By Lope Coles Robredillo, SThD
(Pre-Note: Partly revised to fit the format, this piece is an excerpt from the body of a letter addressed to the parish priest of Sulat, Eastern Samar, who sought the author’s opinion on the accuracy and appropriateness of celebrating the centenary of Sulat in 2006.)
WAS SULAT created in 1906? Since the Philippine Commission of 1906 seems to say that Sulat was given independence on October 31, 1906, some have construed this to mean that Sulat became a municipality on that date. The impression created, however, is far from correct. Quite the contrary, Sulat was constituted a municipality long before 1906. The truth is, Sulat was one of the earliest pueblos (townships or municipalities) to be established on Samar, dating back to the time of the Jesuits.
Let me cite some history references attesting to its creation:
(a) According to F. Huerta, Estado Geografico, topografico, estadistico…en las Islas Filipinas (Binondo: Imprenta de M. Sanchez, 1865), p. 308, when Sulat came under the administration of the Franciscans in 1768, it was already a pueblo or a municipality that was founded by the Jesuits: “Seiscientos ochenta y nueve tributos con 3,637 almas contaba este pueblo, fundado por los PP Jesuitas cuando el año 1768… de su administracion y se le asigno por primer cura franciscano….”
(b) F. Redondo. Breve Reseña… (Manila: Sto Tomas, 1886), p. 222, citing Cavada, states that the town was founded in 1650: “Creado en 1650, segun Cavada, y tiene la advocacion de San Ignacio de Loyola.”
© A. Pastrana, “The Franciscans and the Evangelization of the Philippines (1578-1900),” Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas, XXXIV (1965) 435, p. 86, says that Sulat was founded before 1768.
Indeed, even the souvenir programs of Sulat town fiestas argue against 1906. Why? The reason is that in those programs, Sulatnons usually publish the names of the gobernadorcillos and presidentes of Sulat during the Spanish and early American time. But then, one must remember that only towns had gobernadorcillos or local presidentes. In other words, the souvenir programs themselves admit that Sulat was a township before 1906. The gobernadorcillos, capitan municipal and presidente del pueblo in the 19th- and early-20th century Sulat were the equivalent of today’s municipal mayors. If Sulat were a barrio in the 19th century, it would not have gobernadorcillos, but simply tenientes.
Moreover, if Sulat were not a municipality in the 19th century, it would have been called not pueblo (which is the Spanish equivalent for municipality in the Philippines), but visita (barrio) or rancheria (sitio). Huerta (1865), for instance, merely describes Catalab-an as a visita of the pueblo of Sulat, because it was a barrio. In 1886, Dolores is named among the rancherias (sitios) of Paric, because it was not yet a town; rather, it was simply a sitio of Carolina, which was a barrio of Paric. Yet, none of the latter terms (visita, rancheria) were used to describe Sulat—it was always called pueblo in all documents dating from 1768 that I encountered at the Philippine National Archives. This means that Sulat was already a municipality even before the Franciscans came to Samar in 1768.
It would seem that the idea that Sulat was founded in 1906 derives from a rather incorrect reading of historical documents. The assertion that Sulat was born in 1906 obviously comes from the Reports of the Philippine Commission, because nowhere else (I like to think) is the establishment of municipalities of Samar in 1906 mentioned, except in the report of 1906. But before one reads the report of 1906, it is important to read the report of 1903, Act 960, Section I, no. 17: “The municipality of Tubig shall consist of its present territory and that of the municipalities of Paric, Sulat, and San Julian, with the seat of the municipal government at the present municipality of Tubig, under the municipality of Taft.” Note the word—municipalities! Hence, Sulat was already a municipality even before 1903!
Now, in the Report of the Philippine Commission of 1906, Act No. 1558, Section I, we read: “the former municipalities of Paric, Sulat, and San Julian [are separated] from the municipality of Taft.” The significance, therefore of October 31, 1906, is simply the restoration of Sulat to its former status as a municipality, after it was combined with Taft in 1903, when the 43 municipalities of Samar were reduced to 25 only. In other words, if the Report of the Philippine Commission of 1906 uses the word establishment, what it meant is not that it was establishing the municipality of Sulat, but only restoring it to its former independent status (as municipality).
