“The events which started in March to October, 1646 inside Philippine waters might not have made waves in the pages of the history of Spain and the Netherlands which, during this period, were locked in a long war known in their annals as the 80 years war which only ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.” – Fr. Regino Cortes, OP.
The image carved by the unnamed sangley with the help of the then Captain Coronel was not named La Naval. She got this name after the naval battle of 1646. It was a war fought by Spaniards and Filipinos. This is how it went.
Indonesia was under Dutch colony. Just near us. And Spain and the Netherlands are at war in Europe. That is the political side. The other side is the Dutch wanted the Philippines. According to some account, Dutch ships here were like pirates marauding around the sea surrounding us and capturing merchant ships. The Dutch knew that we have some resources because of galleons that ply from Manila to Mexico. Anyway that story is long – and believe me, the adventures of Jack Sparrow (Brits also became pirates) might not even rival what happened this side of the world. Another point here too, is that the Dutch is decidedly Protestant.
Towards the middle of 1600s Philippines was weakened by of the rebellion of Muslims in Mindanao led by Sultan Kudarat and which was followed by another Chinese revolt in Manila.
The “two wet chickens”
We only had two ships when the Dutch-18-war-galleons arrived in the Philippines in 1646. Our two ships were named Encarnacion and Rosario. They were not war ships, they were old merchant ships, trading along Manila and Mexico. During one of the battles, one ship was hit by a cannon ball and the wood splintered to dust revealing how old and weak the ships were. But the number alone was just unbelievable – two merchant ships against 18 war ships. The Dutch upon knowing this realized how weak and outnumbered our ships were, hence they called them, the “two wet chickens.”
But don’t get it wrong the 18 ships did not attack all at once. The Battle of La Naval de Manila happened in five sea battles. But in every face-off the Filipino-Spanish armada is dehado: 2 Pinoy ships versus 4 Dutch ships or 1 Pinoy ship versus 3 Dutch ships. In those five battles the Filipino-Spanish fleet won. With almost no casualty.
Now back to the story, hurriedly the Spaniards and Filipinos armed the two ships with cannons: Encarnacion with 34 bronze cannon with calibers: 30, 25 and 18 lbs. and Rosario with 30 artillery pieces. These cannons were taken from forts in Cavite. Imagine taking some cannons from the walls of Intramuros then placing them on the ships.
The Dutch armada, we said, was composed of about eighteen galleons, but that is not all, we have to include a number of galleys and other small vessels. This is against the Filipino-Spanish armada of two merchant ships. The commander of our armada was General Lorenzo de Orella y Ugalde. He was on board Encarnacion the flagship. His assistant was Admiral Sebastian Lopez who was on board the Rosario, called the Almiranta (meaning probably a side-kick of some sort). In our language the main boat was Encarnacion, which is big, and its right-wing-man was the Rosario.
It must have been a terribly tensed moment in our history. Everyone was nervous! It would be very hard to describe. Remember that the Dutch back then were reputed pirates and looters. And they will kill their arch-enemies the Spaniards. We could not declare Manila an open-city and expect these people to behave. Remember when the Britons came here in 1700s they looted us of treasures and were quite violent. That is the rule of the time. So it must be a tensed moment for our ancestors. In fact, the chapels all over the Philippines exposed the Blessed Sacrament while everyone prayed for the safety of our two ships. Our Philippine armada first left from Cavite to Mariveles.
For the two Spanish commanders and the Filipino and Spanish fighters, it was plain suicide mission. That was just it. Even if the 18 Dutch war ships did not attack all at once, even if it was one-to-one fight we were terribly dehado. All you have to know is that the fight will be between one-old-merchant ship against a badass-true-blooded Dutch war ship with small fleets it can deploy. Now, that was a test of faith for these militarily weak Catholics.
History would tell us that the two commanders, de Orella and Sebastian Lopez, both made the same vow, without each other’s knowledge. What was that vow? Florentino Hornedo writes, “They both vowed to go on bare-foot procession with their men to the shrine of the Lady of the Rosary at Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros, Manila, in thanksgiving if God through her intercession would grant them victory over their enemies.”
Rosary, Guns and Cannons – with swords of course
For the young generation of Catholics, let it be known that rosary, guns and cannons do go together. On our ships, an altar was made with the image of the Blessed Mother on it, “all officers and men on board the ships and the galleys prayed the rosary as they had never prayed before.” Do I have to say that they were all scared? Of course they were all scared man, but they never let up on their faith.
On the first battle it was Encarnacion and Rosario against four Dutch ships. We won. The soldiers went bare-foot to Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros (the church was destroyed in WWII, the present Church is in Quezon City). The first battle was followed by another four. We won all of them.
Just how big was the army of the Dutch? During the second battle the Filipino-Spanish soldiers rescued five slaves who escaped from the Dutch ships and they gave the following information: the Dutch for the second battle have sent seven warships with 800 fighting men. Just imagine how big the entire 18 galleons would be all together. That would reach more than a thousand fighting men.
After the battle an investigation happened in Manila. This is to put into record what really happened first hand. Some are so interesting,
“Describing the experience on board the flagship, a witness in the inquest at the Manila Cathedral Chapter in 1652 said: ‘Our ships were hit by a great number of bullets and artillery shots form both artillery and musketry which seemed like rain or hale of bullets over our ships, [but] no one was killed in the Captain’s ship.’” Another witness said, “…the bullets seemed to evade hitting our men because at their feet two fell, one of 14 lbs., and the other of 18 lbs., and none of them was hurt.” On the Dutch side “In the sight of our men, the enemy threw overboard many of their men to swim for their lives…”
In our history classes we don’t mention these things. But they did happen. And we see the remnants everywhere around us. Also, the Filipino Spanish relationship was forged in war too. Mind you, we Filipinos always fought on the defensive end – protecting our land and family. We were never colonizers. Now, in such wars we always sought the help of our Blessed Mother. Here we understand why Filipinos have a special devotion to our Blessed Mother. Her intercession really runs deep into our history. When our ancestors really thank Mama Mary, the gratitude runs deep. And because of our history, when we run to Mama Mary for help – we know she will never ever fail us. She will beg God for us, as she did before. If you are going to fight for your country and family, don’t forget to pray to God. Then fight to the death. And, from the lesson of La Naval, you will gain life.
The procession of La Naval de Manila will be held on October 9, 2016, this Sunday at Santo Domingo Church, Quezon City @ 4 PM.