Much like the province of Oriental Mindoro to which it belongs, Puerto Galera is very rich in history. Literally meaning “Port of Galleons,” it became popular among seafarers during the prosperous years of trade beginning in the 10th century.
This popularity was due to its excellent natural harbor. Today this harbor is considered one of the most beautiful and safest in the world
However, the history of Puerto Galera goes far beyond the introduction of the Spanish. It’s story dates back to the metal age and probably beyond.
Occasional Chinese records from as far back as the 10th century suggest frequent trading with the indigenous Mangyan peoples.
Puerto Galera was an important port for these two peoples and an important center of trading. Chinese merchants bartered with natives, exchanging glazed porcelains for gold recovered from the rivers and streams that cascade down the towering mountains.
In addition to gold, the islands are abundant with jade, corals, shells, birds, rattan, and other forest products abundant on the island, all of which attracted foreign traders.
An excavation of an ancient grave-site near Minolo lends proof to this – the antiques unearthed from the graves were traced back to the 10th and 15th centuries, mostly from China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Puerto Galera became a regular stopover for merchant vessels sailing along the important trade routes of the Near East, Indian coast, Indo-Chinese coast, China, Philippines, Sumatra, and Java.
In 1983, an Australian diver, Brian Homan, discovered a 15th Century “Balanghai”, a Malay-edge sailing vessel containing hundreds of pieces of blue & white Ming Dynasty pottery in the Manila Channel approach to the harbor. This propelled Puerto Galera into prominence within the dive community and, after the National Museum-directed salvaging operations, several dive resorts were opened along the coast adjacent to the town.
The Muelle Bay area, in particular, was used extensively for dock repairs and as a safe anchorage for all types of sailing vessels. Here, too, a lot of merchant ships docked to trade with the natives.
Puerto Galera was discovered by the Spanish during one of the explorations made by Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo on their way to Manila in 1570. The Spanish referred to it as Mina de Oro (meaning “gold mine”) from where the island got its current name, Mindoro.
As one of the oldest settlements of religious missionaries, the Augustinians founded Puerto Galera in 1574 as the original capital of Mindoro. Originally, the town was located at the Lagundian, chosen by the Spanish authorities as the provincial capital due to its excellent harbor and natural beauty. But due to its susceptibility to Moro (Muslim) raids, the Spaniards were forced to transfer the town from the Lagundian to the present site, which they named Puerto Galera.
The town was popularly known as “Puerto Galera” (Port of the Galleons). Spanish galleons coming from Mexico and Spain used the presence of an excellent port or berthing place to take refuge during stormy weather before proceeding to Manila. It was considered as a one of the safest, most convenient natural harbors in the world, and still is today! Legend has it that once sailors set foot on the island, they never wanted to leave without a promise to come back.
The mountains and the good harbor nearby served the Spaniards well as shields from the Moro pirates and other marauders. Several guard houses and watch towers were built at the top of the surrounding mountains. The biggest was constructed at Dampalitan Point, north of the town facing Batangas Channel. Public and Military headquarters, hospitals, warehouses and a convent made of stone were also erected through the efforts of both the church and the state. A wharf was also built at Muelle Bay.
Guarding the coasts of Puerto Galera was a Spanish warship, named “Cañonero Mariveles”. However, on November 18, 1879, the ill-fated battleship was hit by a powerful storm, which caused it to sink outside the West Coast of Muelle. As a tribute to the lost ship and its crew, a wooden cross was erected right at the center of Muelle with the following inscription: “Ultima tierra que pesaron los tripolantes del Cañonero Mariveles el 18 de Noviembre de 1879, Memoria de sus campañero”. As one of the greatest relics of the past century, this cross was renovated in 1938 by a Spanish national named Luis Gomez y Sotto.
Several artifacts discovered in the 1980’s from a Spanish ship wreck discovered in the harbor of Puerto Galera were also excavated. Many of the artifacts recovered were put together and can be seen today in the Excavation Museum.
In the early days the Spaniards thought it would be nice to make Puerto Galera a productive place by cultivating the farm lands to become rice fields. They put up a rice granary where rice grains ready for shipment were stored.
It was believed that the rice granary caught fire in the 18th century and the whole place broke down. Burned rice grains were also believed to have been tossed to the sea. Following the natural process of decomposition, the burned rice grains should have decomposed after a period of time. But no, the salty waters of Puerto Galera sea preserved the rice grains instead. Until now, the Black rice grains continue to surface as the tide changes.
