According to historian Peter Borschberg (National University of Singapore), “Spanish Governor of the Philippines, Juan de Silva, commissioned the construction of what was arguably the largest European armada seen in Asian waters before 1620. In the course of joint operations scheduled for the years 1615 and 1616, the Spanish and Portuguese sought to evict the Dutch once and for all from the region of the Singapore and Malacca Straits, if not the region as a whole… The presence and intervention of the Spanish armada around Singapore marks a fascinating episode in the pre-Raffles history of the island.”
I completely forgot about this expedition until I went over Fr. De la Costa’s voluminous, “The Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581–1768”. An indispensable resource for Filipino history learners. I brought some of my history books here (Singapore) to study two months ago.
When the Dutch (the United Netherlands East India Company or VOC) threatened Cavite, Silva defended it so well that it forced them to skip attacking it. They proceeded to block the entrance to Manila, which was expecting trade ships it urgently wanted.
“Silva took the simplest and most direct view of the situation. He had to break the blockade. To do so, he must come out and fight. To fight he needed ships. He had no ships. He would build them.”
“(There’s) a galleon under construction in the island of Marinduque which had somehow escaped Wittert’s (the Dutch commander) notice. Silva sent word to complete her hull, give her a rig, and run her through the Dutch blockade to Cavite. It was a chance he had to take, but not a hopeless one… Silva flung an army of carpenters on her to complete her rigging, and the was his flagship—the San Juan Bautista.”
Silva went on the offensive.
“On 24 April 1610… Wittert, still at anchor near Fraile (now known as Fort Drum, south of Corregidor) , saw to his vast surprise this miscellaneous collection (Silva’s ships) bearing steadily down upon him… Screaming the ancient war cry of the Crusades (deus vult, Catholic motto during the crusades meaning God will it), the Spanish tercios swarmed over the side with musket, pike and cutlass. Luckless Wittert was the first to fall.”
Silva finished off the Dutch. Seizing all the invading forces vessels and killing their Captain.
“At two in the morning of the following day all he church bells of Manila pealed the victory to the surrounding countryside, and sent it swinging from belfry to belfry across the land… the action was called the Battle of Playa Honda (Zambales)”
Silva would be consumed by his desire to arrest the “Rising sun of Holland.” He knew that he had to venture outside Spanish Philippines to stop them.
He had an idea—Consolidate the Catholic forces in Asia to defeat a common enemy—The reformist Dutch.
A partnership with the Portuguese (Silva sent his Jesuit priests to Portugal’s Estado da India) has to be forged. The Portuguese knew the Spanish governor was the right man for the job. They agreed to supply him with four galleons. Silva waited for a year for the Portuguese in Manila.
Growing impatient, he decided to rendezvous with the Portuguese in Malacca. Silva was about to enter uncharted “dominium”, the Portuguese “sphere” set by the Treaty of Tordesillas. He set sail from Cavite with the largest Spanish armada Asia has ever seen. This also marks the first luso-hispano military venture in the continent.
In all, the Armada had ten large ships and an unspecified number of galleys. The flagship, La Salvadora, alone had 900 men. In all, the armada had 10 galleons, four galleys and three frigates. It had around 5000 men, 2,000 are Spaniards with 500 Japanese samurais. Silva had 300 cannons and 50 metric tones of gun powder.
February 25, 1616 the Armada reached the straits of Singapore. Silva sent word to the Sultan of Johor who was allied to the Dutch. He chastised the Sultan (who had signed a treaty of peace with Portugal earlier) for helping the Dutch attack Portuguese ships. As punishment, he ordered fruits to be struck down from trees. An interesting tactic to diminish food supply for natives that relied on farming.
(To be continued…)