Category Archives: Philippine History

Revisiting Cagayan de Oro History in a Water Tower

Just a few steps away from the Cagayan de Oro river bank is a curious white, cylindrical figure, hemmed in on two sides by the San Agustin Church and Gaston Park. Although it is by no means imposing by modern architectural standards, its unique appearance, visible nowhere else in the city, commands attention.

Water Tower Town

Cagayan de Oro Water Tower
Cagayan de Oro’s water tower is the city’s oldest known public structure.

Viewed from afar, the structure’s simple lines and vertical orientation give the passing impression that it is a scaled down lighthouse. The likeness however, is not absolute, and there is no actual similarity in function. What it really is, is an old water tower. Built from 1921-1922, it originally served as a reservoir for water coming from Malasag Hills. It is now considered the city’s oldest known surviving public structure. This, and its obvious ties to the city’s physical representation of its spirit, the river, makes it a fitting repository of the city’s museum and in effect, its history.

The photos of the interior used here were taken with permission five years ago on my first visit. I have since revisited the place twice over. With each visit, there had been noticeable changes in internal arrangements and displays. One thing is certain though, the museum has always echoed the Kagay-anon pride in local heritage. This was most evident during my last visit when it was made apparent that steps were being painstakingly taken to detail the history of Cagayan de Oro in the hopes of correcting erroneous stories that had been circulating online and elsewhere.

Abbreviated History of Cagayan de Oro

An account of the history of Cagayan de Oro endorsed by the city’s Heritage Council was handed over to me by museum staff. This account, supposedly culled in part from the writings of Filomeno Bautista is supplemented by archaeological studies printed and displayed at the museum’s third floor.

Cagayan de Oro City Museum
History is just around the corner at the city museum.

Archaeological studies suggest that there may have already been the presence of people as far back as 50,000 years ago. The practice of secondary jar burials was also determined to have been performed by people who once lived at the site of the present city.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Cagayan de Oro was known as Kalambagohan or Malambagohan, owing to the profusion of lambago trees lining the river. Its early inhabitants were of Manobo origin with marriage ties to Visayan seafarers.

Cagayan de Oro river
Then as now, the Cagayan de Oro river is part of the city’s character and spirit.

The first Spaniards to visit Cagayan de Oro in 1622 were two Recollect missionaries who became acquainted with Datu Salangsang and his people, then regarded as the most peaceful in Mindanao. They resided in a fortress known as Himologan and paid tribute to Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat.

With the threat of attack from Sultan Kudarat due to the presence of the two Spaniards, Fray Agustin de San Pedro, later dubbed El Padre Capitan, convinced Datu Salangsang to relocate nearer to the river delta, the site of the present day city.

The newly occupied site, then called Cagalang, became the location of a fort built under the instruction of Fray Agustin. It was here where Sultan Kudarat was eventually repelled. This victory culminated in the baptism of Salangsang and his wife, the first converts of the settlement. Cagalang was then renamed Cagayan el Chico (small Cagayan), Cagayan coming from a proto-Austronesian word, Carayan, which means river. In 1818, Misamis became a province, and in 1871, Cagayan was designated its capital and was renamed Cagayan de Misamis.

Contrary to what some believe, Philippine revolutionary history was not restricted and synonymous to just the history of the Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon provinces. With the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Kagay-anons also elected officials under the Aguinaldo revolutionary government. With the coming of the Americans months later, local citizens funded and organized efforts to resist American rule.

Cagayan de Oro museum
Honoring a proud history of resistance to foreign rule.

In 1900, Kagay-anons fought Americans in the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis on April 4, the Battle of Agusan Hill on May 14, and the Battle of Macahambus Hill on June 4, this last one distinguished as the first Filipino victory in the entire Philippine-American war.

During World War II, while still under American rule, parts of Cagayan were bombed in 1942 and 1944 and was only liberated by local guerillas in 1945. By then, the town had been badly damaged. The old water tower however, had remained intact.

