Bicol Peninsula. Samar was a relatively less attractive prize due to its poverty, but it, too, was often attacked by intrepid raiders on their way south again. Most of these attacks occurred after the middle of the 18th century. With the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, the Franciscan and the Augustinians became the parish priests; with the former taking full responsibility for the island until about 1804.
In 1830, the first military governor of Samar got his appointment. It was an offshoot of the failure of the Cebu-based Governor General of the Visayas to collect tributes and other revenues systematically from the people. Three years later, the staff of the military governor was increased because of the increasing secular activities in the province. This included a public defender of prisoners. The number of Samarenos in jail increased because of their failure to pay taxes and other tributes.
From 1830 to 1896, the governor’s staff grew in membership because of the increasing complexity of the bureaucracy since 40 pueblos received supervision from the governor. With this was an increase in the governor’s responsibility which included the swift administration of justice and implementation of the laws and decrees which Madrid and Manila issued. Also, the guardias civiles got more members because of the increased police activities needed in the province.
March 12, 1863, is a significant date in the town’s history. Not so much because it became once again an independent pueblo and parish. The truly significant change was the shedding of the ancient native name of Umauas and assumption of a regal Spanish title, VILLAREAL.
On August 7, 1873, the Governor of the Visayas ordered Sr. Enrique de la Vieja, governor of Samar, to investigate the truth of the existence of subversive movements in the island. He was· ordered to confiscate firearms owned by the natives. This order came about due to resurgence of rebel movements in the island, which gained more members from the ”ignorant masses”, who were promised by some leaders a better government and a richer life. The leaders of such a movement lectured on detachment’ of the present world and enjoined the people to work with fervor for the establishment of a better government to be led by a great ruler in the future. However, some vagueness appeared in the manner the alternative could be achieved. With certainty, the Spanish authorities knew that the force of the movement would become another Palapag if it remained unobstructed. The governor general said something like preventing the tree from living by uprooting it immediately.The movement ushered in the birth and growth of the Dios-dios movement in the island, which in the succeeding years became the source of strength of the guerrilla forces of General Lukban and the pulajanes.
Consequently, several peopie were arrested and deported. Sources showed the following as victims: ·
- Candido Llamaran and Cesario Cabagaran were apprehended in Guiuan by the military and deported to Paragura. They were suspected of engaging in subversive activities.36
- Francisco Paragatos, Narciso Parajates, Matias Paragatos, and Aniceto Tarampos of Villareal were deported because of involvement in subversive activities and secret alliance with ·Leon Petac, a Diosdios member, whom Spanish authorities considered criminal.
- Fabian Ortonio of Calbayog· was deported for vagrancy and illegal possession of firearms.
Extant sources mentioned these persons. It may be speculated that the Spanish administrators sowed the seeds of terror in· the provinces to discourage the Samarenos from asserting and fighting for their rights .
On November 1887, Miguel Fajardo of Villareal reported to Governor Chacon the existence of the , Dios-Dios movement in Bilat, Villareal. For the state to take interest in these people, the church accused them of subverting the people against the Spanish rule.
In December 1888, Governor General Juaquin Garcera of Samar reported that the troops deployed in Samar included 80 guardias civiles who were responsible for peace and order in the government’s center in Catbalogan and in other pueblos.
They were also charged with efficient trading and transporting of agricultural products from the producers to the government-controlled merchant ships for transport to Manila or Cebu.
After 1888, no reports of Dios-dios activities were heard. The governor of Samar thought that tranquility had finally settled in the island.
In 1890, the staff in Catbalogan proved incapable of handling the administrative and paper work of a big province like Samar. While the Manila-based Spanish authorities attempted to ameliorate the situation by sending an additional staff or two, they ignored the idea of a strong staff for the province because economically and politically the distance of the province from Luzon and its uneconomical position were considered by these authorities as negative factors in the over-all colonial structure they developed.
Because Samar was a backwater, the governor of Samar obviously became the key person in the Spanish administration of the province. He was the vital link between Manila and Samar. Such a situation proved difficult to handle, especially with the emergence of hostilities between the Spanish forces and the Samarenos.
The first and major organized uprising in the country happened in Samar on June 1, 1649. Montero y Vidal in his Historia de Filipinas. He added that the revolt was a reaction of the natives against oppression embedded in the public works project of the central government which he felt was unwarranted because the people clamored for protection and defense of their coastal pueblos against any form of interference. Obviously, the authorities believed that it could only be done if the financial position of the government would improve after losses in the galleon trade.
These losses incurred by the galleons in the seventeenth century paved the way for the decision of Manila to maintain a shipyard in the province, as it was one of the provinces where the galleons got agricultural products, especially copra and hemp for export in the foreign ports. Consequently, this needed the drafting of carpenters and workers from the pueblos of Samar. The people naturally disliked this political compulsion. Nevertheless, they supplied the shipyard with the required manpower of one man for every village. Such a gesture was shortlived. The natives .decided to fight against this unjust scheme. Actually, the people only waited for a trusted leadership. And Sumoroy provided the qualities of a good leader and fighter. Sumoroy led the Samarenos to fight against conscription and forced taxation. They agreed to end the simpler expression of exploitation in the pueblo-the parish priest and his church. Father Miguel Barberan became the target. Sumoroy hurled a javelin at the priest after his Sunday mass which pierced his breast and instantly killed the latter.
