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BRIDGING THE PAST INTO THE PRESENT:

MALAGONLONG BRIDGE AND THE OTHER 10 SPANISH


COLONIAL BRIDGES IN TAYABAS CITY
By Aicelle Joi L. Divinagracia

Artifacts, Structures, and History

The history of a certain place can be known and traced back through artifacts and historic

structures found by archeologists. Artifacts, which are objects made through human craftmanship, include

tools, weapons, jewelries, potteries, and the likes, that are recovered a long time after being used for their

own purposes (2016). Historic structures, on the other hand, also called built heritages, are defined in the

Philippine Republic Act No. 10066 Article II or the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009” as

architectural and engineering structures such as bridges, churches, houses of ancestry and government

buildings amongst others that have notable cultural and historical value. These artifacts and built

heritages are keys in understanding history shared within a community, as these aid archeologists in

acquiring information on the culture, events, and civilizations in the past.

Historically, the Spaniards first stumbled upon the Philippines when the expedition led by

Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cebu in 1521, in search of a route to

Moluccas or the Spice Island. However, the 333 years of Spanish colonization of the Philippines did not

start until 1565, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s expedition, sent by King Charles V of Spain, arrived in

Cebu where he established the first permanent Spanish settlement, conducted treaties of friendship with

the native chieftains, which then turned into the first conversion of the Filipinos into Roman Catholicism

(2006). With this long duration of colonization, and with one of their foremost purpose, which was to

spread their religion, thousands of Catholic missionaries from various orders came to the Philippines, and

eventually led to immense contributions in education, culture and architecture (Goodlight 2010). And

although the Spaniards failed to colonize the Muslims of Mindanao and the upland tribal groups of

Luzon, they were still successful in taking control of Manila and most coastal and lowland areas from
Luzon to Northern Mindanao by the end of the 16th century (Borlaza & Hernandez 2019), and the traces

of their long incursion and influences are still very evident in our Filipino culture and landscapes in the

present.

One of the places in Luzon where the three-century Spanish rule in the Philippines is manifested

through historic structures and architectures, is the city of Tayabas located at the foothills of Mount

Banahaw. It was first established by Franciscan Friars Juan de Placencia and Diego de Orporesa in 1578

and was used to be the cabecera or the capital of then Tayabas Province (Quezon Province at present)

from 1749 to 1946. Tayabas is considered and said to be one of the oldest and the most important

historical settlement in the country (Gonzales 2006), and the reason is very evident on the built heritages

established in the city, which are still erect up to the present. Numerous architecture built by the

Spaniards during their colonization period in the country can be found in Tayabas City, including the

Minor Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel, which is considered as one of the oldest churches in the

Philippines, constructed in 1558 during the Spanish colonial era under the supervision of Franciscan friars

(Cabiara). Also found in the city is the Casa Comunidad de Tayabas, which is a Spanish stone house built

in 1776 under the jurisdiction of Gobernadorcillo Francisco Lopez and was named as a National

Historical Landmark in June 11, 1978 according to the Presidential Decree No. 375 of 1974 (National

Registry of Historic Sites & Structures in the Philippines). Tayabas is also known to encompass eleven

documented stone bridges built by the Spaniards during their colonization era, including the Malagonlong

Bridge, which not only served to link places and provide passageways over obstacles for faster

transportation during the period, but also link what happened in the past into the present.

Puente de Malagonlong

Considered to be the longest, the tallest and the “most spectacular” stone bridge in the Philippines

during the Spanish colonial era, the Puente de Malagonlong or the Malagonlong Bridge is found and

Gobernadorcillo - a municipal leader or governor in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period
Pueblo – Spanish word for bridge
established in Tayabas and is still standing to date. It was built from 1841 until 1850, during the

incumbency of Goberrnadorcillo Don Julian S. Francisco, with the initiative of Fray Antonio Matheus,

OFM (Noche, 2011), which not only depicts the art and the architecture the Spaniards brought to the

country, but also the perseverance and hard work of the Filipinos. The Malagonlong Bridge measures a

total of 135.40 meters in length and 12.00 meters in height and was constructed using approximately

100,000 adobe blocks “laid patiently by Tayabasins (inhabitants of Tayabas) through forced labor”. It can

be inferred from this description made by Guerra and translated by Pedrano (1985) in the book Viajes Por

Filipinas: De Manila á Tayabas, that the Tayabenses were also not exempted in the polo y servicios

imposed by the Spaniards during their rule in the country, along with the other hundred thousands of male

