This blog features some of the author's lengthy essays on sacred scriptures, theology and history.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A QUESTION IN THE HISTORY OF SALCEDO, EASTERN SAMAR: WHEN WAS THE PUEBLO CREATED?


By Lope Coles Robredillo, SThD

                   (This piece was delivered by the author to the Sangguiang Bayan of Salcedo in December 1999 upon invitation by the Mayor to help settle the question on the exact date of the founding of the town, which for many year
s was thought to be December 8.  After the talk, the Sangguniang Bayan made a resolution changing the date.)

IN MAKING HISTORY, there is no substitute for carefulness.  Let me begin with a real case. During the Marcos era, it was proposed that the name of the country, the Philippines, be changed to one that does not convey colonialism.  It was then suggested that it be named Maharlika, a Tag-alog word for noble and aristocrat.  If I remember right, Senator Eddie Elarde brought this proposition to the floor of Batasan Pambansa.  Of course, Marharlika was the name of the guerilla band that Lt Marcos allegedly led.  But scholars came on the scene, recounts Time magazine.  They pointed out that Maharlika was probably derived from Sanskrit.  But then, they observed, the original words for Maharlika were most likely maha lingam which means great phallus!  From that time on, the plan to change the name of the country to Maharlika was pulled out.  Were it pushed through, it would have made us the laughing stock of the world.

The Current Observance of the Foundation Day

            If this contemporary example obviously brings home the point that we should be very careful in making history, it is no less important that we should be critical in writing it.  We should listen to scholars.  We are writing for generations to come.  And not many people have the leisure, still less the talent, to write history.  Most of us depend on historical accounts handed down to us, never bothering to inquire whether they are authentic or not, whether they are correct or not.

            And this especially applies to the writing of the history of Salcedo.  For a number of years, Salcedo has been observing its founding day on December 8. Personally, this came to my knowledge two years or so ago, when I happened to come to the place.  Having seen how busy people were, I inquired what the celebration was all about, and I was told that they were commemorating the founding of the municipality.  As a student of Eastern Samar history, I was surprised at the information, because I never recalled that a certain Eastern Samar town was founded on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  So, I went over my collection of historical data, and sure enough, I discovered that the foundation day of Salcedo was being observed on a wrong date.

The Exact Date of the Founding of the Township

            When, indeed, was the township of Salcedo founded?  On the basis of my historical inquiry, I can say squarely that the exact date of the creation—or, to use the proper term—erection, of the municipality or pueblo of Salcedo is December 5, 1862.   This is what one discovers when he wades through the documents on parish erections.  Contrary to the impression of many, the creation of a municipality is done not because a group of people decided to establish a town in a way they want.  I am a bit uneasy when I read local
histories that appear in souvenir program of town fiestas, recounting how so and so or his family founded the town.  Even as early as the time of the governor-generals, there was already a process observed in the creation of towns.  Which is why, it is properly documented.  Indeed, when one reads the records on parish erections at the Philippine National Archives, he will find out that certain procedures are observed.

I wish to add, for the sake of information, that just as the country of 1990s has the local government code that stipulates the requirements for the creation of a municipality, so in the 1800s the Spanish government had its own provisions for its founding in the island of Samar, and whole Philippines for that matter.  First of all, there must be a petition by the people for its creation.  But before a petition could be made, they must see to it that they have established the institutional requirements, namely, the proposed pueblo should have a church, a rectory (convento), and a casa tribunal (roughly, a municipal building), and should have a population of at least 600 tributos.  Once a petition is formulated, it has to be approved by the priest who has jurisdiction over the proposed pueblo, then approved by the bishop of Cebu and the gobernador political-militar of Samar.   Only then it is forwarded to the governor-general of the Philippines who issues the royal decree.  In the case of Salcedo, it was approved by Governor Geneal Rafael Echague, because it had all the physical requirements and had a population of 783 tributos, roughly, 3,000 inhabitants, enough, according to law, to support a parish priest.  There are, in other words, documents when the town of Salcedo was created, and it is on the basis of these documents that we should ground our assertions.

A Set of Evidence for This Correct Dating

            But quite apart from the original documents on the erection of the pueblo, the following standard works should be enough evidence to argue for December 5 as the correct date:

1.      Felix Huerta, Estado geografio, topografico, estadistico, histori o-religioso de la santa y apostolica provincial de S. Gregorio Magno, says: “De una visita del pueblo de Guguan [Guiuan] titulada Sudao, se formo este por decreto del Superior Gobierno de 5 de Diciembre de 1862, quien le dio el nombre que lleva.”  Huerta further states that a stone church and a parish house were built by Fr Pedro Monasterio.  The pueblo had also a escuela de primeros letras (primary school).  It had a population of 3,400.

2.      Felipe Redondo, Breve Resena de lo que fue y de lo que es, gives some more information.  Aside from saying that the pueblo was established on December 5, 1862, he also states that the parish was erected on August 19, 1865: “Erigido en parroquia por el Diocesano en 19 de Agosto de 1865, for Superior aprobacion de 5 de Diciembre de 1862.

