Spanish Lighthouses of the Philippines

When the U.S. captured the Philippines from Spain in 1898, the Americans inherited close to 60 lighthouses and minor lights built by the Spanish colonial authorities. Many of the major Spanish lighthouses survive; in fact, many of them are still in service. Others have gone to ruin in the tropical climate of the islands.

This report is based on two principal sources, both of which have disappeared from the Internet:

  • Faros Españoles de Ultramar. This was the table of contents of a book published in Spain, listing lighthouses built in the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. For the Philippines it listed 27 major light stations, 17 luces locales (local lights), and 14 additional lighthouses built on the more remote islets of the archipleago, a total of 58.
  • The Philippines Lighthouses. This was a web site posted by Edmund Tan So, who was trying to launch a lighthouse preservation society in the Philippines. The site included technical descriptions of many of the major Spanish lighthouses contributed by Manuel L. Noche, who also visited the sites to assess their current condition.

In addition, I have information from:

  • Light Lists listing Philippine lights in 1865, 1879, 1895, 1904, and 1920. I am much indebted to Michel Forand for providing this data.
Cabra Island Light
Cabra Island Light, Occidental Mindoro, January 2008
Flickr photo copyright M.J. de Lara; permission requested

The 27 Major Lighthouses (in the order listed by Faros Españoles de Ultramar)

