The Fuerza de Santa Isabel. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The Fuerza de Santa Isabel. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

IN 1720 the Spanish colonialists, through an initiative of the Jesuits, decided to reopen the Zamboanga fort in order to protect the missions they had in Mindanao. The immediate consequence was that the small sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu, whose economy largely depended on the capture and sale of slaves, were forced to sail to more distant islands in search of prey: Caraga, Leyte, Camiguin, Mindoro and, very frequently, northern Palawan and the Calamianes.

The capital of the province of La Paragua (Palawan) at that time was Taytay where, precisely to protect itself from these attacks, a beautiful fort had been built on the coast in 1667. A contingent of 3,000 men commanded by the brother of the sultan of Sulu — the Spanish chronicles call him "Bigotitos" (Little Moustaches) — sowed terror in Calamianes. On the island of Dumaran, they captured six people, including a local leader named Don Geronimo Sundilun. They asked him which was the shortest way to Taytay and Don Geronimo, knowing that they could enslave hundreds of Christians there, decided to take them through the longest way and force them to waste time.

Thus, in Taytay, they were able to receive news of the imminent arrival of the Muslims and prepare for the siege. The mayor, a certain Pedro Lucena, as if he did not know what was coming their way, twice sent trusted people to check where the enemy was coming from and the size of the force. The most important people in town, barely a dozen men, barricaded themselves in the mayor's house and from there they tried to confront the enemy by shooting. They soon realized they were outmatched and had to run to the fort, where the majority of the Christian population was already present — many others decided to run to the mountain and hide in the forest.

The situation in the fort was not rosy. From there they were able to defend themselves for several days and the attempts of the Muslim raiders to shoot it down with cannon were unsuccessful. But there was a more serious problem: in the fort there was only food and water for a few days, and rationing was about to start taking its toll on the population. However, the unlikely happened: a merchant from Cuyo, named Alejandro Patuino arrived in Taytay with his boat and, having been seen by the raiders, had no choice but to take refuge in the fort as well. This merchant carried several jars with rice and other products, and also water. Some providential rains also helped. After more than 15 days of the siege and seeing that they could not achieve what they were looking for, the attackers decided to steal the jewels from the church and the important houses, and later set the town and the church on fire. Two people were killed and two wounded among the defenders, while 10 losses were recorded among the attackers.

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During the days of the siege, the mayor managed to get a letter to Manila asking Governor-General Valdés Tamón for help. Needless to say, the force he sent to help arrived late, and could barely make up for it later by sending several punitive expeditions against the sultanates that so viciously attacked the peaceful Christian towns run by the Recollect Fathers in Palawan, Cuyo and Mindoro.

However, Don Geronimo Sundilun was still in the hands of the Muslims, who blamed him for the failure of the expedition and made him pay dearly for his deliberate obstruction. In Volume X of the Historia General de Filipinas (General History of the Philipinas) (Sampaloc, 1790), Fr. Juan de la Concepción, tells it as follows: "They began by charging him, accusing him that because of their misconduct they had received so much damage in so many deaths from the castle's artillery; that with their various delays the castillas had had notice and time to prevent themselves, and that they had to leave ashamed and without credit. The old man replied that he had practiced what seemed most convenient to him, without formally answering his questions, and in navigation they were tormenting him daily. First, tied up, they gave him many sticks, repeating the charges of not having guided them well with intermissions; in the Dumaran canal they cut off his lips; in front of the people of this island they cut out his tongue; in Punta de Flechas, the noses; in Tinctian, the feet and hands, accompanying these cuts with twenty-five lashes; until, so mistreated and bled, he surrendered his soul to God, to whom he cried out while he had a tongue, and would receive this cruel sacrifice."

Geronimo Sundilun is one of those men whose moral integrity managed to save hundreds of lives at the cost of his own life and tremendous torture. My humble reconstruction has been made with what the sources say. If what these are is pure chismis, that is up to you, dear reader.

The Santa Isabel Fort, located in the picturesque town of Taytay, still stands and is truly beautiful. And even more so a few decades ago when the fort was completely surrounded by water and only connected to the coast by a narrow strip of land; it was an impressive stone construction spectacularly surrounded by turquoise waters and corals. A few years ago, unfortunately, a town mayor decided to fill the part near the town with earth to build parking lots.