Exactly who brought the first cacao plants to the Philippines is hidden in the fog of history. It is a reasonably informed guess that Spanish immigrants from Mexico unofficially brought their own plants to maintain a taste of home.
For instance, Gaspar de San Augustin says that in 1670 a navigator, Pedro Brabo de Lagunas, “brought from Acapulco a pot containing a cacao-plant which he gave to his brother, Bartolome, a priest in Camarines, from whom it was stolen by a Lipa native, Juan del Aguila, who hid it and took care of it, and from it propagated all the original Philippine stock.” 1
The official history of home-grown chocolate begins five years earlier when a Jesuit, Juan de Avila, urged governor Diego Salcedo to bring in cacao plants to be grown by Filipinos as an article of commerce2. By encouraginmg its production Avila thought it would stop the locals from wandering about and keep them ‘under the bells’ where he could preach Christian doctrine at them.
Avila was based in Carigara, where a successful plantation was put up. From there spread to other villages and islands of of the Visayas.
It was said: “This beverage is more necessary here than in other regions, It is especially so for the ministers [of religion], who go about in continual voyages and navigations, very often without having the comfort of having any other provision or nourishment.”
By 1756, there was at least some small scale commercial cacao production. That year the Manila Galleon, Santisima Trinidad y Nuestra Señora del Buen Fin, with a capacity of 2,000 tonnes and armed with 50 guns one of the biggest of the galleons, met a heavily-armed boat coming from Romblon island with a cargo of oil and cacao3.
Like the Europeans,, Filipinos took to chocolate and it was consumed by every class. Little of it was grown on scale, families kept a few plants in their backyard for their own consumption and very little was exported. It was often shaded by another cash crop – Abaca, the source of Manila hemp.
Although quality varied throughout the archipelago, Philippine gained a reputation for being as good as, if not superior to, that grown in the Americas.
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1 ‘The Philippines / by John Foreman.’ Accessed 2 March 2020. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philamer/AAQ5315.0001.001/359?rgn=pages;view=image;q1=Chocolates;op2=and;q2=Manila.
2 Blair and Robertson, Vol 20, p198
3.Schurz, William, Lytle,‘The Manila Galleon’., P283m EP Dutton, New York, 1939
Accessed 7 March 2020. https://studylib.es/doc/8806867/the-manila-galleon.