1st Capital of Abra
By way of foreword: why this study
The occasional traveler that arrives in Bucay will very likely end in the town plaza, a typical square with its institutional buildings: church, town hall, court house, parochial school and public school. He may take from there and proceed south to the scenic mountain towns of Manabo, Bucloc or Daguioman. But in so doing he will probably bypass Bucay’s most relevant and impressive land mark that the locals call Casa Real, tucked in the poblacion’s quiet eastern confines on a scenic cliff above the river.
It has been long since I ceased being an occasional traveler to Bucay. My first trip to the town was a quarter of a century ago (I am writing this in 2006), Bucay is my wife’s hometown and the visits home have been increasing steadily lately. With every visit I would discover something new in that quaint northern town making my curiosity grow by leaps and bounds. Curiosity always takes the best of me and I could not suppress questions. By far, the question I most often posed was provoked by a foreboding monumental arch that locals call Casa Real, a place beyond which there is nothing but a precipitous cliff to the Abra river.
What is Casa Real?, I kept asking, with only vague, not very elucidating answers coming my way, except for the almost tautological “that arch.” I asked the Mayor, I asked my wife’s relatives, I asked my friends and finally three years ago I decided it was high time to take the matter in my hands and begin asking the National Archives. There must be something in them.
I did some preliminary work in the Archives and in the library of the convent of San Agustin in Manila as well because Bucay was attended to by Augustinians, and I started finding great quantities of manuscripts related to the beginnings of Abra as a province and of Bucay, with its Casa Real!, as its first capital. The manuscripts date as far back as the early 18th century and exposed to me a buried story, fascinating, lost from the town’s memory, begging to come to light as it began to unfold before my eyes, weary from reading their fading ancient script.
I talked to Rodolfo (Rex) Bernardez, the town’s mayor, who became very interested in discussing and sharing views on his town’s past and the restoration not only of the town’s memory but of the town’s looks as well, a dream I most readily shared with no thought of how hard it could prove turning it into reality. I succeeded in interesting The Heritage Conservation Society’s Chairwoman Ms Gemma Cruz who, at Mayor Bernardez’ invitation, visited Bucay and fell in love with it. With the town’s mayor as host, my wife as guide, my daughter as video operator, and the help of the town’s engineer, Gemma and I visited the Casa Real site and did some field work guided by an 1848 map of the town made and used by Capt. Ramon Tajonera, first Provincial Governor, to build the town as the first capital of Abra.
One of the visit’s sequels was a one-hour TV program hosted by Ms Gemma Cruz broadcast in February of 2006 during one of her weekly Only Gemma episodes and with the title “Secrets of Abra,” which turned out to be for its most part the secrets of Bucay and its Casa Real.
All this was a good beginning, most encouraging, but I came to the realization that to start moving towards any kind of restoration, a serious effort was needed to unearth the facts, setting them as basis: what really was the Casa Real of Bucay and what significance it had. I discussed the issue with Manila's Instituto Cervantes’ then Director Javier Galvan who advised me of the availability of research grants to conduct studies like what I had in mind and encouraged me to go on with the study. To make a story short, I applied for such a grant with the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation (SPCC) which approved it and made this study possible.
The study places Bucay’s Casa Real into its context. Casa Real was the center of the government of Abra from which the policies that resulted into the political (including military), economic and social development of the Province were executed. Thus it delves into the matters of the foundation of the Province and of Bucay as its first capital, and into the struggles accompanying the development of both capital and province, in an effort to understand the full role of Casa Real, a powerful focal point then and almost a ghost from the past now.
There are two important topics whose sufficient development in the study was not possible; I must confess regret at not being able to report on them at some depth or based on enough documentary evidence.
Casa Real was housed in Fort General Martinez, a military outpost antedating the foundation of the town of Bucay. As much as I searched the sources available to me I could find no relevant document detailing its foundation and early history except an oblique reference in a letter from Fr. Lago, the so-called “apostle of Abra” (see 3. 1846: Origins of Abra… and Bucay later in the study.)
