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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The evolution of Biñan from pueblo to city

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By Pepe Alas

The City of Biñán is notable for three things: as an economic heavyweight in CALABARZON, as the place where national hero José Rizal began his formative studies (Biñán was also his parents’ hometown), and the site of many heritage houses. The last two reasons—its association with Rizal and its built heritage—make it as one of Laguna Province’s most historic places. It is thus fitting that we briefly look back at the city’s colorful past as it commemorates its bicenterquasquigenary (275th Founding Anniversary) this year.

Before the Spaniards arrived, the area comprising Biñán today was part of an ancient settlement called Tabuco (now Cabuyao). Ancient Biñán didn’t have a large settlement that resembled today’s concept of a town or a city, but it was inhabited sparsely by Tagálog natives. Life then was primitive: the people survived through fishing, gathering fruits in the forest, and hunting wild boar.

When the Spaniards arrived, they established Manila as the capital of the newly founded Indias Orientales Españolas (Spanish East Indies), the forerunner of today’s Republic of the Philippines, on 24 June 1571. Immediately afterwards, they sought to discover more unexplored areas, particularly those surrounding the nearby lake which they later called Laguna de Bay. This territory included Biñán which was later turned into a hacienda by the Dominican fathers in 1644. The site was named Hacienda de San Isidro Labrador de Biñán. It was a large estate mainly dedicated to the planting of sugar cane with the smaller remaining land area reserved for the community (residents). A dam was built in Barrio Timbáo to support the hacienda’s irrigation systems. A large farmhouse built of strong materials and complete with stables, a well, and an orchard was constructed at the center of the hacienda. For clarification: a hacienda, although it has residents, was not a town although it may have already seemed like one. Under the auspices of both church and state, and usually managed by an inquilino (tenant farmer), the main purpose of the hacienda was not to generate profit but to administer the welfare of the tenants through the production of agricultural goods, i.e., farming, as well as to fund missionary enterprises while at the same time serving as a source of tribute.

But 1747 was when the hacienda of Biñán transitioned into a full-fledged pueblo or town with a core barrio serving as the población (town proper). Surrounding the town proper were barrios or visitas, today’s equivalent of barangays. The pueblo of Biñán was later reorganized as a municipio, today’s forerunner of a municipality/city. During that year, Archbishop Juan de Arechederra served as acting Governor General of the archipelago. King Felipe V was then the ruler of the Spanish Empire. Seven years prior, Miguel de Chaves had been appointed as Alcalde Mayor (today’s equivalent of a provincial governor) of Provincia de La Laguna. Ten years later, in 1757, the first appointed parochial priest of Biñán was Father José Monroy. On that same year, Fr. Monroy appointed Antonio de Santa Rosa as the first Capitán of the town.

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Ever conscious and proud of its history, the city government celebrates with much pomp and gaiety the three-day Araw ng Biñán, an annual commemoration of its cityhood (it became a component city on 2 February 2010), its liberation from the Imperial Japanese Army (3 February 1945), and the remembrance of its Founding Anniversary (4 February 1747; the date was just a designation to complete the annual three-day festivities). Looking back, it seems that Biñán’s economic and cultural blessings never seemed to falter. The city is blessed because it knows how to pay utmost respect to its past. And the ebb and flow of history tested but never shook down this town-turned-bustling city. Neither does it show signs of slowing down.

(Originally published on Facebook as Araw ng Biñán 2022 highlights 275th Founding Anniversary of Biñán as a pueblo)

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