More than four centuries ago, the first Augustinian friars stumbled upon a village known only as PURAO that served as a buffer zone between Ilocos and its neighboring territory, Pangasinan.
According to American historian, William H. Scott, Balaoan pueblo was originally known by its old name “Purao” in 1582. “PURAO” or “PURAW” in the Ilocano language means white. Scott wrote in his book that Balaoan was already regarded at that time as an “emporium” for the barter of Igorot gold between the lowlanders and highlanders, so much so that in 1592, Balaoan was heralded “to be rich in gold” due to its proximity to the gold mines of the Cordilleras.
The name BALAOAN was appended to the pueblo in very interesting yet funny stories about guns and bullets that would later create dramatic twists in the shaping of the town’s history and the noble character its residents inherited. BALAOAN in Ilocano tongue literally means, “NO BULLETS” or “BULLETS NO MORE”. Its name was interchangeably spelled “Balauan” or “Balaoang” in the old historical records.
The most widely circulated tale about the origin of the town’s name which history writers continue to popularize is an account that highlighted the gallantry of the original inhabitants fighting in defense of this land.
This epic story is said to dramatize one heroic account where the early native Ilocanos here valiantly held their grounds shouting “bala” meaning “bullets” and “aoan” meaning “no more” as they settled to using only their bolos and bare hands in defense while facing the dilemma of running out of ammunition while they continued to repulse their intruders who were armed with far superior armaments.
Another version is of a lighter tone. It tells about the story of curious inhabitants who poked fun on patrolling Spanish soldiers by taunting them if their guns had bullets “Aoan Bala?” a phrase which in succeeding twists of events, the soldiers would later fuse into “Bala-oan”, words that curiously translate to, “no bullets ?” or “bullets no more?”. And as this newly-coined term sank into the minds of the sitio dwellers, the town became known as the place where the Spanish guns had “no bullets” or had “bullets no more”.
Spanish Colonial Heritage
Balaoan is one of the oldest municipalities of the old Ilocos Territory , having been established by Augustinian friars in the 16th century during the early expansion phase of the Spanish rule. The town was once an “encomienda” administered by a certain Christoval Guiral with several “rancherias” and “catechumens” who inhabited the Igorot mountains. Namakpakan or Luna town and parts of Bangar, Santol and Sudipen were under its original jurisdiction at that time.
La Union historian Adriel Obar Miemban believes that it was in 1587 when the town was founded by citing the findings of early Spanish friar-chroniclers Julian Martin and Salvador Font who favored the year 1587 as against that of another friar-historian, Elviro Perez, who set the year earlier at 1586. Historian Alberto Lacsamana however, places the town’s exact date of establishment at April 25, 1587.
The town’s foundation is greatly interwoven with the activities of the old Spanish friars who ministered their missions here. It was formerly regarded as the ministry of Purao with its administration entrusted to the Augustinians. The patron saint of the town is San Nicolas de Tolentino whose feast day is celebrated on September 10.
The town’s Spanish civil government was probably established in 1704 having been governed under the Spanish Maura Law. It is believed that sometime in 1739, its name was changed to Balaoan and according to accounts, sometime in 1762, the Ilocano revolutionary, Diego Silang, ordered the then gobernadorcillo of Balaoan to persuade the Igorots living nearby to support him in his anti-Spanish struggle.
Like in the other Ilocos towns, the old townspeople here were divided into two classes, the babaknang or agtuturay and the cailianes. The babaknang or agtuturay were the principalia who spoke the Castillian language. The cailianes were the natives who spoke either Iloko, Kankanai, Ibaloi or Pangasinense. Iloko however, was the town’s lingua franca or spoken language. Its first Capitan was Ignacio Duldulao.
In February 2, 1818, Real Cedula sliced the old Iloco Territory into Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur making Balaoan along with Bangar and Namacpacan (Luna) the three southernmost towns of Ilocos Sur.
In March 2, 1850 , the Province of La Union was created making Balaoan and its two neighboring towns part of the new province.
Under the Spanish local government structure, the governing council was the Tribunal Municipal. The intermediaries between the government and the townspeople are the Cabezas de Barangay, who were selected by the Tribunal Municipal and the 12 delegates of the Principalia in joint session.
There was a Justice of the Peace known as Juez de Paz whose primary duty was to attend to both civil and criminal cases.
The Cuadrilleros or rural police acted as civil guards of the town responsible for maintaining peace and order.
The Siete Martires
Balaoan is best remembered for being the first among northern La Union towns to rise up against the Spanish colonial rulers. It is said that during the Spanish colonial reign, there was this secret society of Insurrectos organized here whose aim was to revolt against Spain. Among its members were Luciano Resurreccion ,Primo Ostrea, Artemio Ostrea, Fernando Ostrea, Patricio Lopez, Rufino Zambrano and Mariano Peralta-now known collectively in history as the Siete Martires. These seven young men earned their places in history for being the first Ilocanos summarily executed for being revolutionaries or suspected of being sympathetic to the revolutionary movement.
