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By Jaime Laya

For three centuries, from 1575 until the end of the Spanish Regime, the highest officials of the land—government, ecclesiastical, military—paraded solemnly around Intramuros bearing the Royal Standard. The Paseo del Real Pendón, as it was called, commemorated the day when the outnumbered Spanish frustrated Chinese pirate Limahóng’s takeover of Manila, on Nov. 30, 1574, feast day of San Andrés Apostól.  
The Spanish had been here only nine years. Miguel López de Legaspi, the first governor-general, settled in Cebu in 1565 and then moved the capital to Manila in 1571 after defeating Rajah Solimán in the decisive naval Battle of Bangkusáy.
The Spanish presence in 1574 was tenuous. There were not too many of them and they were spread thinly. One group was at Juan de Salcedo’s encomienda in Nueva Segovia (Vigan) “pacifying” the Ilocos and another was in Bicol, in Nueva Cáceres (Naga). Manila was vulnerable.  


Detail of a 1715 map showing Manila Bay and parts of Batangas, Cavite, and Bataan (courtesy of Parañaque City Public Library)

Intramuros still had no walls and Fort Santiago was just a military camp enclosed by a log palisade. Legaspi who died in 1572 and his successor Guido de Lavesares lived within the Fort. The rest of the Spanish community, mainly soldiers and civil servants, occupied some 150 wood and nipa houses clustering along Calle Real, the present General Luna Street that links Fort Santiago and Puerta Real. Maestre de Campo Martín de Goiti’s house was at the Puerta Real end, at the present Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
By 1574, the Galleon Trade had already begun. Chinese and other Asian traders brought goods to Manila for shipment and sale in Mexico. Payment in silver bars and coins arrived by return galleon. The pirate Limahóng cast his eyes on the rich prize and targeted Manila.
Limahóng’s fleet sailed from the north down Luzon’s west coast and reached Manila Bay on the evening of Nov. 29, 1574. About 700 men landed in Parañaque before dawn and proceeded on foot towards Intramuros.  
Reports of the armed strangers reached de Goiti who was at home sick. The Spanish were expecting attacks from Borneo, relatives of Solimán, but Goiti knew that contrary winds prevented them from sailing to Manila at that time. He therefore dismissed the reports and remained in bed until finally the Chinese were at his doorstep and it was too late. De Goiti was killed and his house set afire. News of the melee and the smoke of Goiti’s burning house alerted Fort Santiago, allowing the Spanish to rally and repel Limahóng.
Events happened quickly in the resulting confusion. The Chinese retreated to Cavite and planned a second attack. The Spanish strengthened the Fort, shoring up the palisade with barrels of sand, more logs, everything they could lay their hands on. Lavesares arrested two Tagalog chiefs, a son (Rajah Bago) and nephew (Lumantalan) of Rajah Solimán as hostages to ensure indio cooperation. Someone, however, beheaded the two anyway and thousands of enraged indios began to arrive on bancas, prepared to side with the Chinese. Juan de Salcedo and his men arrived in the nick of time. He had seen Limahong’s ships sailing south, correctly deduced that Manila was in danger and rushed down.  


A View of Manila, ca. 1645 after the walls were built. Painting inside a wood chest, Museo de Arte Jose Luis Bello, Puebla, Mexico. By then Manila had about 600 houses

The Chinese returned two days later, buoyed by Limahong’s rousing pep talk: “There you have the Manila of our dreams, the city where we can spend our lives free of worry, enjoy ourselves without exertion. All this fabulous land can be ours—its fertile fields, green woodlands of a perpetual spring, forests that know no winter, rivers made overflowing by life-giving streams, a salubrious climate, bountiful harvests, stupid natives [la imbecilidád de los naturales], obliging and amorous women—all these are ours for the taking.”
Some 1,000 men landed in the pre-dawn darkness at Bagumbayan (the present Rizal Park) and proceeded to Fort Santiago in two columns, one along the shore and the other up Calle Real. The Spaniards were better prepared and reinforced by Salcedo and indio allies, the Chinese were repelled. Eighty of them penetrated Fort Santiago but all were killed. Limahóng fled though not before torching San Agustín and the cathedral, seeing which Solimán’s followers dispersed, leaving the Spanish victorious.
Limahóng withdrew to Pangasinan where he established a base by the Agno River. The Spanish consolidated their forces and marshalled the assistance of friendly indios including followers of Lacandola, former ruler of Tondo who had moved to Pangasinan. In March 1575, Salcedo began a siege that ended in August when the Chinese managed to escape and were seen no more.

These days China claims everything to the West and to the East of us—the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, Benham Rise. Chinese military bases are already on our coral reefs, destroyed to make seven artificial islands.

Filipino fishermen’s boats are rammed and sunk and the men left to drown. The South China Sea, rich fishing ground since Adam and Eve, is becoming an underwater desert. Zambales and Surigao mountains are levelled for nickel and those of Samar and Homonhón for chromite, reportedly with our soil dumped to make our reefs and islands into their bases. They haul away the giant clams we seeded at Scarborough Shoal and slaughter Palawan’s endangered pangolins.
We would like to think we are not imbeciles but just the same, “San Andrés, donde está?”


A pendant with an image of San Andrés, ivory and vermeil, 18th century

Notes: (a) This article is based on Antonio de MorgaSucesos de las Islas Filipinas (Mexico, 1609) English translation in Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander RobertsonThe Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 (Cleveland: 1909); (b) Ranking second to the governor-general, the maestre de campo has a military command and is responsible for administration of justice and food supply; (c) A 1715 map shows Paranaque church, Fort San Antonio Abad (“polvorista”), and Intramuros as the most prominent landmarks on the eastern shore of Manila Bay; and (d) Limahóng’s fictional pep talk is a translation from Juan Caro y MoraAtaque de Li-Ma-Hong a Manila en 1574 (Second Edition, Manila: Tipo-Litografia de Chofre y Comp., 1898), p. 65.
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Source: Manila Bulletin (

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