Monday, December 12, 2011

Pirates in the Philippines

Mr. Rico

Last halloween, a group of young people I know went to a party in which the required costume was that of a pirate.  Of course, being young, Jack Sparrow was the main model for most of them, complete with his signature make-up.  I told them that Johnny Depp’s inspiration was Keith Richards, the guitarist of the great rock band, the Rolling Stones.  It's also been said that you are truly an alcoholic if you look at yourself in the mirror one morning to find that you are, indeed, beginning to look like Keith Richards.

Anyway, when I mentioned that there were, in fact, actual pirates that wreaked havoc in the Philippines' security and economy, most of these young folks seemed indifferent.  Their minds were focused on the party.  And why not?  Many of them had already received their college diploma; thus, history lessons are over for them.  They'd rather create the history of their own lives, God bless them!

Be that as it may, for those interested in pirates invading our shores, let’s start with the swashbuckling English pirate, Thomas Cavendish, who was barely in his twenties when he started taking fancy at the ships of the Galleon Trade.

In the early morning of November 4, 1587, in the bay of Augua Segura or Puerto Seguro, now named San Jose del Cabo somewhere in the tip of Baja California, the English pirates led by Thomas Cavendish sighted the galleon ship Santa Ana, on her way to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Lower California to make a landfall and check her course prior to continuing on to Acapulco.

Cavendish's ships, the Desire and Content gave chase with all sail. It was afternoon when they came up broadside with the Santa Ana — tagged as the "great rich ship" — under the command of Tomas de Alzola. It left the port of Cavite the last week of June, some four-and-a-half months earlier.

The English ships attacked the Santa Ana with full force, killing and maiming many of its men who fought valiantly and refused to surrender. After about six hours of intense resistance and having suffered heavy losses — with the hull of Santa Ana also sustaining a canon blast at the waterline — Captain Tomas de Alzola finally hung out a flag of surrender.

In spite of the disparity in size of the ships — the Santa Ana had a tonnage of 700, while the Desire and the Content were of 120 and 60 tons, respectively — the odds of the battle was overwhelmingly in favor of the British. The Santa Ana lacked the necessary artillery and fire power. Cavendish's Desire alone mounted eighteen guns, while the Content had ten.

In a report to the king from Manila, Governor de Vera wrote that the capture of the Santa Ana came as a surprise since the galleon routes were kept a secret and no other but Spanish ships had been sighted on these galleon routes for years.

Cavendish and his men were all praise, however, for the courage of Captain Alzola and his crew, which included Filipinos, for fighting up to the end.

The Santa Ana carried 122,000 pieces of gold and a cargo of fine pearls, silks, satins, damasks, musks, and other merchandise of the East Indies, as well as ample supply of all kinds of foods and wines. The royal treasurer in Manila provided a more detailed report: the Santa Ana carried 2,300 marks of gold, equivalent to 84.2 pounds avoirdupois; not to mention a large amount of gold that had not been registered. The total sale value of the Santa Ana's cargo in Mexico would have been over two million pesos, which represented an original investment in Manila of more than one million pesos.

The Spaniards in Manila were further infuriated upon fully realizing the extent of Cavendish's depredation, which consequently, created a severe economic meltdown in Manila. Bankruptcy, poverty and severe despondency were experienced by many members of the city's trading community, including a substantial number of inhabitants and soldiers.

Besides the daring piracy that Cavendish conducted in the waters considered by the Spanish as the exclusive domain of their king, it was his youth (barely in his twenties) along with an inferior sea vessel manned no more than fifty men — who trespassed their domain and got away with it — that ultimately left the Spaniards in Manila feeling unbearably weak and inadequate.

During the 250 years of the galleon trade, the sea claimed dozens of ships, thousands of men and many millions in treasures. As the richest ships in all the oceans, the galleons were the most coveted prize of pirates and privateers. Four were taken by the English — the Santa Ana in 1587, the Encarnacion in 1709, the Covadonga in 1743, and the Santisima Trinidad (the largest ship in her time) in 1762.

The first to fall was the Santa Ana, a prize catch that went to the Englishman Thomas Cavendish. His brazen act of maritime piracy eventually precipitated an economic turmoil that startled the Spanish regime in old Manila.

As for the Chinese pirates, let’s begin our discussion by bringing into mind Martin de Goiti.  The plaza near Sta. Cruz Church in Manila was named in his honor; however, it was later changed to Plaza Lacson.

Martin de Goiti was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who tricked the Muslim kings into believing that the Spaniards who came and camped in the shores of Manila Bay on May 8, 1570 were only visiting for a short period. As what usually happens with any overstaying visitors, the welcome mat would eventually get worn out and the host’s inhospitable thoughts would begin manifesting themselves. In short, the natives grew restless and started bickering with the visiting Spaniards.

Only sixteen days after their arrival, Goiti has had enough of these quarrels. He marched his 300 soldiers towards Tondo were they met thousands of native defenders, but somehow managed to defeat and kill most forces of Suliman, Lakandula and Matanda. Goiti took the rulers as prisoners; summarily torturing and executing those who refused to accept Spanish rule. Goiti and Juan de Salcedo, his second in command, then marched their armies towards the Pasig River and captured the city of Manila on June 6, 1570 and burnt it to the ground, killing more natives in the area.

After the battle, both sides were still unable to negotiate an agreement; hence, sporadic bloodsheds and sieges continued for another ten months. The Spaniards, on the other hand, fortified their outposts by erecting Fuerza de Santiago (Fort Santiago). Nonetheless, some battle-weary Spaniards preferred seeking shelter aboard their fleets in Manila Bay.

Upon Legazpi’s arrival in Manila on June 24, 1571, the Spaniards had finally taken control of the settlements and a peace agreement was put into effect. It was Goiti's bloody conquest that paved the way for the establishment of Manila as a permanent Spanish settlement and capital city of the Philippines. He later explored Pampanga, Pangasinan and founded several cities in Luzon from 1571 to 1573.

In the early periods of 1574, Goiti also fought against the invasion of 3,000 Chinese pirates and warriors who attacked Fuerza de Santiago, besieged certain parts of the city of Manila, and massacred most of the Spaniards in the city. Goiti was killed by the pirates’ leader, Lin Tao Kien, now known as Limahon or Li Ma Hong.

Spanish reinforcements came all the way from Vigan and Cebu. Juan de Salcedo left Ilocos Sur after learning of Goiti’s death and headed for Manila, which he later discovered as having fallen to the Chinese pirates. Salcedo's forces succeeded in driving out the Chinese pirates out of Manila. Li Ma Hong and his surviving soldiers retreated to Pangasinan, but were later captured. The death of Goiti was avenged by the Spaniards by burning Li Ma Hong and his warriors alive. Their warships were also burnt.

So, there you go – two pirate leaders, an Englishman and a Chinese, who both succeeded in giving the Spanish rulers of the Philippines, tumultuous headaches!

Ms. Diane
Ms. Kathy
Ms. Junnah

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