Sugar Sun series location #13: Catbalogan

Catbalogan means “an everlasting place of safety,” and for hundreds of years it was safe—for pirates. The sheltered bayside harbor lies just north of the San Juanico Strait between Samar and Leyte, a key access point to the Pacific Ocean and the primary shipping route for the Spanish galleons. Since these vessels were headed to Manila with silver and then back to Acapulco with a hold full of porcelain and spices, they were ripe targets for pirates, right? And by “pirates” I mean the English and the Dutch privateers, who were licensed by their sovereigns to interdict and steal the Spanish bounty. Catbalogan became a haven for pirates and privateers, their crews, and lost sailors.

Visayas Philippines map Pulahan war for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The southern mouth of the San Juanico Strait is right near Tacloban. Start there and follow the curve north and west into the bay above Leyte. The strait is 38 kilometers long and, at its narrowest point, 2 kilometers wide.

The Americans would find the city no easier to manage in the early twentieth century. For the first year of the Philippine-American War, the Yanks mostly ignored Samar because they had their hands full in Luzon. But then, in January 1900, gunships arrived offshore Catbalogan and sent a messenger to General Vicente Lukban, the Philippine revolutionary in charge of Samar and Leyte. The Americans wanted to negotiate a surrender of the whole island by offering Lukban the governorship of Samar. But Lukban wanted more than a title; he wanted full local autonomy. The Americans refused, so Lukban forbade them from landing. In turn, the Americans began to bombard the town. In other words, things escalated fast. Unable to withstand the US Navy’s firepower, Lukban and many of the locals abandoned Catbalogan, burning it as they retreated.

What followed was a ruthless two-year war to subdue the revolutionary forces in Samar. Company C of the Ninth Infantry was stationed to Balangiga to prevent Lukban’s men from using the southern port to import arms and supplies. On its own accord, the town ambushed the garrison in September 1901, and the American military took revenge on all of Samar. General Jacob Smith (known in the press as “Hell-Roaring Jake”) vowed to make the island a “howling wilderness.” Dusting off a legal gem from the American Civil War known as General Order 100, the Americans aimed to starve, burn out, torture, and kill as many guerrillas as possible. Catbalogan and Tacloban (Leyte) were the centers of American authority in this period.

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USS Vicksburg sailors led by Lieutenant Henry V. Butler (later rear admiral) burning a village in Samar, October 1901. Photo courtesy of Arnaldo Dumindin and his excellent website on the Philippine-American War.

General Smith’s “short, severe war” was both. But one might argue that it prompted the April 1902 surrender of Lukban’s forces in a grand ceremony in Catbalogan. (Lukban himself had already been captured.)

Lukban-Capture-Catbalogan-Samar

Those surrendering had to turn over their rifles captured from Balangiga the previous year and pledge loyalty to the United States, but then they were freed. Lukban himself would become mayor of the Tabayas province (now Quezon) within ten years. This begs the question of whether it was the severity of the fight or the quality of the peace that pacified the countryside? Amnesty is not used much in America’s modern war playbook, and I wonder if this is an oversight.

There is an interesting fashion note worth mentioning: the Americans did loan the revolutionaries a few Singer sewing machines so they could surrender in style with new (and complete) uniforms. Pride was salvaged all around.

Surrender-Lukban-Catbalogan-Samar-1902

This is not the end of the story, though. This first war—including the destruction of half the municipalities in Samar and the burning of tens of thousands of tons of rice—caused a lingering famine and sparked another war two years later. Today, we call this phenomenon “blowback.” The Pulahan War was both a civil war (inland highlanders against lowland merchants and farmers) and an anti-American insurrection. On the American side, it was fought by the Philippine Constabulary, Third District—a civil police force organized, funded, equipped (not well), and trained by Americans (usually former soldiers). And by the 39th Philippine Scouts, trained and equipped (with better rifles) by the US Army. Both these units had significant troop presences in Catbalogan, along with the 6th, 12th, and 21st U.S. Infantries.

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The 39th Company, Philippine Scouts, stands at present arms outside their barracks in Catbalogan, Samar. Photo courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Catbalogan was a highly fortified town, but it was still beautiful. The ring of mountains separating it from the suffering of the rest of Samar did make for a stunning backdrop.

Catbalogan-Samar-Philippines-vintage-postcard
Colorized vintage postcard of a steamer coming into to dock at Catbalogan, Samar, Philippines. Scan courtesy of Scott Slaten of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

The city fared better than the rest of Samar through the lean times, too. Though the galleons no longer journeyed back and forth to Spain, Catbalogan was a center of the abaca trade in the 19th and 20th centuries, hence the large buildings and church. Abaca, also called Manila hemp, was in high demand as naval cordage. Its trade was dominated by ethnic Chinese and British merchants, and once Samar was no longer in ashes, the fiber would revive and bring an influx of capital to Catbalogan.

