THE PUERTO PRINCESA STORY is an attempt to enlighten the people of Puerto Princesa in particular, of its historical development from a virgin forest on a plateau at the edge of the beautiful and enchanting Puerto Princesa Bay on March 4, 1872 to an honored place in the International Hall of Fame and Model City in Sustainable Development in the year 2000 under the leadership of Mayor Edward Solon Hagedorn. Its development is a unique experience characterized as colorful, at times, mystifying (bewildered deliberately) and interposed by intriguing emotional incidents.
The story of the city however, cannot be taken apart from the events that led to its present status as Model City in Sustainable Development and recipient of various awards of recognition, topped by the inclusion of the Puerto Princesa Subterrannean River National Park (PPSRNP) on the World Heritage List, which confirms the “exceptional and universal value of a cultural or natural site which requires protection for the benefit of humanity.” The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. A disitinguished feature of the river is that it emerges directly into the sea, and the lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full “mountain-to-the-sea” ecosystem and protects some of the most significant forests in Asia.
Invariably, the need to look back at its historical antecedents would in more ways than one add more meaning and significance for “it is just as well for us that the past does not die. It is just as well that despite the altruistic note of one of our adages we are not able to let bygones be bygones”. (Sherman Kent, Writing History, New York: F.S. Crofts & Co., 19047:1). Sonia M. Zaide writes in her book, The Philippines, A Unique Nation (All-Nations Publishing Co. Inc. 1999), the Philippines “has stored evidences of prehistoric and prehispanic culture of ancient writers and a well-developed international trade way before he Sapnish colonizers arrived in 1521”.
Understandably, the discovery, of the skullcap circa 22,000 to 24,000 years ago in one of the Tabon Caves is one evidence that brought into focus and into the limelight the possibility that Palawan is a “cradle of civilization” in this part of Asia. Subsequent findings of artifacts and other relics in the different caves and settlements of the aborigines of Palawan, such as the Tagbanua and Batak has substantially established the authenticity of the claim of Zaid. Findings in settlements of the Tagbanua showed unequivocally that they were not illiterate or pagan as most history books claim.
The Tagbanua, according to Sawyer is of yellow color and generally, “similar to the Mohammedan Malays of Mindanao.” (Frederick Sawyer, The Inhabitants of the Philippines. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900:310). They were nomadic, both men and women, and were quite naked , except for a cloth (tapa-rabo) which the men wore, while the women wore a girdle, from which hangs strips of bark or skin reaching nearly the knees. Round their necks they wore strings of colored beads, turquoise blue seemed to be the favorite kind, and on their arms and ankles bangles made of brass.
The Tagbanuas are sociable and pacific. Their weapons are the cerbatana or blow-pipe with poisoned darts and bow and arrow. In their households, according to Fox, “traditional ways of living, and thinking persist. Among these are religious rituals and values that make up the indigenous religion. It is a system of faith and way of worship which provide the Tagbanua a “world view”- an ordered explanation of man’s universe and life processes and the definition of life here and hereafter. (Robert B. Fox, “Looking at the Pre-Historic Community,” Filipino Heritage ed. Alfredo R. Roces, Vol. 2. Lahing Pilipino, Inc., 1977:38). Central in the Tagbanua’s concept of heaven and religion is rice. They regard rice as “a perfect food and divine gift.” The rice wine called tabad is used to “attract deities and their soul relatrives” in their ritual, pagdiwata, focus the Tagbanua life. Its activities embody traditional sentiments that contribute to its persistence. The pagdiwata is also a “curing séance” where the sick, particularly the children are treated through ‘soul relatives.’ Fox concludes, “Tagbanua religion expresses a quest for certainty – a quest which seeks harmonious and happy life, abundant rice harvest, and from illness and injury.” This answers the nagging question that the Tagbanua is pagan as many believed or made to believe.
