100 Istoryang Albayano, Segment 5

By Abdon M. Balde Jr.


The end of the Spanish colonization actually started in the port of Havana, Cuba when the US ship USS Maine was sank allegedly by agents of Spain. This led to the war between Spain and the United States of America which broke out in April 1898. In May 1, 1898 the naval forces under Commodore George Dewey destroyed the entire Spanish armada under Contra-Almirante Patricio Montojo along the Manila Bay. Thereafter the Spaniards were forced to the bargaining table in the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. Spain ceded the Philippines to America at a specified amount. The last Albay Spanish governor, Angel Bascaran evacuated from Legazpi to Manila in September 1898. Consequently, a local official from Camalig, Anacleto Solano became the first Bikolano governor of Albay.

The American occupation of the Philippines first came in the guise of a “benevolent assimilation.” However, the Filipino forces under Gen Emilio Aguinaldo saw it as another form of colonization, no better than the Spaniard occupation, so they fought the Americans. Hostilities in Manila between Aguinaldo’s resistance fighters and American troops erupted on February 4, 1899. When war against America was declared, the first action taken by the local forces in Bicol was to close the port of Legazpi thereby paralyzing the trades of abaka and copra which were dominated by American merchants.

It was estimated that during the abaka boom from mid-1800s to the first quarter of 1900s, “the Bikol (with Albay as the center) abaka industry produced nearly 60 million piculs of fibers, worth roughly one billion pesos at Manila prices,” according to Norman Owen. Could you imagine how much that would be worth nowadays? The boom in abaka and copra products made Albay the richest province (next only to Manila) for almost a hundred years. Later, we shall trace the families and clans that became very rich during this very prosperous period.

When the Philippine-American War broke out in February 1899, the Philippine Revolutionary Government (PRG) sent emissaries to Albay, of which Gen Vito Belarmino and Gen Ignacio Paua were the leaders, to sell war bonds for funding the struggle against America. It should be remembered that at the time, Albay was a very prosperous province. In no time, they were able to raise over 600,000 pesos.

The blockade of the port of Legazpi on February 4, 1899 effectively cutting off the export of abaca and copra prompted Governor General Otis to send forces to Legazpi with the aim of reopening the ports of Legazpi. The American forces led by Brigadier General William Kobbe, attacked Legazpi City on the morning of January 23, 1900. In half a day the American forces wiped out the local forces defending Legazpi in a one-sided battle. It was called the Battle of Legazpi, but it was more of a massacre. Over 200 Filipinos died that day, and only a couple of Americans enjured. The Americans landed in Legazpi and occupied the province. A civil government was stablished by the Americans in Albay on April 26, 1901.