June 24 is the foundation day of the city of Manila—the city that has been our very own King’s Landing to borrow the fictional city of power in the Game of Thrones universe—or the Imperial Manila as the peripheries would call it because it has been the country’s center of government, commerce, and pretty much everything (to a fault).
Nick Joaquin, in his Manila, My Manila, wrote:
When the pilgrims from the south stumbled upon that entrance to Manila Bay, what came about was the history not just of a city but of a nation. Manila happenings have a national effect. When Manila sneezes, the Philippines catches a cold.”
Hence, this city’s founding remains important in Philippine history, especially when much of it has been misconstrued. And yet if one zooms in, Araw ng Maynila as a commemoration has many sides to it, and it is to our benefit to learn of its contradictions so that we can learn more of ourselves and of our story as a people.
The story of the founding of Manila is as complicated as the contradicting choices of generations, the city plans that would have transformed its landscape for the better but never came to be, the entangled roads and eskenitas that seem to defy the meaning of grid road patterns, and the changing circumstances that made Manila as faded, smelly, messy, and yet rich in history and meaning.
As put forward by many historians and writers, there are two Manilas: the Manila of the pre-colonial period, the wooden palisades of Raja Soliman (now the site of Fort Santiago, Intramuros), Raja Matanda and Lakandula, and the Spanish Manila (Intramuros) established by the Spanish conquistadors, with its walls to keep out the indios and to keep in the privileged.
The former has been largely forgotten, its foundations, dug up by archaeologists, and the latter is the one standing on the former.
The one we commemorate today is the latter, the foreign one, founded by a people who travelled halfway across the world 445 years ago, to claim this land of ours as theirs.
Manila’s location is still one of the best locations in terms of maritime trade in pre-modern era. Its location on a bay protected by a peninsula and a chain of small islands was seen as an advantage—its bay acting as a natural harbor for incoming ships. This explains why Manila is on this very spot.
Laura Lee Junker, an archaeologist, says that before the Spanish advent, the ships would be docked at what is now Manila Bay, and products would be passed on in a complicated trade network that span the hinterland of Luzon and beyond.
Indeed, archaeologists have found evidences that the site of Manila, specifically that of Santa Ana, had been settled on 1,000 years before the coming of Spain.
Archaeologists use the word “polity” as an entity similar to a kingdom, but not quite, a group of self-governing people relying on trade with other polities across Southeast Asia.
Based on the small size of such communities, polity is a suitable word to use to describe these than grandiose terms such as “kingdoms” or “city-states.”
Tondo (Tundun) was another powerful polity, mentioned in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription a copper engraved document which dates back to the 10th century. The document shows not only Tondo but its part in the larger scheme of things–of alliances, political systems, and a heavily Indianized group of polities.
Hail! In the Saka-year 822; the month of March-April; according to the astronomer: the 4th day of the dark half of the moon; on Monday. At that time, Lady Angkatan together with her relative, Bukah by name, the child of His Honor Namwran, was given, as a special favor, a document of full acquittal, by the Chief and Commander of Tundun, the former Leader of Pailah, Jayadewah. To the effect that His Honor Namwran, through the Honorable Scribe was totally cleared of a debt to the amount of 1 kati and 8 suwarna (weight of gold), in the presence of His Honor the Leader of Puliran, Kasumuran; His Honor the Leader of Pailah, namely: Ganasakti; (and) His Honor the Leader of Binwangan, namely: Bisruta. And (His Honor Namwran) with his whole family, on orders by the Chief of Dewata, representing the Chief of Mdang, because of his loyalty as a subject (slave?) of the Chief, therefore all the descendants of His Honor Namwran have been cleared of the whole debt that His Honor owed the Chief of Dewata. This (document) is (issued) in case there is someone, whosoever, some time in the future, who will state that the debt is not yet acquitted of His Honor… [Emphasis mine]
The Spaniards first established a foothold in Cebu in 1565, half a century after Magellan failed to make headway there. Led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, they heard of reports of a lucrative center of trade further north, of what is now Manila Bay. Legazpi appointed Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo to head an expedition there.
In 1570, this group of Spaniards came to Manila Bay for the first time. What they found were indeed lucrative polities, and a perfect and more fortified site for a colony, better than the one in Cebu or Panay.
