221 Years of History

Historians would say that to know the future of a people, one must look back, learn, and appreciate the lessons of the past. For the town people and the aging chroniclers of Santa Rosa, going back to the past is like passing through a time tunnel. It is rich with historical facts, untold stories, and legends tracing the historical progression of Santa Rosa.


From Barrio Bukol

When the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo explored the wide span of the Laguna Lake during the early period, he discovered the settlements of native people along the coastal areas particularly “Tabuco”, covering the now nearby towns of Cabuyao and Biñan. When Santa Rosa became autonomous on 1792, it was then a territorial expansion of Biñan called Barrio Bukol – an elevated area presumably referring to the sloping area west side of the town.

The land is part of the Hacienda Biñan, the center of vast tracks of land in Laguna owned by the Dominicans, the famed Order of Preachers (OP), as early as 1644. According to stories, a “kapilya” or chapel was erected by the Dominicans friars in 1757. During the period also, the historical “Cuartel de Santo Domingo”, a bastion of the Spanish Civil Guards was established to guard and protect the lowland residents from the “tulisanes” or bandits that roam and cross from the province of Cavite to the province of Laguna land boundary.

Barrio Bukol was already an established settlement of people scattered in various sitios such as Makinang Apoy, Tagapo, Pulong Santa Cruz, Aplaya, and Caingin, among others. Similar to the “encomienda system” of the Spaniards, a “hacienda” situated in the poblacion area was established. A native woman of the barrio named Doña Juana Galintang owned several hectares of grassland for which the town plaza was named after.

The town was named after the first South American saint, Santa Rosa de Lima of Peru, a nun of the Third Order of Saint Dominique indicating the strong influence of the Dominican Order. Through the petitions of the prominent local residents, the town Santa Rosa was born on January 18, 1792.

As a peaceful and quiet community, the town people went their ways working on the land as farmers, artisans, and fishermen. The lake water provided bountiful harvest of rate of species of native fish such as biya, hipon, ayungin, tigite, dalag, and dulong which are rapidly vanishing during these days in the heavily polluted waters of the lake. The land, however, was blessed with abundant fresh ground water from its soil layer formation of sand and clastic rocks up to the present day that makes the city very attractive to residential, commercial, and industrial development.

The old church of Santa Rosa de Lima was built at the “poblacion” or town center constructed as early as 1796, serving as reference point in the establishment of the old “municipio” or municipal town hall, the public plaza, and the street alignment – a Spanish style planning.
To this day, many Spanish type bahay na bato-houses of the Zavalla, Tiongco, Gomez, and Gonzales still stand. Many skillful Chinese Artisans from the Parian of Intramuros settled permanently after constructing the church completed 15 years after. Some Chinese became rich “inquilinos” who leased the farmland from the friars and subsequently rented by farmer tenants. It was a convenient arrangement widely practiced in Laguna during those times.

Outside the town center, vast tracks of “sakatehan” or grassland with scattered nipa and bamboo houses describe the rest of the town. It was in these scattered uninhabited land that the legendary “bolang apoy” was said to appear in the black night of burning the sakatehan along its path while superstitious people watch from a distance. It was also said that the people then were enchanted and mesmerized by the colorful fireworks seen during midnight at certain months of the year.


Revolutionary Period

With the start of the Filipino Revolution in 1896 from Cavite that spread like wildfire to Laguna, Bulacan, and other neighboring provinces, the town people found themselves divided in the fight for national independence against the Spanish colonial masters. The town “loyalists” joined the Spanish authorities defending the royal crown, preventing the rapid spread of the revolutionary forces that was trying to encircle the old City of Manila. The Spanish army under the command of Capitan Heneral Blanco, in a desperate attempt, established a stronghold – the Calamba-Tanauan-Banadero defense line and soon launched its counter-offensive from the undefended areas of Batangas and Laguna. Battalions of marine infantry as well as the “cazadores” or chasseurs sent from Spain under General Rios and Aguirre also took part in the offensive.


The area around the famous Cuartel de Santo Domingo was attacked on October 27, 1896 by the Filipino revolutionaries. The fort was defended by the Guardia Civil with the assistance of volunteer citizens from Santa Rosa who for their heroic efforts were given rewards and citations such as land grants and tax privileges by the Spanish authorities.

With General Emilio Aguinaldo gaining the upper hand in the revolution, a populist leader named Tinyente Basilio “Ilyong” Gonzales, carried the local fight in Santa Rosa by organizing the original Magdalo faction and by appointing himself presidente. When the Philippine Independence was proclaimed in Kawit, Cavite on June12, 1898, the municipal government sent Francisco Arambulo and other local prominent citizens to sign the documents of declaration.

Eventually, was broke out again with the Americans on February 1899 such that many local citizens like David Zavalla, Jose Zavalla, Felix Reyes, and Delfin Vallejo fought alongside the forces of General Pio del Pilar. With the gradual fall of Filipino forces in major battles, the town of Santa Rosa was later occupied by the Americans forces led by Colonel Robert Bullard on January 1900.