If a system of writing is the mark of civilization, then the Tagbanua system of writing manifests it. In general, the observable feature of the Tagbanua script was its “curvilinear character.” The system of writing which flourished in the past is preserved to this day. The Tagbanua still use this system “for writing their songs and love letters, in recording their debts and in writing their tales.” (Juan R. Francisco, “Two Views on the Origin of Philippines Script,” Filipino Heritage. Vol. 3. ed. Alfredo R. Roces. Lahing Pilipino Publishing, Inc., 1977:601). The Tagbanua used palm heaves, bamboo (split or unsplit) and wooden planks. Writing was “not executed on rocks or copper plates or any other metal as it was done in India.” (Francisco, 20). This explains why “no books nor any kind of literature in this character (scripts) (are) to be met with except a few amatory verses written in a highly hyperbolic style, and hardly intelligible.This perhaps shows that in spite of their being amatory or highly hyperbolic in nature, these verses were preserved in script, even if they were soon to perish owing to the relative fragility of the material they were written.” (Francisco 22).
Questions have been asked why no Tagbanua settlements are now found in Puerto Princesa. It is alleged that their population had been affected by the spread of certain diseases caused by poor sanitation, both personal and environmental like the tragedy that happened when a smallpox epidemic broke out in a Tagbanua settlement sometime in 1926- 1927, when groups of families left their settlements. Among the groups who broke away from the main settlement was a splinter group now called Ken-ey. The group traveled forty kilometers from their original settlement to the general area of Ransang and Kolbi in southern Palawan. The group estimated to be around seven hundred to one thousand lived in “forced isolation.” The group will even kill an individual with a running nose for fear of an epidemic. The contact with the outside world was through “silent barter.” (E.P. Patanne, “Palawan’s Lost Tribe,” The Manila Times. 22 February 1963).
The other aborigine of Palawan which occupy a sizeable territory of Puerto Princesa and has been one of the tourist attraction is the Batak. James F. Eder, On the Road to Tribal Extinction . (Bekerley: University of California Press, 1987) writes, “the Batak of the Philippines were physically and culturally distinct population of almost six hundred individuals inhabiting the mountains and river valleys of central Palawan Isalnd. Isolated by land from other indigenous tribal populations on Palawan and by the Sulu Sea from all but sporadic contact with Filipino and Muslim peoples . . . evolved an elaborate tropical foraging adaptation.” It is presumed that like their “distant relatives, the Andaman Islanders, Samang of the Malay Peninsula, and the various Negrito groups of Luzon, they lived in small family groups and hunted or gathered a variety of forest, riverside, coastal foods” (1).
The Bataks are usually smaller than the other Filipinos. They are well-formed and agile. The nose is generally of better shape. Their hair is crisp and curly, less black and less ugly than the Negros of the African Coast. They cover their loins with the bark of antipolo, namuan and ibahud. This garment known as bahag is made into different froms, some being painted red and yellow. Their skin is very much charred owing to the fact that they conmstantly lie near the fire, which protects them from cold. (Charles P. Warren, “The Bataks of Palawan: A Culture in Transition.” Research Series No. 3. Philippine Studies Program. (University of Chicago, 1964:3-4). In the same source, Warren quoted Henry Savage Landor (1904): “ these Bataks are very quaint people and how they ever came to Palawan is somewhat a mystery. Thier name and many of their characteristics would suggest an original Sumatran ancestry. They may have ghot here by skirting the Bornean coasts. The maner are short and thickly set, with marked Papuan noses. The more refined, such as the chief – who was, however, not a pure type – possessing an almost aquiine nose. The hair of pure type is usually very thick and curly, quit frizzy; the color of the skin is rich dark-yellowish; in many cases almost balck – but always with a strongh yellowish tinge in it – never bluish black.” (Warren 1964:11)
The mystery of the origin of the Batak remains unsolved. Venturillo maintains that in spite of over twenty years of research on the Bataks, their place of origin has not been definitely established. “There appears a reason to doubtr that they belong to the same race as the other Negritos of the Island and all that ar left of the formerly more numerous group of Negritos in Palawan.” There is much credence to this contention, as according to the old men, nobody can categorically say where the Bataks as a tribe came from. All that is definite is the Bataks were already in Caruray in the west coast of Palawan where the Tabon Caves are located. This mystery has been unknowingly clothed with the fact that the Bataks confined themselves for centuries in the mountainous areas in north central Palawan. Not only is the area mountainous but rugged to a point that in some aras the mountains fall directlyu into the sea. Coastal plains are narrow, just a few kilometers in width. Nine successive valleys where rivers empty into the est side of the island make the principal area of habitation. The Bataks occupied as their homeland Babuyan, Maoyon, Buayan river valley, Tanabag, Tarabanan, Langogan, Tinitian, Caramay and Quintaran. These are the same places where they are found today.