De Goiti began negotiations with the leaders of these polities, mentioned in Spanish documents—Rajah Matanda or Laya as ruler of Manila, Lakandula (Alcandora in the accounts, the former’s cousin) as ruler of Tondo, and Raja Soliman (Matanda’s nephew and heir). The pre-colonial polity was described as follows:
“…the inhabitants of Manilla were powerful, for they had twelve pieces of small and inferior artillery and a few culverins, with such other weapons as I have already mentioned. This village of Manilla is situated on a tongue of land extending from east to west between the river and the sea, and a fort had been built on the extreme western end of this peninsula at the entrance to the port. The sea makes a very large harbor about thirty leagues in circumference; and bordering upon this harbor are many villages, among which is that of Manilla… The fort was made of palm-tree logs surmounting a very narrow mound, and the pieces of artillery protruded from immense gaps by which the soldiers could enter at will, as I have said above”
According to Spanish records, the three were of Bruneian descent, linked by blood with the rulers of the Sultanate of Brunei in the south. Accounts say that Raja Soliman was the more apathetic one.
Negotiations broke down when Soliman mounted an attack on two moored Spanish ships on 24 May 1570 near the settlement, that ensued the conflict. This would be known as the First Battle of Manila.
Of course, while Soliman had portable cannons called “lantakas,” these were no match for the Spanish firepower. The Spaniards soon defeated the original settlers, at the mouth of the Pasig River, as the pre-colonial settlement burned. De Goiti and Salcedo went back to Panay to report to Legazpi.
In April 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi mounted a fleet of 26 or 27 ships with 230 troops to go back to Manila Bay. Arriving in Manila Bay on May 3, they were spotted by Soliman’s men, who, upon seeing the ships that they have been engaged before, they proceeded in burning their rebuilt fortress, escaped to the north bank of what is now Pasig River, towards Tondo.
Lakandula of Tondo mediated and expressed that Matanda and Soliman were now willing to negotiate. The two would be reconciled to Legazpi, signifying their acceptance of the Spanish sovereignty over them.
And having been at ease with the two, Legazpi chose the site of the burnt down pre-colonial settlement as his new center of operations. However, on June 3, 1571, just as the Spaniards were setting up their new settlement, other polities on Manila Bay, led by a certain nameless chieftain from Macabebe, mounted an attack fleet of 40 caracoas with 2,000 warriors to resist and convince Lakandula and the two that accepting Spanish sovereignty was cowardice.
He failed to persuade them, and with the subsequent battle, called the Battle of Bangkusay, this nameless chieftain and his fleet were defeated.
Finally, with no resistance, on June 24, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi ceremonially established the city government on what would be Manila.
I’ll be quoting in full the elaborate ceremony usually done by the Spaniards of that time whenever they establish a city, in the words of historian Jose Victor Torres:
“Witnessed by a group composed of Spaniards and natives, the commander of the colonizers selected a spot and had a hole dug deep enough for a tree trunk to be buried in and leave a protruding section around 1.4 to 1.8 meters high. The trunk was then lowered into the hole with the help of the natives. Then the commander will drive a knife into the trunk, turn to his audience and announce in a loud voice:
“Gentlemen, soldiers and comrades and all others who witness this: Here I set gallows and sword, and found and place the city of ________, which may God keep long years: reserving the right to move it to any another site that might prove more convenient. And this city I cause to be in the name of the King, and in his name I will defend it and will maintain peace and justice with all the Spaniards, conquistadores, citizens, residents and strangers, with all the natives meting justice alike to the rich and to the poor, to the lowly and to the high, and protecting the widows and orphans.”
The commander then draws his sword and made a wide clearing of the people around him as he shouted a challenge: “If there be any here who would challenge this, let him come forward and out with me to the open field where I will measure my sword with his. And this I swear, for I am intent to die defending this city, now or whenever, keeping it for the King my Lord and his Captain, servant and subject, and as a gentleman born…”
This challenge is recited thrice and three times the Spaniards will respond: “The city is well founded. Long Live the King and Our Lord.”
A translator was present so that the natives understood. After reciting the ritual, the commander then slashed at the surrounding plants saying that he is placing the city under the authority of the Audiencia or Governor and that he is making it the capital. A cross is then planted on the site of the planned church for the city and a Mass is said by a priest. The ceremony is then ended with a salvo from cannons and a celebration.
And, thus, a City is made.
Of course, with this narrative, one might miss this important fact: that we as a conquered people had a pact or treaty with the conqueror.
