Among the many provinces in the Philippines, it is in Cebu that I heard many stories about ‘baluartes,' the watchtowers that are used to keep watching sneaky pirates from pillaging the province.
Most locals have somehow an understanding but little knowledge about the historical background of baluartes not only those built in Cebu but also in the entire country.
People know that these were used as watchtowers but only barely, if not, most people do not know the exact number of ‘baluartes’ there are in the province. More so, only quite a handful of individuals know how many are still standing in the province at present.
Those who have some knowledge can name a couple or five places they know which have watchtowers, such as the Alegria Baluarte or the ‘Gran Baluarte’ in Boljoon. According to Professor Bersales (cebudailynews.inquirer/10May2017), there are 22 extant watchtowers in Cebu Province alone.
But do you know, or, can you guess how many were built during the Spanish period? There were 74 of them were created.
A ‘baluarte’ is the name or term given to such watchtowers. The term can be translated from the English word ‘bulwark’ or ‘bastion.' Please, allow me to consult the origin of the word ‘bulwark.'
Origin: Late Middle English: from Middle Low German and Middle Dutch bolwerk; related to bole and work (source: oxfordictionaries.com)
Noun: 1. A defensive wall, 2. (usually bulwarks) An extension of a ship’s sides above the level of the deck
The online etymonline.com dictionary further describes the origin of the word with the following descriptions:
Bulwark (n.): early 15c., "a fortification outside a city wall or gate; a rampart, barricade," from Middle Dutch bulwerke or Middle High German bolwerc, probably [Skeat] from bole "plank, tree trunk" (from Proto-Germanic *bul-, from PIE root *bhel- (2) "to blow, swell") + werc "work" (see work (n.)). Thus "bole-work," a construction of logs. Figurative sense "means of defense or security" is from mid-15c. A doublet of boulevard.
Although the Spaniards called them ‘baluartes’ the locals them in Cebuano language as ‘bantay’ (watch) and ‘bantayan sa hari’ (king’s keep or watch), the terms which is probably referring to the fact that it was the king of Spain that ordered the construction of these watchtowers (Bersales).
The construction of Cebu province baluartes can be traced back to the decree by the Alcalde Major Don Manuel Romera (dated October 11, 1825), who was responsible in that the twelve towns in that period should defend themselves by constructing two-story watchtowers along strategic locations at their coastal towns, according to Bersales.
You can find in the recorded history that successful baluartes used for alerting and for defense purposes are those built in the Southeastern Cebu by Fray Julian Bermejo, an Augustinian missionary in Boljoon. It was said that Bermejo even became a military tactician that prevented the attacks and that he also organized a Christian army to fight against Moro attackers.
As mentioned above, there are only twenty-two among the seventy-four baluartes that remain intact at present. Depending on your place of residence or historical knowledge about Cebu (or about Cebu Province baluartes), you should know or not know that the most visible baluarte is the one in front of Dalaguete Church and plaza, which dates back to 1796.
The second and the larger one is the ‘Gran Baluarte’ located within the plaza of Boljoon Church, which is actually conveniently using it as a belfry.
The others are those located at the Alegria Heritage Park, in Aloguinsan, and in Oslob municipalities. The one in Malabuyoc Church will be transformed into a museum dedicated for baluartes. More are found in strategic points in the coasts of Alcoy and all the way to Oslob.
The baluartes stopped to be used primarily when the Moro pirates ended attacking and kidnapping Cebuanos in the 1850s. Due to their favorable usage success, baluartes became less useful and were then not maintained and eventually physically forgotten.
However, that is not the main reason why baluartes were not in use anymore as watchtowers. The introduction of Morse Code and electric telegraphy which uses wires or cables attached to posts along roadsides and highways, Bersales pointed out.
But, although baluartes were not used as was they were initially built for, they were utilized as “gelegrafos opticos” or optical telegraphs by using flags. Optical telegraphy uses spyglasses to make it work. This method was first invented in late 1790 in Paris, and it works by sending numbers and alphabetical characters using the linear position of watchtowers.
Researchers are investigating more watchtowers located in Argao Municipality recently. They believe that there are about five or more baluartes built in that municipality and worth the time and effort for research and preservation.
It is sad to say that most of these historical baluartes are now just ruins and “mere lumps of lime mortar” (Bersales). And since many of them are located in private estates, they face difficulties in preserving unless the owners decide to preserve them in any way.
The town that has the most baluartes in Cebu is Oslob Municipality – believed to have thirteen all in all – and they all need serious attention to preserve them as historical landmarks and heritage.
Aside from the baluartes, the most prominent defense structure used by Spaniards (and its soldiers and supporters) are forts. These are the far more massive and self-sustaining bulwarks against enemies.
The most popular fort in Cebu is Fort San Pedro, which is a must-visit place for visitors and tourist. It is turned into a museum and other sorts of tourism facilities.
Up to the present, you can find that there are six forts in Cebu Province. These extant fortifications are located in Cebu City, Oslob, Bantayan, Santa Fe, Catmon, and Madridejos municipalities. Of course, if you are from Cebu then you already know these things, right?
Now, since you have learned about Cebu Province baluartes, I am guessing you become more interested in them and might start visiting them in their respective places! And maybe, you might support their preservation as landmarks and as part of the area's heritage.
Thanks for visiting this page.
Have a great day!
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