On June 15, 1950, Cagayan de Oro became a city by virtue of Republic Act 521 signed by President Elpidio Quirino. Oro, an Italian and Spanish word for gold, was appended to the city’s name in recognition of the gold found in its river and hills.

pen used to sign the bill creating the city of Cagayan de Oro
Cagayan de Oro became a city on June 15, 1950.

From the point of view of semantics, Cagayan de Oro can therefore be literally translated to River of Gold. Some years ago, the city had been widely dubbed the City of Golden Friendship, an apt appellation that has hopefully not been lost to the new generation of Kagay-anons, despite seemingly subtle and unofficial previous attempts to create a city moniker more in keeping with a political theme.

Every proud and true Kagay-anon should consider going back to his roots, down by the river in the old water tower, the oldest and truest witness to a city’s proud history and culture.


1. Cagayan de Oro Heritage Council
2. Filomeno Bautista
3. Cagayan de Oro City Museum
4. Congress, House Bill 2522
5. Chan Robles, Republic Act 521

Cagayan de Oro water tower
The old water tower, still part of the city’s pulsating life.

Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines – A Chronicle of Events

Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), has left a mark in the history of the Philippines.

Like many others, I can think of a thousand things to say about what happened. The problem with having an opinion however, is that someone is always ready to aggressively attack you because of it. Since there is no absolute fact in an opinion, no one can be proven entirely in the right.

This is why I shall keep my personal thoughts here at a minimum and focus instead on documenting notable facts, events and controversies that unfolded as a result of the calamity.

About Haiyan / Yolanda

Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, is the strongest typhoon to have hit the planet in 2013. According to CNN, it is perhaps one of the strongest in recorded history registering sustained winds of 315 kph and gusts as strong as 380 kph and is the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. The super typhoon generated a storm surge as high as 20 feet, flooding some parts of the Visayas including Leyte and Eastern Samar.

Photo of Haiyan from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/ISS/Karen Nyberg

The typhoon made landfall in various parts of the Philippines six times on November 8, 2013:

  • Guiuan, Eastern Samar (4:40 am)
  • Tolosa, Leyte (7:00 am)
  • Daanbantayan, Cebu (9:40 am)
  • Bantayan Island, Cebu (10:40 am)
  • Concepcion Iloilo (12 nn)
  • Busuanga, Palawan (8:00 pm)

Why the Philippines is Calamity Prone

Haiyan came less than a month after the October 15, 2013 7.2 magnitude earthquake that shook and badly damaged the provinces of Bohol and Cebu. Quite a number of individuals took to various social networks citing the wrath of God over an idol worshiping Catholic nation.

It is important to note that there are scientific explanations to why the Philippines is prone to natural disasters. The Philippines is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire where earthquakes and volcanic activity are common. A map of active Philippine faults, faults that have been around long before Christianity reached our shores, also implies that what happened to Bohol had nothing to do with religious preferences.

As to typhoons, the Philippines is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean where typhoons often form because of the availability of warm water.

Climate Change

The World Meteorological Organization ranks 2013 as the seventh warmest year since 1850 and is likely due to global warming. Although there is still no definite proof that warmer seas cause stronger typhoons, it has become an assumption that this might be the case.

In the video below, Yeb Sano, Philippine representative to the UN conference on climate change in Warsaw, Poland appealed for action against climate change.

Typhoon Casualty and Damage Report

As of November 24, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported:

  • 5,235 individuals dead
  • 23,501 injured
  • 1,613 missing
  • 2,160,576 families / 10,013,467 individuals affected
  • 3,455,336 individuals displaced
  • 44 provinces, 575 municipalities and 57 cities affected
  • 1,130,406 houses damaged
  • Damage to infrastructure amounting to Php 11,957,880,034
  • Damage to agriculture amounting to Php 10,701,971,349.76

Disaster Preparedness

The number of casualties has brought to the forefront the question of disaster preparedness. Were local government units prepared enough for it and could they have done more?

At least one story demonstrates the importance of taking extreme measures to prepare for an impending disaster. All the residents of Tulang Diyot, a tiny island between Leyte and Cebu survived despite the destruction of 991 houses on the island.

