Casa Real de Bucay
1st Capital of Abra
7. Early provincial economy

Communications infrastructure
1850: Demography
Natural resources: wood
Natural resources: tobacco

In a sense, Bucay’s economy at the beginning was tied up to the plans that first Governor Tajonera had for the Province. It turned out to be an important tobacco center simply because the Governor had also the task of collecting the tobacco revenues for the government monopoly. But Tajonera had more ambitious plans.

Communications infrastructure

The province of Abra covered the whole of the Abra river basin. It had an only entrance from Ilocos Sur, a gap in the Ilocos Range south of Vigan through which the Abra River pours into the sea and from which sailing up river one reaches the first Abra town, Talamey, now known as San Quintin. Today, Abra has also an only entrance and exit. In the absence of a suitable way from the river, the only access to the province is by a well-paved road tunneling through the Ilocos Range hills northeast of Narvacan. This road is also the only exit  (Plate # 17.)

Most of Abra is sandwiched between the Ilocos Range and the Cordilleras. The river that gives it its name reaches theSouth China Sea in the Ilocos coast through a gap in the Ilocos Range southeast of Vigan. Most of the towns then, were aligned along a long cul-de-sac defined by the river. Boats sailing from the sea through the river found San Quintin (then Talamey), the first Abra town, to their starboard side on the left bank. Bucay, also on the left bank, was next to the last town up river, Manabo. Such topographical profile practically mandated that the river, both on its banks and its waters, conformed also the main means of communication and transportation. A road wide enough to be used by heavy carts was built along the left bank of the river from Talamey to Bucay, passing through Pidigan, Bangued, and Tayum. It was called Calzada Real or Royal Highway. The length of the highway getting into and through Bucay had the name of Calle Real, King’s Street. It had milestones, or rather “leaguestones”, for leguas, or leagues (approximately 5.5 km,) were the measure of distance in Spanish times. One of such leaguestones made of bricks and some six feet tall is preserved just in front of the Cariño House and Museum in Tayum marking 18 leagues from Vigan (Plate # 18.)

Besides the Calzada Real, there was the river highway. Log rafts would come down from the mountains in the south all the way to the sea south of Vigan and back. Tobacco was brought to the camarin in Bucay’s Fort General Martinez by raft and was exported by raft also through the controls in the fort and camarin of Talamey. Both fort and camarin, like the fort in Bucay, have disappeared leaving no trace, not even in the collective memory of the town. 

Tajonera pushed very early for a regulated river transport between Talamey, Abra, and Caoayan, south of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, that for a short time had no more than scant success. Although there was a good plan with sensible operational rules and conditions, the government wanted to franchise it but there were no takers and the local government in Abra did not have the skills or qualified people to manage its administration to economic advantage. The Governor left the administration of the franchise to the local gobernadorcillos who were obviously not ready for the responsibility.41  The audit of operations done for the years 1848-1850 described them as “careless and negligent,” making the Governor responsible for it.42  The project barely worked for two years and was abandoned.

Perhaps it was too early in the development of Abra for such a project, Abra being scarcely populated and therefore lacking a large enough market to make the service profitable and self-sutained. But it is not far-fetched to think that if this initial system just to move merchandise and people in and out of Abra had met an acceptable measure of success, it would have been extended to link with another one between Bucay and Talamey and would have contributed substantially to the economic development of the province.

Other than the regulated traffic between Talamey and Caoayan, there was at least some unregulated river traffic from Manabo north to Bucay and possibly beyond. This was made painfully aware by the reported accident (August of 1847) of a raft manned by several women coming from Manabo with rice. The raft was a total loss as the women lost control in a strong current and wrecked against a rock near Bucay. A lady by the name Tita Guillen from Bangued drowned in the wreck and was buried in Bucay.43  The accident happened towards the end of the rainy season with a grown turbulent river that was no deterrent to foolhardy villagers up to make a buck. Many contemporary newspaper accounts attest that this lack of rational response to bad weather survives until our days…!

At the beginning of the XX century a road was constructed to connect Bangued with Bucay through Pidigan and the craggy hills of the eastern Ilocos Range, with murderous inclines but short. The old Calzada real to Bucay was too close to the river which would badly erode it in time of floods making it difficult to maintain, so that it gradually felt into almost oblivion between Tayum and Bucay in the second half of the XX century. The engineer of the new approach, Mr. Ernest Smith, a veteran corporal who saw action in both the Spanish-American and Filipino-American wars, ended up marrying a local lass becoming a Bucay permanent resident and head of one of the prominent families in town.

1850: Demography

A census published in 1850 shows how sparsely populated the province and its capital were at the beginning. The province was composed only of six pueblos or towns with the population shown in the table:
La Paz
San Gregorio

The census for Bucay included the visita of San Jose de Manabo that had a population of some two hundred. The town had 1261 houses of light materials other than the more solid buildings discussed above and among its population there were 47 Spaniards and 122 sangley mestizos.44

Buceta adds that the population is growing and in the incipient town’s economy lists products such as rice, corn and legumes, as well as trade in various timber, buho, reeds, honey and wax.

