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25 January 2018

The Town of Lobo in the 19th Century as Described by a Spanish Historian

The coastline of Lobo seen from the wharf.  Image credit:  Google Earth Street View.
This article continues our series about nineteenth century Batangas, as seen through the eyes of the Spanish government official and historian Manuel Sastron in his 1895 publication “Batangas y su Provincia1.” Our focus this time is the coastal town of Lobo to the south of Batangas.

Sastron began his narrative on the town by saying that of all the towns of Batangas, Lobo was the most remarkably isolated. It was bordered to the east, he wrote, by the town of San Juan; to the north by the towns of Rosario2 and Taysan; to the west by the town of Batangas; and to the south by the sea.

Lobo was situated on mountainous terrain, Sastron went on. This made land travel over narrow paths to get there quite difficult. These trails were the only access to Lobo; and they were so narrow that horses could barely pass through them.

Although a seaside town, traveling by sea to get there was not an attractive option. Situated as it was east of Matoco Point3, Lobo was already outside of Batangas Bay. The waters off the town’s shores were known for great breakers or waves which were dangerous for small boats to traverse.

Sastron wrote that the distance from the capital town of Batangas to Lobo was 70 kilometers over difficult terrain. The actual distance between the two towns as the crow flies is roughly 20 kilometers4. From Sastron’s narrative, it can be deduced that the present-day access road from Batangas City to Lobo at the time still did not exist. However, even if he tried to reach Lobo from Rosario, the overall distance would have been just roughly 40 kilometers.

Lobo’s population late in the nineteenth century was, according to Sastron, just 6,700 “souls.” In contrast, its population as per the 2015 Philippine Census was placed at 41,504 people.

Of the rivers that ran through the town, Sastron wrote, the major one was that which had the same name as the town itself. The source of this river was a place called Mabato up in the Matoco mountain range; and it was fed by four or five tributaries.

The other two rivers were the Nagtalongton (Nagtalongtong is the contemporary spelling), the source of which was up Mount Banoy near Lobo’s border with the towns of Batangas and Taysan; and Banoy River, which was quite large and torrential according to Sastron.

Despite these sources of water, the agricultural fields of the town, which were planted to rice, maize and sugarcane, were not irrigated. In fact, Sastron noted, the yields per planting season were lower than in most other towns of Batangas.

Up in the mountains were various species of trees which could be used for lumber. Access to these, however, was difficult because there was plenty of cogon (tall reeds), wild vines and large boulders along the way to these mountain forests.

There were cattle and horses in Lobo, Sastron wrote, but not to the extent that it could be said there was a livestock industry. In fact, the town had not as yet recovered from an outbreak of a livestock disease back in 1888.

Lobo’s parish priest Fr. Isidro Gamboa was, according to Sastron, the first Religious Recollect to tender to the spiritual needs of the inhabitants of the town. Despite its isolation, the town’s church was built with sturdy materials. Fr. Gamboa himself was responsible for choosing the woods to be used, chopping down the trees and hauling these to where the church was being built. He also did some of the carpentry.

Sastron described the inhabitants of Lobo as “extremely submissive and calm.” They were also among the healthiest in the entire province of Batangas. Crime was rare. The people of the town were industrious and devoted themselves to industries even if these were antiquated. There were just three primitive mills to grind the sugarcane.

People also raised hogs and chickens and exported these to Manila, along with the eggs the chickens laid. Unfortunately, because of the absence of roads to the town, farmers could not get good prices for their produce because of the difficulty of transporting these to the markets.

Fortuitously, a bridge over the Nagtalongton River was already built with money loaned to the local public works council. This was just as well, according to Sastron, because the town had so much resources that could be exported to other towns: lime, wood and good quality stones.

In fact, he went on, the quarries of Lobo could provide all the gravel that would be required to repair all the roads of the province which were frequently damaged during the rainy season.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2 In the nineteenth century, Padre Garcia was till part of the town of Rosario.
3 Matoco Point is the southeastern end of Batangas Bay.
4 Calculated using Google Earth’s ruler tool.

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