Whether or not the two parties recognized each other on equal footing is besides the point. The point is, this process of sanduguan, also done in Bohol (between Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna), was an agreement reached by two peoples. And it was this agreement that was, as firmly believed by Filipino revolutionaries in the late 19th century, violated by Spain.
It was perhaps Jose Rizal who, thinking of what he learned from Spain during his studies there, saw this narrative of a violated pact. Rizal, in his essay Filipinas dentro de cien años (translated by Austin Craig):
Scarcely had they been attached to the Spanish crown than they had to sustain with their blood and the efforts of their sons the wars and ambitions of conquest of the Spanish people, and in these struggles, in that terrible crisis when a people changes its form of government, its laws, usages, customs, religion and beliefs the Philippines were depopulated, impoverished and retarded–caught in their metamorphosis, without confidence in their past, without faith in their present and with no fond hope for the years to come. The former rulers who had merely endeavored to secure the fear and submission of their subjects, habituated by them to servitude, fell like leaves from a dead tree, and the people, who had no love for them nor knew what liberty was, easily changed masters, perhaps hoping to gain something by the innovation.
Then began a new era for the Filipinos. They gradually lost their ancient traditions, their recollections–they forgot their writings, their songs, their poetry, their laws, in order to learn by heart other doctrines, which they did not understand, other ethics, other tastes, different from those inspired in their race by their climate and their way of thinking. Then there was a falling-off, they were lowered in their own eyes, they became ashamed of what was distinctively their own, in order to admire and praise what was foreign and incomprehensible: their spirit was broken and they acquiesced.
Raised in the Spanish liberal tradition, Rizal would not have escaped the ideals of the Cadiz Constitution of 1812, which put into writing for the first time the equal rights of both the Spanish colonizer and the colonized (the Spanish peoples “overseas” or ultramar) and the thought that these overseas peoples, Filipinos included, entered an agreement with Spain for mutual responsibility.
It crafted a federal republican government based on this pact of overseas peoples with Spain. This view would soon be passed on to Andres Bonifacio, who drafted these lines from “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog” (c. March 1896):
Ngayon sa lahat ng ito’y ano ang sa mga guinawa nating paggugugol nakikitang kaguinhawahang ibinigay sa ating Bayan? Ano ang nakikita nating pagtupad sa kanilang kapangakuan na siang naging dahil ng ating pag gugugol! Wala kung di pawang kataksilan ang ganti sa ating mga pagpapala at mga pagtupad sa kanilang ipinangakung tayo’y lalung guiguisingin sa kagalingan ay bagkus tayong binulag, inihawa tayo sa kanilang hamak na asal, pinilit na sinira ang mahal at magandang ugali ng ating Bayan; Yminulat tayo sa isang maling pagsampalataya at isinadlak sa lubak ng kasamaan ang kapurihan ng ating Bayan; at kung tayo ‘y mangahas humingi ng kahit gabahid na lingap, ang naguiguing kasagutan ay ang tayo’y itapon at ilayo sa piling ng ating minamahal na anak, asawa at matandang magulang. Ang bawat isang himutok na pumulas sa ating dibdib ay itinuturing na isang malaking pagkakasala at karakarakang nilalapatan ng sa hayop na kabangisan.
This pact and the Filipino perception of its violation was enshrined in our very own Proclamation of Independence read aloud on June 12, 1898:
… he [Legazpi] went to Manila, the capital, winning likewise the friendship of its Chiefs Soliman and Lakandula, later taking possession of the city and the whole Archipelago in the name of Spain by virtue of an order of King Philip II, and with these historical precedents and because in international law the prescription established by law to legalize the vicious acquisition of private property is not recognized, the legitimacy of such revolution cannot be put in doubt …
Thus, the Katipuneros who fought for independence against Spain in the Revolution of 1896, recognize that their revolution was a moral right—even a righteous cause.
Which brings us to the annual commemoration of Araw ng Maynila.
Is it fair?
If one would commemorate such an event, it would be fair to commemorate the pre-colonial Manila that was buried and forgotten underneath it, and also the agreement that made the founding of the colonial city possible on this day 445 years ago. Its violation, we must never forget, led to the national call for independence and freedom.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in 2015 on Indio:Bravo and was republished with permission from the author.
About the Author:
Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team SubSelfie.com. He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).
He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.