OPINION: San Antonio’s tricentennial and ‘Nuevas Filipinas’

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 07 2018 08:38 PM

There exists an unaccented, and in fact a near forgotten historical confluence of Texas and the Philippines that predates both the United States of America and the Republic of Texas. 

Specifically, this involves the general vicinity where San Antonio was founded in 1718. Historically referred to as “Nuevas Filipinas” and “Nuevo Reino de Filipinas.” (“New Philippines” and “The New Kingdom of the Philippines.”) If this is the first time you have heard of this historical fact, please hang on. I love telling and sharing stories.

This year, San Antonio is celebrating a year-long observance of its tricentennial. 300 years. For Filipinos, being rabid-avid basketball fans, San Antonio could only mean home of the admirable “Spurs.” But there too is the Alamo and the River Walk, Sea World and much more. Briefly, San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the US, with a population of 1.5 million. Of the US’ top ten cities, San Antonio is the fastest growing. Actually, Texas is, too. It is best that you google “San Antonio Economic Development Foundation,” especially for business and investments prospects. 

I initially bumped into this historical vignette having read James Michener’s 1985 epic, “Texas,” a 1000-page + historical novel where he mentions that a vast portion of today’s Texas was known in the early 1700s as “Las Nuevas Filipinas.” A pleasant surprise, indeed! And as it turns out, a handful of Filipino scholars and writers had already known about this for quite some time but just really never spoke nor wrote about it. Anding Roces and Nick Joaquin come to mind.

Anyway, sifting through the Texas State Historical Association’s available records, ‘Nuevas Filipinas’ and ‘Nuevo Reino de Filipinas” were in fact secondary names given to the area of Texas, above the Medina River, essentially today’s Bejar County (Bexar) where San Antonio sits.

Coastal California and Filipinos there are familiar with the Franciscan friar who established the mission churches along the Camino Real. Junipero Serra. They even named a Freeway after him. Most San Antonio Texans and of course Filipinos in Texas, on the other hand, have never heard of another Franciscan, Antonio Margil de Jesus. It was he who spearheaded the church missions hereabouts in Texas. Earliest archival records indicate that Friar Antonio Margil was the first to use the name “Nuevas Filipinas.” In a petition before the Viceroy in Mexico, he was seeking the King’s patronage “to secure for the greater glory of God and the name of our catholic Monarch another New Philippines.” 

The Franciscans’ intention was “ to equate their work in Texas under Philip V,” the then incumbent Monarch, with the accomplishments of their brother Franciscans in the Philippine Islands, under King Philip II, over a century and a half earlier. It was King Philip II, we remember from our history lessons, after whom the country (initially only Samar and Leyte) was named by Lopez de Villalobos in 1543. In reference to that vicinity in the Texas hinterlands that they wished to evangelize, the Franciscans expressed “great hopes that this province shall be a New Philippines.”

The Viceroy’s instructions to Martin de Alarcon, the conquistador, founder of the San Antonio settlement, dated Mach 11, 1718 officially referred to Texas as “Nuevas Filipinas, Nueva Extremadura.” And in his own journal concerning the expedition he had embarked upon, Alarcon signed as “Governor and Lieutenant Captain General of the Provinces of Coahuila, New Kingdom of the Philippines Province of Texas.” “Nuevas Filipinas” appeared regularly in official documents for the next 40 years but from then on the use just tapered off until the province was referred to as simply Texas. Today, “Nuevas Filipinas”-- even hardly a memory!

Now, let me digress a little bit. Historical trivia is for romantics such as I. Perhaps, there are many more among my news.abs-cbn.com and Facebook friends who enjoy similar fancies. So, here goes. This is still about Texas, San Antonio and the Philippines, but with a little French twist.

Pierre Marie Francois de Pages (1743-1793) was a French Naval officer, world traveler and writer and evidently from a noble and wealthy family able to finance his adventures. From Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, he explored Louisiana, Texas, Mexico and found his way to the Philippines from Acapulco before returning to France by way of Asia and back to the Caribbean. He wrote a book: “Travels Round the World, in the years 1767, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771.” (First French edition, Paris, 1782) Somewhat of a journal and travelogue. It was translated into English and published in London 1791, a reprint of which I was able to acquire. It is most probably the very first English description of Texas and San Antonio and of the Philippines, as well. I have not come across anything earlier.

You see, Monsieur de Pages left Acapulco in April of 1768 and made it to the foreshores of Catarman and Laoang, Samar in August, sojourning there for two months before proceeding to Manila. His account, therefore, happens to be the very first mention of Texas, San Antonio and the Philippines, together. Coincidentally, this happened at a time when, give or take two to three years, the first permanent Asian settlement in North America by ‘indios de Manila’ (or Manila men) was being established, in the mid-1760s. That place came to be known as St. Malo, St Bernard Parish, deep in the bayous of Louisiana. (By the way, according to Ms. Marina Espina, historian/archivist in New Orleans, the oldest surname traceable to this Lousiana settlement is “Burabod,” which is Visayan for “wellspring.”)

There is yet another interesting commonality between San Antonio and the Philippines. It involves very profoundly the U.S. Army and its most senior officers. I speak of the very important military installation known as Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio’s oldest military base. Colloquially known as Fort Sam, it has been declared a National Historic Landmark in the United States. It has been in existence since 1873. Today it is the command headquarters of the US Army North and the US Army South, as well as the Army Medical Command. Fort Sam is the largest and most important military medical facility in the world! 

The post of Army Chief of Staff was created by an act of Congress in 1903. Before then, the office was known as Commanding General. Of the first sixteen Army Chiefs of Staff from 1903 up to 1948, all fifteen served in the Philippines either during the Philippine-American War, during the American regime encompassing the advents of the Philippine Assembly (1907), the Jones Law (1916), and the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth (1934) up to the onset of World War II. 

While not all of these generals were West Point graduates, all of them, at various stages of their military careers, had been posted and/or trained, or in the least served pass through assignments/stints in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. Hence, the commonality.

The Army Chiefs of Staff we speak of are Generals Samuel B.M. Young, Adna Chaffee, John C. Bates, Franklin Bell, Leonard Wood, William W. Wotherspoon, Hugh L. Scott, Tasker H. Bliss. Peyton C. March, John J. Pershing, John L. Hines, Charles P. Summerall, Douglas MacArthur, Malin Craig and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I come away with some thoughts. Somehow, inevitably, Spanish Franciscan friars and American Generals have had an impact in the development of events in the Philippines as well as in San Antonio.
There used to be a cenotaph or a monument commemorating the relationship (and commonality) between the Philippines and San Antonio somewhere in some park within the city. That historical marker has disappeared, maybe when the Eastside was razed to make way for the 1968 HemisFair. Oddly enough, the theme of that exposition was “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas,” “ celebrating the many nations that settled the region.” I must embark upon a search for that monument. 

The San Antonio tricentennial is a good time for remembering.

(Editor's note: The author lives in San Antonio, Texas, USA.) 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.