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Filipinos making rope. This photograph shows the hemp as it comes from the leaves and is put on the spool for winding. Courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

The busy port was a bit out of town and had to be reached via a causeway along the coast.

Catbalogan-Samar-Bird-Eye-View-Postcard
Vintage postcard of Samar with a view of the wooden causeway connecting town to the port. Scanned image of the early 20th century card by Leo D. Cloma.

In the early twentieth century, Americans complained about the lack of poultry, eggs, and fruit in Catbalogan. (I find the fruit claim hard to believe.) They also complained about the lack of dedicated school buildings—not one in the whole town—and the lack of teachers. (Whose fault is that?) And they complained that there were only five miles of road on the whole island. (But how far were civilians likely to travel, anyway?) I traveled to Samar in 2005—and though I would not recommend December for your trip because of the rain, I loved it. The island is just as breathtaking as the postcards from 100 years ago.

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Another view of the coast and causeway from the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Public Works.

Sugar Sun extras: Spoilery documents

Warning: everything in this post constitutes spoilers so please only read if you have finished under the Sugar Sun.

Okay, you have been warned.

If you’re still here, you know that Javier took control over Georgina’s search for Ben, heading off on his own to Catbalogan. This alpha male behavior infuriated Georgina. She then strong-armed Allegra and Lourdes to hand over the telegram messages that Javier sent to Lope Cuayzon, the merchant who is holding Ben. Those would have looked a lot like this (based on real receipts from the period):

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Knowing Javier’s travel plans, Georgie followed him to Catbalogan. Javier found Ben, but he was a total wreck. The veteran was clearly suffering from what at the time would have been called “soldier’s heart,” or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We may understand this injury better now, but Georgina, like many at the time, would have considered it a type of homesickness. This is why she came to find him in the Philippines, and why she could not leave him there. As she explained to Javier:

“You would put the needs of Allegra and your mother above your own: you would travel to the edge of the earth to find them, live among strangers, humiliate yourself on a daily basis because you did not fit in no matter how much you tried—you would do all that for family, and you would not stop until you succeeded. You wouldn’t rest until they were safe.”

But Georgie did not realize how much Javier depended on her, too. His own debts plus Lope’s extortion pushed him to bankruptcy. (Does this sound like how John Thornton loses his factory in North and South? Yes, there was some inspiration there. Both heroes were noble men who are undone by a world beyond their control—John Thornton with the rapid changes of industrial labor conditions, and Javier Altarejos with the restrictive American trade laws…and the interference of an ambitious opium merchant.)

In the end, Hacienda Altarejos was put up for auction:

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

But Georgina did not know any of this. She and her brother were staying at the Hotel Oriente (yes, this Hotel Oriente) while she tried to arrange passage back to Boston. Since the finer hotels in Manila published lists of their guests (privacy, what?), I recreated a (true to form) front page of the business daily, the precursor of the Manila Bulletin:

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

In case you cannot see the guests clearly enough, look at the third column on this close up:

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

In the end, Ben refused to leave the Philippines for reasons that will become clear in Sugar Moon (upcoming). He abandoned a pregnant Georgina at the Hotel Oriente—after stealing most of her money—which makes her finally realize that she had been protecting the wrong “family” after all. Though she is incredibly stubborn—oh boy!—she becomes stubborn for the right man now: Javier. That is a story worth telling, and the newspapers do! (These are based on real Manila gossip columns, by the way.)

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

And from the (long since defunct) Sunday Sun:

Andres Javier Georgina spoilers for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Meanwhile, the hacienda was saved by Padre Andrés Gabiana. He kept the land in the family by selling one of Lázaro Altarejos’s assets (Andrés’s mother’s house in Cebu) to pay off the debts on the other (the hacienda). Importantly, this means he no longer has to live at Javier’s indulgence as the curate of San Honorato chapel. He became his own boss! And if the idea of a priest-hacendero sounds problematic to you, the Church will agree. We will see his own drama unfold in Sugar Communion (anticipated 2018), with the help of a pretty American doctor. Stay tuned!

Sugar Communion Book five of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A little inspiration for the upcoming Sugar Communion: Piolo Pascual as Andrés Gabiana, Adele as Liddy Sheppard, Liddy’s mahogany medicine chest, and San Honorato on Hacienda Altarejos (really Mojon Chapel in Bais).

Extras for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Sugar Sun series map(s) #2: The Visayas

Philippines map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

While most of the action in Hotel Oriente takes place in Manila itself, Under the Sugar Sun bounces around: from Manila to Dumaguete to Bais to Cebu to Catbalogan…and a little more. (What bang for your buck! What punch for your peso!) With new books in the series, there will be even more locations to explore. Still, this should help you set your itinerary for now. Enjoy!

Visayas Bisayas map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Maybe I should get a kickback from Negros tourism? I’ll take my pay in bodbod, tsokolate, and rum, please.