Natural resources: wood

Before he arrived in Bucay to take possession of his post, Tajonera must have been briefed by the office of the Governor General Claveria on the Province’s natural resources. He was well aware that logging needs transportation of heavy logs through rivers. Bucay being the Provincial Capital by a big river, could become an important wood processing and trading post. Just four months after taking charge, Claveria commissioned him to

…collect the best data you can gather to be able to draw a comprehensive inventory of the woods existing in the different mountains of that province under your command, noting their quality, their application and properties for the various purposes they may be used, the names by which they are known in the country, the time it takes to grow them to maturity and the best time for their harvest. It is also convenient to establish clearly and with all certitude if these mountains are near lakes or rivers with immediate outlets to the sea; and whether there is need to cut expensive trails at great cost, and to ascertain as well the value of each kind of timber according to size or any other measure used in the province.”45
To carry out this order, Tajonera appointed in May 6, 1847 a certain Pio Acosta to do the job with the aid of three more persons, issuing him a safe-conduct for the purpose. Pio Acosta was an indio benemerito, a worthy Indian in the words of the Counsel to the Government in Manila. In 1848, maybe in recognition for the survey on Abra's forests and at Tajonera’s behest, Acosta was named Teacher of Elementary Education in Bucay. It was a post he did not enjoy for long. In May, 1850 he participated in yet another Tajonera expedition to blaze a trail from Ilocos to Cagayan Valley, fell sick and died on October 21 of the same year.

When the results of the Acosta’s survey were in, Tajonera wrote a letter to Governor Claveria on 19 August 1848 suggesting to exploit the abundant woods in the mountains, a mine, in Tajonera’s estimation, that can create “immense riches” for the province, “enough to support a population trice its present size”. Tajonera goes on to say:

I have traveled the province’s most remote points and know well the mountains and the numberless kinds of precious woods thereon, I have reconnoitered every trail that may be used to drag the logs to the different rivers that facilitate transport to the port in Caoayan at no more cost than the daily salaries of the people employed in the task, for the trails have already been blazed by traffickers and the rafts are made of the same logs to be transported.”46
Tajonera also notes the great number of mountain rivers and creeks, suitable for simple machinery to run paper and saw mills. He then obliquely suggests the Governor in Manila to exploit these resources mentioning the many advantages for the Government: (1) the arsenals and government warehouses could be supplied with abundant reserves of wood and (2) the sale of cut wood to the market would bring in monetary resources that could make the province self-financed, freeing the Royal treasury from the burden of supporting the provincial government. He wryly notes that so far only worthless traffickers benefited from the trade, who in the process unconscionably exploited the laborers they hired.

Claveria passed this letter through his consulting bureaucracy and took their recommendation in an order signed 11 October, 1848. The main consideration in the deliberation of the case was Governor Claveria's earlier decree strictly prohibiting Government officers to engage directly in private business. The Government Counsel in consequence advised that the setting of saw and paper mills, etc. was a private business matter and not the government’s. The central government had no use for the wood even if it could be purchased from Abra at an advantage and so he suggested that Tajonera should present the case to the Treasury of the Navy (tell it to the marines..?) or the corps of artillery or engineers. When Tajonera asked if he could serve possible lumber orders made to the Abra Government, the Counsel advised that he could serve the orders from Government instrumentalities and also receive commissions for it as was the case with Tobacco, but not from private concerns as this would have the appearance of trafficking by a government official, which was prohibited.47  And so the dream of making of Abra –and Bucay- an important wood center was left exclusively to the local entrepreneurs without much control or benefit to the Province.

Natural resources: tobacco

The planting of Tobacco anteceded the establishment of Abra as a province, however the crop was planted in small lots and scattered locations. This situation allowed some enterprising traders to go up the hills with cheap products to trade for Tobacco and escape the control of the government’s monopoly. Tajonera was convinced that the crop could be “generalized”, that is be planted extensively in the province, and to achieve this he devised a plan agreed upon by the principales of the Province, the gobernadorcillos, cabezas de barangay and elders who signed a petition to Governor Claveria requesting authorization to plant the crop extensively. In exchange they committed to satisfy the payments to the monopoly in the quantity and way stipulated in four proposed articles.

To build as strong a case as possible, Tajonera also included in the communication to the government in Manila (1) the testimonies of all the towns elders to the effect that they knew of old that alzados Igorots would come down to towns to earn a salary in tobacco farms, (2) the assessment of both parish priests and gobernadorcillos as to the number and location of prospective tobacco plots in each town as well as the possible amount of produce and its grade for each plot, and (3) the infrastructure available to conduct the trade and business orderly and safely.

The infrastructure included the use of the forts in the province with their complement of soldiers and cuadrilleros or countryside police, determination of the river routes and the specifications for the construction of the main camarines or warehouses to concentrate harvest and collections. Bucay would collect the tobacco grown to its south till Manabo. There would be another two concentrators down river in Tayum and Pidigan and from the three the tobacco would be sent by road or rafted to Talamey (today’s S. Quintin), the place from which the tobacco would exit the Province of Abra and proceed to Ilocos Sur.

There were also plans for the construction and operation of river rafts. The collection of tobacco would be facilitated by the recently established market places and market days in each town.

Tajonera worked very hard to achieve the goal of expansion of the tobacco economy. In his mind, the province could produce in excess of 13,000 fardos or bundles of approximately 49.5 kg (one quintal) each. This harvest could bring to the government coffers more than 15,000 pesos, enough to forgo the regular stipend from the Manila government that the province needed to cover its obligations. He also thought that the trade generated could bring more alzados closer to the fold of the government and improve peace and tranquility besides the general economy. He had always very present in mind the purposes for which the province was created and he was made governor.

And yet…..

All these proposals, studies and plans, like in the case of the wood business, ended up in the grind of the Manila bureaucracy and so far as I have found, the authorization remained hung because it depended on both the Abra Governor and the head of the treasury (Superintendente de Hacienda) to agree to terms. So far as known to me at the time of this writing, that agreement never happened during Governor Tajonera’s term.

Governor Tajonera began all this process in October of 1847. The petition to Governor Claveria was coursed on 22 July 1848 and the last communication to Tajonera informing that it was decided to leave the matter pending is dated 5 January, 1849.48