Alfredo Arquillano, former mayor of the neighboring town of San Francisco reportedly spearheaded the evacuation of the island’s roughly 1,000 residents.

The question of preparation however, becomes complicated when one considers having to do this on a larger scale. Take Tacloban for example. According to its city officials, they prepared as best as they could, asking residents to move into evacuation centers. Both aerial and land footage of the aftermath in Tacloban show however, that residents would have been hard pressed to find safe evacuation zones. Reports also later revealed that even some of the designated evacuation centers were destroyed, killing some of the evacuees.

Preventing casualties in Tacloban would have meant evacuating 221,174 people out of the island of Leyte. Suffice to say, this would have been a logistically challenging task.

If Haiyan hit the United States, could they have prepared? CNN’s Tom Foreman weighs in.

Historical Records

Much of the destruction brought about by Haiyan is attributed to the storm surges that came with it. A storm surge happens when strong typhoon winds push the surface of the sea causing an abnormal rise in water which can then move inland. Local media reports suggest that while many prepared to brace for the strength of the typhoon, the nature of storm surges and the possibility of them happening may not have been fully understood.

Researchers and historians have been quick to point out now the importance of looking into historical records. In a TV interview, climate change expert Carlos Primo David mentioned suggested that as early as 1660, a Jesuit priest may have already reported the occurrence of a storm surge.

One more account now making the rounds in social media is the October 1897 typhoon which hit Leyte bringing with it a “tidal wave”. One report says 7,000 died, “many being drowned by the rush of water”. Tacloban, much like today, was reportedly reduced to ruins in less than thirty minutes.

In November 30, 1912, The Washington Herald reported of another destructive typhoon. Although there was no mention of a storm surge, the typhoon reportedly “swept the Visayas and is said to have practically destroyed Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, and to have wrought enormous damage and loss of life at Capiz, the capital of the province of Capiz”. Casualties may have reached 15,000.

Information Dissemination

In the typhoon’s aftermath, one other nagging question was whether our weather forecasters were able to thoroughly inform the public of Haiyan’s strength before it hit land.

As early as November 4, television news broadcasts already warned of the impending approach of Haiyan. Even before it reached its terrifying peak, forecasters predicted its strength could go over 200 kph. By November 7, signal number 4 had been raised in parts of the Visayas. It was also on this day that President Aquino took to national TV to emphasize the seriousness of the danger posed by Haiyan. It was in this same statement that the president mentioned the threat of storm surges.

Before the president’s statement, Project Noah under PAGASA-DOST already released a list of storm surge prone areas and was even able to predict the height of the storm surges. The question then and now however, is whether people were told what could happen.

Secretary Mario Montejo admitted they could have fallen short in relaying the seriousness and urgency of what was to come.

Image from DOST-PAGASA

Relief Operations Controversy

The relief, retrieval and clearing operations that followed Haiyan has been clouded by controversy with the Aquino government largely criticized for its slow, disorganized action; one that had been picked up by the media. Understandably, international media had been more critical. Perhaps one of the more widely circulated statements is that of CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

“As for who exactly is in charge of the Philippine side of this operation, that is not really clear… I’m just surprised that I haven’t… I expected on this day five… I thought I’d maybe gotten here very late that things would be well in hand. It does not seem like that. People are desperate. People do not have any place for shelter… It’s very difficult for people to get food. Neighbors are helping out neighbours. Water is in short supply. It is a very, very bad situation here…”

Difficulties of Relief Distribution

How difficult was it to mount relief operations? As if in response to the criticism, Aquino pointed out that relief was delayed in the first place because the system failed.

In the Philippines, local government units are tasked with providing initial relief to give the national government time to mobilize. This is perhaps the ideal arrangement because the Philippines is made up of thousands of islands and relief operations by the national government would be logistically challenging in any calamity.

The problem in the areas that were hardest hit was that local officials and staff had been severely affected as well. Among the local police in Tacloban for example, only 20 out of 290 were able to report for duty.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development also mentioned that relief goods were prepositioned which is perhaps why Aquino, in his televised address to the nation, was confident enough to say that relief would come immediately after the typhoon. Many of these prepared goods however, were said to have been washed away.

