(An Offertory of Historical Notes)

Lino L. Dizon
Director, Center for Tarlaqueño Studies, Tarlac State University
Consultant, Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University


The onslaught and take-over of modernization on every available tract of  land  that  was once a lush, verdant hinterland upholds the surreal strokes of the Tarlac cabecera, now the Tarlac City,  with  a  backdrop  of irregular mountains completing the picture. Yet, the realism of the capital as having always been akin to the gushing waters of the portent Tarlac River (metung yang cakewan a babaltangan (a) kng kecaban ning metung a ilog, - a woodland being crisscrossed by a lengthy river- as a late Tarlaqueño-Kapampangan historian, Marcos Tañedo described it decades ago) is still there; in fact, if not for the otherwise pernicious environmental  effects of  technology,  it  could  have  been  a  different geographical  setting altogether. It was said that the gargantuan riverscape of the city  of  Tarlac  started out as a trickle, having vital statistics of only 20 meters in width and 3 meters in depth. With the descent of floodwaters from Pinatubo and other mountain systems from the south that had at certain times changed their courses, the Tarlac River would  be entertaining  the swishing and swashing liquid  in  such  manner  that it had bloated itself tremendously. It was only through the timely intervention of a provincial governor (Don Manuel de Leon), during the first decade of the American regime, that the catastrophe was somehow enervated. He had a dike built to regulate the waters descending from the highlands and onwards to the nearest sea, still a hundred miles away.


The passage of time has offered many possibilities on the etymology of the Tarlac place-name. During its early peopling, it was said that four distinct groups started to clear the area (kaingin), namely: the Ilocanos, the Pangasinense, the Kapampangans, and the Zambaling Balugas. In-between the kaingins of two pioneering settlers ( Agustin Arevalo and Esteban Tabaquero), a big, tall tree was left uncut. The reason for such was not known, but it could have meant as a reference point for the settlement that emerged. The Ilocanos called it bacayao, the Pangasinenses and the Kapampangans referred to it as betis while the Zambaling Balugas named it maratarlac. Since the last group was still then the majority, it was the consensus that their term would be adopted; and which, for the convenience of the other tongues, was simplified to tarlac.      


Others claimed that it was actually derived from another Zambal term tal-lac, or a system of bamboo and wooden poles or stakes stuck along the river banks to diminish the strong current and that was used to facilitate fishing. Interestingly, a lot of the native Tarlaqueños, irrespective of the ethnolinguistic group where they belong, are  still  pronouncing  the place in this lisping manner.


But the most popular of these probabilities was that Tarlac was derived from a sturdy and medicinal grass known in Zambal as tanglar, a variety of the cogon. Some even called it malatarlac (thanks to the insistence of the members of  the Tarlac Historical Society in the 1960s who popularized this etymology which, unfortunately, remained). Accordingly, the Spaniards, to simplify the toponym, had placed it as Tarlac in their records, a term that has remained until now.


Crosschecking some Spanish - Tagalog dictionaries (e.g., that of Pedro Serrano-Laktaw), however, Tarlak is simply a caña (a cane or a reed) resembling a sugar cane, synonymous to balahô and tanlak, without the distortions that legends and storytellings loved to add. And considering that the prevalent vegetative classification of Tarlac province was that of a grassland most conducive to sugar cane, the account will not be far-fetched.


The earliest reference that could be traced about a place called Tarlac was circa 1593, a score after the arrival of the Spaniards in the island of Luzon; it was then a praesidio (fort), as attested by a document on the needed troops for the maintenance of the various forts at this early period. Popular traditions had it that the area was a favorite sanctuary from those who were fleeing from the law  (castle-rustlers and other tulisanes), aside from  the aboriginal Negritos who lorded it over.   Other accounts trace its origin as a sitio of Porac in a region that was previously known as Alta Pampanga(Upper Pampanga). Porac became eventually the center of a commandancia  of the said region which thus confirmed its previous state as a refugium peccatorum. Augustinians(members of  the missionary order that evangelized  the area) placed the pueblo’s foundation at  1686, the same year  that Camiling and  Paniqui were recognized as visitas by the Dominicans in the northern part of what would eventually become the province of Tarlac in 1873.




The Tarlac Church, site of the 1899 Philippine Revolutionary Congress


In terms of spiritual administration, the vicinity used to be a visita under the jurisdiction of the Augustinian misionero of  Macapsa (the first site of the town of Magalang-Concepcion), founded in 1605 but which became a despoblado (ghost-town) due to the Malong revolt in the 1660s.  When  the settlement was resuscitated as San Bartolome de Magalang (now only a barrio of Concepcion ) in the early 1700s, the new  town continued its spiritual administration over the pueblo  of Tarlac for certain decades more.


