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

Friday, October 7, 2016


                                               by Msgr Lope C Robredillo, SThD
Vicar General, Diocese of Borongan

(Note: The original title of this essay, written for the  2016 Souvenir Program of Oras Town Fiesta, was "The Formation of the Pueblo (Municipality) of Oras.)
NOT LONG after he anchored in Tubabao island, Orás, on Feb 13, 1565 and eventually established the seat of his government in Manila, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi parceled out the entire archipelago among encomenderos; and the tiny hamlets near Orás river fell under the encomienda of Tubig and Sulat.  Nevertheless, the villagers had their first significant encounter with Spanish culture through the Jesuit priests who founded a missionary base on Bacod (formerly a bungto, but now part of Dolores river bed) in the late 1590s.  From Bacod, the Jesuit ministering it often visited the riparian hamlets along Orás river and those near the seashore, introducing their inhabitants to the rudiments of Catholic faith, involving themselves in the concentration of these hamlets into larger villages, and helping the settlers defend themselves from Muslim raids.

When the Franciscan missionaries took over in the work of the Jesuits in 1768, one of the
programs that they had inherited was the reduccion, in which they encouraged inhabitants to transfer and dwell in the village of Orás from their scattered tiny hamlets so that faith, culture, and governance could be easily fostered.  Their efforts did not come to naught, since by the early 1800s, it was already numbered among the visitas (barrios) under the jurisdiction of Paric (now, Dolores).  By this time, it had its own tenientes and alguaciles, who helped govern the natives.  Its existence as a visita is confirmed, for example, in a letter of Francisco Castilla, gobernador politico-militar de Samar, dated June 20, 1844, stating that “near the visita of Orás, jurisdiction of Paric, nine vessels and nine balotos of Moros docked” on Sept 13, 1843.

But the formation of Orás as a pueblo owes to the zeal of the parish priests of Tubig (Taft)
who were relentless in their determination to organize it in keeping with a town plan, and set up a church of mamposteria, a large church plaza, a convento, a walled cemetery, and a tribunal.  In particular, Father Manuel Lozano, parish priest of Tubig, led in the construction of a stone church, which was 41’40 m long, and 13’20 m wide.  (Unfortunately, this was demolished in 1963 to give way to the present church.)  In 1886, it had a wooden convento that stood in the lot now occupied by the Holy Cross Academy building, measuring 10 m by 9 ½ m.  In creating the bungto, the missionaries made it a point to place the church, the rectory and the church plaza at its center; and the more prominent men were allowed to raise their houses around the complex.  

Since, in addition to the putting up of these infrastructures that were required for the creation of pueblos, the Christianized inhabitants were now capable of supporting the life and
ministry of the parish priest, the separation of Orás as a pueblo from Paric was recommended, and was approved as an independent pueblo by the Governor-General on December 13, 1849, while its erection as a parish was declared on August 31, 1863.  As a pueblo, it had a limited number of officials: gobernadorcillo, teniente primero, teniente segundo, juez, and alguaciles.  In early 1890s, however, the town officials already included teniente mayor, teniente de policia, teniente de semetera, and teniente de ganados.  It also had a principalia, the town’s aristocracy.
Still, on account of the scarcity of Franciscan missionaries, it was not until May 18, 1864
that the Superior of the Franciscans gave the approval to erect it as a parish under the patronage of St Peter of Alcantara.  Even so, the pueblo had no pastor of its own; it was serviced by the parish priest of Tubig.  On June 23, 1870, however, the Bishop of Cebu appointed Father Fernando Esteban as the first parish priest.  He came to the bungto in 1875 and served until 1879.  He was succeeded by Father Bernardo Tapiol (1879), Father Ildefonso Dominguez (1884), Father Ramon Amoros (1885), Father Candido Esguerra (1890) and Father Eustaquio Paniagua (1896), who was the cura until the Revolution.

The people of Oras were engaged in agriculture and fishing.  The plains were planted to rice, coconut, abaca and palawan.  Products, like coconut oil, abaca and abaca cloth, rice and
dried fish, were transported to Catbalogan via Ulot river and other towns in the eastern littorals.   It was Father Esteban who embarked on the construction of a road from the town to Paric.  In 1886, there were 4 Chinese who dominated commerce in the poblacion, 5 in 1892 and 4 in 1894.  Even before his official appointment as pastor in 1890, Father Esguerra was in the parish after the untimely death of Father Amoros; and from 1885 to 1887, he built two schools, one for boys and another for girls.  Of course, sometime in the early 1860s, the Franciscans put up a primary school, maintained by the caja de comunidad.  With the help of Orasnons, the same Father Esguerra likewise made canals in the poblacion to facilitate the flow of waters to the river and to protect houses from inundation during heavy rains.

The town, which is sometimes called Yorás in Spanish documents, is located at 12”9 latitude on the east coast of Samar.  At the time it was established, the pueblo, on the north, was bounded by Palapag, on the west by Catubig and mountains, on the south by Paric, and on the east by the Pacific Ocean.  By 1859, its best known visitas or barrios were Japonan, Jambo, Alibangbang and Gamay.  In late 1880s, Gamay, like Lapinig, came under jurisdiction of the
parish of Palapag.  Meawhile, the villages of Binalhag, San Eduardo, Concepcion (formerly, Binuangan) and Tangbo were raised to the status of visita.  Tubabao island was originally part of Dolores.  In 1864, the entire pueblo had a population of 3,028, and in 1884, 4,527.  Many Orasnons died in the cholera epidemics of 1876 and 1882, but particularly in that of 1883, when Oras was the tenth pueblo on Samar island with highest mortality.*

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