Last updated on September 30, 2019
Long before the coming of the Spaniards, there already existed an extensive region consisting of the present provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union renowned for its gold mines. Merchants from Japan and China would often visit the area to trade gold with beads, ceramics and silk. The inhabitants of the region, believed to be of Malay origin, called their place samtoy, from sao mi itoy, which literally meant “this is our language.”
In 1571, when the Spanish conquistadors had Manila more or less under their control, they began looking for new sites to conquer. Legaspi’s grandson, Juan de Salcedo, volunteered to lead one of these expeditions. Together with eight armed boats and 45 men, the 22-year-old voyager headed north.
On June 13, 1572, Salcedo and his men landed in Vigan and then proceeded towards Laoag, Currimao, and Badoc. As they sailed along the coast, they were surprised to see numerous sheltered coves (looc) where the locals lived in harmony. As a result, they named the region “Ylocos” and its people “Ylocanos”.
As the Christianization of the region grew, so did the landscape of the area. Vast tracts of land were utilized for churches and bell towers in line with the Spanish mission of bajo de las campanas (‘under the bells’) – a proclamation by King Philip’s 1573 Law of the Indies. In the town plaza, it was not uncommon to see garrisons under the church bells. The colonization process was slowly being carried out.
The Spanish colonization of the region, however, was never completely successful. Owing to the abusive practices of many Augustinian friars, a number of Ilocanos revolted against their colonizers. Noteworthy of these were the Dingras uprising (1589) and Pedro Almasan revolt in San Nicolas (1660). In 1762, Diego Silang led a series of battles aimed at freeing the Ilocanos from the Spanish yoke. When he died from an assassin’s bullet, his widow Gabriela continued the cause. Unfortunately, she too was captured and hanged. In 1807, the sugar cane (basi) brewers of Piddig rose up in arms to protest the government’s monopoly of the wine industry. In 1898, the church excommunicated Gregorio Aglipay for refusing to cut off ties with the revolutionary forces of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Unperturbed, he established the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Aglipay’s movement and the national sentiment it espoused helped restore the self-respect of many Filipinos.