The challenges of relief distribution were compounded by other difficulties. Leyte and Samar are islands where a steady flow of relief could not come in because the small airport in Tacloban was also damaged, refuelling stations for relief trucks were damaged, and the Philippines only has three C130s for the transport of goods and people. Read this anonymous letter from a Filipino executive for a more complete explanation.

All these points strongly suggest however, that the government may have truly underestimated Haiyan and was caught off guard.

Rapid Action

Whether the explanations of the complexity of relief operations are acceptable or not is now for the public to decide. It is worth noting however, that some government units moved faster than others.

Information from online articles, video interviews and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s own Facebook page show that the mayor deployed a rescue and medical team to Tacloban as early as Saturday. The team reportedly arrived Sunday afternoon and got to work on Monday.

In an interview, Duterte said that when he saw the news on Friday and Saturday, he told the Davaoenos that they had to help.

Incidentally, Duterte’s interview (in Bisaya) gave more clues to the situation in Tacloban.

  • He was of the opinion that what was needed then was not just a state of calamity but a state of emergency.
  • Even if people wanted to seek shelter, Tacloban is a flat piece of land and there was nowhere to run.
  • DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and DND Secretary Volaire Gazmin were there all along all the time but…
  • The entire city was decimated. Duterte said, “There is no Tacloban City right now.”
  • If a super typhoon hit Davao City, Duterte has an evacuation plan in mind and would force residents to evacuate.

Duterte’s statements leave is with two important questions to ponder on:

  • Could the national government or other local government units have done what Duterte did? Clearly, we all wish they could have or at least tried to.
  • Could leaders with a greater sense of urgency and more foresight, intuition and firmness have done better before and after the disaster?

Media in the Spotlight

Reporter Atom Araullo’s popularity probably shot a notch up when a video of his daring typhoon coverage made the rounds in social media.

Although undoubtedly brave, Araullo’s act brought to light questions on the boundaries of media. Should reporters risk their lives for a story and is any story worth their lives? Are the risks they take calculated or are they just the lucky ones to be alive after being in the thick of a dangerous situation? More importantly, is it acceptable now for people to expect the media to take greater risks?

Aside from Araullo, other local media personalities have had a share of the spotlight. Ted Failon was criticized for having implied that Salvacio Avestruz, a PAGASA weather forecaster died because most PAGASA personnel do not know what a storm surge is. The forecaster’s colleagues have replied saying Avestruz died because she performed her duty. Failon has since apologized.

It was Korina Sanchez however, who probably took home the title for most controversial media personality. In response to Anderson Cooper’s initial report on the disorganized relief operations, Sanchez remarked, “This Anderson Cooper. He said there was no government presence in Tacloban. It seems he doesn’t know what he is saying.” It was for these statements that Sanchez came under fire in various social media networks.

Cooper issued a statement clarifying what he actually said and urging Sanchez to go to Tacloban. Cooper of course, did not forget to mention that Sanchez is the wife of DILG secretary Mar Roxas

Politics in Play

Politics unavoidably became part of the events that unfolded after the typhoon. Aquino remarked that Tacloban did not seem as prepared as other areas, thereby almost criticizing Tacloban’s local officials. The mayor of Tacloban is a Romualdez, a relative of Imelda Marcos, wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It is common knowledge that the Aquino clan is still largely at odds with the Marcos family.

Aquino himself has not escaped direct criticism. Perhaps the most scathing of all statements against Aquino came from movie director Peque Gallaga who wrote:

“So what now? There’s nothing I can actually do. I can only rage, rage against the dying of common decency. I can only rage against this man who claimed in a Christian Amanpour interview that he couldn’t get to the disaster areas because the weather after the storm left didn’t permit him to fly. This is 24 hours after the sun was shining all over the Philippines by then. I can only rage against a man who made light of the tragedy, refusing to identify it as a major disaster; who made light of a victim of looting who was shot at by telling him, “But you did not die, right?” I rage against a man who continually blames the LGU’s on the ground for their incompetence and their inefficiency because it is beginning to dawn on me that these Visayan LGU’s happen to be Romualdez people and this man is playing politics with people’s lives.”

