Text and photos by Victor D. Kintanar
Before the Spanish colonial period, dwellings were already evident in Argao based on archeological findings.
The pre-Spanish settlement was discovered in twelve barangays with eight of them scattered in mountainous hinterland very far from the coastline.
Of the 45 barangays, 10 are along the coast which revealed no Pre-Spanish settlement.
When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and five Augustinian friars headed by Padre Andres de Urdaneta on April 27, 1565, arrived in Cebu, the convent of San Agustin was founded, the first house of the Augustinian order in the Philippines.
At present it is now the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City. When the first few friars had sufficiently acquired necessary language skills, they began their evangelization work along the island’s southeastern coast.
Situated 66 kilometers southeast of Cebu City, the municipality of Argao entered the history books in 1598 as an Augustinian ministry house, a visita parish (a parish with no resident priest.
A priest from another parish was assigned to visit from time to time and to administer religious services).
The missionaries’ main objective is to create settlements, so that they can reach the scattered indigenous population for the purpose of assimilating them into the Catholic religion and culture.
Such new settlements were called Reducciones de Indios, or simply Reducciones (“reductions” or “resettlements”). The objectives of the reducciones were not only evangelistic, but also economic and political.
The construction of reducciones began in 1531 in Nueva España (Mexico). The pattern spread all over Spanish-conquered territories in the Americas and finally also reached the Philippines.
In 1608, the secular pueblo de Argao was established, making it a town within the hierarchical political structure of the Spanish colony.
There were around 1,500 natives of during that time just enough for the Spanish authorities to make it a pueblo (village), with the main purpose making them accessible to the priests to facilitate religious teaching and tax collection. They were expected to resettle close to the pueblo but only a very few complied for most of them want to live near their farm fields to evade Moro raids.
The resettlement should have a church, convent, casa real (municipal hall), mortuario (cemetery), cuartel (barracks) and a plaza. In the case of Argao and other coastal towns (Dalaguete and Boljoon) the church must occupy a position such that it could be seen immediately from the sea and must be east-west oriented in order to take advantage of the sun’s position for interior illumination.
All the other structures are positioned around the church grouped within a walled open court.
Now known as the Pueblo Hispano Antigua de Argao, it was constructed by Padre Francisco Espina in the 1780’s and re-built by Padre Mateo Perez from 1803 until 1836 and took two centuries to be completed.
The Spanish occupation is only a part of Argao’s history. Long before the Spaniards came, settlements were already in place and not all adhered to the rule of the conquistadores. Argao’s pueblo is just one window of its past.
Sources: Argao: In Search of a Usable Past by Paul Gerschwiler