Iloilo’s San Joaquin Catholic Church and the 1860 Battle of Tetuan


Standing on the southern end of Iloilo Province, a church dominates a rustic town’s skyline, with rugged peaks on its background. While old colonial era churches are a common fixture in Philippine towns, especially in Luzon and the Visayan Islands, the Catholic Church of San Joaquin portrays the culture and history of its townsfolk. Its façade is one of its kind in the Philippines—a significant victory of the Spaniards in the middle of the 19th century in northern Africa. Why and what is the Rendicion de Tetuan in 1860? 

The skyline of Tetuan and the soldiers marching towards the city, as depicted in Rendicion D Tetuan in San Joaquin Church, Iloilo (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

La batalla de Tetuán, 1860 

The expansion of European influence and colonization in northern Africa has brought tensions with the Moroccans in the 19th century. Concessions were made with their defeat from the French and the English in the early part of the century. (Miller, 2013, p. 23) In addition, the Spanish North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla have been experiencing raids from the Riffian people. The two nations entered negotiations but was not successful. The breakdown of negotiations triggered the Congreso de los Diputados to declare war against the Moroccans on 22 October 1859. (Fernández-Rivero, 2009, pp. 470-471) 

La Batalla de Tetuán by Mariano Fortuny, painted from 1862-1864 (From Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña)

Part of the Hispano-Moroccan War of 1859 to 1860, the goal was to invade Tetuán which is believed to be the base of the frequent raids done to the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Northern Africa. The battle was fought from 4-6 February 1860 which resulted a Spanish victory. 

The war ended with the Treaty of Wad-Ras that was signed between the parties on 26 April 1860. It indicates conditions such as the ending of hostilities with the Spanish exclaves and reparations costing 20 million duros. (Morales, 2013, pp. 639-640) 

La Rendicion: An Allegory to San Joaquin’s Experience? 

During these times, the current San Joaquin Church was being constructed which was supervised by Augustinian friar Tomás Santarén. The news of the Spanish victory reached the Philippines and to commemorate it, he had the famed battle carved in soft coral-stone at the pediment of the church’s facade. Pedro Gallende (1996) mentioned that he was assisted by Spanish engineer Felipe Díez and an anonymous Visayan carver. He postulated (Galende, 1996, p. 276) that the maestro de obras was of Chinese ancestry due to the details of the figures. 

A closer detail of San Joaquin Church's "Rendicion D' Tetuan" (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

I am not sure what came into Santarén’s mind aside from gesture of commemoration, but it is important to note that San Joaquin, along with towns in the southern coast of Iloilo Province were frequented by Moro raids during the Spanish colonial period. Watchtowers called bantayan once lined the southern coast, with Fuerza de la Nuestra Señora del Rosario (popularly called “Fort San Pedro,” now in ruins) protecting Iloilo River. Called “pangayaw,” the raids took severe toll on these settlements in the Visayas in which looting, and kidnapping occurred because of the power struggle between the Spanish Crown and the Moro sultanates and other groups in the south. The commemorative carvings, along with traditions such as Moro-Moro and Sinulog found all throughout the Visayan Islands, is a manifestation of the tense relationship of the peoples that has implications up to this day—including the migration and settlement of Filipino Settlers or “Kristyanos” in Mindanao in the 20th century. (McKenna, 1998, pp. 70-85) (Baumgartner, 1977) 

San Joaquin Church (Photo by Berniemack Arellano, 2022)


On top of the pediment is the carving of Nuestra Señora de las Angustias. The text reads "Nuestra Señora de las Angustias segun se vene(?)ri Ciudad de Valladolid echa en el ano 18..." (rough translation: Nuestra Señora de las Angustias as according to the veneration in the City of Valladolid, cast in the year 18**)

San Joaquin Church is a National Historical Landmark and a National Cultural Treasure

San Joaquin Church's Campanario (belfry) dominating the town's skyline. Panay Gulf at the background (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

How to Get to San Joaquin Church: 

  • From Iloilo City, take a Villa Mohon or Oton/Oton Anhawan jeepney to Mohon Terminal in Villa Arevalo District.
  • There are two terminals in Mohon, Villa Arevalo District. You may take the “Ceres Bus Terminal” bound for Antique Province (signboards such as San Jose, Libertad, Pandan, etc.) or the jeepney terminal where San Joaquin, San Joaquin Tiolas, and San Joaquin Lawigan jeepneys are. 
  • Usual travel time between Iloilo City to San Joaquin is one hour to one hour and 30 minutes. 
  • Tell the bus or jeepney conductor to disembark on San Joaqun Banwa or San Joaquin Simbahan. Do take note that when you take "Tiolas" or "Lawigan" San Joaquin Jeepneys, it will not stop at the town proper and instead will proceed to the barrios further south. 
  • The church is a few metes away south of the national highway. You can see the belfry from the highway. 

Works Cited

Baumgartner, J. (1977). Notes on Piracy and Slaving in Philippine History. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society Vol. 5, No. 4, 270-272.

Fernández-Rivero, J.-A. (2009). Lafotografia militar en la Guerra de Africa: Enrique Facio. Jornadas de Historia de Ceuta, 459-492.

Galende, P. G. (1996). Angels in Stone: Augustinian Churches in the Philippines. Manila: San Agustin Museum.

McKenna, T. M. (1998). Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Miller, S. G. (2013). A history of modern Morocco. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Morales, Y. (2013). PRENSA Y LITERATURA EN LA GUERRA DE ÁFRICA (1859-1860). OPINIÓN PUBLICADA, PATRIOTISMO Y XENOFOBIA. Historia Contemporánea 49, 619-644.