Read Gallaga’s open letter in full here.

In another story, Vice President Jejomar Binay drew flak when a photo of relief goods that bore his seal started circulating on Facebook and Twitter.


Netizens compared this to a photo of the Davao rescue team send to Tacloban standing beside a bus labelled City Government of Davao and without the name of Duterte.


Plan for Rehabilitation

One of the first rehabilitation plans which surfaced a week after Haiyan hit is from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The action plan can be found here.

On November 19, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Arsenio Balisacan announced the drafting of a unified rehabilitation plan stressing the need for a well coordinated plan of action.

Countries Help

There has been a massive outpouring of international aid to the Philippines. To date, total foreign aid has reached more than 14 billion pesos. The full report can be found at the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub page. For this, we will be forever grateful.

The First Filipinos were Spaniards?

Who were the first Filipinos? Who would have thought this simple question would be more difficult to answer than the final question in this year’s Ms. World competition. 😀

For the greater part of the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, “Filipinos” was a term used to refer mainly to Spaniards born in the Philippines. They were also known as creole or insulares.

A 1976 dissertation by Riego de Dios mentions that the word creole is from the Portugese crioulo which originally meant “a white man of European descent, born and raised in a tropical or semi tropical colony.”

People of the Philippines

Aside from the creole, there were other inhabitants of the Philippines that were defined by their racial origins and heritage. The native inhabitants were called Indios while the Spaniards who came from Spain were known as peninsulares. Intermarriages between these two classes gave birth to the Spanish mestizo. The Chinese merchants who also settled in the Philippines and intermarried gave us the mestizo sangley or the Chinese mestizo.

So when exactly did the Filipino identity as we know it now emerge from this rich mix of races and cultures?

Nameless Ilokano Katipuneros. Were they Filipinos too?

The Rise of the Filipino

When the Spaniards first came to the Philippine islands in the 1500s, there was no central governing body binding the islands. The loyalties of the native inhabitants were to their respective tribes and chieftains. Lapu-lapu of Mactan, Humabon of Cebu, Sulayman of Manila, Amarlahagi of Laguna and Bankaw of Limasawa were examples of local leaders who, in their own times and regions, maintained identities independent of their neighbors.

Even when provinces were already awakening to the fire of the revolution in the late 1800s, regionalism was still at play. In his book, A Question of Heroes, Nick Joaquin reveals, how after having been provoked, the Caviteño revolutionaries, who distinctly referred to themselves as the revolutionaries of Cavite to the implied exclusion of others, banded together and shut out the Manileño supremo Andres Bonifacio in favor of their own on the question of leadership.

Later, during the war with the Americans, clan and regional loyalties would lead to the fall of the Ilokano general Antonio Luna whose subordinate officers refused to obey him and professed loyalty only to their fellow Caviteño Aguinaldo. The Bulakeños meanwhile gravitated towards General Gregorio Del Pilar and only became loyal to Aguinaldo and the continuing revolutionary efforts because their general was Aguinaldo’s favorite.

In effect, history shows our ancestors were divided and alternately fighting both foreign invaders and each other.

It is perhaps appropriate to say that the evolution of the concept of the Filipino was gradual and at times painful. Historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo believed that Indios only came to be known as Filipinos in the late 1890s. Joaquin includes all “native born, irrespective of race” among those who had begun to identify themselves as Filipino and considers the execution of GomBurZa in 1872 as the crucial trigger in the realization of a common national identity.

One of the more recent history writers Luis H. Francia presents an even broader theory. Aside from the GomBurZa event, the enduring resentment of the Indios against their Spanish overlords and the desire of the wealthy mestizo classes for even greater economic progress all contributed to developing a sense of Filipino identity.

The First Filipino

Nick Joaquin’s book tells the story of creole Luis Rodriquez Varela, a propagandist involved in local politics who sought equality with the peninsulares. In 1790, he began calling himself Conde Filipino, thereby going on record as one of the earliest to identify himself as Filipino.

