Gemma Cruz Araneta
Last week, we were intrigued by reports about a 30-meter deep and 300-meter-wide tunnel, with a 1.72-meter-high cave, totally man-made, “discovered” in the New Bilibid Prison Reservation in Muntinlupa City. Was someone looking for gold? Towards the end of the year, when we are about to commemorate WWII, raiders of the Yamashita treasure come out of the woodwork.
The Bilibid tunnel might not be for gold diggers (excuse the pun). It leads to a wall, a creek, and is directly under the quarters of the (now suspended) Director-General of the BUCOR (Bureau Corrections), Philippine National Police General Gerald Q. Bantag. However, not everyone was turning a blind eye to what was going on, Muntinlupa Mayor Ruffy Biazon disclosed that six months ago, they were already monitoring the excavation.
Apparently, those who want to move earth, need a permit from the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), or suffer the sanctions of “illegal quarrying.” BUCOR has no permit, not from the DENR nor from the National Museum of Anthropology which also has a stake in what goes on beneath topsoil. Our archaeologists are mandated to supervise excavations. BUCOR should give them a chance to shift through sample hauls to determine whether there are artifacts of archeological significance in BUCOR’s clandestine dig. Incidentally, there are many property and real estate developers who are just as guilty.
From days beyond recall, raiders would come to these islands hoping to find landscapes and rivers hiding gold nuggets in their entrails. Many believe that Dutch corsairs and British mercenaries buried their loot in what we now revere as heritage sites. The Spanish conquistadors who went to Mexico and South America were doggedly in search of “El Dorado.”
When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his men cast anchor in Cebu in 1565, they were quick to notice that the natives were adorned with gold ornaments from forehead to ankles, even their teeth were encrusted with gold. However, there was no intense mining going as the natives extracted from secret sources only what was needed for barter trade and for personal vanity. Legazpi caught his men desecrating native graves in search of gold and he punished them severely, until it occurred to the Adelantado that instead of saving souls, it would be better to grant digging permits so recovered gold could be shared with the king and Legazpi, of course.
Not a few governors-general sent expeditions to the mountain ranges in the North, looking for the “Ygolotes” who knew where gold deposits were located. When highlanders went to lowland and coastal communities (like Pangasinan, Pampanga and Zambales) to buy and trade supplies, they always paid with gold. There were elaborate and costly expeditions to a place called Tuy, but they could not “El Dorado.”
Did you know that three Mandarins from the Middle Kingdom came looking for a gold mountain in Cavite? That was in May 1603. With an awesome fleet of 14 ships they sailed into Manila Bay with a mission, to verify stories spread by Tio Heng, probably a court eunuch, about a mountain of pure gold on an island near Luzon. No excavating, no tunneling, no technology was needed to get the gold. No bureaucratic permits were required because no one claimed ownership of the mountain, not even the Spanish king. The natives lived comfortably as all they had to do was to scrape or chip off the gold from the mountainside whenever they needed to buy their food and other necessities.
Unbeknown to the Mandarins, as they sailed towards Las Filipinas, there was a raging fire in Intramuros that almost reduced the Ever Loyal City to ashes. They were proper and punctilious enough to dispatch a letter to Spanish governor-general Pedro de Acuna about their mission and impending arrival, but the Spaniards saw them as a portent of doom. They entered Manila in a pompous procession, each Mandarin with his entourage of servants brandishing symbols of importance and jurisdiction. In fact, they began to mete justice on the Sangleys of the Parian, as if they were the rulers of the place. They ordered Sangleys tortured and flogged in public which to the Spaniards was a blatant abuse of authority.
Then they went to Cavite to look for the gold mountain and to stake claim; but they never found it. As soon as they left, the Spaniards began to harass the Chinese in the Parian, to teach them a lesson for pandering to those imperial agents. They shook the dust-off royal decrees which limited the number of Chinese immigrants, but never complied with nor obeyed. They passed oppressive measures about business, intermarriages and also forbade Chinese to stand as “ninong” for Christianized natives. All that extremely harsh treatment ignited the Sangley rebellion during which crimes against humanity were committed. My Caviteño friends insist that there is a mountain of gold in their province, but you will have to know where to look.