Filipinos aging from 16-60 years old, who were required to render unpaid and forced labor in doing

community projects which included the construction of public infrastructures and churches. With the

hardships endured by the Tayabenses, Malagonlong Bridge was built in Barangay Mateuna, over the

tranquil water of the Rio Dumacan (Dumacan River), having four large arches spanning the river floor

and a fifth arch rising from the sloping ground into the Tayabas approach. The first arch, which is the

widest that measures 11 meters, approaches from the town of Pagbilao that starts the link for the easier

and faster transportation from Bicol to Manila during the period; while the second and third arches have

an arch width of 10 meters each; and the fourth having a width of 9 meters. In an account, a Spanish

traveler (1878) described the bridge as “very beautiful” and that its construction is “the best work in the

province of Tayabas” (Guerra & Pedrano 1985).

“The ravine of Maragoldon which is located about half a league from Tayabas is very

beautiful because of moss and ferns which cover its rocks and large stones. At the

descent of the clearing stands the magnificent bridge of that name, constructed over the

deep abyss where abundant water of Dumaca River passes. Said construction which is

the best work in the province of Tayabas is worthy of mention among the first bridges

in the Philippines. This bridge was begun in 1841 during the time of the unfortunate

governor Don Joaquin Ortega and was finished in 1850. The name of Father Antonio
Mateus is intimately connected with the story of its construction. The said priest lent so

much knowledge, work and money in its construction. We recommend to those who

may go to Tayabas to visit that gigantic work which is easy to inspect through the

ramps for descent into the buttresses.”

However, the beauty of the ravine and the surroundings described had diminished over time,

while fortunately keeping the general pristine environment and the clean and clear water flowing through

the river. The Malagonlong Bridge remained passable and was used until 2004, indicating the quality and

strength of the engineering and construction made. A new bridge was built by the Department of Public

Works and Highways (DPWH), less than 40 meters away from the puente and was inaugurated to

preserve and protect Malagonlong Bridge from further deterioration and potential damage. Nevertheless,

the construction and the proximity of this new bridge blocked and reduced the once “majestic and

mysterious” view of Mount Banahaw.

The Puente de Malagonlong, with its undeniable historical and cultural significance, was declared

by the National Historical Institute (NHI) as a Historical Site and was listed in 2011 as a National

Cultural Treasure in the Philippine Registry of Cultural Properties (United States Embassy in the

Philippines). In addition, there was also an initiative made to include the bridge in the list of UNESCO

World Heritage Site, but due to the construction of the new bridge beside it, this did not actualize.

Accordingly, to ensure the preservation of this historical heritage, the Philippine Local Government Code

of 1991 authorized the City of Tayabas to request the national government, particularly the DPWH, to

turn over the Malagonlong Bridge for more focused maintenance, administration and preservation. In

addition, actions concerted towards the preservation of all the Spanish stone bridges in the city, such as

the “Oplan Sagip Tulay” program, are also being carried out by the local government, which is just the

right to do as their preservation is the preservation of culture and sites of memory.


Ten Other Puentes

Compared to the neighboring provinces of Batangas, Laguna, or Cavite, Quezon Province (then

Tayabas Province) was not as accessible, due to its distance and ragged roads connecting it from the

Spanish city of Manila. With this reason, under the direction of Antonio de la Camara, a Spanish

engineer, and along with the Puente de Malagonlong, ten other masonry bridges were built in the

municipality of Tayabas, which was then the colonial capital of the province (Noche, 2011).

Several bridges can be found along the three main roads connecting Tayabas to its nearby towns –

the Lucban-Tayabas Road, the Sariaya-Tayabas Road, and the Pagbilao-Tayabas Road. Perhaps one of

the more significant bridges found in these roads is the Puente de Alitao, which many locals also referred

to as Puente Antigua or Puente de Munting Bayan. Under the incumbency of Gobernadorcillo Don Juan

Lopez, the bridge was first constructed by Don Jose Medio in 1798, originally built with wood. It was

eventually reconstructed in 1823, but with the use of 10,000 adobe stones, and having an approximate

length of 30 meters and a width of 6.5 meters. It was masonry constructed over the Alitao River with two

segmented arches and a pier supporting these buttressed on the river’s sides (Noche, 2011). The sides

connected by the bridge are populated by the community in Barangay San Isidro, which is also why it is a

favorite place among the children to enjoy its rocky bed and the river’s cool water. Propitiously, Puente

de Alitao shows no signs of damage, except for the vegetation growing on its body and crevices and is

still being used in the present to connect several barangays to the town proper.