As nomads, the Batak lived in mnakeshift natural shelters in the forest areas. It was not until the close of the nineteenth century that two settlement patterns wer observed, after contact with more advanced peoples from the lowlands and other areas. These are the seasonal residence in upland rice fields and the other is the sewasonal residence in lowland style “settlements.” The changes brought about by their contct with the lowlanders altered their concept of community life, particularly their economic affairs and social relationships. The Batak movements were greatly regulated by the availability of food in the locality as the Batak adopted agricultural practices that forced them to settle down long in a particular area. Before this time, however, particularly whern root crops dominated Batak form of agriculture, fields were visited periodically. It is said, that when the Batak bgan to live in their agriculkutral field, all households, as many as fifteen lived together in the same large dweling. The dwelling constructed in the same kaingin cluster consisted of a large room surrounded by several smaller rooms where individual households had their own hearths. The smaller rooms were used by the parents of the household withn their infant children. The older children of all households lived in the central room and were fed jointly by the adult residents.
As background, it is apropos to appreciate the situations obtaining in Palawan during the Spanish colonization. The most important was the consistent and persistent Moro raids of the island coastal towns and remote areas of Palawan. The Moro raids were believed to be retaliation to the Spanish moves in Mindnano, Jolo and Borneo. What is not said but could be more plausible cause in the Spanish colonization threatened the Muslims in their control over the natives into Catholicism were front-liners in the establishment and supervision of the civil government in the parishes. In practice, the friars were the Spanish government in the colonies.
In order to solidify the defenses of the town, forts were constructed led by the missionaries and the natives who were converted to Catholicism. The forts did not stop the Moro raids. The Muslims continued to plunder the area without let-up and mercy until 1730. When, on May 1, 1730, a force of 2,000 Muslims assembled in a place called Camino de Balate. The town was surprised that it caused pandemonium to break loose. The people fled to the mountains and sought protection in the fort. The Muslims sank the four naval boats of the Spaniards and surrounded the fort. The Muslims waited for three days for the Spaniards to leave hoping that they will surrender due to thirst and hunger. Unfortunately for the Muslims, it rained very hard. The Muslims planned to attack the fort by drifting burning rafts to the side along the beach but they withdrew in May 18, after ransacking the town of foods and other articles. They burned the town including the church and the convent, (Ruiz, Synopsis, 384-389).
The consistent and persistent Moro raids, though concentrated in the Calamianes and northern Palawan, precipitated the sending of exploratory expeditions to central and southern Palawan and Balabac to look for a site of the seat of government of the Politico Militar de Paragua. The task of finding a suitable site was difficult because the central and southern Palawan where the majority of the inhabitants were Tagbanuas were under the influence of the Muslims long before the coming of the Spaniards.
The Moro raids caused Governor General Fernando Norzagaray to order on Maye 16, 1859 for the division of Palawan into two politico military provinces. The Calamianes was composed of Cuyo, as capital, Agutaya, Culion, Busuanga, Linapacan and Coron. The other named Politiko Militar de Paragua included Taytay, the former capital of Balabac and Bugsuk. However, before the division could be implemented there was the urgent and immediate need to first pacify the island of Balabac and the other places in southern Palawan which were then controlled by the Muslims.
