Was Unisan really founded in 1521?

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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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Lobó, Batangas needs our dire support

I’ve never been to Lobó, Batangas. But the closest that my family and I have been there was when we visited the charming pebbled shores of Kamantigue Beach in Batangas City a few years ago, and whenever we visit the popular but still pristine beaches of Barrio Laíya in nearby San Juan. And since Lobó’s whitish coastlines are wedged between the scenic beaches of Batangas City and San Juan, it’s not difficult to surmise how they look like: paradisiacal to say the least. Of course, there’s good ol’ Mr. Google to rely on if you need to see the natural beauty of Lobó from the comfort of your homes.

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Gerthel Beach Resort (photo: My Resorts Batangas)

But Lobó’s natural beauty is in grave danger. Just this morning, a friend alerted me about a planned mining operation that could take place there anytime. He shared to me a video which was uploaded on Facebook by the Southern Tagálog Exposure three days ago (as of this writing, it now has 1,060 shares, 339 reactions, and 38,863 views). The video is actually a five-minute documentary spoken in Batangueño dialect because the interviewees are residents themselves of Lobó, including the parish priest. All of them clearly explained their reasons why they are against mining.

Monte Naguiling (photo: City Boy Tripper).

It doesn’t take rocket science to determine the ills of mining, whether government-sanctioned or not. Time and again, we keep on hearing news reports about mining companies  and their local political lackeys being the real winners while the residents barely receive a trickle of the profits, if at all. And the worst victim, of course, is nature. Because once destroyed, the damage is irreversible.

Pico de Laláyag (photo: All Events)

Five years ago, ABS-CBN’s Ted Failón made an investigative report about the pros and cons of mining in our country. Although it is well-known that Failón is anti-mining, his documentary may still be considered as well-balanced (despite its obvious derision of mining companies) because he was able to interview both pro- and anti-mining individuals in our country’s mining hotspots such as Caraga and Surigáo del Norte. President Rodrigo Duterte himself praised Failón’s documentary in his recent SONA. In the end, that Failón documentary has clearly proven that modern mining produces more ecological and social ills than economic cures.

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Punta Malabrigo Beach Resort (photo: Trip Advisor).

According to the video that was shared to me, Mindoro Resources Ltd., a Canadian-based mining corporation, is the company that is currently leading the planned mining explorations in the mountains of Lobó (and even nearby Batangas City). The company believes that the land covering these areas are high in gold, copper, and nickel content. Once they are given the go-signal by local government units and other concerned offices such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, then say goodbye to the beautiful beaches and mountains that you see on this blogpost. “Responsible mining”, whatever that is, is still a myth insofar as residents of mining communities are concerned. What has been in existence is irresponsible mining, something that might not be corrected in our lifetime due to rapacious greed.

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Monte Lobó (photo: Jovial Wanderer).

What is disturbing is that there seems to be lack of media interest (short of a news blackout, according to my source) regarding the circumstances behind the planned mining of Lobó’s beautiful landscape, as it is more focused on government-sanctioned extrajudicial killings and the suppression of fake news. But a terrible catastrophe is brewing in Batangas Province, and all of us ought to know about it. Late last month, aerial bombings were reported in Lobó’s Mount Banoí, said to be the mountain which is of high interest to Mindoro Resources Ltd. Those bombings, according to one media report, was said to be a military operation against alleged communist rebels. When my family visited Kamantigue Beach, which was just a few kilometers away from Lobó, I didn’t hear about any communist activity in the surrounding areas (I have a penchant of asking around for NPAs during our out-of-town trips to faraway places simply out of curiosity). If there was indeed any communist activity, I don’t believe that it’s that big to merit any aerial bombing. Islamic terrorists in western Mindanáo deserve better.

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Monte Banoi, considered as the fifth most biologically diverse mountain in Filipinas (photo: Discover).

If we are able to create human barricades to protect an ideal, a political cause, or even a politician, why not do the same for nature? Besides, Lobó belongs to all of us Filipinos. Only we should be allowed to determine its destiny, not some foreign entity.

Even established historians make mistakes

That Batangueño historian I alluded to in a previous blogpost used to be my FB friend. We parted ways when I criticized his favorite historian, a fellow Batangueño of his, for failing to define what a Filipino is, something that really gets into my nerves. For if one can chronicle the history of his people, how is it that he could not even define their national identiy?