  1. Río Pasig. Located on the north side of the Pasig River entrance in Manila, this is the oldest light station in the Philippines, founded in 1642. A 15 m gray stone lighthouse was built here in 1846. This tower was demolished in 1992 and replaced by a new stone lighthouse, which is much inferior architecturally to its predecessor.
  2. Corregidor. Located on an island in Manila Bay. The original 1835 lighthouse was the oldest in the colony when the Americans arrived. It had an unusual design, a circular stone tower rising from the center of an octagonal stone dwelling. The lighthouse was nearly destroyed during World War II, when American forces held out for months on Corregidor. It was demolished in 1950, and its stones were used in the construction of a new lighthouse. The new building has the general form of the old one, with the tower rising from the center of a building, but it is not a replica. The new tower is octagonal rather than round, and the building at the base appears to be 12-sided.
  3. Pulo Caballo. Caballo is a small island southwest of Corregidor in Manila Bay. Although this is listed as a major station, the 1904 light list shows it as a "white house" with a focal plane of only 27 ft (8 m). This light was built in 1853, the light lists agree. Like Corregidor, Caballo was heavily shelled in 1942, so it is unlikely the lighthouse survives.
  4. Bajo de San Nicolás. I believe the Bay of St. Nicholas is what is now called Cavite Bay, at the south end of Manila Bay, sheltered by Sangley Point and well known to generations of U.S. Navy seamen. The 1879 light list includes a light at a focal plane of 29 ft "on Sangley Point" and gives 1864 as the construction date. This light is missing from the 1895 list, but the 1904 list has a light at 34 ft, built or altered in 1898, described as "iron frame on Sangley Point." The 1920 list has the same description but lists the height as 43 ft and the date as 1915; perhaps the light was raised in that year. Possibly this was an octagonal screwpile lighthouse located off the point: there was formerly a wonderful drawing of such a lighthouse, dated 1876, available on the Internet. There is no evidence the lighthouse survives; the modern light at Sangley Point is on an aviation tower.
  5. Siete Pecados. The Siete Pecados (Seven Sins) are seven small islands obstructing the northern approach to Iloilo, the principal port of Panay. The 1895 light list describes a "gray iron tower, 29 ft high" with a focal plane of 98 ft. The 1904 list has a "bluish gray tower" at the same focal plane. Both lists give 1884 as the construction date. The 1920 light list also has a "bluish gray tower" but the focal plane is only 85 ft and a date of 1904 is given. It appears that nothing remains of the Spanish tower, but the 1904 lighthouse is still standing. The light has been moved to a modern tower.
  6. Isla de Cabra. The island is northeast of Mindoro and is an important landfall for ships arriving in the Philippines from the South China Sea. The Spanish lighthouse is a 67 ft (20.5 m) square brick tower completed in 1889. When Noche visited, the station still had its original lantern and first order lens, but "the main prisms of the lens were removed to allow the new solar powered lamp to be installed." The station is intact, but not in very good condition. The site is remote, and since Noche's visit the light has been moved to a modern concrete tower.
  7. Punta Capones. This light station is on Capones Island, off the west coast of Luzon north of Manila. The lighthouse, built off the same plans as Isla de Cabra, is a 56 ft (17 m) square brick tower completed in 1890. The lantern and lens have been replaced with modern equipment. Noche found the tower to be in fairly good condition, but the keeper's house is in bad shape. In March 2004 the Environmental Protection of Asia Foundation signed an agreement to restore the light station as the Capones Island Marine Conservation Research and Development Center.
  8. Punta Santiago. Cape Santiago is the southwestern point of Luzon, south of Manila. The lighthouse, a 51 ft (15.5 m) brick tower, differs from Isla de Cabra and Punta Capones chiefly in being round rather than square. It was completed in 1890. Noche found it to be in relatively good condition, having been renovated recently. The lantern and lens have been replaced. Noche says the area surrounding the lighthouse was slated for a resort development and the light station could become a bed and breakfast, but this did not come to pass. In October 2007 the region's Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary proposed to adopt and restore the lighthouse as its headquarters.
  9. Cabo Bojeador. One of the best known of all Philippine lighthouses, located at the northwestern corner of Luzon. It is a 65 ft (20 m) octagonal stone tower completed in 1892. The original lantern and lens remain, although the lens was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1990; the active lens is outside the lantern, I believe. This is one of the few Philippine lighthouses still staffed, although the principal function of the keepers is to lead tours. Noche found this light station to be in need of renovation. In June 2003 the government of Ilocos Norte province set up a nonprofit organization, Cape Bojeador Lighthouse Development Inc., to "rehabilitate" the lighthouse as one of the principal tourist attractions of the province. It is not clear whether any restoration work has begun.
  10. Cabo Melville. This station is at the opposite end of the Philippines from Cabo Bojeador: it stands on the southern tip of Balabac Island looking across the Balabac Strait to Borneo. The lighthouse is a 90 ft octagonal brick tower also completed in 1892. It is conical in form, rather than cylindrical like Cabo Bojeador. Noche has no report posted on the condition of this very remote light station. The lighthouse is intact but in need of restoration.
  11. Cabo Engaño. The lighthouse is on Palaui Island off the northeastern tip of Luzon; it is a major landfall light from ships arriving from the Pacific. The Spanish lighthouse is an 47 ft (14.5 m) octagonal stone tower, similar to Cape Bojeador, completed in 1893. Noche described conditions at the site as "pathetic," but his visit came before renovation of the tower and installation of a modern lens and lantern. The keeper's house and other buildings have been heavily vandalized and are still in terrible condition. The site is remote, but not remote enough.
