History of Pampanga

The sociopolitical and economic conditions in Pampanga before colonization by Westerners indicate that the Pampango people had a functioning and well-adjusted system of self-governance. The agricultural sector produced food that was more than sufficient. There were artisans who had various skills, laws that preserved peace and order, and a class structure that offered security for the members of the community. The native Pampango also engaged in trade that brought them in contact with people beyond their immediate surroundings.

Burial sites containing Chinese pottery and early Spanish accounts indicate long-standing links of the Pampango with the outside world, particularly the Chinese. Records also show that they did not only engage in trade but travelled by sea as well, sailing to places such as the Moluccas, Malacca, and Borneo.

When the Spaniards came, there were already communities along the water routes, mainly in the south near the Rio Grande or along its tributaries farther north. The 11 most important settlements in the 16th century were Lubao, Macabebe, Sexmoan, Betis, Guagua, Bacolor, Apalit, Arayat, Candaba, Porac, and Mexico (Masicu).

Rice was the major crop, and the farmers and other residents lived in autonomous villages called barangay. Accounts also point to a fairly advanced material culture as evidenced by woven cotton cloth and metalcraft, as well as extensive use of Chinese pottery.
An official Spanish report in 1567 states that at least two communities, Lubao and Betis, had Muslim inhabitants. However, there is no evidence that Islam had spread to the rest of the province during that period.

Village society then was composed of three classes: the datu or chiefs, the timawa or freeborn, and the slaves. There usually were several datu in a community and only the most powerful were able to rule. Although their power was not absolute, the datu exercised executive, judicial, and military control. They determined when planting and harvesting were to take place. They were farmers and weavers of their own clothes, and had no other special occupation. Although the position was hereditary, the datu could be replaced once their hold weakened through excesses committed or for some other reasons. The timawa, on the other hand, served the datu sometimes during the planting or harvesting seasons. The rest of the year,they were left free. They had the right to own property and to marry freely. However, failure to pay a debt was sufficient reason to demote the timawa to slavery. Slavery, which could be inherited, was not a permanent status, but merely indicated severe debt peonage, not chattel slavery. A slave was bound to full service to the master and was subject to grave penalties for violating the law.

The conquest of Pampanga by the Spanish colonizers began in 1571 right after the defeat of Raja Soliman in Tondo. Although there was some resistance from the Muslim communities in Lubao and Betis, Hispanization proceeded so rapidly that in 1574, Pampango soldiers were fighting on the side of the Spaniards to repel the onslaught of the Chinese pirate Limahong. By 1597, Augustinian friars were already highly visible in all 11 major Pampango communities. By the middle of the 17th century, almost all the natives were under the influence of the Catholic Church. Its fertile soil and easy access to Manila made Pampanga very valuable to the Spanish government. The dependence of Manila on the province for its food requirements pushed officials to maintain good relations with Pampanga’s leaders. Pampanga was also the reliable supplier of lumber used for building and maintaining the Spanish naval fleet and galleons, as well as various structures such as school buildings.

The province was also important to the colonizers as a source of soldiers. The Pampango not only helped defend Manila against Limahong but also joined in the massacre of the Chinese population around Manila. As a reward, some Pampango were given positions in the Spanish army, and cited for their “bravery” and for being the most “reasonable” and “civilized” among the natives. From 1603 to the end of the Spanish regime, a contingent of Pampango soldiers served in the colonial army.

In the 17th century it fought against the Dutch and set up an occupation force in the Moluccas. It also participated in campaigns against a rebel group in Panay and against the Muslims, and once again in another massacre of the Chinese in 1640. In the 18th century, it fought the advancing Muslims and defended the Spanish government against the British.

Pampanga was organized as an alcaldia or province in 1571 to make it easier for the Spanish authorities to pacify, tax, convert, and compel the natives to adjust to Spanish ways. Although Augustinian friars were relied on to supervise local affairs, secular officials, including native leaders, were also employed. Individual Spaniards who were awarded encomiendas or areas of jurisdiction as their reward for faithful service to the crown were allowed to collect taxes thereon and retain a certain percentage.

Most famous of the encomiendas was the Bacolor (original native name, “Baculud”) which was named “Villa de Bacolor” by decree of the King of Spain and given its own coat of arms. Bacolor served as the capital of the province from 1755 to 1903, and as seat of the Spanish colonial government after the fall of Manila to the British in 1762.

After the encomienda system failed (mainly because of conflict over the disposition of the encomiendas and their tax collections), the pueblos or towns were established, and headed by town mayors called gobernadorcillo. The gobernadorcillo of the various pueblos and the parish priests were partners in assuring the central government of a loyal and productive citizenry.