According to Fox, the spread of influence of Muslims among the natives of Palawan can best attributed to trading. The Muslims came to trade, not warriors of Islma. This was born by the fact, that the Muslim traders had the means besides being good businessmen. In the process of trading with the natives, the natives also adopted the political concept of the Muslims which was effected through the payment of tribute or paramita’an to the Muslims. A case in point was when Dungis, a powerful leader of the Tagbanua installed as Nakib or Bagia Munda.
Muslim influence has been more felt in southern and central Palawan up to the nineteenth century, even during the Spanish rule. According to the Tagbanuas, Muslim leaders came to collect tribute in form of rice, honey, ginger, onions, etc. Failure to pay meant the children were taken as slaves. In some cases, the leader of the Tagbanuas themselves was responsible in offering the children to the Muslims to avoid trouble.
Palawan culture has traces of Muslim origin as manifested in brass gongs, brass coffins, talam, bolos and arms that people now use. The influence went beyond the material traces of Muslim influence can be seen in the Tagbanua language and religious practices. The extent of the areas controlled by the Muslims covered all lands south of Puerto Princesa today.
In 1749, the Sultan of Sulu reluctantly turned over the islands to the Spaniards where Don Antonio Fabia was designated negotiator. Spanish authority momentarily covered the whole of islands of Palawan. The respite from Moro raids was short-lived for the following decade, the Muslims continued their raids in retaliation towards Spanish moves against Mindonaons, Joloanos and Borneans.
At this point in time, it becomes apropos to understand certain perceptions about Palawan and Puerto Princesa which affected its early development. To begin with, much had been written about Palawan as a dangerous place because its inhabitants were Muslims and that it was the place for prisoners and lepers. The perception persisted for sometime up to the Second World War. Invariably, their perception caused embarrassment on Palaweños whenever asked about the truthfulness of such perception. It is one of the hopes of the author to correct in some way these perceptions.
The other is the concept that Puerto Princesa and Yguahit as used to mean the same place. For the fact is what was then known as Yguahit is the present Iwahig, the national prison and penal farm. It was in fact as “penal colony” where deportees were sent by the Spanish authorities. The name Puerto Princesa was used to refer to the town which was established on March 4, 1872 as capital of the Politico Militar de Paragua. And the other is that Puerto Princesa was inhabited by Tagbanuas.
While it is true that the Tagbanuas were one of the aborigines of Palawan, the fact was, nothing was mentioned of a Tagbanua settlement when the expedition led by Sostoa landed in Puerto Princesa on that fateful day of March 4, 1872. The author is inclined to believe that if any Tagbanuas were sighted, they must be those who were in the caves found at the edge of the bay.
The author contends and asserts, without being repetitious, if there were any Tagbanua in the area when the colonizers waded through the thick mangroves, they must have sighted transient Tagbanuas who sought protection in the caves in the area considered on the premise that Tagbanuas were nomads. They lived on the beautiful resources of their environment.
Added to the perception is the statement, “the inhabitants of Puerto Princesa are deportees: almost everybody is either a convict, a murderer, a thief, etc.” This impression had been carried for a long time, as was experienced by the author when he was studying at the Union High School in Manila 1937-1939, when his classmates would ask him whether he was a Muslim or son of a convict or leper.
Be as it may, for the purpose of this manuscript, in order to avoid further confusion, the name Puerto Princesa is used to mean the town and Yguahit as the “penal colony”. It is with much hope that the succeeding chapters shall eventually clear the impression as to whether or not the expeditionary force that established Puerto Princesa found a Tagbanua settlement in the area when they landed on March 4, 1872.
It is hoped that with this in mind, the reader shall find time to know more about the City of Puerto Princesa and with much pride to be an active participant in the furtherance of its fullest development as the City we want.