The other topic concerns the expeditions to Cagayan Valley that Captain Tajonera, the Military and Civil Governor of Abra, organized and led from Bucay’s fort and Casa Real. There is a reference to them in one of Tajonera’s communications mentioned later in the study (see Don Ramon Tajonera y Marzal the New Governor also in 3. 1846: Origins of Abra… and Bucay) but I found no manuscript or reliable publication of how they were ordered neither of operational reports on the execution of the missions. The only source I have is of one expedition probably undertaken in April and May of 1849. It is a computer printout borrowed from Ex-Ambassador Rosario Cariño who told me came, together with other papers and topographic maps made during the expedition and of which he has photocopies, from papers in the possession of present descendants/relatives of Capitan Tajonera in Spain. I shall call and quote these later as the Cariño Papers. The printout has no reference to any document or publication, making it at most of provisional value until such time as its contents can be adequately verified from reliable sources. The reports glow with triumphal and heroic undertones, however they feature a wealth of geographical details, remote and obscure even today, that would not be easy to fabricate.
It is but logical to conclude that there must be some place with adequate archival documentation on both topics, most probably in Spain’s Archivos de Sevilla and the archives of the Armed Forces. Regretfully, a visit to these archives was out of the budget of this SPCC study project, and research into them must wait until my next visit to Spain or the work of some other researcher.
I must be allowed to express here my deep gratitude to all those who made this paper possible with their manifold and invaluable support:
Casa Real de Bucay, First Capital of Abra is for its most part a summary of findings in the National Archives of the Philippines on the province of Abra and the town of Bucay in the same province covering the period 1846-1863 when Bucay was the provincial capital. Most references therefore, are to primary documents in their original manuscript form. The author follows the reference method designed by the curators of the National Archives recently, different from the archival system of Spanish times that can be gleaned from notations of the time on the ancient, and at times crumbling, manuscripts. All of the manuscript references in this study are from bundles recently catalogued by the National Archives as Ereccion de Pueblos (creation of towns) whose Abra collection has been photocopied into five Tomos or volumes corresponding to five bundles. The manuscripts in the bundles are further subdivided into sequentially numbered Expedientes (case files) consisting of a number of manuscripts marked with a sequential folio numbering system through the whole bundle.
Though not the same as the original XIX-century Spanish archival system, this recent system implemented by the National Archives, also the preferred system for this author, allows for a simple accurate notation method to identify manuscripts.
The author refers to manuscripts
using the following abbreviations in bottom-of-page footnotes:
Consequently, a footnote reference may look like this:
NAP: EP, Abra vol. I: 1826-1869, Exp. 2, Fols. 28 to 31-BWith the meaning: National Archives of the Philippines: Ereccion de Pueblos, Abra, Tomo I: years 1826-1869, Expediente 2, Folios 28 to 31-B
It is further to be noted that a folio refers normally to one piece of manuscript handwritten only on the front of a sheet. Sometimes the manuscripts are written on both front and back sides, in which case the back is considered a new folio with the same number as the front but adding the qualifier ‘B’ preceded by a hyphen as is the case in the ending folio of the example above.
Note on internal references as hyperlinks
All throughout the study there are multiple internal references (to plates, manuscript transcriptions and other parts of the study.) The hardcopy reader wishing to check on those references has no recourse but to manually leaf through the study to find their content. The magic of web technology offers wider options and I took close to full advantage of them to expand the scope of documentation.
1. The references to manuscripts in the footnotes are hyperlinked to the transcription of the manuscripts themselves at the end of the study. For example, foot reference 4 has the following text content:
2. There are also various references to the plates at the end of the study. They may appear as :(4) NAP: EP, Abra vol. II: 1846-1849, Exp. 8, Fol. 118.The footnote's underlined end is an electronic reference to the full transcription of the referenced manuscript. A click on it activates a hyperlink that will take the reader to the page wgere the referenced manuscript can be read, in this case to the folios under the heading:Infrastructure: roadwaysThe transcripted manuscripts may still include a link to a photocopy of the original manuscript in Adobe pdf format. The link is activated by clicking an Adobe icon ( )
================================(26) NAP: EP, Abra vol. I: 1826-1869, Exp. 8, Fols. 130 to 132.and includes in turn a hyperlink to three folios in the National Archives, which being drawings of floor plans are therefore not included in the transcript of manuscripts and whose contents are plates 7 to 9 mentioned above.