On at least two occasions, however, the excesses of the regime drove the population to rise up in arms. In 1583 the forced labor policy of the government sent many natives to work in the gold mines of the Ilocos but did not allow them to return home in time for the planting season. As a result, grave food shortages occurred the following year not only in Pampanga but in Manila as well. Thousands were
reported to have starved to death. The people decided to revolt and attempted to invade Manila but army intervention led to the arrest and execution of many Pampango rebels. In 1660 the forced cutting of timber for the use of the galleons
and naval ships, and the failure of the Spanish government to pay for the huge amount of rice that it had collected enraged the people once more. The planned revolt, under the leadership of Francisco Maniago of Mexico, involved residents of Pangasinan, Ilocos, and Cagayan. However, Spanish Governor Manrique de Lara succeeded in eroding the unity of the rebels by displaying armed might and befriending the natives, especially their chiefs. By promising many rewards, he won to his side one of the leaders, Juan Macapagal, and thus discouraged the other chiefs, who were generally weak and vacillating. The revolt was subdued even before a single shot could be fired. The two failed attempts effectively silenced further Pampango resistance until the revolution of 1896.

As Spanish rule progressed, certain changes occurred in Pampango society. The datu who was now known as cabeza de barangay, and the local gobernadorcillo became members of the principalia or the elite class which acted as the intermediary between the people and the colonial government. The principalia’s twin responsibilities were to assure delivery to Manila of food supplies and taxes collected, and to maintain loyalty to the new order. In turn, they were given many privileges which guaranteed their superior social and political status in the community.

With the slavery system abolished by the Spanish authorities, a two-class societal structure emerged, with the datu-cabezas forming the upper section and the timawa and former slaves, the lower section. The cabezas collected tribute to maintain their economic control over the peasants. Villagers unable to pay the imposed taxes were forced to borrow from the principalia at usurious rates. This arrangement was known as samacan; the peasant-borrower was called the casamac. The excessively high interest exacted kept the peasant in perpetual debt. However, this new burden did not seem to unduly distress the peasants as the presence of a recognized leader among them gave them a sense of security.

Manila was opened to world commerce in 1790, when the Real Compania de Filipinas (Royal Philippine Company), a joint venture of the government and a private corporation, started direct trade between the Philippines and Spain, ushering the country into a new era of economic activity. In Pampanga the demands of the world market caused a gradual shift from rice to sugar as the major crop. Sugar became the principal source of income and wealth for both the native elite and Spanish officialdom.

The prevalence of cash-crop agriculture gave rise to a new group of Pampango: the business-minded Chinese mestizos. A product of the intermarriage of Chinese men and native women, the mestizos eventually moved away from their original settlement in Guagua. They mixed with the general population in the town centers, established small businesses, accepted local manners and customs, and intermarried with native men and women. The mestizos loaned to small landlords the capital needed in switching from rice to sugar. In return, the landlords pledged their property as collateral. In this manner, ownership of considerable areas of agricultural land was transferred from native to mestizo.
Increasing control of the community’s economic life meant an increase in social and political clout. Before long, the Pampango principalia began to be dominated by the newcomers. To preserve their position, native families found it necessary to intermarry with mestizos.

As the new industry continued to progress, the new principalia was becoming an elite. Apart from controlling the economy, they penetrated the professions, including the priesthood. They gradually began using the Spanish language which further alienated them from the peasantry. Desiring to consolidate their wealth and enlarge their sphere of influence, the leading families of one pueblo intermarried with those of other pueblos.

The sugar boom continued in the 19th century, and rice was displaced as the number one produce of the province. The function of the land changed, from the culture of food crops for consumption to production for trade. More and more, land became the source of wealth and power. The cacique, as the landlords were now called, started using labor contracts in dealing with their tenants. The tenants hardly had enough income at the end of each crop season to enable them to save and move up the social ladder. They incurred debts which they eventually passed on to their children, thus perpetuating their tenant status.

As Pampanga drew closer to Manila through economic contact, the native-mestizo upper class became more modern in behavior and outlook. They began to imbibe western attitudes through association with Spaniards and visiting Europeans as well as through their schooling. This group of ilustrado, the enlightened ones, mostly European educated and Spanish speaking, occupied the topmost level of the hierarchical structure of Pampango society.

Below the ilustrados were the other landowners who confined themselves to managing their estates within the province. The least prestigious belonging to this class was the group of professionals who emerged as a result of the cash-crop economy. Their status derived from the practice of their profession rather than ownership of land.

