THE LEANING TOWER OF MILAOR

The Gobernadorcillo and the assembly of principales of the town of Milaor sent a petition to Alcalde Mayor Don Jose de Eguia on 9 December 1803. The letter read:
"The town of M ilnor in the province of Camarines before your Lordship humbly say and beseech you. That being one of theforemost towns of the province which consists of some 1,300 tributes with the church and convent of stone which may be re- garded as the best fro m among these one thing which is lacking to complet e this adorn­ ment and is also for our well -bei ng. A tower, the one which it has had and it has since its be­ ginning is made of four posts which despite the con tinuous work on its structure could still not achieve its purpose, its sound could not be heard to the est of the town. For this rea­ son, many failed to attend masses, others arrived late . . . "

From these foregoing reasons, the inhabitants begged the
Alcalde Mayor to allow them to build a stone tower which they offer to construct through their own work without any expenses coming from the town. This petition was likewise endorsed by the parish priest, Fray Diego Solis.

The petition was given some consideration by Alcalde Mayor Eguia who issued his endorsement to the Assessor General on 29 December 1803. He pointed out that "this work is necessary and he town is so rich and populous that in a short period of time, it would be completed." He never­ theless disapproved the idea that it could just be construct­ ed by themselves without any direction from competent persons for in this case, it "could have terrible result losing much time and effort."

It appeared, however, that the Assessor General had in­ terposed some objections to the project. To appeal this un­ favorable decision, the Gobemadorcillo and the assembly of principals of the town of Milaor once again sent a petition on 13 Apil 1804 to the Alcalde Mayor of Camarines. The con­ tent of the letter is worth quoting lengthily:

"As we never had nor have ever existed until now in our province foremen nor experts in masonry, each town through the direction of anyone skillful, but speciall y through our Fathers, has done good or bad works which nevertheless we already have. In the stock of materials such as bricks, lime, stone and powder, we never spend any sil­ ver, thus the bricks (which the tower is to be constructed) is made by the community in the town where we have enough time to form and bake them. Others will be assigned for other works. Some barangays are assigned to gather stones, others will gather the shells to make lime, and so the rest without pa ying anything. Since we are the ones who have made thefoundation that exists, we also have the custom of renovating it and if necessary, to rebuild it."

Public works in the Spanish regime were undertaken by way of the so-called polo y servicio, a colonial institution that required males between the ages of 16 to 60 to render cer­ tain services to communal projects for free within a certain amount of time. This system had earned a very unsavory reputation for the enormous abuses it engdendered. Never­ theless, it was through this system that the residents of Mi­ laor were to construct this tower. The manufacture of lime was easy for the town since it had abundant shells which were readily available in the river. The document continues:

Theforemen who have to carry out the work, we have to say that it will be ourselves. The equipment are already provid­ ed by our Padre, for this we will not have to buy anything, nor pay anything. We said in our petition that we would do it and we do it without any contributions nor any silver flowing out (derramas de plata ). For this is not in a hurry. Wedo it little was we can during ourfree time. The plan of the tower will be the following: it will consist of three layers with its canopy. In the first layer will have walls of two brazas; the second will have a braza and a half, and the third one braza. The ground floor will be cemented. . . and since we do not know how to calculate the cost of other works which is to be done nor do we have anyone who could do the design of these, seeing that the Assessor Gener­ al has said that each one should contribute, it is understood that this contribution is in theform of work.

Following the Spanish system of measurement, one braza was equivalent to about 6 feet. Although it was not indicat­ ed, the measurement was evidently referring to the height of the layers. Thus, the first layer will have 12 feet, the second would measure 6 and the last would be 3 feet. The bell tower therefore would have a total height of some 21excluding the canopy.
"We request your majesty that this may serve to bring this letter to help us explain that in this province , it could not be possible to compl y nor to realize the superior decree since there is neither an architect who could make the plans, nor materials to be purchased, nor the place where they can be bought, nor foremen or officials, even the profession does not exist, and in the end, neither the money to be used for this communal project, whose truth is indeed evident."

Unfortunately, nothing was ever heard of this project. No early 19th century documents made any reference to the ex­ istence of a newly contructed bell tower in Milaor. The ear­ liest 19th century record, which carried some information on Milaor church, was in 1823, which mentioned of "new­ ly-constructed stone church." Nothing however, was ever said about a bell tower. The first reference to a bell tower was made by Fray Felix de Huerta who men­ tioned the existence of a "beautiful and strong stone tower composed of three layers" which he claimed was constructed by Fray Francisco de los Santos in 1848. If Fray de Huerta's claims were true, then this implies that the projected bell tow­ er in 1803 could have a short-lived existence or it was never realized at all. And the present leaning tower was Fray Francisco de los Santos' monu­ mental architectural contribution to the town's magnificent past.

 

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