Casa Real de Bucay
1st Capital of Abra
3. Origins of Abra... and Bucay

A new province and a new capital
Don Ramon Tajonera y Marzal the first governor

The beginnings of Bucay are inextricably related to the beginnings of the Province of Abra of which it was the first Capital.

The origins of the province of Abra as we know it today date back to 1598 when not long after Salcedo founded Vigan, the mission of Bangued was formed. From then till the XIX century, Augustinian missionaries and members of the secular clergy worked on and off among the natives of Northern Abra. Missions were established in Pidigan, Bangued and other locations along the river which are the main towns of today. But the creation of organized towns as political entities among the Tinguians of Abra began in the 1820s through the efforts and representations with the Spanish authorities of the Spanish Augustinian monk Fr. Bernardo Lago.

Operating from the Mission of Pidigan, eventually developed into a town by him, Fr. Lago was a missionary among the pagan groups of Igorots and Tinguians in the Misiones del Centro del Abra de la Provincia Sur de Ylocos.6  Although first and foremost an Augustinian missionary with evangelization as his primary interest, as a Spaniard he was also well attuned with the mission of the Spanish Crown in the continuing occupation of the Philippines, which besides the control and organization of the territories accrued to the Spanish Crown included also the Christianization of the natives of conquered lands. There were substantial areas of coincidence between the aims of the Crown and the aims of the Church to the point that, interchangeably, the Crown used the good work of the Church for its aims and the Church used the political, administrative and military power of the Crown for its own.

There were also strong disagreements. In the task of Christianizing and bringing peoples under the umbrella of the Government, the State would rely at times on military force in a measure that resulted in abuses, which the missionaries considered abhorrent and opposed vigorously. Fr. Lago himself in a letter to Fr. Manuel Blanco, one of his brethren in habit, tells how he was very much opposed to the idea of the Bishop in Vigan to send a missionary (Augustinian) to the military barracks in Bucay. He believed that the presence of the troops in these new missions only antagonized the local populations and was a motive of scandals ("there were more women than soldiers!", he comments.) He is very adamant that if a missionary is to be sent with troops, the missionary should arrive not in the company of the troops but from a different direction. Lago avers that he himself could train the young missionaries on how to do it and believes that this could make the Government realize in no time that " these pagans are carried by persuasion rather than force." 7

In 1828, Fr. Lago requested in a letter to the Governor of Ilocos Sur8  to create two towns, one in La Paz, " some three hours up river" from Pidigan, the other between the Ilocos towns of Santa Maria and Narvacan, in the area of today’s Burgos, Ilocos Sur. In his letter, Fr. Lago outlines the reasons for the need to create them. They are of two kinds: religious and political and it is very relevant to note them here because they show the rationale for establishing towns as the main method for the spread of the Christian faith and political power over the unassimilated peoples of the Abra Basin, including Bucay. Says Fr. Lago:

"Since there are already twenty-seven villages (poblaciones) with catechumens and Christians, a number which makes it impossible for a single Missionary to provide assistance and education to all of them, whether on account of the (difficult) trails or the distance, I beseech Your Excellency to grant the establishment of these two towns…The first will be to the Northeast of this Mission (Pidigan) three hours up river. The place is a large plain not cultivated and with scant tree cover that could support over four thousand tributos (some 18,000 people whose family heads pay taxes.) There are eight villages in its vicinity, all with catechumens that desire to gather in that place" ."
This paragraph shows the logistical need (not even organized religion can exist in a logistical vacuum!) and the wish of scattered new Christians and sympathizers to live together in a town. This first town came to be known as Nuestra Señora de La Paz, or simply La Paz. Fr. Lago continues to discuss the circumstances and the political challenges for the foundation of the other town, Nueva Coveta, and adds political to the religious reasons above:
" What is intended (with the founding of the towns) is to advance in the conquest of these pagans. It will not be possible to penetrate the center of this Island (Luzon) unless in this peaceful and disinterested manner, no matter that some may formulate (other) plans, easy as they imagine. These pagans are easier to bend through benevolence than through harshness; and though I do not find it impossible, a Conquest by the sword will prove to be very difficult, take a long time and be painful for everybody. Founding towns to gather people, they (the natives) themselves are at the same time conquerors and conquered. Because they are related to each other, they themselves encourage others to come down without fear. This way we would bring humble and kind vassals to our Sovereign." 
Angel Perez claims that it was this kind of sustained advocacy by Fr. Lago that moved the Spanish Government to create the Province of Abra.9 At the moment, I do not have access to primary documentary evidence to that effect, but whatever the case may be, the move to create a province in the Abra Basin of Ilocos was very much in line with the social and political developments in Spain around the middle of the XIX Century.