I was expecting a scholarly response to elicit debate not so much as to show him that I know more than him but to obtain his perspective. Because that is how knowledge is developed: a synthesis of logical elements from both sides of the fence will emerge to form a new thesis (logicians call this the dialectical method). For all we know, his favorite historian’s difficulty in defining what a Filipino is could be the answer to our country’s problems. But to my surprise and disappointment, he went on a diatribe, prompting me to unfriend him. When he found out that I removed him from my friends’ list, he sent me an enraged private message filled with personal attacks. My golly, I thought. And to think that this guy prides himself as a scholar.

There is nothing wrong with idolizing one’s favorite person, especially if that person has a profound influence on his career. We all have our own idols. But I have observed that many historians today treat their mentors as if they’re demigods who are free from fault. However, once their demigods have been proven to be false idols, they still cling to them steadfastly. That should not be the case. The people we idolize, no matter how accomplished they are, are humans too. We praise their achievements and calumny their follies.

Not too long ago, as I was rereading Gregorio F. Zaide’s José Rizal: Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero (Centennial Edition), I spotted a glaring error. In citing an entry from Rizal’s journal during the national hero’s trip to the United States in 1888, Zaide concluded that the waterfall the hero was referring to was Pagsanján Falls when it was clear on the entry that the waterfall in question was located in Los Baños. Below is Rizal’s journal entry, translated by Encarnación Alzona from the original Spanish, which was cited —and “corrected”— by Zaide (emphasis mine):

Saturday, May 12. A good Wagner Car — we were proceeding in a fine day… and we shall soon see Niagara Falls… It is not so beautiful nor so fine as the falls at Los Baños (sic Pagsanján — Z.); but much bigger, more imposing…

As we can see here, Zaide corrected what seemed to be an error from Rizal’s part when in fact Rizal was being precise. What made Zaide conclude that the unnamed waterfall in Los Baños was Pagsanján is beyond me. Rizal clearly indicated in his diary that it was in Los Baños. He did not even mention Pagsanján at all. Being a Pagsanjeño, Zaide was probably unfamiliar that Los Baños has a waterfall that was popular during Rizal’s time. Me and my family have even visited it twice.

I am referring to the slender cascades of Dampalít.

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While Rizal may have not named Dampalít in that journal entry of his, one should take into account that it was the nearest waterfall to his hometown of Calambâ. For sure, he must have had visited it a lot of times. And while he did not mention it by name during his US trip, he did mention it in his second novel, El Filibusterismo:

Así es como S.E…. ordenó la inmediata vuelta a Los Baños… Los baños en el Dampalít (Daán pa liít)… ofrecían más atractivos…

In Soledad Lacson-Locsín‘s English translation of the said novel, she offers an explanatory note:

Dampalít: A spring, which with the water coming from seven falls or talón in the locality, formed a river bed with crystal-clear water, to which many went to bathe.

Rizal had a penchant of inserting places that he had visited in his novels. In addition, it should be noted that during Rizal’s time, Pagsanján Falls was almost unknown. The most famous waterfall back then was Botocan Falls in Majayjay, and it was even cited by no less than Juan Álvarez Guerra and John Foreman, personages that Filipino historians should know very well. If Rizal had indeed been to Pagsanján Falls, there is no doubt that he would have written about the experience considering that the arduous trip towards the falls and shooting the rapids afterwards were an exhilarating experience.

This Zaide error may be a minor one, but the message I’m trying to convey is this: even established historians make mistakes.

When I discovered the long-lost foundation date of La Laguna Province in 2012, I was met with both praise and criticism. The criticism was due largely in part to my credentials: I have no formal training in historical research. Humorously, a group of local historians from Batangas —obviously the type of people who have nothing to do with La Laguna’s history— were the most vocal online. I told them that I am open to peer review. If established historians can make mistakes, so can ordinary people like me. Finally, I challenged my detractors that if they really think that the foundation date of my adoptive home province was erroneous, all they had to do was to write a formal antithesis to refute it. All in the spirit of scholarly debate. Should they succeed, then so be it. Congratulations. But so far —and it has been almost five years— none has dared to do so.

Even if a historian has all the primary sources at his disposal, or no matter how many TV appearances he has done, his findings or declarations are all deemed useless if he lacks the necessary reasoning or even field experience to justify them. And then of course there is also the issue of carelessness, as already demonstrated by this blogpost. In the end, it appears that the final arbiter of historical conclusions is logic, not primary sources alone.