Fernando Ostrea escaped death with just a wound on the thigh to be able to break the news about the tragedy and because of his “miraculous” survival , he was pardoned by the authorities following the Spanish custom. At the time of his martyrdom, Don Fernando was a Cabeza de Barangay who later became the town’s vice president. As a major in the revolution, he steered his people to rise up against Spain and the United States.
Balaoan was also one of the last towns in the north where the Spanish troops made their final stand in 1898.
The First Philippine Republic
With the ensuing victory of Filipino revolutionaries in the other major areas of the archipelago, a short-lived Philippine Republic was born. While the Treaty of Paris already sealed the fate of the Spanish Rule in the Philippines, the proud Spaniards continued to fight and refused to submit to the ill-equipped and younger Filipino revolutionary fighters.
After a running gun battle through Balaoan and Bangar that drove the Spaniards far north across the Amburayan River, La Union was finally liberated. Gen. Manuel Tinio accepted the surrender of the Spanish forces in the province and established a local revolutionary government that would hold only for a few months as the Americans came in to establish their own government.
The Filipino-American War
During the Filipino-American War in the late 1898, the town takes pride in playing host to First Philippine Republic President Emilio Aguinaldo during his escape to the north to elude pursuing American troops.
On November 20, Aguinaldo stayed overnight in Balaoan resting in the house of the President at that time, until November 21, his last day in La Union before proceeding to Ilocos Sur. There is a very interesting footnote of history here because it was in Balaoan where the President almost got assassinated by people loyal to then General Antonio Luna of the nearby Namacpacan town who were planning to exact revenge for the killing of the Ilocano general suspected of having been masterminded by Aguinaldo.
While the Filipino resistance fighters suffered series of defeats and hesitatingly withdrew to the hilly and mountainous areas of the north, the Americans started establishing their foothold in the different towns of the north.
In November 28, 1899, American General Young appointed Don Juan Rodriguez as Municipal President of Balaoan until April 1901.
The establishment of the American civil government hardly restored peace and order in the town because the resistance continued among Katipuneros still encamped in the mountains of Balaoan thus constantly endangering the fragile peace and order being imposed by American troops stationed then in the municipality.
The known leader of the revolutionaries here was one Col. Aniceto Angeles who fought fierce battles against the Americans between June 29, 1900 until April 3, 1901 from the mountain vastness of Guilong in eastern Balaoan to the lowland sitio of Kalungboyan where he routed a company of American soldiers without incurring any casualty. Col. Angeles who was among the closest aides of Gen. Manuel Tinio, the Filipino revolutionary conqueror of San Fernando, was later executed with two other revolutionaries in Bangar town.
There was a certain Vicente Orfiano, a native of Balaoan who was believed to have saved the public buildings and houses in the pueblo from being burned during the Filipino-American Revolution here. He is also believed to have saved the lives of many residents. There was another, Crispulo Patajo, who was able to subdue the Katipuneros and upon whose act led to the eventual pacification of the town and the flight of the revolutionaries to nearby Ilocos Sur.
Balaoan is one of the oldest municipalities in La Union having been officially founded in 1704. Its vast land area consists of agricultural lands with residential, commercial and institutional areas.
This turtle-shaped inland municipality is composed of 36 barangays
(4 urban, 6 urbanizing and 26 rural) .
Balaoan is centrally located among the six northern municipalities of La Union (Balaoan, Bacnotan, Bangar, Luna, Santol and Sudipen). It is located 30 kilometers north of San Fernando City, the provincial capital of La Union and the regional capital of Region I. It is approximately 300 kilometers north of Metro Manila. It is bounded by the town of Bangar on the north; Sudipen and Santol on the east; Bacnotan in the south; and Luna and the West Philippine Sea in the west.
The town is agro-fishery based , the reason for its perennially more than sufficient in rice, cereals, legumes and other crops. It is famous for its high-quality tobacco produce, earning for the town , the biggest share of the tobacco subsidy among the towns of the province. It has rich variety of marine fishes along its corral-lined fishing ground in the west. It prides itself of the best tasting and most exotic sea urchins in the north, this being the town’s “one town one product (OTOP) ” commodity.
Being at the center of La Union’s first congressional district, Balaoan is potentially bright for business, industry, commerce and others. With its strategic central location, it serves as an ideal trading post for produce from other surrounding inland and mountain communities
Now Balaoan is fast becoming the center of commerce and trade in this part of the province. The unprecedented growth and development of numerous and remarkable infrastructure and environmental sound projects have transformed Balaoan into a higher level of development giving the town a competitive edge over its neighboring communities. The construction of concrete roads in the 36 barangays has made transportation even more accessible to its remote areas. The rehabilitation and repair of irrigation facilities have improved agricultural production of farmers. The business activity in the modern Balaoan Commercial Center has provided a sound atmosphere in making Balaoan a conducive and attractive place for investments.
Balaoan will indeed be the new and fast emerging center of business and commerce in Northern La Union in the next few years.