Sunday, June 30, 2019

From Ciudad Real to the Ciudad Reina del Sur: The Family of Don Pablo Garcia

Running together with this article is a tribute to outgoing House Speaker and former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. A descendant of the subject of this piece, Governor Gwendolyn Fiel Garcia, is returning as the governor of one of the most progressive provinces in the country. 

While a certain percentage of the Filipino population have Spanish blood, not all can trace their Spanish line up to the first Hispanic ancestor to set foot in the Philippines. And, even fewer can trace their Spanish ancestry beyond the Philippines and up to the Spanish peninsula.

One of the few families who can prove a Spanish heritage, pinpoint exactly their first Spanish ancestor in the country, and go up the family tree a few generations further in Spain is the Garcia family of Cebu. Or rather, the Garcia family who first settled in Sibonga and then Dumanjug, both in Cebu province. This Garcia family is different from the other Garcias in Cebu or even in the Philippines. Thanks to Claveria's 1849 surname decree, thousands of people all over the Philippines carry similar family names without the slightest bit of blood relation. As of 2015, the surname Garcia was ranked as the second most common last name in the Philippines, just a few hundred thousand carriers below the number 1 surname - DE LA CRUZ. 

The Garcia family in this article descends from one immigrant from Ciudad Real, Spain. He was Pablo Garcia Fernandez and his story has been pretty well researched by American historian Michael Cullinane. Cullinane's research has shown that Pablo Garcia was born in 1839 in Spain to Ramon Garcia, said to have been from Ciudad Real, and Isabel Fernandez. The parents most likely never set foot in the Philippines and it was the son, Pablo, who first came to the country most likely towards the end of the 1860s. He was listed as a resident of Cebu between 1869 to 1870 but by the 1870s he was already living in Sibonga, Cebu and was recorded to have made a living out of metal collection, marble cutting, drilling, and carpentry. By 1885 he was a Juez de Paz of Sibonga and by the late 1800s he was already known as an agricultor and by 1910 was honored as the "oldest Spaniard in Cebu". He married an insulares, Nieves Fortich y Gonzales, who was of the Cebu Fortiches.

Church records in Sibonga, Cebu show that by the time Pablo Garcia settled there, he was already considered a respectable Spanish migrant as proven by the constant use of the ennobling title of "Don" to his name. His eldest son and second child, Antonio Garcia, was born on March 21, 1876 and his baptismal record indicates that Pablo and his wife, Nieves Fortich, were classified as comerciantes, which meant they were involved in business. 

Antonio Garcia's Baptismal Record (Sibonga Parish archives)
Pablo Garcia in his son Antonio's baptismal record is listed as Español Europeo which meant that he was a pure Spaniard born in Spain and not in the Philippines. His hometown is given as Ciudad Real, literally meaning Royal City. One member of the Garcia family asked this author what I thought was the reason why Pablo Garcia left his hometown. By studying the milieu of Don Pablo Garcia, especially at the time of his birth, one can then answer that question.

The Garcias of Ciudad Real


Ciudad Real is actually the name of both a city and the province the city is located in. This city is a part of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. From its founding in 1255 up until the 15th century, Ciudad Real experienced a period of growth. The increase in its population and production activities, such as wool, leather and wine, led the Catholic Monarchs to look favourably on the city, choosing it as the home for extremely important government institutions. In 1833, the province of Ciudad Real was finally created, with the city of Ciudad Real as its capital. The Spanish War of Independence reached Ciudad Real with the defeat of Spanish troops by Napoleon’s forces at the Guadiana Bridges, with these forces occupying the city up until 1813. 

Three parishes were established in Ciudad Real: Santiago, San Pedro, and Nuestra Señora del Prado. The oldest of the three, was established in the thirteenth century and located in the northeast portion of the city. San Pedro and the next parish, Santiago, which was located in the southeast of the city, shared parts of the aljama or the old Jewish quarter. The third and last parish, the Nuestra Señora del Prado, was established in 1531 and was located in the western and northwestern part. The church patron was also the city's main patroness and its church was more elegant than San Pedro's. Initially, the leading citizens of the city lived closer to San Pedro but later they moved to the parish of del Prado.

