Dubbed El Gran Baluarte, this two-level blockhouse of cut coral stone blocks served as both watchtower and bulwark in the early 1800s.
Built under the direction of warrior priest Fr. Julian Bermejo, it was one of the four bulwarks reinforcing a rectangular fort that served to defend the parish of Boljoon from frequent Moro raids in the early 19th century.
Paul Gerschwiler, in his book “Bolhoon: A Cultural Sketch, ” said the blockhouse completed the parish fortification in 1808.
In Fr. Bermejo’s days, he added, the ground level of the structure served as a storeroom for weapons and ammunition and held a prison cell while the upper floor was a defense station armed with cannons.
Sentinels of stone
Although it was just one of the many watchtowers built within viewing distance of each other over a stretch of 96 kilometers from Carcar in the north to Santander in the south, it was from El Gran Baluarte that the warrior priest oversaw an elaborate defense system that gave settlements early warning of an imminent attack and time to prepare.
These sentinels of stone in the south passed along the message using flags during the daytime and parola de kumbati (gas lamps) at night, said Boljoon heritage and tourism officer Ronald Villanueva.
Gerschwiler wrote in his book that when a warning of incoming Moro raiders reached Boljoon, women, children, and the elderly seek refuge within the parish fortifications, specifically within the fortress church of Patrocinio de Maria, while Fr. Bermejo’s team of warriors aboard fast-moving oared sailboats called the barangayanes prepare for counter-attacks.
Fr. Bermejo, according to Gerschwiler, considered it necessary to obtain weapons and teach the people how to use them. The blockhouse that the town calls El Gran Baluarte had its own cache of weapons.
Instead of cannons, El Gran Baluarte now displays the Spanish period bells of the Patrocinio de Maria Church. The bells are marked with the date of their founding and the name of the foundry.
From being a command post in the 19th century, it is now used for meetings and other town activities.
The ground floor is unoccupied and the prison cell left untouched. Visitors can still make out the drawings of galleons made by prisoners once detained here on the blockhouse’s walls.