Posted by: vip | April 1, 2009

Cabeza de barangay 4: The cabeza was not the capitán


Except for the main title, this is not repeating myself.

Kinfolks in San Fernando, Cebu, think our ancestor (my great-great-grandfather) Numeriano Gerasta* must have been a barangay captain. The older folks recall that people in the town referred to him as Kapitan Anoy, or ‘Tan Anoy.

I had a different interpretation of the “Kapitan” thing when I heard it but I had to go first to San Fernando and check with its official records. And there it was–on a docket the municipio had kept, a compiled list of the town’s chief executives. Numeriano Gerasta was indeed among the capitanes who had served 1886-1889.

From 1885-1898, the title for the town’s chief executive was capitán municipal or capitán mayor. Before that, the title was gobernadorcillo but even then he was already called the capitán**. And after, Jefe Local and then Presidente Municipal. The next in line to the capitán was called the teniente mayor and certain other town officials were also tenientes—teniente de policia, de sementera (agriculture) de ganados (livestock), and so on.

Gerasta was at least two times capitán of San Fernando. While it’s possible he also had served as a cabeza de barangay, but the capitán title-–that was for his being a mayor. Remember that the head of a barangay was the cabeza (Spanish for head) de barangay, and not capitán.

In Carcar, we have well-known examples of capitanes in the Vicente Alcoseba account of Leon Kilat’s last night in the town. He mentioned Carcar leaders in familiar terms as Kapitan Insyong (Florencio Noel), Kapitan Paraz (Simeon Paraz), Kapitan Kadyo (Leocadio Jaen) and Kapitan Tiyoy (Timoteo Barcenilla, the owner of the house and Alcoseba’s own grandfather).

Noel had taken over from Paraz as the “mayor” that same day—for his fourth time–and the others were all ex-capitanes of Carcar, too. Alcoseba also mentioned a Kapitan Jacinto Velez, but Velez does not seem to have been a Carcar mayor; possibly he was an ex-capitán of Cebu City itself. Anyway, they all had Kapitan affixed to their names and are by that title immortalized by Alcoseba.

But, people like my folks in San Fernando do mix up the old title capitán for the present office of barangay captain. They think it’s the same title and office, forgetting there was no such thing as barangay captain yet at the time. And forgot too soon, too, because, ironically, the terms barrio and barangay captain were just fairly recent developments.

So people from all the towns out there, if there’s a person in your ancestry who was called Capitán during the Spanish times, he was a town mayor.

Didn’t we mention the officials below the capitan were called tenientes? In time, the cabeza de barangay was changed to teniente del barrio, too. This advent of the barrio marked the end of the social and tax group, the barangay, and barrio was the start of the political subdivision now defined by its geographical territory (because the territory was called barrio in Spanish). But it was just quite recently that the barrio lieutenant was even “promoted” to captain.

And it was already Marcos who changed the name barrio to barangay, to hark back to the old unit and feign a link to antiquity. Strictly speaking, one cannot say Marcos reverted to the old name, because the two did not refer to the same thing. Likewise, it was probably around the same time, too, that he entertained the idea of changing the name of the entire country to Maharlika, except that while this ancient Filipino term meant “free men”, it never referred to territory.

Oh, our relish for ranks. I had served as the barangay captain of my barangay in Cebu City. I always joke that since I had retired and so, like in the military, I should go up a rank higher and should rightfully be a barangay major.

The Capitan Chino. People say that the tycoon Lucio Tan seem to treasure the title Capitán the most. Cebu Chinese have a fondness for “Don” but for Lucio Tan it’s not so much Don Lucio or Chairman, but to call him Capitán appears to be the in thing.

In old Malaysia and probably in the Philippines, the head Chinese in the territory was once called the Capitán Chino. The title was accorded by the colonizing power to the head Chinese who unites the families, and, needless to add, the gangs, too, in the territory. Similar to how they used the Philippine cabezas and gobernadorcillos, the colonizers ruled the entire Chinese community indirectly through the Capitán Chino.

With that backdrop, like Capitán Lucio Tan, wouldn’t you covet a dance with history? Wouldn’t you prefer Capitán to Chairman yourself? There are as many chairmen as there are boards throughout the country, but the capitán Chino was Mr. Big himself.


*Numeriano Gerasta and his parents appeared in San Fernando church records to be natives of Boljoon. Meanwhile, nobody knowledgeable I’d asked in Boljoon has even heard of the family name. But since Boljoon was the mother parish of most towns in the south, the Gerastas could have come from any one of those towns when it was still part of Boljoon.

** In the 1840 Carcar Baptism record for his daughter Josefa Vicenta, Don Apolonio Francisco was described as the capitán actual (current captain).  And àpropos of our thesis here, the record even further disclosed that the capitan actual himself belonged to the barangay of D. Sireño Santiago. After the Claveria decree, Apolonio Francisco became Apolonio Cuison. And Sireño Santiago was a Cuison, too.



  1. dear Kapitan Vip, ha ha ha. I think the best thing or the only good thing that Marcos ever did was to bring the gov’t to the local level via the barangay. Informative post, thanks

    • Marcos, or a think-tank of his, ruled the country by organizing it, down to the barangay level, and even instituted minor departments in the barangay. Maybe they got the idea from Chairman Mao (see, not capitan?teehee). He also established the national professional groups like the IBP and “forced” already working professionals to be members. It was all to better rule the country and gain more time for looting it.

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