Pampanga may have been initially indifferent towards the political conflict raging in the late 19th century in the neighboring Tagalog provinces. However, a few Pampango ilustrado, like Jose Alejandrino, already introduced to liberal thinking through their European sojourn, supported the clamor for reform initiated by the Tagalog ilustrado like Jose Rizal and Marcelo del Pilar. In the beginning, few, even among the peasantry, seemed interested in joining the more militant mass-based Katipunan movement of Bonifacio, mainly because the problems facing the Tagalog were not as severely felt in Pampanga: there were no large church estates, and ownership of much of the arable land was with the Pampango themselves. Furthermore, the paternalistic relations between the landlords and peasants was
still operative.

Later, however, escalating hostilities spread throughout the province. A Pampango contingent fought in a battle at Orani in Bataan while some joined Aguinaldo in Cavite.

Many Pampango, however, remained loyal to Spain and some, like the Macabebe soldiers, served as volunteers in the colonial army.
The attitude of the Pampango significantly changed when Aguinaldo reached the area and switched from open fighting to guerrilla tactics. The first Katipunan secret cell in the province was established in Guagua in August 1897, and in June 1898, Pampanga committed itself to the revolutionary cause. Upon the establishment of the first Philippine Republic, many belonging to the Pampango elite took office under the new government. Jose Alejandrino and Jose Infante, two of the more prominent Pampango at the time, served in the Constitutional Convention at Malolos, Bulacan in 1898. Tiburdo Hilario served as provincial governor, and Ceferino Joven as mayor of Bacolor. The provincial council was composed of Joven, Hilario, Mariano Vicente Henson, Mariano Alimurung, and Roman Valdes. When the Philippine Republic went to war with the United States, Pampanga was still on the side of the revolutionary forces. However, as American troops started to overrun the province, its support for Aguinaldo began to waver. By applying the formula of the carrot and the stick, the new colonizers were able to subdue all remaining Pampango resistance. Aguinaldo had failed to stop American aggression, and soon Pampanga accepted the aggressors and their offer of peace and stability. As Pampanga entered the 20th century under a new colonial regime, the Pampango elite learned a new style of politics. The electoral contests for coveted government positions gave rise to local politics oriented to personalities rather than issues, and characterized by weak party discipline and results constantly disputed in court. Suffrage required stringent qualifications and participation was limited in practice to the upper class.

The lower class had to contend with a continuing agricultural depression. Government neglect, the decline of sugar in the world market, as well as natural causes contributed to the economic crisis. The landlords stuck to the traditional modes of agriculture instead of adapting modern farming techniques as required by the new cash-crop economy.

The penchant for socializing of the upper class, which was flourishing under the new regime, gave rise to social clubs. These exclusive clubs served to provide an opportunity for young people to meet others of their own age and class, and for older ones to make business contacts in a social setting. Members used the clubs as venue for theatrical productions for various celebrations, and grand balls which were reported in the national newspapers. More notable clubs were the La Sociedad Hormiga de Hierro (The Iron Ant Society) of Lubao, the Union Angelina of Angeles, the El Circulo Fernandino of San Fernando, and La Mancomunidad Pampangueña of the entire province.

The increasing political, social, and intellectual participation of the elite in nonagricultural concerns triggered an exodus of landowning families from the barrios to the town centers. The proliferation of new schools and universities offered alternatives to traditional life. Managing a farm in the barrio had lost its appeal for most of the landowners’ children. Meanwhile, the peasants remained isolated from the new culture geographically, socially, and politically. The bonds which had traditionally held the two classes together were starting to weaken.

A clear illustration of this growing schism was the acceptance by the peasantry of Felipe Salvador and his quasi-religious movement called Santa Iglesia. Salvador joined the revolution in 1896 and became a colonel in Aguinaldo’s army. When the Americans took over, he retreated to the Candaba swamp where he conducted independent guerrilla operations. After escaping from captivity, he created his own religious cult which spread rapidly and gained adherents from the neighboring provinces of Tarlac, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan. Cloaked in religious mysticism, his simple and basic program tried to answer the clamor of peasants everywhere: ownership of the land they were tilling after the overthrow of the government. The Cathohc Church, alarmed at the Iglesia’s growing popularity, excommunicated all its members. The Constabulary, on the other hand, fearing its revolutionary potential, sought its dissolution. Salvador was later recaptured and executed. The Iglesia was not heard of again.