The actual foundation of Tarlac church as an independent parish is being placed in 1721, with the establishment of a mission-visita dedicated to Saint Sebastian. Another view being offered by some historians was that Tarlac City has a Recollect (Order of the Augustinian Recollects) provenance, the religious congregation that was responsible for the evangelization of Southern Tarlac (Bamban, Capas, O’Donnell and Moriones) since 1712. Their contention deals mainly on the patron of the township, San Sebastian (the Roman soldier-martyr), who is a popular saint in the latter’s establishments in the country (San Sebastian College and Cathedral, both in Manila).


However, cronistas (historians) of the Augustinian Order, specifically Fr. Pedro Galende, OSA, have pointed out some documents to vouch their contention that Tarlac City and the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian were products of their indefatigable missionary zeal that was very visible since the first decade of their arrival in this country, the time when the Cross came in the islands of Luzon and the province of Pampanga, where Tarlac once belong.


 By 1725, the Augustinian chapter at that time requested the Father Provincial, with the abundance of missionaries, to appoint a minister specifically for Tarlac and its adjacent visitas on the condition that the laity who would benefit from his appointment would be providing “chicken and eggs” for his sustenance. To supplement the income of the said priest, with the provincial aware of the poverty of the place, requested the richer towns and parishes of Pampanga to help sustain this new mission-center of Tarlac.


The existence of conflicting accounts would mean, however, the irregular or the on-and-off status of Tarlac as a township (pueblo), especially during the first two centuries of Spanish rule. A Real Orden of 1788 from Governor-General Felix Berenguer de Marquina was also about the creation, or recreation, of the town of Tarlac. By this time, it was again made independent from the town of Porac, its former matriz (mother town). The reorganization  of the commandancia in 1858  made the pueblo of Tarlac as the center, no longer Porac, and  thus reflecting on its rapid development as a bustling community. The elevation of  the said commandancia into the regular alcaldia (province) of  Tarlac in 1874 would  also  make  its hijo (junior) the capital, a distinction it has enjoyed  hitherto.




The Altar-Mayor of the Tarlac Cathedral with the prominent statue of Apung Basti (San Sebastian). 1930s. (L.Dizon Collections)


During  the early existence of Tarlac as an independent town of Pampanga (ca. 1789), the legend  of  Apung Bastian  (San Sebastian,  the pintakasi or patron saint) was started. Accordingly, a  band  of  thieves  was about to maraud the town  of  Tarlac. In  reaching  a portion of the Tarlac river, they met a a little boy playing. The leader asked him for the spot in the river where they could get across. The child answered that  he doesn’t know it; all he knew was the route where he came from. Disregarding the latter’s queer reply, the tulisan commanded his members that since he was on horseback, he would be leading the pack. While he was already in the middle of the river, a quicksand (luanac) devoured his horse. Scampering for safety along the banks, the tulisan was about to confront the boy but who was nowhere to be seen. A member of the band told his companions that he could have been Apung Bastian, the miraculous saint of the town of Tarlac. Cowered with fear, the tulisanes decided not to proceed with their  evil  plan.       


A facet not well-known in the misty history of the Tarlac town was its being a fruta de la revolucion.  The revolt of Juan de la Cruz Palaris (alsamiente ng Palaris) in  1762  that  rocked  the  whole  province  of  Pangasinan and  its  environs brought about the migrations of people to other places, particularly in Tarlac. To these belong Carlos Miguel, who brought along his household from Binalatongan (San Carlos), then the seat of the Palaris revolt. Settling on a vast tract of cogonales, the area was immediately transformed into a booming agricultural community that attracted many ethnolinguistic groups from  various  parts  of  Luzon.  In 1788, only 26 years after, a calutasan (resolucion) , which called  for the foundation  of a new township and through the initiative of Don Carlos himself, was forwarded to the civil authorities of Pampanga in the cabecera of Bacolor. It was approved thereafter; with Don Carlos Miguel becoming also the first gobernadorcillo of the town of Tarlac. His descendants would be following his path.


A century later, his great grandson, Francisco Tañedo (a son of Don Damaso Tañedo - nee Miguel, who was the gobernadorcillo of the Tarlac cabecera when the province of Tarlac was created in 1873) had,  like  the uncertain course  of the waters descending from the mountains of Tarlac, deviated from the course of his forefathers. Together with his town-mates, Ciriaco Santos, Procopio Hilario, Candido Ancheta, among others, he led the town of Tarlac on the path of the Philippine Revolution that had  been brewed in the whole province as early as 1896. And the young province of Tarlac was to be remembered for its pioneering role and contributions in the  shaping  of  the Filipino nation.              

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