Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa and the Founding of Tigbauan, Iloilo

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A Spanish Conquistador

A Generic Spanish Conquistador

Tigbauan, Iloilo history and heritage. Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa was a key figure in Tigbauan’s history, a Spanish “conquistador” who was awarded huge land holdings called encomiendas, for his services to the Spanish governors of the Philippines. One of these included Tigbauan

De Figueroa was born of Portuguese parents in North Africa.  Eventually he made his way to the Spanish colony of Mexico.  He came to the Philippines as a penniless young adventurer as part of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s 1565 expedition to plant Spanish colonies in the Philippines.  Legazpi’s fleet of four ships contained three hundred and sixty five conquistadores — sailors, soldiers, officials and Augustinian priests.

After a stop in Guam, the fleet landed in Cebu on February 15, 1565 and established a colony there.  Although Cebu seemed a good choice, that rocky island was not well-adapted for agriculture.  Consequently, in 1567, Legazpi relocated to Pan-ay in the present-day province of Capiz, hoping that food supplies for his substantial colony would be more plentiful and the inhabitants more friendly. Hence, de Figueroa had his first glimpse of the island of Panay, a place where he would later play a key role.

As more settlers and resources arrived from Spain and Mexico to support his growing colony, Legazpi came to believe that Manila might be a better capitol.  Manila had established trade with China and China was a priority for the Spanish.  The evangelization of the Chinese was a  central religious objective, and trade with China highly lucrative.  For the Spanish, colonization of the Philippines was mainly to create a staging area for Spain’s commercial and missionary goals in China and elsewhere in Asia.

Legazpi sent a force under the command of Martin de Goiti to reconnoiter Manila, then largely under Muslim rule.  In April 1571 Legazpi arrived in Manila and forced Muslim chief Suleiman, an ally or vassal of the Sultan of Brunei,  to allow the Spanish to establish a colony.  On June 24, 1571 Legazpi formally founded the City of Manila.

Figueroa rose in the ranks, prospered as he successfully executed campaigns for the Spanish Governor.  For generations the Moros conducted slaving raids in the more or less defenseless Visayas. There was a ready market for the slaves in the Malaccan sultanates to the south.  The Spanish felt that it was their responsibility to protect their new subjects.  Perhaps more importantly, the Christian Spaniards and the Moors had long been bitter enemies.  The Spanish launched repeated belligerent campaigns against the Muslim sultanates, in the Philippines and in what is now Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Islam was firmly entrenched in those areas.  Spanish missionary efforts there were mostly unsuccessful, with the exception of the Philippines.  Conflict continues in the southern Philippines to this day

In June of 1578, Philippine Governor Sande attacked Brunei.  Sande dispatched captain Figueroa, to Jolo.  He forced the Sulu Sultan-de-facto, Mohammed ul-Halim Pangiran Buddiman to accept that he was a subject of the Spanish King and to pay Sulu Sea pearls as regular tribute. De Figueroa also led a force to Magindanau, but the Magindanau datus retreated to the interior and Figueroa returned to Brunei.  In recognition of Figueroa’s services, he was rewarded with two extensive encomiendas including one on the island of Panay which had 4,800 inhabitants.   I have not found a geographical delineation of the encomienda, but we know it included Tigbauan.

Tigbauan became a Augustinian visita of Oton on 3 March 1575. Although it had become an independent parish in 1578, no permanent priest was assigned to Tigbauan until 1580, when Fr. Luis de Montoya was assigned as prior. Originally, designated Our Lady of Grace it was later renamed Juan de Sahagun, after an Augustinian saint. In 1593, the parish was handed over to the secular clergy because the friar, Fr. Garcia de Quiroga, was appointed secretary of the province and had to leave the Visayas.

By this time, Figueroa was a wealthy man.  He supported the Jesuits in Manila, offering funds to build a new stone church and a Jesuit residence.  When Figueroa requested Jesuit missionaries for his Panay encomienda, vice provincial Antonio Sedeno dispatched Pedro Chirino (1558-1635) and Brother Francisco Martin (1558-1620) who arrived in Panay in February 1593.