1700s – The Spanish colonizers recognized Oriental Mindoro as a territory with Puerto Galera as its capital.
1837 – The seat of government was transferred to Calapan which was geographically blessed with wide agricultural lands and the Spaniards opted to stay there. When Puerto Galera was no longer the seat of government, the Spanish government officials left the town and only the friars remained.
1898 -1900 – Revolutionaries from Puerto Galera participated in the overthrow of the Spanish Government in Mindoro.
1902 Nov 2 – Puerto Galera was again made the capital of the province until…
1903 – During the American regime, a military governor was appointed.
1905 – It was annexed to Calapan as a barrio.
1919 – It was made a Municipal District
1927 Dec 7 – the Philippine Congress passed Act 3415 creating the independent municipality of Puerto Galera.
1942 Feb 27 – the Japanese air force and naval auxiliary occupied the town until 1946.
1946 – After the liberation, Rafael Garcia was appointed as the municipal mayor of Puerto Galera.
1948 – Estanislao Brucal, an officer of the guerrilla unit in Mindoro during the Japanese occupation, became the first elected municipal mayor of Puerto Galera under the Republican form of Government.
1973 Dec 26 – PD 354 was issued by President Ferdinand E. Marcos making Puerto Galera a reservation area under the Man and Biosphere Program of UNESCO, naming it as a nature research center. That same year, the town’s reefs were declared a marine sanctuary.
1980 Nov 21, Ferdinand Marcos issued PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 1605-A
“DECLARING THE ENCLOSED COVES AND WATERS EMBRACED BY PUERTO GALERA BAY, AN ECOLOGICALLY THREATENED ZONE AND FORBIDDING THEREIN THE CONSTRUCTION OF MARINAS, HOTELS, RESTAURANTS OR ANY STRUCTURES ALONG ITS COASTLINE, AND APPOINTING A SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO STUDY THE ECOLOGICALLY ENDANGERED ZONE’S REHABILITATION AND PRESERVATION.”
Playground Of The Gods
As an interesting side note: The Grand Scheme of Ferdinand Marcos was to create a “Playground of the Gods” in this beautiful bay. Close to Manila and unspoiled, it would be the perfect vacation spot for Manila’s elite.
Whether by design or not, Leandro Locsin (a favorite architect of Imelda Marcos) bought up much of the land surrounding this beautiful bay, other nearby beaches and roughly a third of White Beach shoreline.
Construction began in Muelle on a Grand Casino with ballrooms, a pool, rooms and villas. The Puerto Galera Yacht Cub was built on donated land and construction of 75 condominiums began above it. However, once Marcos was deposed and fled the country these projects abruptly halted.
Luckily his friends, the Locsins, turned the land ownership into a foundation to preserve the beauty of the bay and that is the reason for it’s pristine nature to this day.
2004 – Puerto Galera was awarded exclusive and prestigious membership to the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club, an UNESCO affiliated international non-government organization based in Vannes (France) which aims to promote, protect and develop marine and bay sources.
2005 – Puerto Galera & the Verde Island Passage were found to be the center of marine fish biodiversity and the home of the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world by American biologists Kent Carpenter and Victor Springer. Most of the endemic species in the Philippines are found in the Verde Island Passage between Mindoro Island and the main island of Luzon.
Beauty is what you will find. Entering the bay through either the Manila (West) or Batangas (North) channel for the first time, it is impossible not to be showered by the residue from eons of nature’s rich evolution that has elevated Puerto Galera into a metaphor for paradise.
Puerto Galera is a 1st class municipality, classified as partly urban and occupies an area of 247.85 km². At the end of 2010 Puerto Galera was the home of 32,521 residents.
Puerto Galera has made Oriental Mindoro a popular tourist destination. It has numerous fine beaches with enchanting, sheltered coves and turquoise waters beneath a green mountainous backdrop.
Spreading out about 10 kms. around the coast, the town’s focal point is the Poblacion (town proper) and its ferry dock. It is considered as the “Little Baguio” of Mindoro due to its zigzag roads and steep ravines. Its excellent natural yacht harbor is effectively protected by Medio Island at the mouth of the picture-perfect Muelle Bay.