Was Unisan really founded in 1521?

Resulta ng larawan para sa unisan quezon

Welcome arch leading to the población or town proper (photo: Zamboanga.com).

Unisan, Quezon Province, formerly known as Calilayan, Tayabas Province, is the seaside hometown of my dad and my maternal grandmother. I didn’t grow up there, but I got to enjoy the place during summer vacations as a kid.

Unisan prides itself as the oldest town in Filipinas, having been founded in 1521! Searching for it in the Internet, one will always encounter the information below:

Unisan, originally called Kalilayan, is perhaps one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. As early as 1521, the town of Kalilayan was founded by Malayan settlers. All other towns in the country were established not earlier than 1565, when Spain formally occupied the Philippines as a colony.

But was Unisan really founded on that year?

First of all, the real name was Calilaya (or Calilayan in some accounts), not Kalilayan. Secondly, the creation of townships commenced only after the arrival of the Spaniards. Record keeping before that, particularly with the use of specific years or dates, was not yet in use for the simple reason that it was the Spaniards who introduced the Gregorian calendar. How then could have those “Malayan settlers” known that they established a town on that particular year? Lastly, the first settlers of Unisan were not Malayans but Malayo-Polynesian peoples.

What is on record is that Calilaya (now known as Unisan) was founded in 1578 by two Franciscan friars: Fr. Juan de Plasencia and Fr. Diego de Oropesa. But due, perhaps, to economic reasons, it subsequently became a barrio of Pitogo. In 1874, it became a town once again, but with a different name: San Pedro Calilaya, or simply San Pedro (that is why the parish there is dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle). What I have not yet discovered is how San Pedro Calilaya became known as Unisan (even the uni sancti story one finds in Wikipedia is the stuff of a very creative imagination).

Sometimes, I am tempted to think if there is any strange link to the fact that my roots are from San Pedro Calilaya, Tayabas and here I am living with my family in faraway San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna for the past 13 years. Wonder no more if my family has chosen Saint Peter the Apostle to be our patron saint.

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