This brings us to the question: What is the significance of October 31, 1906 for Sulat, if it is not its creation as a municipality? I can write a lengthy dissertation on this subject, but because of the nature of this piece, I will be short.
To begin with, when the Americans came to the Philippines, they tried to picture that we Filipinos embraced them, and that there was not much armed opposition. Hence, in 1901, they declared the pacification of our country so their imperial designs would be acceptable to the Americans at home, the senators and other government officials who opposed the colonization. To the contrary, Samar was turbulent! But they concealed the turmoil by handing over the administration of the island to the civil government on June 15, 1902. To put the island under martial law or under the military government would be to admit that there was war on Samar. The truth is, even after the surrender of Gen Vicente Lukban, the Samareños carried on the war against the Americans, largely through the Pulajanes.
One can gauge the turbulence by the following figures of 1904 I lifted from the history of the Philippine Constabulary: “There were 1,800 native soldiers on Samar and 16 Companies of the United States Infantry occupying the coastal towns. Eleven officers and 197 enlisted men had been killed in action, 48 officers and 991 men had died of disease, 46 officers had been wounded in action, 768 men had been discharged for disability. Firearms to the number of 7,474 and 45,018 rounds of ammunitions had been captured or surrendered to the Constabulary, 4,862 [Pulajanes] had been killed, and 11,997 prisoners had been taken.”
Why did the Philippine Commission of 1903, Act No. 960, combine Sulat with Taft, together with San Julian and Paric? The reason is that the civil government had no control of these municipalities; they could not be defended by the PC or the Scouts, nor could they be governed by the pro-American inhabitants! In the whole Eastern Samar, the municipal police had no arms, except in Borongan! The Americans could not arm them in the first place, because they were not sure of their loyalty! On the other hand, the Pulajanes were too numerous, their force overwhelming. Terror reigned. What could a few scouts do in town?
In Dolores, for instance, on Dec. 17, 1904, the 38th Scouts encountered 1,000 Pulajanes who attacked on the rear and flanks, and Capt Hayt and all of his 37 men were butchered, except one sergeant who bore fearful bolo wounds. In Oras, on Nov 10, they overpowered the Scout garrison, massacred all the 13 Scouts and took their rifles. Moreover, sometimes the town officials were also the officials of the invisible town government of the Pulajanes! Yet the Americans did not call in the US Army to Samar until later (practically only to Eastern Samar) because they wanted to create the impression that there was only banditry, no insurrection! The result was that thousands of people, because they could not be protected by the Scouts and the Constabulary, joined the Pulajanes; otherwise, the latter would have to eliminate them. (Oh, our written history has been unkind to the Pulajanes.)
Thus, in order to have control of some people, and make it appear that the municipal governments have not fallen into the hands of the Pulajanes, the government resorted to the concentration of the natives. The remaining inhabitants in Sulat, Dolores, San Julian and Taft were concentrated in Taft, with Angel Custodio Crisologo, a Paricnon, as their Municipal President. The truth is, most of these towns on Eastern Samar, including their barrios, were sacked and reduced to ashes, left with practically no dwellers! Because they did not summon the Army, the Americans allowed many Samareños to die. On the other hand, those Sulatnons, San Juliananons and Paricnons who went to Taft for protection were not having picnic, either! Numerous as they were, they suffered hunger, fear, sickness, disease and death. Moreover, they were far from their fields, carabaos, and their livelihood!
However, by 1906, the Pulajanes, who were the virtual rulers of the entire island until 1905, were decimated, albeit there was still resistance. That is why, although before 1903, there were 43 municipalities, now in 1906, there were 32—an increase of 7 from the 25 towns of 1903, among them being Sulat. This implies that the Sulatnons who had survived, those who had surrendered, and those who had lived in Taft, returned to Sulat, and began rebuilding the poblacion and the barrios. (But unlike Sulat, the 11 other towns could not yet be given back their former status as municipalities because protection of life and property, let alone governance, could not be assured.)
I have more to say about this unfortunate period of Samar history, but I hope this would be enough to give a background to the significance of October 31, 2006 for Sulat. In our time, it would be comparable to liberation the town of Maslog by the local government and the military after it was ruled over by the NPAs in the 70s, although with a formal declaration by a duly constituted body, similar to the Philippine Commission during the American period. *