Hacienda Irrigation Systems of Cavite

In the Philippines, the local terms for dams include prinsa, prinza, frenza, prenza, paurungan, and pottot. The dams that most know today are those that were constructed from the American period such as the Angat and Bustos dams in Bulacan to the Marcos regime such as the Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija and Magat Dam bordering the provinces of Ifugao and Isabela. But many would not know that dams and in broader perspective, irrigation system were also built during the Spanish colonial period in many parts of the country such as the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, and Negros Occidental.

The friars constructed roads and bridges for easy access to their respective haciendas and facilitate the movements of people and their products. Each hacienda also had its own Casa Hacienda or the residence of the friar administrator.  Other friars assigned with the administrator also lived at the Casa Hacienda. Aside from the friar estate house, the religious also constructed dams and irrigation canals to water the vast lands of their hacienda. 

It is most likely that dam-building started in the late 18th century or even earlier. Fr. Joaquin Martinez de Zuñiga described in that period that dams were built by the friars in the rivers and streams located in their respective properties to irrigate the land and make them fertile.

In the town of Imus alone, a total of 54 dams were constructed by the Augustinian Recollects.  This also included 79 water or irrigation canals called zanja and 28 water reservoirs. 

Dasmariñas Dam in Dasmariñas, Cavite

Recollect historian Fr. Emilio Quilatan notes that the Imus hacienda, the present-day cities of Bacoor, Imus, and Dasmariñas and portions of Kawit in Cavite had rich water resources with at least seven rivers supplying water for irrigation. These included the rivers San Pedro, San Agustin, San Nicolas, Imus, Nangcaan, Casundit, and Bucod. Some of the dams constructed between 1780 to 1895 were Casundit, San Agustin, Nangcaan, Pasong-buaya, Sabotan, Julian, Lucsohin, Pasong Castila, Salitran, Molino, and Tansang Luma.  These dams were constructed with tunnels and irrigation canals and were built of strong materials like adobe and bricks. Interconnecting tunnels were also built between these dams along rivers and creeks to collect water and save it for irrigation during long drought. 

Casundit Dam in Dasmariñas, Cavite

The earliest dated is the Casundit dam (1780) on the Casundit River in what is now Barangay San Jose in Dasmariñas City. This dam, though it underwent some soft intervention before due to the addition of a large sluicegate is still existing and operating. It is also interesting to note that the last dam - Pasong Santol in the Anabu area of Imus built in 1898 - to be constructed in Imus and maybe the friar lands of Cavite, Laguna, and Bulacan is also operational. It was ironic indication that the Recollect friars were still constructing a dam by the end of the Spanish colonial rule. 

Ligas Dam in Bacoor, Cavite

Most of the dams in the Imus hacienda were constructed in the rivers and gorges of Dasmariñas - a phenomenon that could be explained by the geography of the once-agricultural town being located on higher ground. Owing to Dasmariñas' location, the friars faced a heavy task of irrigating the rice fields and farms so they dammed up the rivers and streams to elevate the level of water in order to divert it to the irrigation canals which lead to the fields. Some of these dams have bridges and canals that are made of cut stone. 

Recollect lay brothers Lucas de Jesús Maria of Zaragoza, Spain was the man behind the construction of the Casundit Dam while Hilario Bernal designed the Molino Dam which was completed in 1890. Roman Caballero meanwhile repaired and made improvements of the other dams in the hacienda. 

One of the notable dams in the Imus Hacienda is Pasong Castila located at the San Agustín River in Barangay Malagasang IIC, Imus. Although modifications have already been made these past years such as the addition of a floodgate at the right portion of its labak (facade) and the concrete surfacing added by the National Irrigation Administration, this dam is relatively in good condition and still serves its purpose. It is also the only one to have an extant but crumbling garita-like structure which at closer inspection reveals it to be its bukete (sluicegate). This particularly significant adobe structure needs immediate attention due to its crumbling state. 

Presa Molino and its wall is perhaps the longest ever constructed in the country with a combined distance of more or less 350 meters. The top portion of the wall is now a promenade developed by the local government. This dam, located in Barangay Molino III must not be confused with another dam in the San Nicolas area of Bacoor which has long been associated with former Las Piñas parish priest, now Saint Ezekiel Moreno who is said to have a hand on its improvement. 

Aside from the Hacienda de Imus, dams were also built across the province of Cavite particularly in the neighboring General Trias (Hacienda de San Francisco de Malabon) which then had a portion of Trece Martires as its territory, Indang, Naic, and Tanza which then also had a portion of Trece Martires. 

The Matanda Dam or the Presa de la Hacienda was constructed by the Dominicans prior to 1827. This dam has seven irrigation canals spread to irrigate the fields of the hacienda. This dam is particularly interesting because aside from adobe, it is made of finely cut and well-arranged bricks, and piedra china. It is the only dam to use blocks of piedra china on its labak. 

Tres Cruces Dam in Tanza, Cavite

Another dated prinsa in Tanza is the Tres Cruces dam located at Barangay Tres Cruces. This massive stone structure was rebuilt in 1886 and repaired in 1915 by the Bureau of Public Works. Currently, it has a sluice gate on its labak which is of later addition. 

Other dams in Tanza include Kuminoy in Santol; Pajo, Singo, and Patay na ilat in Amaya; Pasong baka, Gutieres, Inbubuyog, and Lesiderio in Halayhay; Rincon in Bagtas, Man in Bunga and Nagtaob located near the town's border with Trece Martires. In the former Tanza area of Trece Martires, the Quintana dam was constructed in what is now Barangay De Ocampo. Quintana is the pre-Trece name of that area hence the name of the dam. 

General Trias, as mentioned also has more than a dozen dams scattered all over the city. These structures range from the smaller salaan-type (small dams located on irrigation canals and creeks) to major dams such as those in Barangay Prinza, Manggahan, and Pinagtipunan. Dams in General Trias to name a few are Bayan, Butas, Vargas, Pricillian Munti, and Marcelo. 

A concrete marker on top of the Bayan Dam in Barangay Prinza has an inscription that reads “Jorge B. Vargas Director of Lands” which suggests a project was done on the dam during Vargas’s term as director of Lands from 1921 to 1928. Damaged portion on the other side of the marker reads “Dam” with the first half already gone suggesting it could have been an inscription for the name of the dam. In Barangay Pinagtipunan, another Spanish colonial dam still stands and serves its purpose. Plucena dam still has its original form although a flood gate was added as of late for the purpose of releasing water in times of heavy downpours to release the pressure of the water to the structure. In Naic, at least 15 dams of various sizes were constructed on rivers and on a number of streams or creeks.

This article is taken from an abridged version of the Edgar Allan Sembrano’s Master of Arts in Cultural Heritage Studies thesis at the University of Santo Tomas Graduate School entitled “Presa: A Preliminary Documentation on Spanish Colonial Dams in the Provinces of Cavite and Laguna, 1745-1898.”


Very good collection. Continue this marvelous work.
Ivan Henares said…
Thank you for visiting the site!
Iam said…
This is very good/useful info...

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