Guerrero’s first Filipino on a pedestal, probably wondering if we finally figured out the lessons of history. –Photo by Clement Dampal II

Joaquin also mentions how, in 1898, in Singapore, four exiles, Chinese mestizo Emilio Aguinaldo, Spanish mestizo Isidro De Santos, Creole Jose Leiba and Tagalog Gregorio Del Pilar, came together to meet with American Consul General E. Spencer Pratt to discuss the Spanish-American war. Their apparent representation of four different racial groups seemed to indicate that finally, the concept of the Filipino identity was transcending racial differences.

Diplomat Leon Ma. Guerrero refers in his book to Rizal as The First Filipino. There is no decree set in stone giving Rizal that distinction, but Guerrero maintains that Rizal deserves the title because he was the first to desire to unite the archipelago and “envisioned a compact and homogenous society of all the old tribal communities.” Historian Ambeth R. Ocampo echoes a similar thought, observing that Rizal called his native countrymen Filipinos even at a time when the term was yet used mostly for creoles.

Bones of Contention

As with many bold claims in history, the proposition that the first Filipinos did not include the native born has been contested. In an article published in Liwayway in 2012, Jon E. Royeca contends that as early as the 1600s, Indios were already called Filipinos as attested to by original Spanish books and reports.

Royeca cites in particular Relación de las Islas Filipinas by Jesuit Pedro Chirino in which he refers to the native born as Filipinos at least twelve times in his book. Royeca adds that other writers, namely Francisco Colin in 1663 and Juan Francisco de San Antonio in 1738 have also used the term in the same vein in their works.

In social media, Royeca clarified that it was Renato Constantino who proposed in the 1960s the idea that it was the Philippine born Spaniards who were the original Filipinos. Historian Agoncillo echoed the same concept which has since entrenched itself in some academic circles and which other historians have begun to repeat in their own works.

In My Humble Opinion

If the only question was the time when the term Filipino was first used and to whom it first referred to, Royeca presents a strong argument and may very well be in the right. His revelation however, has succeeded in opening a variety of other questions and counter arguments. For example:

  • Did Chirino’s work, and the work of succeeding writers who came after him, reflect the norm in their time? Did most Spaniards at the time, especially those who called the shots, accept natives as Filipinos too?
  • Were the native born consistently and pervasively called Filipinos in the course of Spanish occupation?
  • Was there any widespread value or meaning to the native born to be called Filipinos?
  • Was being called a Filipino politically, economically, culturally or socially meaningful to the native population at the early years of occupation?
  • Did the natives themselves accept, appreciate and value this collective label?

I have not read of anyone presenting an official decree or law in the early decades of Spanish occupation that limited the use of the term Filipino to a group of people. Hence, in my opinion, both natives and Philippine born Spaniards could technically be called Filipinos and as the original Spanish documents show, some Spaniards have called Indios Filipinos.

It is worth noting however that at first, none of the native born had the desire to be called Filipinos. There was no national consciousness that drove an archipelago, or at least most of it, to demand for a common identity. Loyalties were not to a nation but to tribes, clans, chieftains and regions. Moreover, the Spaniards seem to have preferred to call the native born Indios. Hence, although there was no law governing the use of the term, it’s possible that in the early centuries, the term Indio was more popularly used by the Spaniards for the native born and the term Filipino was the more popular term for the creole or insulares.

It was only in the 1890s, leading up to the Malolos Republic, when a strong sense of nation came about and then there evolved a desire to make the term more inclusive of everyone born in the Philippines regardless of racial origin. I stress here the word “strong” because for any national identity and label to have value, it must be widely OR strongly desired. As Guerrero and others point out, Rizal was ahead of his time for desiring nationhood before it became a massive rallying cry.

So the real, more critical question should not be when the first instance the term Filipino was used and to whom it was attached to but when we Filipinos started to think of ourselves as Filipinos. When did we awaken to the realization that we are or should be one Filipino nation? And for the sake of argument, have we completely awakened at all?

Information Sources

We didn’t just grab stories in the air for this article. The following books were used as information sources: