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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Under the Dutch Deathstroke


Editor's Note: This is a reprint of my article series "Historical Controversies" in my old blog site. In this blog, I will talk about the role of the Filipinos in the subsequent defeat of the Dutch invasion of the islands. It will also investigate on why the Filipinos were united under the Spanish in repulsing a powerful Dutch fleet that tried to occupy some parts of Luzon.

I used to think that the Dutch were fair, fun-loving and liberally-minded people but I never realized that they were depicted as "ruthless and gruesome bands of scallawags" by the Spanish during their first 150 years in the Philippines. The legend of the fearsome and dreaded Dutchmen were retold to children who misbehaved. During the late 16th and early 17th century, the Spanish colony was still struggling to survive because of revolts and some foreign threats like that of Limahong and Coxinga. In the international scene, Spain may have ruled the seas but deep inside she has a troubled foreign policies especially on its treatment of her subjects in the Low Countries.

The Dutch, like Filipinos, were ruled by the Spanish crown and that the unpopular rule of the Spanish rulers became a protracted war of independence known as the Dutch Revolt or the Eighty Years War (1568-1648). During the reign of Rey Felipe II, the son of Carlos V de Hapsburgo, Spanish grip on the region became more despotic as it imposed heavy taxation, suppressed Protestantism and centralization efforts. Added to his unpopularity, the new king doesn't even know how to speak Dutch nor French.

The dreaded Spanish Inquisition further inflamed the hatred of the Dutch on the Spanish, they even aligned themselves with the Ottomans and went to the extent by proclaiming "Better Turkish than Papist." The continuous heavy-handed rule by the Spanish in the southern part of the Spanish Netherlands caused many of its financial, intellectual, and cultural elite to flee north, contributing to the success of the Dutch Republic. The Dutch imposed a rigid blockade on the southern provinces which prevented Baltic grain relieving famine in the southern towns, especially in the years 1587-9. Additionally, by the end of the war in 1648 large areas of the Southern Netherlands had been lost to France which had, under the guidance of Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII of France, allied itself with the Dutch Republic in the 1630s against Spain.

I never thought that the Dutch struggle for independence even reached our shores as Dutch privateers preyed on trans-Pacific shipping between the Spanish Philippines and New Spain. Galleons with Mexican silver, Peruvian gold and Chinese silk were raided by the Dutch, thus, filling their coffers and increasing their financial base for their continued war against Spain. The bankers of Amsterdam became rich and were the early versions of today's "merchants of war."

Due to the relatively small population of the Netherlands, they used their wealth to gain the services of the best mercenaries in Europe. Because the Spanish rarely used mercenaries not because its too costly to sustain but they believed its an un-Christian. As a matter of fact, Spain went bankrupt a couple of times and she wasn't able to pay some of its soldiers. Spain was also embroiled in a war against the Ottoman Empire and so further depleting its financial resources. On January 30, 1648, the war ended with the Treaty of Münster between Spain and the Netherlands.

What makes it interesting in the Dutch struggle for freedom, I never thought the Dutch were confident in their war against Spain but I find it unbelievable that they even managed to attack Spain in the Philippines. That was halfway across the world, when Spain was still in their throats back home. In fact, Olivier van Noort even attacked Manila on his way to become the first Dutchman to circumnavigate the world.

The Dutch were daring men who made near-suicide missions to disrupt Spanish trade even if the Spanish were gaining ground in the southern region. I believe it was their strategy to hit the Spanish anywhere in the world, whether in the North Sea, in the Atlantic, in the Caribbean and even in the Pacific.

The fierce rivalry between the Dutch and Spanish in Asia was centered in Formosa and the Philippines. The Dutch made repeated attacks on the archipelago but the crucial engagement was the Battles of La Naval de Manila, five naval sorties were fought in 1646. The Spanish forces consisted of between two and three Manila galleons and a galley (all had large contingents of Filipino volunteers), against three separate Dutch squadrons, totalling eighteen ships. Heavy damage was inflicted upon the Dutch squadrons by the Spanish-Filipino forces, forcing the Dutch to abandon their invasion of the Philippines. The unexpected series of successes against superior numbers was attributed by the Spanish and Filippino participants to the intercession of Saint Mary.

I'm wondering why fought in the side of the Spanish. The Filipinos fought bravely in the war between two European nations, its not a war that the Filipinos have to fight. We have to take note that the Spanish has to deal with local revolts throughout the islands while a naval war was being fought against the Dutch, surely the Spanish regime would collapse if the Filipinos took advantage of the situation. But the brilliant strategy of the friars of spreading the idea that the Protestant Dutch were "atheists" and that supporting them would mean excommunication.

They were led to believe that if the Dutch would win, then they will burn in hell as the Dutch will force them to convert to Protestantism. In reality, the Dutch were not in particular with religious conversion rather their motives are primarily economic because of the lucrative spice trade and continued economic relations with China and Japan.


And so in an attempt to defeat the Spanish navy in the Philippines, the Dutch tried to lure the entire navy into an open sea naval engagement and hopefully destroy the Spanish in a crushing blow.

Before the crucial naval battle, the situation of the Spanish stronghold in the Philippines was bleak as the government has struggled in quelling a rebellion in Pampanga and Zambales in 1645. The revolt was widespread that Filipino recruits desert their ranks and some even joined the rebels. Governor General Diego Fajardo Chacon was a feared man because of his heavy-handed policies and at the same time he was also a lameduck because a certain Eustacio de Venegas gained control of the governors' affairs. He also alienated much of the ruling class in Manila because he imprisoned former Governor General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera.

The year 1645 was saw as an omen as a series of unfortunate events befell upon the city. The two galleons Encarnación and Rosario from New Spain with reinforcements and much aid against the Dutch arrived in July 1645, having narrowly escaped three Dutch warships from Formosa. The newly-designated Manila archbishop Fernando Montero arrived on the flagship, but he died suddenly just before making his triumphal entry into the city. His body arrived, and entered by the same gate that his predecessor, Fray Hernando Guerrero, had used to leave for exile nine years before. Alas, the archdiocese remained without a head until the arrival of Miguel de Poblete in 1653.

The evening of November 30, 1645 (the day of St. Andrew, patron of the city), an earthquake caused immense destruction in Manila. One hundred fifty stone buildings were destroyed, and the remainder so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. An accurate enumeration of the dead was impossible, but 450 were known to be missing. Governor Fajardo was in his apartment, and narrowly escaped being buried. He lived for several months in a field tent in the Plaza de Armas, until a suitable wooden building was completed for him. Because of this, the colony lacked an effective and decisive leader in this time of crisis.

Five days later, on December 5, 1645, a second earthquake occurred, said to be of the same magnitude as the first. This time there were no fatalities, due to the fact that most of the buildings had already collapsed and the population was prepared. The city was left in such condition that one could not walk through it.

If the Dutch had known the fact that two earthquakes in less than a week had almost leveled Manila to the ground, they would probably launched a full scale invasion that would have ousted the Spanish from the archipelago. But it was not meant to be.

The year 1646 was the height of the Dutch invasion to grab the Philippines from Spain. During this time, it seems the Spanish colonial government was on its weakest position as it is still reeling from two devastating earthquake that almost killed Governor Chacon.

The Dutch had the advantage against the Spanish and Filipino troops due to their advanced battleships and heavily armed infantry. The Philippines at that time was a young colony of Spain and very vulnerable to other colonial forces, while Spain was just starting to gain ground on Philippine soil. What Spain had were two merchant galleons plying the Philippines-Mexico route refitted as battleships, against the Dutch armada of 18 galleons and numbers of galleys and small vessels under the command of Maarten Gerritsz Vries. The two Spanish ships were the Encarnacion and the Rosario under the command of General Lorenzo de Orella y Ugalde and Admiral Sebastian Lopez respectively. Though the two captains were veteran military men, their calculations of the upcoming battle were grim and to win was almost impossible.

In desperation, they turned to the Virgin of the Rosary for divine intervention and protection, vowing barefoot with their troops at the Sto. Domingo Church which was then located at Intramuros, Manila. Though it may be true but this has only added luster to the legend of the Virgen de la Naval de Manila. And of course, propaganda played a big part in uniting the Filipinos under Spain. It was also believed that the Spanish officials are also giving bounties to people who can kill as many Dutch as possible.

On March 15, 1646, the opening salvo of the battle began off Maraviles Island near Corregidor with two small battleships pitted against five Dutch battleships and a small vessel, with all signs pointing to an easy victory for the Dutch. But in this case, the Spanish-Filipino armada fought intelligently and was able to defeat the Dutch, who retreated after five hours of hostilities. Encarnacion and Rosario, victorious of the first encounter, were left with only minor damage and zero casualties.


The Spanish galleons were then dispatched to await a relief ship from New Spain, the galleon San Luis, in the Embocadero, principle target of the Dutch. On the 24th, a squadron of seven Dutch warships blockaded the two Spanish galleons in a harbor on the island of Ticao. The blockade lasted more than a month, but was then lifted when the Dutch sailed for Manila.

On July 29, 1646, seven Dutch warships were ready to take down the two-ship Spanish-Filipino armada off the coast of Marinduque. The Dutch battleships waited until midnight, since the Dutch fire ships could attack more efficiently in the dark. They circled around the Encarnacion, making it impossible for the lone ship to survive. Armed with prayers, the Spanish-Filipino troops did not surrender. Shots were exchanged, and the Encarnacion was able to fight against the seven ships, with the help of the Rosario which was outside the circle of battle and freely attacked from behind, doing a lot of damage to the enemy.

In one instance the Filipino flagship and the Dutch Almiranta accidentally got tangled with each other -- a real danger for the Encarnacion considering the other enemy ships were still attacking. Luckily, some of the Filipino troops were able to cut the tangled ropes and free the ship. Danger continually approached as the Dutch fire boats attacked the Encarnacion hoping to set it on fire; when they were unsuccessful, they tried to attack the Rosario. The Rosario armada was ready. They fired simultaneous cannon shots, sinking the fire ship.