During the Spanish period, the so-called “gobernadorcillos” were Jose Dizon, Ignacio Balberino, Sebastian Arambulo, Vicente Nepomuceno, Policarpio Juarique, Eugenio Francisco, Domingo Arambulo, Clemente Añonuevo, Pedro Vallejo, Mariano Gonzales, Angel Zavalla, and Francisco Arambulo. During the American regime, so-called presidents were Pedro Leano, Pablo Manguerra, Celerino Tiongco, Francisco Arambulo, and many others.


American Period

With the establishments of the Insular Government of the Americans, all friar lands in the Philippines were purchased for distribution to the local people on installment basis. In Santa Rosa, the Dominican friar lands were bought for 14.4 million pesos on July 4, 1901. The period of reconstruction was initiated by the civil government allocating 2 million pesos for the construction of roads, bridges, and school buildings in Santa Rosa. At the same time, German Arambulo, a rich philanthropist with a great vision for the town, donated his family owned land estates as site for the present day public market, playground, and elementary school building. The famous Santa Rosa Arch, a small replica of the Arch of Triumph in Paris, France was also built by in 1931. In a sense, the modern day physical planning and development of the municipality started during the early period.


Sakdalista Revolt Period

The town was no exception to agrarian unrest that dominated the Philippine political scene of the early 1930s. The issue and problems related to abuses by landowners dubbed as “caciquism” had its reward in a bloody revolt by farmers of Santa Rosa and Cabuyao on May 3, 1935. About 30 people, most of them occupying the Cabuyao Parish Church patio, died from the Springfield rifles of the government constabulary. Many rebels were arrested including their woman leader, Henerala Salud Algabre, and were put to prison charged with rebellion.

It did not take long when President Manuel L. Quezon of the Commonwealth Government granted them political amnesty through the intercession of Governor Juan Cailles of Laguna.


Japanese Period

Life went on as usual in Santa Rosa until the Second World War broke out in 1941. What was conspicuous before the war was the presence of Japanese nationals such as “Meda” and “Mekawa” selling “kending happon”, who were seen dressed in army uniform when the invading forces came in. Tragic incidents marked the Japanese occupation of the town. Suspected local guerillas identified by the treacherous “makapili” in hooded “bayong” were arrested, tortured, and just disappeared.

The hacienda was converted into a garrison by the Japanese Army. Some local residents were caught in the crossfire of the “tora-tora” planes engaged in dogfights and the belfry of the parish church was heavily damaged.

The town plaza became the site for executing makapilis by the local guerillas. Fearful for their lives, the Japanese forces, together with their local cohorts, fled towards the eastern side of the Lake known as the “darangan”, their fate was never again known. When the Americans returned on February 5,
1945 some Japanese collaborators were imprisoned at the “Kapitoloyo” in Santa Cruz, Laguna.


Post-War Period

Progress and development came to the town of Santa Rosa at a very fast pace several decades after liberation period. From a sleepy agricultural community regarded as a “bedroom area” of Metro Manila, it was transformed into a boomtown of less than 300,000 people, the center of business,
commerce, and industry not only in Laguna but also the whole of CALABARZON sub-region, the fastest growth center of the country.

With the timely opening of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) in the 1980s, many private business enterprises, big and small, started to come in, particularly the now mothballed Filipinas Synthetic (Filsyn), followed by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company plant – the biggest in Southeast Asia. The Ayala owned Laguna Technopark Inc. (LTI) on joint venture with Japanese companies that opened its more than 300 hectares world class industrial estate to locator companies known in the global business, namely National Panasonic, Fujitsu Ten, Emerson, Honda Cars Philippines, Isuzu, Lamcor, among others. Later on, other industrial estates followed suit particularly the Greenfield Business Park that hosts the multi-million dollar plant of the famous Ford Motor Company.

The town so to speak is world class with the presence of multinational companies in its premier industrial estates. It is regarded as the Automotive Capital of the Philippines because of the active presence and operation of Toyota Motor Philippines, Nissan Motor Philippines, Honda Cars Philippines, Star Motors, Columbian Motors, Ford Motors, among others. The Enchanted Kingdom – the only worldclass theme park in the country is in Santa Rosa as well as the premiere golf course, the Santa Elena Golf Club. There are many first class housing project offer accommodation for the middle and upper middle class population.

Recently, the opening of another Ayala’s signature project, the NUVALI, gives Santa Rosa another pride to the country. Nuvali Evoliving is the largest self-sustainable Eco-friendly community and also houses two multi-national ICT-BPO Companies – Convergys and IBM.

The social and environmental economic costs of rapid urbanization are showing signs of rapid population growth due to migration, daily traffic congestion, prohibitive price land acquisition, rapidly vanishing agricultural areas, sprouting squatter colonies, seasonal unemployment, chemical pollution of rivers, flash flooding, and increasing garbage generation.

Despite the existence of cheap, idle raw lands in the past, the succeeding political leadership failed to neither anticipate nor prepare for the coming urbanization require massive land holdings as buffer for developmental zones for public facilities, amenities, and services. Most of the 5,500 hectares of town’s total land area have been left to the highly speculative thrusts of the private sector with a few public domains areas waiting to be disposed under tedious process.  (Written by former City Planning and Development Coordinator Danilo C. Pablo)

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