History of Sumilon
The historic Battle of 1813 at Sumilon signaled the end of slavers’ constant attacks on the southern towns of Cebu. It was a battle won through cooperation among simple townfolks coupled by a well-designed defense by a Spanish Augustinian Friar named Julian Bermejo. These coastal towns have been under constant threat by marauders. Boljoon was one left in disarray and its church desecrated after an attack by slavers in 1782. The 25-year old Fray Julian was assigned to Boljoon in October 19, 1802. He was parish priest of the town until 1808 and intermittently served on neighboring towns, including Oslob, Argao, and Dalaguete.
Aside from his priestly duties, he taught livelihood skills to his constituents. He was also a capable builder and military leader. Upon his arrival in Boljoon, he took up the challenge of finishing a new church started by his predecessor. Before starting construction, he focused on securing the church boundary. He built a thick wall using mortar and piedra vitoca (coral blocks) and strengthened it with bulwarks at each corner. Within these walls, the church was completed, a parish house was constructed, a large blockhouse was built along the north wall, and a two-storey watchtower facing the sea. Wanting to fortify defenses across towns, Fray Julian then built Baluartes (watch towers) from Sibonga to the north and to Santander in the south, including in Sumilon Island.
Additional baluartes were extended to Carcar in the north for a total of 96 kilometers. These baluartes, named after saints, were in line of sight of each other and was an early warning system for intruders. With this set-up, the coastal communities would be forewarned of any attacks. Local guards guarded in shifts and reported the approach of raiders using a system of flags. These flags measured approximately ten meters in length and mounted on poles eight fathoms tall. White flags were raised to warn of an impending attack. The number of times they were raised and lowered indicated the number of hostiles approaching. If the raiders went away, a black flag was raised. A red flag indicated the raiders’ northern or southern positions. Not content with merely defense, Fray Julian organized a small armada of ten barangays (shallow draft boats) ready to set sail at quick notice. They were led and operated by the townsfolk from Boljoon, Oslob and Caceres. The vessels were armed with falconets, fore and aft, and its crew with a variety of weapons for close combat. The communities supported the small armada through a regular supply of food. The course of history changed in 1813 when Fray Julian’s small barangay flotilla proved effective. It scored a decisive victory against the raiders in a naval encounter near Sumilon. From then on, the slavers avoided the southern Cebu coastal communities and shifted their attacks elsewhere. The civil government took note of Fray Julian’s achievements and recommended that other Visayan communities in the Visayas organize warning systems and local armadas similar to Fray Julian’s set-up.