Casa Real de Bucay
1st Capital of Abra
8. 1863: The provincial capital is moved to Bangued

Bucay is not anymore the provincial capital. A decision made in 1863, seventeen years after it was created, moved the capital to Bangued, the oldest town in the province, or more accurately the town with the oldest roots.

It all began ostensibly with a letter signed by Julian Manzano, Teodoro Belmonte and Domingo Lalin de Cariño, gobernadorcillos respectively of Bangued, Tayum and La Paz “in representation of the pueblos y rancherias” of the Abra Province, requesting the transfer of the Capital to Bangued for several reasons. Bucay was a town out of the way where supplies for its many government functionaries had to be shipped to and where local officials of the other towns had to travel often to attend hearings and do other business with the court, its distance from other towns making travel there uncomfortable and prejudicial. Besides, Bangued was the natural site for the provincial government since it was in the center, the oldest town, the most populated and with more resources.

The case files detailing all the administrative steps leading to the decision to transfer the capital mention another reason not included in the three gobernadorcillos’ letter of request. The fort and Casa Real were on a promontory of loose alluvial composition bounded by an almost vertical cliff cut by the river. The Casa Real and officers’ quarters building was very near the cliff on the south side of the fort, the area most prone to be eroded by the river as it meets the promontory almost head-on. What was the officers’ quarters wing, now gone, is today on a slope caused by river erosion. The compound even in mid-19th century was considered unstable and dangerous due to its location. The report of the Civil Government in Manila mentions “the dangerous location by the bank of the Abra River occupied by the present (Casa Real.)”49

The Governor of Abra asked the three proponents how the expenses of such a transfer would be financed considering that a new Casa Real would have to be built in Bangued. The response was that “the towns” would supply all needed materials that could be found in the province as well as take care of and/or pay craftsmen and workers’ labor. The only thing the Treasury had to pay for was iron materials and works, and painting expenses.

With these assurances, the governor coursed the petition to the Manila Government on 16 February, 1863. This request went through the rather heavy grind of the bureaucratic machinery of Manila where they made two considerations. First, Bucay’s Casa Real was indeed in dire need of extensive and expensive repairs. Since the first days of its existence as a town, several typhoons had exacted a very heavy toll on its structures leaving the fort and its dependencies in a sorry state periodically necessitating constant repairs. Second, the proposal signed by the three gobernadorcillos would cost the treasury very little, much less than the required share for the repairs of the Casa Real in Bucay.

Yes, its central position made of Bangued the natural place for a Capital. And yes, it was older and more populated and with more resources. However, none of these reasons would have been of enough weight without the Government’s being sure that the transfer would actually mean savings for the Treasury. So after six moths of deliberations and paper shuffling the final decision was made to recommend moving the Capital to Bangued as soon as possible, considering that the building of a provincial new jail, postponed for sixteen years, was finally deemed urgent and could not be built in Bucay anymore.

The archival documentation of the time, other than the administrative steps that led to it, furnishes seemingly unrelated data that I think will have to be factored in to understand the final decision to move the Capital. We have to look at the havoc regularly wrecked by typhoons in Casa Real, forcing constant expenditures for repairs. Above is a brief note of the typhoon in July 1849 that together with the remodeling of the fort to habilitate it as Casa Real cost a pretty sum. In 1852 there was another request to repair the Casa Real for the damages caused by “the waters and baguios of the last three years.”50  These repairs were requested in February, the authorization came in June. Just four months later, in October, there was another request for repairs which were authorized in November, this time it was a kitchen building so “thoroughly damaged and its timbers so rotten that we can hardly make use of it.”51  There was another typhoon in September of 1855 that caused yet extensive damage in the fort. Governor Francisco Carrera who succeeded Tajonera reports in October of the same year that “the roofs of Casa Real, Officers’ Quarters and troops' kitchen have been destroyed almost in their entirety… Some sections of the fort’s stockade have come down…”52  Another authorization to do repairs due yet to another typhoon, with a budget prepared in June 1856, was issued on April of 1857.53

One need not go any further to imagine the desperation of Governors who saw their facilities, including the military structures in the fort, destroyed with regularity and had to spend so much time, resources and efforts first to secure an authorization and then to get the damage repaired. Looking at the dates, one sees that the facilities would stay ruined for weeks on end, even months, waiting for the needed authorization to commence repair work. All this was witnessed, and suffered, by the gobernadorcillos of other towns who had to come regularly to the Cabecera for the business of government and the courts. One can begin to understand the moves of the Governor with his local officials to request for a change of venue, including the orchestration, courtesy of the three gobernadorcillos, who signed the letter of petition and offered in the name of the people of the province to defray most of the costs of a new Casa Real in Bangued so the central government would find easy to decree the transfer.

I do not believe that distance to Bucay was a real issue, for it would not take very long, even then, to traverse the distances between towns. The issue at local levels was rather the inconvenience of transacting business almost constantly and quite literally amidst ruins, something that must have been discouraging, demoralizing and close to unbearable. One has but to imagine transacting government business with the governor in his Casa Real’s second floor office that had a few damaged wooden beams for ceiling and the blue sky for a roof.

At Central Government levels of course, the issue was savings.54

And so it was that Bucay was demoted, Bangued took over as Abra’s Capital and, in consequence, Bucay’s Casa Real began its irreversible descent into physical decay and accompanying oblivion in the collective mind of the Bucay residents. The author hopes that the latter may be reversible…