Bato Church Restoration: Bato Church during the Moro Wars
Bato, Catanduanes  ·  
posted 7-Apr-2019  ·  
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MORO RAIDERS. from Mindanao used this large outrigger warships, called “karakoa” in attacking coastal settlements in Visayas and Luzon. The boats were inaccurately referred to by the Spaniards as “joangas.”

(Following are excerpts from the Masteral thesis of Rev. Fr. Roberto Sanchez in continuation of the series on the history and restoration of Bato Church)

The town of Bato, named after abundant stones in the place, was established on April 15, 1799 and was headed by Don Juan de los Santos.

In 1887, the town, which has two mountains called Sipi and Cagbalayan and had as its sitios Gigmoto, Obo and Batalay, contained 5,848 souls and 2,657 tributarios (taxpayers). Records show that on that year, there were 276 baptisms, 62 marriages and 96 deaths, as well as the average of 70 children who attended schools.

Thirty-one years after the town’s founding, Bishop Juan Antonio de Lilio, O.F.M. of Nueva Caceres, created Bato Church under the protection of Saint John the Baptist during the second year of the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Pius VIII in 1830.

The 18th to the early 19th century left a lasting legacy of suspicion, hostility and disunity in the Bicol region due to the Philippine “Moro wars.” In the course of struggle which consisted mostly of Moro attacks and the Bicolanos’ response to defend themselves, the highly rewarding enterprises of the Moros’ expeditions against Bicol were the military, religious and slave-raiding motives.  The shipyards, churches, religious ministers, many Christianized inhabitants and pagan inhabitants were the rich source of power and wealth not only to the Spaniards but also to the Moros.

The intensity and destructiveness of Muslim raiders in the late 18th century alone in the Diocese of Nueva Caceres were the worst over the years, with the Moros destroying 10 towns, looting and burning 10 churches and capturing about 8,000 indios, killing one priest and captured two more.

As early as 1656, to sharpen their fighting skills, the Bicolanos practiced shooting with bow and arrow beside the church after hearing Mass. They found a way of hiding their dwelling places and making the entrance into villages difficult.

In a place like Bato, they planted thorny bamboos around the village so thickly that humans or animals could not pass through. Pooling their native talents, the Bicolanos devised other defensive contrivances. To warn the people of approaching pirates, they posted sentinels in their baluartes with various instruments for sounding the alarm or relaying warnings.  In watchtowers or lonely coastal peaks, they struck a hallowed tree trunk or wooden gong or they blew a bodiong which could be a big shell or a hand-crafted carabao’s horn.

On June of 1756-57, eight joangas (actually karakoas or large outrigger warships) went on a rampage.  As the pirates entered the settlements, they met some resistance from the populace.  Some of them fled to the mountains but those who stayed defended themselves in their churches which the raiders did not hesitate to attack and sack.  They ravaged the towns of Virac and Bato and took only few captives as the most of the people had fled into the forests.

On January 28, 1799, the Manila government sent an enquiry to pueblo’s heads. In response, each pueblo in Albay held its council consisting of principales, cabezas de barangay and pueblo-people, presided over by the gobernadorcillo, in the presence of the parish priest, to propose necessary measures to pursue and check Muslim hostilities. 

In compliance to the direct superior, the town of Bato confirmed to offer and maintain a boat with a crew of 20 men as a necessary defense against Muslim hostilities.  For greater defensive power, the people erected baluartes, which were either slit trenches on hilltops or blockhouses of stone masonry or wooden logs or palm trunks which took more than three months to construct when the materials were all prepared.

In Bato, the church stood at the foot of a mountain encompassed by a wooden palisade with two baluartes.  The people erected another palisade with four baluartes outside the town proper, affording them two shelters against enemy assaults.

In the face of Moro invasions, there were Bicolanos who did not always run away.  Some stayed behind and fought the invaders. There were instances when they battled the encroaching Moros with whatever weapons they had like poisoned arrows, bagacay stems (a variety of bamboo) sharpened to a lance point, palma brava clubs (a variety of palm), knives, bows and even stones.  With the supernatural intervention of their patron saint, they battled the raiders and triumphed. Most Rev. Francisco Gainza, O.P., the 25th Bishop of Nueva Caceres, once observed:

“The Moros have been the most terrible scourge of our shores, the most incessant plague upon our towns, the greatest obstacles to our arms, and the great problem of our government at all times.  They devastated our fields, burned the towns, profaned the temples, made captives of their ministers, made settlements and provinces disappear; in a word, they constituted a dike against which our army and our glories have dashed to pieces (Abella, p. 297).”

Despite the tests of time, wars and ravages of natural calamities, the Bato Church, indeed, is a living testimony of the people’s achievement and unique properties of the past, which provides a visual memory and continuity.

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