The Crown had lost almost all of its American possessions at the turn of the century. The temporary disappearance of the absolute monarchy brought about by the convulsion of the invasion of Spain by Napoleon and resulted in a strengthening of liberal ideals such as those responsible for the 1812 Constitution. A wave of rational attitudes seeped all the way to the Philippines, prompting the authorities to do something to avert in the Philippines the same disaster as in America or at least to compensate for the loss of the American colonies. The times produced people like Governor Claveria, young, energetic, illustrated and visionary who decided to reform the administration and complete the nation-wide assimilation, some call it conquest, of remote areas of the Philippines not yet integrated into the mainstream of the country. Abra and Bucay were born of these ideals and goals.

A new province and a new capital

A decree from Governor Clavería dated 8 October, 1846 and circularized in Manila on 20 October of the same year establishes the Charter and creates the Province of Abra with territory taken from Ilocos Sur, and Bucay as its Capital (Plate #2 shows the first page of the decree.) The decree provides that the province will be commanded by a Political and Military Governor with the rank of Captain and that the Governor will be charged with the collection of taxes and tobacco.

More relevant than the administrative dispositions in the decree are the explicit reasons for the creation of the province. By way of introduction Claveria makes a negative review of the conditions existing in the Abra basin, mainly the result of its remoteness and the difficulty of communications with it:

  1. The provincial government of Ilocos Sur is unable to give the area the attention it deserves because its efforts are spread thin over a large territory with a large population and communications are very difficult due to the rough mountainous configuration of the Abra basin;
  2. As a result of this lack of attention, the work of civilizing the pagans of the area is delayed and compromised, an unfair situation for those among them who in a major or minor way do contribute now to the income of the state. Likewise, the assimilation of other "“ferocious" tribes, which do not recognize the Government, suffers continuous delays as well as the enforcement of the right to security and tranquility of those already assimilated or the advance in agriculture and commerce that can be expected in that "beautiful country."”
  3. The financial interests of the Treasury in the area are prejudiced by the ease with which payment of taxes is avoided due to the remoteness of the area, a situation which also encourages abuses by the collectors on native populations; and finally
  4. The presence of the Military Commander in the 3rd division of Igorots has produced meager positive results and had very little influence on developments. He commands only a small part of the whole territory and either most natives, not feeling the presence of force, do not respect any authority or they are unable to comprehend the division of responsibilities between different authorities and are confused by it.
Claveria then lists the political, social and economic reasons behind the creation of the new province:
"Convinced by all the foregoing of the necessity to stop the evils above-mentioned, to expand our dominion towards the Cordillera, and with the purpose of ensuring the tranquility of the assimilated villages, of making contraband difficult, of turning to the benefit of the treasury the tobacco that the mountains produce, and of encouraging the production of other crops that the soil of those excellent lands make possible…"10
Don Ramon Tajonera y Marzal the first governor

On 19 October 1846, Governor General Claveria appoints D. Ramon Tajonera, who always signs his name spelled Taxonera, as first Governor of Abra. His governorship is to be both political and military, as prescribed for the case of remote provinces with special security needs. Tajonera was a degree holder, in accordance with qualifications laid down by Claveria for provincial governors. He graduated in the Army Academy as 1st Commander in the Artillery Regiment Fernando VII. On 15 January, 1847, in a formal ceremony "in this fort and Casa Real of Bucay" attended to by all the provincial and municipal authorities of Ilocos Sur, Tajonera took possession of his post.11  The Province of Abra was on the first day of its existence.

Ramon Tajonera was a graduate of the Real Consulado and of the Nautical School in La Coruña, Spain. His curriculum covered architecture, mathematics, science, astronomy and navigation among others. He entered the army at 19 and immediately was sent to the front during the Spanish Carlist Wars of succession. So excellent was his combat record from the very beginning that at the age of 21 he was decorated with the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando, the highest military honor in the Spanish armed forces. A 10-year war veteran when he arrived in the Philippines. Claveria assigned him immediately to the offices of the Chiefs of Staff of the colonial armed forces where he served for two years before his appointment as Governor of Abra at the age of 31.

The educational and military record of Ramon Tajonera made very easy Claveria’s choice for a candidate to a post that required civil leadership for the foundation of a new province, a new town and a new capital, as well as military for the important role in the wider strategic plans Claveria had for Northern Luzon. Bucay presented an excellent base from which to conduct expeditions across the Cordilleras, first to map the territory and then to assimilate it by means that included the development of towns and land communications. Tajonera conducted from Bucay at least three such military expeditions and with his and his staff’s professional skills produced the first geodetic maps of the area between Abra and Cagayan Valley.12  Tajonera became sick in the last expedition and resigned his post for health reasons in 1852, his resignation being accepted and the post transferred formally to his successor on 3 September of the same year.13