3.      Bruce Cruickshank, a Fullbright scholar, who earned his doctorate in East Asan History from the University of Winsconsin, Madison, USA, says in an article in Leyte-Samar Studies on 19th century settlement on Samar that “on December 5, 1862, it [Salcedo] was taken from Guiuan and made both a pueblo and an independent parish… It had been known as Sudao, but evidently changed its name when given pueblo status.”

This set of evidence makes it difficult to argue that the
present observance on December 8 is correct.  It may be noted that one of the revered criteria of historicity is multiple attestation.  According to this criterion, a historical material should be witnessed by multiple sources.  Here, December 8, 1862 fails, because it is not witnessed in any other document.  On the other hand, what is attested to by various sources is that Salcedo was made into a pueblo on December 5, 1862.

The Source of this Erroneous Dating

            In view of this, a question may be raised.  If Salcedo was erected on December 5, 1862, according to all reliable historical records, then, how come the foundation anniversary is observed on December 8?  I think, I know the answer.  Sometime in the late 70s up to early 80s, a certain priest (let us call him Fr N.) from Samar collected historical materials on Eastern Samar.  He asked a lady to copy some translations of some materials from the files of Fr Cantius Kobak.  Unfortunately, the copyist made several errors in her work.  For example, for the erection of Paric, she wrote 1892, whereas the document says it is 1878.  The same may be said of the date of the creation of Salcedo.  The copyist had it wrong.  (Of course, we make mistakes in copying materials!)  My certainty about this error is reinforced by the fact that, in my file on the town of Salcedo which comes from the late Fr Kobak, the papers date the founding on December 5, not December 8.

            Now, part of these erroneous documents was, unfortunately, too, used when the brief history of Salcedo was written.  I do not know who wrote the brief history, but I am quite sure that he/she obtained the material from Father N.  (he is now deceased), or must have consulted him.  The proof is that the translation of the relevant documents corresponds almost exactly to that of Father N.  I hasten to add that only Father N. was in possession of these erroneously copied documents.  And therefore, the error in the writing of Salcedo history could have come only from this document in question.  In other words, there is only one explanation for this historiographical inconsistency; it is a case of erroneous copying.

            Let me put in bluntly.  As far as I know, there is no existing historical record which states that Salcedo was born on December 8, 1862 (except, of course, the one that the municipality of Salcedo now has and the source of that erroneous dating—the copied document of Father N.).  It is, of course, unethical on my part to challenge any one to produce documentary evidence which claims that December 8, 1862 is the correct date for its founding.  Nonetheless, one can always inquire for himself whether my research on the exact dating can be invalidated by some other documentary evidence.

Final Remarks



            Let me end this talk with a short note.  History is an on-going science.  It is always updated.  We change historical assertions as soon as we discover new historical facts, and we change historical interpretations on the basis of newly
discovered data.  To illustrate: the Philippine independence was celebrated on July 4 for many years.  But it was changed to June 12 by then Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, upon the advise of historians, like Teodoro Agoncillo.  For more than a hundred years, historians, including Rizal, thought that the recorded first mass in the Philippines was celebrated in Butuan.  But it was on the basis of a mere footnote in the work of Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, published in 1901, that historians began re-reading the account of Pigafetta and came to the conclusion that the first mass was in Limasawa (of course, there are scholars who continue to defend Butuan).  And who knows, a few years from now, it may become acceptable to assert that the first mass was held in Homonhon, Guiuan, Eastern Samar?

            My hometown is another example.  For many years, Dolores was thought to have been founded in June 1888.  However, when I started making research on its history, I was able to obtain original documents, and I discovered that the township was erected on April 20, 1878, much to the surprise of many Doloresnons!  I also came to know that the 1888 dating came only from oral source, in particular, from two old men who were already in their 70s (?) when they were interviewed in 1952, recollecting what happened when they were still children.  A last example: for many years, the Pulajanes of Eastern Samar were viewed as fanatics, who were said to have been fooled by their leaders.  Today, they are seen in a new light, thanks to such historians as Renato Constantino and Reynaldo Ileto.  When I wrote on the history of the Pulajanes in Dolores, I embarked on a new interpretation of the movement.  Indeed, while writing the histories of various towns in Eastern Samar, I discovered so many inaccuracies in their earlier historiographies—those that can be read in parish/town fiesta souvenir programs.

            Changes in historical assertions and historical interpretations are always inevitable.  If this is true of the Philippines, this should be true of the history of Salcedo.  There is no reason why we should stick to the wrong date.  It would not be historically valuable to assert that the observance on this wrong date is traditional, because historiography is a science.  Wine is always valued for its vintage, but not historiography.  It would not be flattering to insist on this wrong dating which, after all, owes to an error of a copyist.* 

2 comments:

  1. Well done. So has the founding date of Salcedo now been changed to 05 December?

    ReplyDelete