OFTEN OVERLOOKED in the Lopez Museum collection of works by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo are studies of a painting on the defeat of Limahong showing dead Chinese pirates on a beach. Limahong, many of us remember from Philippine history class, was a fierce pirate who tried to conquer the Philippines in the 16th century but was repelled by the combined efforts of the Spaniards and the natives.
What made the story marvelous was how he escaped using a secret tunnel from his lair in Pangasinan to the open sea and back to China. I read up a bit on Limahong recently and found out that the name we remember him by is an alias, it is Fukien for his real name, Lin Feng. This terrible name first appears in history in a report to the Chinese emperor on Oct. 3, 1572 placing the number of his pirate gang at not more than 500 to 600 men. Crushing Lin by force was recommended instead of the usual manner of buying a pirate chief’s surrender by offering him official rank.
Another reference to Lin is dated June 1574. He is reported to have escaped to Fukien with over 10,000 men. (Was this a pirate band? It seemed to be an army.)
In August 1574 he attacked and plundered Ching-lan, was pursued and engaged in Wang-kang (part of Taiwan). Then he disappears from the Chinese sources for a year.
The Spanish sources record a sighting of him and his group in Manila Bay on Nov. 29, 1574. In Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza’s “History of the Great Kingdom of China,” Lin is reported to have defeated Vintoquiam, a rival pirate, and to have a fleet of about 95 ships. Lin captured merchant vessels from Manila as he fled from the Chinese government and learned that Luzon was an easy target because the Spaniards could not put up a sufficient defense. Lin sailed to Manila with 62 ships and expected no resistance from a city that was allegedly populated by old people and invalids.
In Francisco de Sande’s report to Philip II dated June 7, 1576 Lin was sighted off Ilocos where he encountered and destroyed a Spanish ship with 22 men on board. An eyewitness reported this to Juan de Salcedo in Vigan, who went out to investigate and sighted the pirate fleet sailing southward to Manila. Salcedo sent word to Governor Lavesares and made haste to the capital with 54 soldiers. On the eve of Nov. 30, 1574 Lin dropped anchor in Corregidor and sent his trusted Japanese associate Sioco, with 700 men armed with pikes, arquebuses and battle axes on small boats to attack the harbor. An easterly wind (taken by the Spanish as divine intervention) delayed the Chinese who arrived northwest of Manila around 8 or 9 in the morning. Natives reported to Master of Camp Goiti (for whom Plaza Goiti in downtown Manila is named) that the city was under attack from the king of Brunei. Sick in bed Goiti dismissed the report since the southeast monsoon winds made an attack from Brunei improbable. Goiti was one of the casualties in the advance attack of the Chinese. When Sioco’s forces approached Manila, they were driven back by arquebus fire that killed about 80 Chinese pirates.
Sinsay, an influential Chinese in Manila, briefed Lavezares on the situation and assured him that the attack was by a pirate band and not from the forces of the Emperor of China. His advice on the defense of Manila included the removal of thatch roofs from houses to avoid fire from Lin’s slash and burn offensive. Sinsay warned that Lin usually mounted a major assault three days after his first attack.
On Dec. 2, 1574 the pirates landed near the ruins of Goiti’s house. There Lin divided his men into three groups: the first took the attack route taken three days earlier, the second went up to the streets of Manila, and the third attacked from the beach. They burned houses as they made their way to the city but were again repelled by Spanish defenses. Lin retreated to Cavite and after two days sailed to Pangasinan where he settled and began building a fortress.
Lavezares re-grouped his men, appointed Salcedo Master of Camp, ordered the execution of two native chiefs he suspected of aiding the Chinese, and planned an attack on Lin that took three months of preparation. On March 23, 1575 Salcedo sailed from Manila with 59 ships and arrived in Pangasinan on March 30 with 256 Spaniards and 2,500 natives (another source gives a smaller headcount: 250 Spaniards and 500 natives). Salcedo attacked Lin’s fort while his other ships captured pirate vessels and burned them. Then all his forces converged and lay siege on the fort where they took many prisoners, including women and children.
The Spanish retreated when the Chinese fort was reinforced. Salcedo was unhappy with the outcome and said so, demoralizing his men.
Both sides spent months waiting for the other’s next move. The Chinese rebuilt their fortress and ships while the Spaniards whiled away the days gambling and extorting tribute from the natives.
On Aug. 4, 1575 Lin with 37 vessels sailed through the blockade of the Spaniards, out of Pangasinan, and back to P’eng hu. There are sightings of Lin in the Chinese historical record, but on Feb. 28, 1576 it was reported that Lin abandoned his men. He then disappears from all records, and disappears from history.
What would our history be if Limahong succeeded and became ruler of the Philippines?