A year after Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi made Manila the capital of the Philippines on June 24, 1571, the Spaniards started the colonization of Ilokos. In June, 1572, the conquistadores led by Juan Salcedo (grandson of Legazpi) landed in Agoo, then a part of Pangasinan called “el puerto de Japon” because enterprising Japanese merchants have been trading with the natives through this port.
The Spaniards marched up north without any resistance. They had their first taste of the Ilokanos’ bravery and fighting heart during a historic battle in Purao (literally, “white” and maybe due to the white sands of the beach) now known as Balaoan. The Spaniards befriended the Ilokanos who reluctantly acceded to be under Spanish rule.
After Cebu became the first provincia in 1565, new provinces have been created by the Spaniards. Three main functions were considered so: political-civil administration, ecclesiastical governance and geographical considerations.
For more than two and one-half centuries, the original Ilokos province remained intact until 1818 when it split into Ilokos Norte and Ilokos Sur. In 1846, Abra was created by Governor General Narciso Zaldua Claveria.
Governor General Claveria was a visionary administrator. He believed that combining three contiguous areas that are far from their respective provincial capitals was a viable solution to the demands of political-civil administration. He also saw the territory’s agricultural and commercial growth potentials. And the kicker was the extension of Hispanic civilization and Christianity to the area. Bangar, Namacpacan and Balaoan in the southern portion of Ilokos Sur was quite a distance from the cabezera of Vigan and in almost like manner, Sto. Tomas, Agoo, Aringay, Caba, Bauang, Naguilian, San Fernando, San Juan and Bacnotan were that far from Pangasinan’s capital of Lingayen. The 40-45 rancherias in the depths of Central Cordillera of the Benguet district bordered by the three Ilokos Sur towns and the nine of Pangasinan have even worse problems.
Thus on October 29, 1849, Governor General Claveria signed the proposal (promovido) to unite the Pangasinan-Ilokos-Cordillera areas into a new province called La Union (the official name designated by Claveria himself). For 124 days, high and important Spanish colonial officers studied and deliberated on the proposition to create La Union or not. On March 2, 1850, Governor General Antonio Maria Blanco signed the Superior Decreto that founded La Union – the 34th province since the founding of Cebu in 1565. It was classified as a political-military government (gobierno politico-militar). Blanco appointed on March 4, 1850 Captain Toribio Ruiz de la Escalera (Claveria’s former trusted aide de camp) as the first Gobernador Military y Politico. La Union is the union of lands, people, cultures and resources. On April 18, 1854, Queen Isabella II of Spain issued the royal decree (real orden) from Madrid confirming Blanco’s Superior Decreto.
By 1860, there was a dramatic progress in commerce and agriculture in the province primarily because of Tobacco. Spanish authorities banked on the prized leaf for further economic development. The industry was so lucrative that a Tobacco Monopoly was established. All Tobacco leaves were strictly monitored and bought exclusively by the government at a fixed price.
By 1896, the people of La Union had enough of the Spanish atrocities. The torture of the native priests, Padres Adriano Garces of Balaoan, Mariano Gaerlan of San Fernando and Mariano Dacanay of Bacnotan; the execution of Balaoan’s Siete Martires, majority of whom are ancestors of Board Member Joaquin C. Ostrea, Jr.; the persecution of Masons, whose membership included the elite natives; and others have all the more agitated the people to unite and fight their masters for three centuries. On May 22, 1898, a shot from a revolver killed the much-hated Friar Mariano Garcia of Santo Tomas, it was a shot heard in the whole province which eventually ignited the revolution in what the Spaniards used to call, “Una Provincia Modelo.”
Led by Manuel Bondoc Tinio, a boy general under the command of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the Spaniards were finally defeated in La Union, some of whom escaped and sought refuge in Vigan. With the help of the Americans, the Filipinos were finally freed from Spain only to find out later that they will be subjected to a new colonial rule.
A Revolutionary Government was established with Aguinaldo as President. Tinio acted as “de facto governor” of La Union but was later on replaced by Dr. Lucino Almeida as Presidente Provincial. During the American occupation, Dr. Almeida was reappointed as provincial chief, only to be convicted and exiled after his revolutionary connections were discovered. In defense of their hard-fought freedom, the people of La Union resisted American power and maintained their allegiance to Aguinaldo. Due however to the superior American military firepower, the whole province and the whole archipelago, were finally subdued and pacified.
The Americans prioritized education during their rule. Schools were massively constructed and public education attracted the Filipinos. Democracy, which was given equal importance, facilitated the election of La Union’s first Civil Governor in 1901 in the person of Don Joaquin Joaquino Ortega, Grandfather of Governor Manuel C. Ortega. Nine other equally able governors followed Don Joaquin before the outbreak of World War II:
| Joaquin Luna
| Pio Ancheta
| Thomas De Guzman
| Juan Lucero
| Juan Rivera
Just as when the Filipinos were awaiting independence as promised by the Americans under the Tydings-Mcduffie Law, World War II exploded. The Filipinos gallantly fought side by side with the Americans. Amidst all the chaos and anarchy, three provincial chieftains rose to the occasion to lead the people of La Union, Gov. Bernardo Gapuz (1940), Gov. Jorge Camacho (1941-1942) and Gov. Bonifacio Tadiar (1942-1944).
On January 4, 1945, the tides of war changed in La Union as Filipino-American soldiers captured Baroro Bridge in Bacnotan, a strategic bridge that connects the rest of Northern Luzon to San Fernando. The victory ensured the liberation of La Union. It was followed by the historic Battle of San Fernando and Bacsil Ridge. Defeated, the Japanese Imperial Army retreated to Baguio City where they joined their comrades and made their last stand. From the ashes of war, La Union underwent massive reconstruction and rehabilitation. Patient and hardworking, the people of La Union marched on to progress and development led by a new breed of innovative, highly competent and down to earth governors.
| Agaton Yaranon
| Doroteo Aguila
| Juan Carbonell
| Bernardo Gapuz
| Eulogio De Guzman
| Juvenal Guerrero
| Tomas Asprer
|Robert V. Dulay
| Joaquin Ortega
| Justo O. Orros
| Victor F. Ortega
|Manuel C. Ortega