British Troops Chase after Treasures in 18th Century Batangas
Most Filipinos are vaguely aware from high school History lessons that for a brief period in our nation’s storied past, the British ruled over the entire archipelago. This was, at least, in principle. In reality, direct British control was really just over Manila and some parts of Cavite1.
Because the British rule of the Philippines from 1762 to 1764 was no more than a footnote to the lengthy colonial rule by Spain, most high school History books mention this period almost as an afterthought.
Something that should be of interest to regular readers of this web site that is not at all mentioned in high school History books is the little-known fact that the British, during their brief rule, were also very much active in Batangas, albeit in a way most inhabitants of the province would likely have preferred to forget.
Before going any further, allow me to give some background information to put this story in the proper perspective.
That the British came to the Philippines at all was due to the so-called Seven Years’ War that had broken out in Europe. Although the war involved many European states, it was basically a quarrel between neighbours Britain and France. Spain was drawn into it because of its alliance with France.2
Spain was in no position, in a military sense, to defend the Philippines against a British invasion; and the colonial government did not expect that the war in Europe would spill half a world away to the Philippines.
When the British fleet sailed into Manila Bay on 24 September 1762, Manila was caught by surprise. By the 3rd of October, Manuel Rojo del Rio y Vieyra, Archbishop and interim Governor of Manila, surrendered the city to the British.3
Part of the terms of surrender was that the Spanish colonial government would pay the British an indemnity amounting to four million pesos. The Archbishop could not raise the required amount, so instead the British proposed that they would take one million upfront and that the remaining amount would be taken from the treasures being brought in by the galleon Philipino, which was due back in the Philippines from Mexico.4
Not everyone felt obliged to abide by the actions of the interim Governor, however. Among these was the Spanish magistrate Simón de Anda y Salazar, who would flee to the provinces and organise resistance against British rule. He had the support of many of the friars.
When it became obvious to the British that the treasures of the Philipino had been spirited away by the resistance movement led by Anda and the friars, they sent Captain Thomas Backhouse and his troops to chase after it along with the wealth of the Spanish treasury.
Backhouse left his post in Pasig and headed to Tunasan, (Note: There is a modern day village in Muntinglupa of the same name.) which his troops then plundered. They did the same thing in Biñan and Sta. Rosa before proceeding to Calamba and then onto Batangas.5
In Lipa, which in her research Kristie Patricia Flannery referred to as a pueblo or a village in 1763, Backhouse was met by the Prior Padre Montero. The latter initially appeared to be willing to cooperate with the British. In truth, however, Padre Montero was a supporter of Anda and had allegedly threatened to cut off the tongue of any parishioner who supplied the British with any information that could endanger Anda.3
Backhouse nonetheless established his quarters in Lipa, captured and imprisoned several Agustinian friars. His troops burned the church and destroyed images of Catholic saints. Although they were also after the wealth of the Spanish treasury under the custody of one Nicolas Echaus, they only seized 3,000 pesos which the Spaniards had erstwhile secreted.6
This was way below what Backhouse had expected to collect; and when it became apparent that the treasures of the Philipino had been spirited away to somewhere in Pampanga, he headed back to his post in Pasig.4
Their pursuit of Anda also led the British to the towns of Taal and Balayan. They were led there by a Don Nicolas Subang, a prominent local Chinese – or “sangleyes,” as they were known at the time.
Subang was a liquor tax collector in Bulacan who was later tried as a traitor for his collaboration with the British. He persuaded fellow “sangleyes” in Pampanga not to support Anda’s efforts and instead embrace British rule.
Subang and his followers guided the British to Taal and Balayan, where they tortured and then killed several friars, likely to obtain information about Anda’s whereabouts. When it was becoming obvious to Subang that Anda’s resistance movement was becoming stronger, he fled to China with his closest followers.7
Britain’s brief interlude in the Philippines came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which called for a cessation of hostilities between the warring European nations. Among its terms was the return to Spain of territories it lost during the war, foremost of which were Cuba and the Philippines.8
At the time, news of the signing had not yet reached the Philippines, where at any rate Archbishop Manuel Rojo del Rio y Vieyra had already died and the British had to acknowledge that Simon de Anda was the legitimate governor of the country.
In March of 1764, orders finally arrived from London for British forces in the Philippines to withdraw. Henceforth, they sailed back to Madras in India to put an end their brief occupation of the country, which in the present day is all but forgotten, especially their forays into the Province of Batangas.1
Notes and References:1 British invasion of Manila, Wikipedia
2 Seven Years’ War, Wikipedia
3 Loyalty, Disobedience, and the Myth of the Black Legend in the Philippines during the Seven Years War by Kristie Patricia Flannery
4 The Philippine Islands, by John Foreman. 1905
5 An Historical View of the Philippine Islands, by Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga, translated by John Maver
6 Batangas Directory, Official Guide of the Province of Batangas 1948, Second Edition, Emilio M. Ynciong, Ed.
7 Expulsion of the Chinese and Readmission to the Philippines: 1764-1773, by Salvador P. Escoto
8 Treaty of Paris (1763), Wikipedia