It’s something of a puzzle that the Jesuits were assigned to Augustinian parishes and that they arrived in Tigbauan the same year Augustinian Father Quiroga left.  In any case, Figueroa was a powerful man in Manila and if he wanted Jesuits to serve in his encomiendas, it’s not surprising that he got his way.  While distinguished historian René Javellana of the Ateneo de Manila University writes that there is no evidence that the Jesuits were in present-day Tigbauan, it still remains an open question.  The fact that the departure of Father Quiroga coincided with the arrival of the Jesuits suggests that it’s possible the Jesuits may have temporarily filled a missionary void in Tigbauan between 1593 and their departure for Leyte in 1595.  See further discussion of the Jesuits in Tigbauan click here.

Figueroa’s Panay encomienda was called Tigbauan (“field of reeds”) from its principal settlement, fourteen miles west of the Spanish town of Arevalo. The Visayans of Tigbauan were described as a settled, peace-loving, industrious folk. The men were farmers, fishermen, and hunters; the women wove white and colored cottons called lompotes whose fineness and durability created a demand for them at the Acapulco (Mexico) fair. Chirino speaks of an encomendero, possibly Figueroa himself, who cleared 150,000 pesos in a few years by shipping his tribute lampotes on the Manila galleon.

Brothers Chirino and Martin established a school for Visayan boys at Tigbauan in which they taught not only the catechism but reading, writing, Spanish, and liturgical music. The Spaniards of Arevalo heard of the school and wanted Chirino to teach their boys too. He replied that he could not leave Tigbauan to open another school in Arevalo. but he would be glad to have the boys come to stay with him in Tigbauan and go to school there. The Arevalo parents liked his proposal, and Chirino at once put up (1593-1594) a dormitory and school house for the Spanish boys near his rectory; the first Jesuit boarding school to be established in the Philippines.

Philippine Governor Dasmariñas was occupied with campaigns in the Moluccas.  In 1591, he proposed an extraordinary deal to Figueroa.  Figueroa would organize, finance and lead a campaign to conquer Mindanao.  If he was successful, Figueroa would receive a lifetime appointment by the Crown as governor of the areas conquered.  He would be given vast landholding there and would have the power to reward his lieutenants with land grants.  The deal was forwarded to the Crown for approval.  Figueroa received word that the Crown had approved the deal in 1595.  At that time, Figueroa was in residence at Arevalo, Iloilo, perhaps attending to his Tigbauan encomienda.  Chirino visited him there to break the news that the Jesuit mission in Tigbauan would have to be suspended.  The Jesuits had been assigned responsibility for Leyte and Chirino was needed there.

Figueroa’s Mindanao campaign got underway in April of 1596.  There were fifty sailing vessels, 214 Spanish and 1,500 Filipino troops.  Figueroa decided to take on Datu Sirongan, the most powerful of the Maguindanao leaders.  The impulsive Figueroa went ashore as part of a small reconnaissance mission at Buayan.  He was ambushed and mortally wounded by two of Sirongan’s warriors.  Figueroa’s embalmed corpse was taken to Manila and buried in the Jesuit Church he helped build.  His resting place carried the inscription, “He died by the sword, but was not vanquished by the enemy; for the same blade that took away his mortal life gave him and eternal.”

With Figueroa’s death, the Mindanao campaign and Figueroa’s dreams of wealth and power ended.

(Adapted from and with thanks to: The Jesuits in the Philippines 1581-1768, H. de la Costa, S.J., Harvard University Press, 1961)  A fantastic read. For more about this Jesuit scholar use this link.

Comments (2) Write a comment

  1. Olá ! Passem esse texto para a escrita do português brasileiro, por favor, para que eu possa melhor entender essa historia !


  2. Pingback: Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa and the Founding of Tigbauan, Iloilo | Philippines or Bust

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