In 1754, the seat of the provincial government or the capital of Batangas was in the municipality of Taal. Not the present location of Taal, which is closer to Balayan Bay, but along the shores of Taal Lake or where the small municipality of San Nicolas presently is. How the capital was moved from Taal to what is now the city of Batangas was due to a prolonged and cataclysmic eruption of Taal Volcano.
The 18th century was a time when the volcano was particularly active, with relatively “minor” eruptions in 1707, 1709, 1715, 1716, 1729 and 1731 preceding the major ones of 1749 and 17541.
The 1749 eruption was already particularly severe, accompanied as it was by violent earthquakes “which accompanied each of the intermittent outbursts of the volcano.” The convulsions were so severe that “they left hardly any building undamaged in the provinces in the neighborhood of Manila – Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Tayabas and in northern Mindoro2.”
It was, however, the prolonged eruption of 1754 which lasted for 200 days from the 15th of May to the first of December3 that not only changed the topography of Batangas, it also forced the alteration of the geo-political scenario.
This 1754 event was, of course, a series of eruptions that varied in intensity. What forced the relocation of the capital away from Taal was the vicious eruption that began on 29 November, the details of which we obtain from the American historian John Foreman:
“On the 29th of November, from seven o’clock in the evening, the volcano threw up more fire than all put together in the preceding seven months. The burning column seemed to mingle with the clouds; the whole of the island was one ignited mass. A wind blew. And as the priests and the mayor (Alcalde) were just remarking that the fire might reach the town, a mass of stones was thrown up with great violence; thunderclaps and subterranean noises were heard; everybody looked aghast, and nearly all knelt to pray. Then the waters of the lake began to encroach upon the houses, and the inhabitants took to flight, the natives carrying away whatever chattels they could. Cries and lamentations were heard all around; mothers were looking for their children in dismay; half-caste women of the Parian were calling for confession; some of them beseechingly falling on their knees in the middle of the streets. The panic was intense, and was in no way lessened by the Chinese, who set to yelling in their own jargonic syllables4.”
The following day, natives of Taal discovered “a layer of cinder about five inches thick” covered not only the landscape but, also perilously, the roofs of houses. Although it was daytime, the town was in total darkness so that “one could not distinguish another’s face5.”
As frightening as the previous night’s volcanic activity must have been, that on the 30th was even more so that Foreman described it, “It seemed as if the end of the world was arriving.” The town was covered in smoke and “strange sounds came with greater fury.” Moreover, the dark was frequently punctured by flashes of volcanic lightning.
There was a mere day of relief from the volcano’s activity when, of all things, a typhoon passed over Batangas. It must have been a slow-moving system because Foreman noted that it “lasted two days.” Those who recall the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption will recall something similar, when typhoon “Yunyang,” known as “Diding” in the Philippines, passed over Central Luzon a few days after Pinatubo’s eruption6.
As a consequence of this one-two punch of nature, Taal’s government and infrastructure collapsed. Among those destroyed were the Government House, the state prison, state stores and warehouses, the Royal Rope Walk along with the church and its adjacent convent7.
Being Filipinos, there were – naturally – those who stayed behind in Taal despite the obvious perils. Two men, for instance, were described by Foreman as having been “sepulchered in the Government House ruins.” Then there was this unlucky woman who did not leave her home until the roof was about to cave in, was carried away in a flood which she escaped, but was then killed by a flash of lightning.
The great majority of the townsfolk, however, had the good sense to evacuate away from the lake, and this is why Taal in the present day is much closer to Balayan Bay.
Foreman concluded with the transition of the capital from Taal to a municipality out of reach of the volcano, nestled as it was along the Bay of Batangas. Balayan, another former capital of the province, would have been the natural choice when the seat of government was transferred. However:
“The road from Taal to Balayan was impassable for a while on account of the quantity of lava. Taal, once so important, was now gone, and Batangas, on the coast, became the future capital of the province.”
Notes and references:1 “Taal Volcano,” Wikipedia.
2 “Catalogue of Violent and Destructive Earthquakes in the Philippines, 1599-1909,” by Rev. Miguel Saderra Masó, S.J., published in Manila 1910 by the Bureau of Printing.
3 Taal Volcano, Wikipedia, ibid.
4 “The Philippine Islands,” by John Foreman, published in New York in 1899. p. 13.
5 Foreman, ibid p. 14.
6 “Typhoon Yunya (1991),” Wikipedia.
7 Foreman, op cit., p. 14.