Market conditions improved from 1911 to 1921. Two modern sugar centrals were opened which launched a new agricultural era. Increased credit assistance, government encouragement in the form of new facilities and technical literature, and the high price of sugar led planters to expand their production, and to adopt modern farming techniques. Signs of the new scientific farming proliferated: tractors, centrals, steam rice mills (rice was already being grown commercially), among others. The technical components of a modern agricultural society led to social and
economic adjustments. As the upper class came upon new ways of increasing profit and lessening their dependence on the peasants, the tenants found their traditional source of economic and social security, the landlord-casamac relationship, threatened for the first time.
Towards the end of the period, indications of landlord dissatisfaction with the old tenancy system were starting to surface. Commercial agriculture demanded seasonal workers more than tenant farmers since labor was needed only at peak times. Furthermore, the planters had discovered that outside workers could be hired at cut-rate wages and that modern equipment such as tractors eliminated the need for the services of some of their tenants. Because of these conditions, the landlords saw three options: impose more stringent demands upon the tenant by stricter enforcement of the landlord-tenant arrangement; simply evict the inefficient and extraneous tenants; or transform the tenant into a daily wage worker and employ him on a seasonal basis. The landlord often settled for the last two options.
Soon, the tenants came to realize the inequities of the system under which they had labored for centuries. Their response to the situation was quick and decisive. Starting with burnings, their protest grew in number. Numerous strikes demanding
a bigger share of the profits were held all over the province. By 1924, strikes were occurring with regularity and the landlords were starting to organize their own protective associations.

The peasants themselves began to rely on new organizations for economic assistance as well as social and political guidance. The Kapatirang Magsasaka, Kalipunang Pambansa ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KPMP), and the Aguman ding Maldang Talapagobra (AMT), which was the mass arm of the Socialist Party founded by Pedro Abad Santos, all had sizeable membership at one time or another. Unlike
the Communist Party, the Socialist Party was not outlawed for it did not advocate the overthrow of government. In 1938, when the communist leaders who were jailed in 1932 were pardoned, the two parties merged. Becoming more militant, these groups staged more strikes and other political activities.

Four hours after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed several places in the Philippines simultaneously, including Clark Air Base, a US military installation located in Angeles. As World War II engulfed the country, peasant leaders Luis Taruc, Juan Feleo, Casto Alejandrino, and others decided in a meeting to form the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap). Being “anti-Japanese above all” and using “united front” tactics to win over moderate landlords and the middle class, the peasants and workers of the Hukbalahap adopted a three-point program. The economic program sought to provide the people with sustenance and at the same time thwart Japanese plans to “rob the country.” Discrediting the “puppet regime” and destroying its influence constituted the political program, while the military program called for the harassment and elimination of the enemy whenever possible.

The iron-clad unity and discipline of the Huks made them a most effective resistance organization. Not long after, the whole of Central Luzon and a few other provinces became Huk territory. They took over the towns and the municipal governments
as well as the properties of the landlords who evacuated to Manila. Many of these landlords refused to return to their homes for fear of liquidation by the Huks. Even the Japanese feared the Huks more than they did other guerrilla units.

The Huks emerged from the war as the dominant political power in the province and in January 1945, Alejandrino was named provisional governor. The Huks, however, were taken by surprise when the Americans began to disarm, arrest, and even execute their supposed allies. All Huk-installed officials were removed and replaced by USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) guerrillas whom the Huks considered rivals. The wealthy landlords, on the other hand, hired Filipino military police and civilian guards, who raided Huk territories and sometimes killed people wantonly, as shown in the Maliwalu, Bacolor massacre of innocent civilians. President Manuel Roxas maneuvered to have duly elected Luis Taruc and his Democratic Alliance companions unseated from Congress.

Failing to quell the rising tide of protest, the Roxas administration issued a proclamation outlawing the Huk, whose name had now changed to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan. Roxas’ successor, Elpidio Quirino, in an effort to restore peace and order, as well as faith and confidence in the government, granted full amnesty to the rebels, but this did not succeed. In October 1950, amid rumors that the Huk would invade Manila and seize Malacañang Palace, the entire politburo was arrested mainly through the efforts of then Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay. The surrender of Luis Taruc in 1954 during the incumbency of President Magsaysay dealt the final blow to the movement. Utterly demoralized and faced with organizational problems, the remaining members either surrendered or were captured with hardly a fight.

As conditions continued to deteriorate in the countryside, the Pampanga peasantry placed their hope on a provincemate who was elected to the presidency in 1961. Diosdado Macapagal, who had experienced poverty and peasant oppression in his native Lubao, saw the need for immediate social amelioration. His Land Reform Code, greatly emasculated by a landlord-controlled Congress, was passed. One of the important provisions of the code was the abolition of the share tenancy system which was perceived to be the main cause of agrarian unrest, and its replacement by the agricultural leasehold system.

As the economic contradictions of the traditional landlord-tenant relationship persist, the struggle for political control in the countryside continues.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 flooded many Pampanga towns with lahar, burying rice agricultural land under volcanic sand and destroying roads, bridges, schools, and homes. This has displaced many a peasant family, and has led to the evacuation of families and the abandonment of agricultural lands.

After the Senate decision to terminate the Philippine-US Agreement on the bases, the US forces finally withdrew from Clark Air Base, leaving the local and national government free to plan the use of the bases by the Republic.

Leave a Comment