History of Pila

Pila Historical Society Foundation Inc.

Bajo La Campana

The first missionaries of the villa were the Augustinians who administered it from Bae, the first capital of the province (1571-1688). The Franciscans took over in 1578 with the arrival of the intrepid air, Fray Juán Portocarrero de Plasencia (ca. 1540-90) and Fray Diego de San José de Oropesa (ca. 1535-90),” the apostles of Laguna and Tayabas.” Impressed by the Faith of the Pileños, Oropesa decided to establish his “principal residence” among them while Plasencia chose Lumbang as his home base. The church of Lumbang was dedicated to St. Francis, the founder of the order while that of Pila to St. Anthony, the most venerated Franciscan next to the founder himself. Thus, the church of Pila is the first Antonine church in the Philippines (1578) and most probably, in Asia as well.  From the two centers, they radiated out to the other towns in Laguna and Tayabas, forming reducciones, that is, gathering the early converts in one place to facilitate their religious instruction and training in the new faith. Hence, they were called, “Padres de las Reducciones.” Plasencia spent considerable time in Pila also. His monumental treatise, “The Customs of the Tagalogs” (written in Nagcarlan in 1589) was partly based on his observations in the town, especially of the people’s concept of land tenure. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it was Plasencia who confirmed in this work a momentous episode in the history of Pila that took place long before the arrival of the Spaniards – the transfer to Pagalangan (today’s Victoria) as well as the existence of an hacienda-like estate in the villa. (Galende 1965:35-79; de Huerta 1855:137-139; Gómez Platero 1880:17,25; Plasencia in Blair and Robertson 7:173-185; de la Llave 1644; Tormo Sanz 1971:25,125). (7)

Plasencia and Oropesa raised the reducciones of Laguna and Tayabas into mission-parishes between 1580 and 1583. The Pila parish, called “San Antonio de Pila,” was most probably inaugurated on the feast of its chosen titular, St. Anthony of Padua, on 13 June 1581, which was also his 350th anniversary. It is the first Antonine parish in the Philippines. At this point, its church, still made of hardwood and bamboo, apparently acquired its first bell from the king. The first parish priest was Oropesa (1581-83). Now, it could be said, the Pileños were “bajo la campana” (“under the bell”), or unified in the Catholic Faith which, from then on, has been deeply ingrained in their hearts. It is quite interesting to note that St. Anthony (1195-1231) had lived in Europe during the Golden Age of Pila at Pinagbayanan. Little did the “saint of lost causes and finder of lost things” know at that time that Padua would form a spritual link with Pila at the other side of the globe via Spain and Mexico more than three centuries later. (Gomez Platero 1880:17,25; de la Llave 1644; de Huerta 1855:137; Clasen 1967) (8)

The Pila encomienda in 1582 counted 1,600 tributes or about 6,400 inhabitants. By 1591, “Pila la Grande” (Big Pila) had 6,800 persons or 1,700 tributes. The encomienda was so prosperous that it had to be shared by two officials, Captain Francisco Mercado de Andrade and Ensign Juan de Peñalosa who, unlike other encomenderos, took their responsibilities quite seriously. For they built not one but two convents for the Franciscans of Pila indicating the large sums they had collected from the villa (Blair and Robertson 5:89,8:96-141). (9) As noted earlier, there was another Pila in Morong on the other side of the lake, which was indeed part of Pila before the arrival of the Spaniards. To distinguish it from our Pila, it was called “Pililla” (Small Pila) as it separated from Morong in 1583 (de Huerta 1855).