Sumoroy’s revolutionary career ended abruptly because his brother-inlaw bartered the fighter’s life from Spanish authorities with a few pesetas. The soldiers captured him eventually and was executed in the public square of Calbayog.
The Spaniards in publicly executing Sumoroy thought that such an experience would prevent them from defying their orders again. However, from this time on, the history of Samar was full of minor uprisings which the Spanish governor of the province dismissed as isolated expressions of the people’s ignorance of the law. Also, since most of the manifestations of unrest emanated from the interior dwellers, they were considered insignificant when compared to the peaceable coastal dwellers. However, this situation was intermittently defied by even the coastal dwellers, as they were dissatisfied with the colonial rule of Spain expressed in its oppressive and unjust system of taxation and tribute collection. The Samareiios felt that while they contributed to the up-keep of the government, they were still in the quagmire of poverty and underdevelopment.
By 1890 Villareal had a population of 2,420 in the Polacion and 3,045 outside – more people than Calbiga. Eight visitas, no barrios though. But it also had a resident priest.
American involvement in the social and political unrest of the Cubans and Filipinos resulted in a war declaration between America and Spain. The resulting defeat of the Spanish forces-naval and land forces vanquished in the Philippines-allowed Admiral George Dewey to blockade Manila while they waited for the reinforcements to come to fimilly conclude the occupation of the Philippines.
Initially, the Filipino leaders hailed the victory of the American naval forces as they continued to harass the remaining strongholds of the Spanish forces in Luzon. They thought that the Americans were sincere when they promised to assist the Filipinos in their struggle to gain independence from Spain. Emilio Aguinaldo, believing completely in America’s promise, urged all Filipinos to fully support the campaigns of the Americans, when in reality Filipino troops liberated all provinces except Intramuros which the Americans surrounded.
The relation between the Filipino and American forces, as of late December 1898, seethed with hostilities. The Filipinos, by then, knew with certainty the implications of America’s interest in the Philippines, right after the conclusion of the peace talks in Paris. One major import of this talk was the emergence of a treaty which thought of ending hostilities between Spain and America by ceding the Philippines to the United States, with the payment of $200,000. Such treaty when finalized by the representatives of both governments awaited confirmation in the United States Senate; it needed two-thirds vote for ready passage.
Before the actual defeat and fall of the Spanish forces in Samar in 1897-1898, the Samarenos, with their spirits heightened by the various successes of the Filipino forces in Luzon because of the return to power of General Emilio Aguinaldo, attempted to kill all the Spaniards in Calbayog and Catbalogan in 1897. This plot was drawn by the members of the civil guards who were in this period mostly natives armed by the Spanish government. The plan was discovered, and the plotters imprisoned.
General Aguinaldo, in a move calculated to convince the people to join the revolt against Spain, appointed Don Antonio Munoz as Samar’s governor. He was responsible for organizing the local forces, securing popular support and arming the forces in preparation of the armed conflict with the Spaniards.
In August 1898, the Filipinos’ sustained enthusiasm dismayed the Spanish forces. When the Spaniard’s last stronghold was almost vanquished, the Filipino forces around Intramuros received an order from the Americans to vacate tile trenches and outposts which they occupied leading to the fort city. Emilio Aguinaldo did not know, at this point, that a clandestine plan of surrender was arranged between the Spanish and American forces: The Spaniards agreed with the Americans to stage a mock battle because they loathed seeing themselves captured by the indios.
After the mock battle, with the victory of the American forces secured, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the country on June 12, 1898 and established the republic.
The Treaty of Paris (1898) had transferred Philippine sovereignty from Spain to the United States but was not recognized by Filipino leaders, whose troops were in actual control of the entire archipelago except the capital city of Manila. Although an end to the insurrection was declared in 1902, sporadic fighting continued for several years thereafter.
General Lukban arrived in Samar in December 1898 . Meanwhile, all the Spaniards left for lloilo. At the outset, General Lukban prepared to accomplish his revolutionary mission in Samar.
Early in the morning on September 28, 1901 the residents of the small village of Balangiga (located in the Samar Province) attacked the men of U.S. Army Company C, Ninth U.S. Infantry, who were stationed in the area. While the Americans ate breakfast, church bells in the town began to peal. This was the signal for hundreds of Filipinos armed with machetes and bolos to attack the garrison. Forty-eight U.S. soldiers, two-thirds of the garrison, were butchered, in what is called the Balangiga Massacre. Of the Filipinos who attacked, as many as 150 were killed.
The deaths of the Americans resulted in a punitive expedition and a reign of terror. General Jake Smith ordered the American soldiers to “kill and burn”, to shoot down anybody capable of carrying arms including boys over ten years old.” When the smoke had cleared, Samar had been turned into a “howling wilderness.” The American forces completed the pillaged by taking the two Balangiga church bells and a rare 1557 cannon as war booty and shipping them to Wyoming. Almost a hundred years after the Balangiga incident, the current Philippine government is making representations to retrieve these national treasures.
(Source: Villa Fiesta Souvenir Program; SPANISH AND AMERICAN COLONIZATION PROCESSES IN SAMAR REYNALDO H. IMPERIAL, Ph.D.; Bruce Cruikshank, SAMAR: 1768 – 1898, published by the Historical Conservation Society, printed by R.P. Garcia Publishing Co., Inc., 903 Quezon Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines, pages 84-88)