Gabriel de Ribera, Mariscal de Bombon, Batangas’ Representative to the Royal Audiencia
(Chapter XI of a Batangas Historical Series)
Gonçalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa’s term as Governor of the Philippines would be cut short by his death in 15831. He was in poor health from the day he assumed office, according to the historian Antonio de Morga. His demise, it is fair to assume, was probably hastened by the stresses brought on by criticisms that his administration drew not just from his political rivals but also from the members of the clergy.
In fact, one of his staunchest critics, as mentioned in the previous chapter, was the respected soldier Gabriel de Ribera. The latter’s complaints against de Peñalosa were conveyed to the King of Spain himself not merely by correspondence but also were delivered personally at the Spanish court in Madrid.
A letter date 20 July 1581 and signed by Amador de Arriaran, Andres Cabchela, Salvador de Aldave, Luis de Vivanco, Joan Manuel Pimentel, Juan Maldonado, Juan Pacheco Amado and de Ribera himself showed that de Ribera was sent to Madrid as Attorney General to personally deliver to Felipe II the affairs and conditions in the Philippines at the time. Moreover, the letter commended him to the king as one who “has been able to give a good account of himself in everything.2”
De Peñalosa himself decried how unfair this trip to Madrid by de Ribera was in a letter to Felipe II dated 1582, the year before his death:
“With these charges the said Grabiel (Gabriel) de Ribera went to España, without a hearing having been accorded to me or to anyone in my behalf. It is just to believe that in that supreme tribunal, in the presence of your Majesty, injustice will be done to no one – least of all to me, who have served and am now serving your Majesty with so great integrity and solicitude, and who have had so long an experience. I am sure that your Majesty will first give me a hearing, and afterwards command that amends be made for my wrongs, by punishing those who have tried to stain my honour and my good reputation in life and character.3”
The tone of de Peñalosa’s letter to the king was curious to say the least, for although he asked that those who tried to injure his character be punished, the phrasing of his words was also, seen a certain way, practically an admission of his wrongdoings. At any rate, de Ribera must have found favour at the Spanish court as subsequent events would show.
Up until this time, de Ribera, while he was part of Miguel López de Legaspi’s expedition that sailed out from Nueva España to the Philippines in 1564, had been a largely peripheral character to the story of Spanish colonisation of the Philippines.
A 1568 document, at about which time the Spaniards were ensconced in the Visayas, gave his designation as Chief Constable.4 He was also among the officers taken along by the Master-of-Camp, Martin de Goite, in the 1570 expedition from Panay to explore the island of Luzon.5
After the raid of Manila by the Chinese pirate Limahon in 1574, during which de Goite was killed, de Ribera was among the officers ordered by then-Governor Guido de Lavezaris early the following year to pursue the pirate to where he had set up camp in what is now the Province of Pangasinan.6
In January 1579, acting upon the instructions of then-Governor Francisco de Sande, de Ribera went on an expedition to “Mindanao and Sulu to secure their submission to Spanish authority.” The expedition turned out to be abortive because the men under his command were coming down with illnesses, forcing them to depart. In documents written by de Ribera himself, he gave his designation as “Captain of Infantry.7”
While in Madrid, and with the king apparently having favourably received de Ribera’s commendation from his peers, the former conferred upon the latter the title Mariscal (Marshall) of Bombon. The title of Marshall was suggestive of both a military rank and also a judicial function, i.e. that of administering justice in the name of the king.
Upon de Peñalosa’s death, his nephew Diego Ronquillo became Governor of the Philippines as per royal decree, but only in an interim capacity until a new governor was designated and arrived in the country. It was not known yet in the Philippines at the time, but the most important consequence of de Ribera’s trip to Madrid was the creation of a Royal Audiencia for Manila. This meant that royal justice could be administered locally without the need to refer the most grievous cases each time to the audiencia in Nueva España.
“Whereas, in the interests of good government and the administration of our justice, we have accorded the establishment in the city of Manila of the island of Luçon (Luzon) of one of our royal audiencias and chancillerias, in which there shall be a president, three auditors, a fiscal, and the necessary officials; and whereas we have granted that this Audiencia shall have the same authority and pre-eminence as each one of our royal audiencias which sit in the town of Valladolid and the city of Granada of these our realms, and the other audiencias in our Yndias (Indias)...8”
The new governor, Santiago de Vera, arrived in 1584 and quickly set up the Royal Audiencia as commanded by the king. The interim governor, Diego Ronquillo, was taken prisoner and ordered “to present himself at the royal criminal court at Madrid, to account to his Majesty for the large sum of money that had been delivered to him as the executor and trustee of Don Gonçalo Ronquillo.9”
The governor under the new set up was also President of the Audiencia, but as mentioned would not be able to rule as though a petty monarch like his predecessors. Instead, his governance of the islands would be with the assistance of a council such as the Audiencia was. One of the members of this council was de Ribera, by this time having returned to the Philippines as Mariscal de Bombon. His membership suggests that interests of Batangas, or at least the lakeside area of Bombon, were adequately represented in the Audiencia.
Notes and references:1 The Philippine Islands, by Antonio de Morga, Volume I. Cleveland 1907.
2 Notes to the document “Complaints against Peñalosa” as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume VI: 1583-1588.”
3 Letter from Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa to Felipe II, from the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume V: 1582-1583.” June 1582.
4 “The Philippine Islands: Volume II: 1521-1569,” compiled by Blair and Robertson.
5 “Act of Taking Possession of Luzon,” by Martin de Goite, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume III: 1569-1576.”
6 “Relation of the Philippine Islands” by Francisco de Sande, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume IV: 1576-1582.”
7 “Captain Ribera's Instructions,” by Francisco de Sande, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume IV: 1576-1582.”
8 “Foundation of the Audiencia of Manila,” as published in the Blair and Robertson series, “The Philippine Islands, Volume V: 1582-1583.”
9 “Letter from Santiago de Vera to the Archbishop of Mexico,” as published in the Blair and Robertson series, “The Philippine Islands, Volume VI: 1583-1588.”