Along with the Alitao Bridge, on the road to Sariaya, Puente de Isabel II built over the Iyam

River in Barangay Baguio, and the Puente de Urbiztondo bridging the sides along the Malao-a River in

Barangay Malao-a are also found. Built on 1853 in honor of Queen Isabel II of Spain, the Puente de

Isabel II, was described by Noche in his book Puente de Espana En Las Filipinas (2011) as “magnificent

and strong bridge” having a total length of 445 feet and having 5 arches. Since it was built, the site,

landscaped by local vibrant-colored plants and nipa huts built on the river’s sides, has always been a

picnic place for the locals while enjoying the refreshing water of the river. On the other hand, the
construction of the Puente de Urbiztondo was finished on 1854, and it was named after Governor-General

Antondio de Urbiztondo y Eguia who was the first to establish the Banco-Espanol-Filipino in 1851.

Moreover, three Spanish colonial bridges are found along the road to Pagbilao including the

Puente de Malagonong. The other two bridges are the Puente de Lakawan and the Puente del Mate.

Firstly, the Puente de Lakawan is situated in Barangay Lakawan and spanning a river that bears the same

name. At present, the bridge is not functional as it is overgrown with vegetation. The Puente del Mate is

another bridge found on the Pagbilao-Tayabas road that crosses Rio de Mate. Unlike the Puente de

Lakawan, the bridge has been transformed to a tourist destination with a garden resort built just beside the

Mate River, where the tourists can just dive from the bridge onto it if they are already staled with the

chlorinated water of the pools. Currently, there are still no accounts found showing the dates these bridges

were built (Noche 2011).

Meanwhile, along the Lucban-Tayabas road, there are four Spanish masonry bridge found. The

Puente de la Prinsesa, crossing the Dumacaa River, was built starting on March 1852 with the direction

of Gobernador Don Jose Maria and was finished on July 1853. A local myth tells that a vengeful spirit of

a princess is guarding the bridge, that is why it was named the way it was and why numerous vehicular

accidents occur on the site especially at night. Another one is the Puente de la Ese, which was named

“ese” because of its shape resembling the letter “S”. It is built over the smaller Ibia River in Barangay

Camaysa and is also named after the Princess of Asturias of Northern Spain. The bridge found in

Barangay Lalo is known as the Puente de las Despedidas that crosses the bigger Ibia River. As described

by Maximo (2011), horses and carts were used to be stationed near the bridge during the Spanish colonial

era. The Puente de Bai, on the other hand, spans the Bai Creek, which is found in Barangay Dapdap. It

serves as the boundary of the old route between Dapdap and Palola, and has an arch having a unique

spiral design.

The eleventh bridge is the Puende de Francisco de Asis, which was built with almost ten

thousand stones patiently laid out by the locals and was named in honor of Don Francisco de Asis, the

husband of Queen Isabel II. As the water of the Domoit River, which the bridge crosses, rushes towards
the Tayabas Bay, the tears of the Tayabenses are usually seen to stream down their faces in this site. It is

as the locals who opt to go to Manila or Laguna usually bid farewell in this area, referring it as the

“Farewell Bridge” (Maximo 2011).

Linking the Past into the Present

Without these bridges, Tayabas will not be the developed city it is now, boasting its rich historical

heritage. Rivers would have not been crossed, goods would have not been traded, people would have not

been transported, and culture would have not been passed onto others. Nonetheless, the beautiful and

fascinating architecture and engineering these stone bridges present us shadow the horrendous past my

townsmen had experienced. Behind the easy and fast transportation aided by these bridges are the hard

and long labor forcedly done by the Tayabenses as ordered by the colonizing Spaniards. Withal, these

bridges are not only about Tayabas and its people; they mirror and generalize the past of the Philippines

and the Filipinos with the hands of the Spaniards. They not only depict and symbolize our history and

culture, but also the blood, tears, and sweat poured by the Filipinos in building all the bridges they were

forced to do, as well as all the hardships the Filipinos experienced during the whole three centuries of

Spanish colonization in our country.

As time flows like the rivers, the bridges linking their gaps might all be left in ruins. But, as long

as these bridges are erect, they will continue linking the past, the history behind its magnificence and

strength, as well as the memories created in it, into the present.


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