The encounter lasted until daybreak, and for the second time, the remaining Dutch forces fled. Before the fight, Gen. de Orella proclaimed in the name of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary that his entire armada would be victorious and no one would be killed. True enough, there were no deaths on the Encarnacion, though there were two wounded.

In high spirit after their recent success against the Dutch, the Spanish-Filipino troops were looking forward to another fight. On July 31, 1646, only two days after the previous encounter, a fiercer battle took place, this time in the island province of Mindoro. This battle was different because the Spanish-Filipino force was on the offensive, and it took place during the daytime unlike previous battles.

At about two in the afternoon, the Dutch fleet was cornered for battle. Rapid exchange of cannon fire exchange took place early in the battle. The Encarnacion and Rosario aggressively fired on the Dutch ships, which defended themselves desperately. The Spanish and Filipino troops were in awe of the efficiency of their equipment during the battle, considering the Dutch weaponry was better. While firing on the Dutch ships, the men shouted Viva la Virgen. Badly damaged, one of the Dutch battleships sank and the others retreated once again. The battle lasted only four hours and there were no casualties among the Spanish-Filipino troops.

A month and a half respite from battle enabled the Philippine armada to reorganize and make much needed repairs. Gen. de Orella retired as the captain of Encarnacion and Don Sebastian Lopez took over the command, while Rosario was put under Sergeant-Major Don Agustin de Cepeda.

Because of the victories against the Dutch, the Philippine Armada became complacent. Believing the enemy to be out of way, a new galleon – San Diego – was released to bring cargo to Acapulco under the command of General Cristobal Marquez de Valenzuela. Overly confident, it left the port without an escort. But as it neared Fortune Island, three Dutch warships were waiting for a surprise attack. The poorly armed commercial ship retreated towards Mariveles while the Dutch fleet trailed, firing continuously. Luckily, San Diego was able to escape the danger and came back to the port.

The Philippine troops wasted no time in countering the Dutch move. The San Diego was remodeled into a battleship along with the Encarnacion and Rosario. On September 16, 1646, with three battleships and a galley, the troop eagerly sailed towards Fortune Island where the unexpected battle had transpired, but the Dutch were nowhere to be found. Sailing farther, the Dutch fleet was seen near Calavite Point in Mindoro.

The encounter started late in the afternoon. The Spanish-Filipino ships opened the battle with series of shots at a distance. After five hours of exchange, the Rosario drifted closer, and was cornered by the three Dutch ships. Looking for a kill, the Dutch drew nearer, but Rosario under Admiral Agustin de Cepeda was prepared for the attack and rigorously fired on all sides, hitting the Dutch vessels heavily and forcing them to withdraw.

The Spanish authorities have started defensive preparations, fortified the city and built new warships in case the Dutch would attack in 1647.

On June 6, 1647, Dutch vessels were sighted near Mariveles Island. In spite of the preparations, the Spanish had only one galleon (the San Diego) and two galleys ready to engage the enemy while the Dutch had twelve major vessels.

Six days later, the armada attacked the Spanish port of Cavite. The battle lasted eight hours, and the Spanish believed they had done much damage to the enemy flagship and the other vessels. Though the Spanish ships were not badly damaged and casualties were low, nearly every roof in the Spanish settlement was damaged by cannon fire, which particularly concentrated on the cathedral. The next day, the Dutch armada was split into two, with six ships sailing for the shipyard of Mindoro and the other six remaining in Manila Bay.

The Dutch next attacked Pampanga, where they captured the fortified monastery, taking prisoners and executing almost 200 Filipino defenders. And for the last time, they attacked Manila but with disappointing results.

The Dutch launched an expedition in Jolo in July 1648 and formed an alliance with an anti-Spanish king, Salicala. The Spanish garrison on the island was small, but survived a Dutch bombardment. The Dutch finally withdrew, and the Spanish made peace with the Joloans, and then also withdrew.

There was also an unsuccessful attack on Zamboanga in 1648. That year the Dutch promised the natives of Mindanao that they would return in 1649 with aid in support of a revolt against the Spanish. Several revolts did break out, the most serious being in the village of Lindao, where most of the Spaniards were killed, and the survivors were forced to flee in a small river boat to Butuan. However, Dutch aid did not materialize.

The authorities from Manila issued a general pardon, and many of the Filipinos in the mountains surrendered. However, some of those were hanged and most of the rest were enslaved.

I say all the elements of the joint Spanish-Filipino victory against the Dutch was brought about by "being in the right place at the right time" rather than divine intervention. If the Dutch attacked a year before, then the Spanish may capitulate. If the Filipinos mutinied, then no one will man the Spanish ships thereby exposing them from full scale invasion. The rest would be history and with that I would probably speak Dutch instead of English.

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