During the first half of the 19th century, Ciudad Real went through a period of stagnation marked by a decrease in population, poor interconnection, low levels of investment, and an excessive dependency on agriculture. This was the condition of the city when Pablo Antonio Garcia was born on January 16, 1839 at around 8 in the morning. He was baptized immediately a day after. His parents were Ramon Garcia Melgar and Ysabel Fernandez. His paternal grandparents were Manuel Garcia and Antonia Donayre (Donaire) while his maternal grandparents were Francisco Fernandez and Juana Arias. His entire family lived in the parish of Nuestra Señora del Prado.

It is unclear what standing Pablo Garcia's family was, socially, in their hometown. There were several Garcia families in Ciudad Real at the time of Pablo's birth and there were certain branches of the Garcia family that were listed with the title of "Don" in official records, clearly an indication of some important social stature in the community. As stated above, most of the city's prominent families lived in the parish of Nuestra Señora del Prado and thus there is a chance that Pablo's family once enjoyed some sort of eminence in their community.

The Nuestra Senora del Prado de Ciudad Real as depicted in one of the parish's books

As already stated earlier, by the time Pablo Garcia was born, Ciudad Real was going through a decline. Almost everyone was engaged in farming and few were in business or working as professionals. 

Pablo's grandfather, Manuel Garcia Melgar, was married twice: first to Maria Corrales, who predeceased Manuel leading him to remarry to Antonia Donayre. This second marriage resulted to Josefa Antonia Jacinta Garcia, born in 1786, Manuel Jacinta Garcia (Antonia's twin), Manuel Benito Josef Antonio Garcia, born in 1788, and Ramon Garcia Melgar, born around 1790.

Meanwhile, Manuel Garcia Melgar was born around the mid-1700s to Sebastian Garcia and Antonia Dominguez while his wife, Antonia Donayre, was the daughter of Antonio Donaire and Antonia Herrera.

There was probably very little opportunity in Ciudad Real for Pablo Garcia as he was growing up. We know for a fact that when his eldest son, Antonio Garcia, was born in 1876 in Sibonga, Cebu, that Pablo's parents were already deceased. If he had arrived sometime in the late 1860s or early 1870s, it is very likely that Ramon Garcia and Ysabel Fernandez were already both dead and their deaths provided Pablo Garcia the impetus to leave for the Philippines.

Pablo Garcia was 71 years of age in 1910 when the city government recognized him as the "oldest Spaniard in Cebu". By then, he was a gentleman of means who owned tracts of land that he cultivated for agricultural purposes. By the time he died on January 15, 1925 - just a day shy of his 86th birthday - he was already residing in Cebu City. His death certificate listed his profession as a merchant, his address as El Filibusterismo Street which is somewhere in downtown Cebu, his cause of death as "senility" which most likely just meant he died of old age, and he was buried at the San Nicolas Catholic cemetery.



Fleeing his homeland to seek for a better life, Pablo Garcia indeed found a much better life in Cebu. He rose in prominence quickly, and within just 3 generations one of his great-grandchildren and a namesake, Pablo Paras Garcia, became a Governor of the province he chose to be his new home. Pablo Garcia would later become Deputy Speaker of the House before retiring from public service. Pablo's daughter, Gwen F. Garcia, served 3 consecutive terms as Cebu governor then went on to serve 2 terms as a member of the house of representatives. In 2019, she ran and won another fresh term as Cebu Governor. Her brother, Pablo John F. Garcia, replaces her as 3rd district representative while another brother, Marlon F. Garcia, serves as mayor of Barili, Cebu. Her own daughter, Christina Codilla -Frasco, serves as mayor of Liloan, Cebu while Christina's husband, Vincent Franco Frasco, is the 5th district representative.

Other descendants, like the first Garcia in the Philippines, are engaged in business. 

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