Gov. Ablan Day and the building of Fort Santiago

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - August 9, 2008 - 12:00am

More than four centuries ago this day, a royal order authorized Governor-General Santiago de Vera to rebuild Fort Santiago (Fuerza de Santiago) using hard stone. This was after most of it was destroyed in the war by the Spanish with the Chinese pirates who besiege the area. It was designed to be the fortress for Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, whose first task was to drive out the Muslims who occupied that area. Being a strategic location at the mouth of the Pasig River for trade and defense, the ancient fort was a wooden palisade that served as the native settlement of Muslims and Tagalogs in the 16th century under a Muslim chief from Malaysia, Rajah Sulayman. This is believed to be the farthest point north that was reached by Islam, the beginnings of the Muslim population in our archipelago.

The main entrance of the fort contains a relief of St. James (Santiago), the patron saint of Spain, thus its original name was Castillo de Santiago. St. James was the divine figure that the warriors invoked in their countless battles against the Moors. The fort became witness to the colonial power held by the Spanish rulers for more than 300 years. It was the main terminal for travels abroad and spice trade to the Americas and Europe. Galleon trade flourished as it sailed from the fuerza to Acapulco, Mexico. Jose Rizal, our national hero, was imprisoned inside the fort before his execution in 1896 during which he wrote his last masterpiece “Mi Ultimo Adios”. For a short period, at the start of the Japanese invasion, it even served as General MacArthur’s headquarters.

During the Japanese occupation, the Fort was also used as the seat of power of the Kempetai. Guerillas were also imprisoned there. Among the many in the underground dragged by the Japanese soldiers to the Fort was my eldest brother, Liling. In those days, the common belief was that when someone entered Fort Santiago, nothing was ever heard of him until his release, if ever. Sadly, Liling got lost in the foul depths and heavy walls of the fort’s chambers. We never saw him again after that.

Another guerilla leader who was lost in action during the Japanese regime was former Governor Roque Ablan of Ilocos Norte, born this day, August 9, in 1906. He was known to be a fierce guerilla fighter who had managed to organize affiliated guerilla groups across the province and maintained an underground government despite the landing and occupation of the Japanese in Vigan. He engaged Japanese troops in battle while efficiently manning underground operations with a runner-relay system that facilitated the dissemination of news and orders to his different units, aided by an effective counter-intelligence system which he also established. After several skirmishes with the Japanese troops, he left for Cagayan in December 1942 to meet with Governor Marcelo Adduru. His last words to his family were “how I hate myself for having only one life to give to my country. But don’t cry, I will be back when liberty returns to our people”. He never came back after this. Governor Ablan is remembered in the annals of Philippine history as a distinguished war hero. He is well-loved by the local folks of Ilocos Norte who never fails to remember him. On his 102nd birth anniversary today, his work as a World War II hero, most of all, a family man, a community leader and an advocate of justice and liberty, will be commemorated in simple rites to be held with the theme “Immortalizing an Ilocano Icon by Rekindling a Passion for Energy Conservation”.

We hope we have more exceptional public servants like the late Governor Roque Ablan to inspire the nation.

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