  12. Punta Luzaran. This station is on Guimaras Island marking the southern entrance to Iloilo, Panay. The lighthouse, a 17.5 m (58 ft) octagonal cylindrical tower, was completed in 1894. It appears similar to the Cabo Bojeador and Cabo Engaño lights. The entire light station is in ruins; the lantern is gone from the tower and the roof is gone from the keeper's house. I am not aware of any restoration plans. At some time after 1920 the light was replaced by what the current NGA list describes only as 38 ft (11.5 m) "metal tower."
  13. Islote de Manigonigo. The island of Manigonigo is just off the northeastern corner of Panay. The Spanish built a light here in 1894, described on the 1895 light list as a "gray iron tower, 34 ft high" having a focal plane of 68 ft (21 m). The description is the same on the 1904 list; the 1920 list says the tower is white but retains the 1894 date. I believe this was the first of the tourelles, 10 m cylindrical cast iron towers prefabricated in France. The lighthouse does not survive and has been replaced by a modern tower; ruins of the keeper's house are standing.
  14. Islas Gigantes. This station appears as Sibuluak Babai on the 1904 and 1920 light lists. It is located on North Gigante Island, another islet off the northeastern tip of Panay. The lists describe it only as a "tower," gray in 1904 and white in 1920, with a focal plane of 78 ft (23 m). It is dated 1895. This was probably a second tourelle. As at Maniginigo, the lighthouse does not survive and has been replaced by a modern tower; ruins of the keeper's house are standing.
  15. Punta Malabrigo. Malabrigo Point is in southern Luzon, overlooking the narrow Verde Island Passage between Luzon and Mindoro. The lighthouse is a 56 ft (17 m) round brick tower, similar to the Punta Santiago lighthouse, completed in 1896. Noche found the light station to be in unusually good condition; as usual, the lantern and lens were replaced during the renovation. In May 2004, Akiko Thomson, an Olympic swimmer who is famous in the Philippines, formed a group that adopted the lighthouse with the intention of making the station a center for youth aquatic sports.
  16. Islas Calabazas. This is another station on an island off northeastern Panay. The 1895 light list has it as Guimaras Strait, described as a "white iron tower, about 45 ft high" with a focal plane of 100 ft (30.5 m). The date given is 1894. The 1904 list has the Calabazas Island Light as an "iron tower, square base, white and grey," also at 100 ft, but the date given is 1884. This description and date is repeated in the 1920 list. At some recent time, the light was replaced by a modern concrete tower. The original light tower has collapsed in recent years, and the keeper's house is in ruins.
  17. Aparri. This station, also called Punta Linao, marked the entrance to the port of Aparri on the northern coast of Luzon. The lighthouse was a cast iron tourelle erected in 1896. Noche visited the site and reports that the lighthouse has been lost fairly recently to beach erosion.
  18. Punta Capul. Capul is an island off the northwestern corner of Samar at the western end of the important San Bernardino Strait between Samar and Luzon. The Spanish lighthouse is a 12 m (39 ft) granite block tower completed in 1896. When Noche visited the renovation of the tower was underway, but he found the condition of the station "deplorable" with the keeper's house in ruins. The lighthouse has since be restored; it remains in service.
  19. San Bernardino. The island of San Bernardino is at the eastern end of the strait that carries its name. The lighthouse, a twin of Punta Capul, is another 12 m (39 ft) granite block tower, also completed in 1896. Noche also found this tower under renovation, with its lantern removed, although he says the station "did not escape the destruction caused by vandals." This lighthouse remains in service.
  20. Punta Bugui. Bugui Point is the northwestern point of Masbate, a significant waypoint on the so-called "Southern Passage" from San Bernardino Strait to Manila. This light is missing from the 1898 list, and I believe it was incomplete at the time of the Spanish-American War. The Americans placed the light in service in 1903. The lighthouse has been replaced by a modern tower, but it is still standing in poor condition. The keeper's house is in ruins.
  21. Gintotolo. Jintotolo Island, as it is now spelled, is just off the town of Balud at the southwestern corner of Masbate. The lighthouse is a 51 ft (15.5 m) square stone tower. This lighthouse has been restored and is in service. It is one of Masbate's best known tourist attractions, open for climbing.
  22. Islote de Captitoncillo. Capitancillo Island, in the modern spelling, is a small island off northeastern Cebu. The historic lighthouse does not survive; it was replaced by a slender concrete tower in the 1950s. The keeper's houses survive in ruins.
  23. Isla Tanguingui. This is a small island in the Visayan Sea northeast of Panay. As at Capitancillo, the historic lighthouse does not survive; it has been replaced by a slender concrete tower. The keeper's houses survive in ruins.
  24. Balabac. No information is available concerning this station.

Cabo Santiago Light
Cape Santiago Light, Batangas, March 2007
Panoramio photo copyright Jazz Ramiro; used by permission

Cape Melville Light
Cape Melville Light, Balabac, December 2006
Flickr photo copyright JuLio Banderas; permission requested

Malabrigo Point Light
Malabrigo Point Light, Batangas, April 2007
Panoramio photo copyright Jazz Ramiro; used by permission

Capul Island Light
Capul Island Light, Samar, April 2006
Flickr Creative Commons photo by potocraze

 

The 17 Luces Locales (Local Lights)

  1. Dagupán
  2. San Fernando
  3. Sual
  4. Dapitán
  5. Davao
  6. Luz sideral de Punta Sangley
  7. Liloan
  8. Romblón
  9. Cebú
  10. Joló (This light tower survives, incorporated in a small mosque on the Jolo waterfront.)
  11. Puerto Princesa
  12. Iloilo
  13. Jap
  14. Leyte
  15. Mactán
  16. Muelle de Opón
  17. Zamboanga

The 14 Faros de los Proyectos

  1. Batag
  2. Isla de San Miguel
  3. Isla Panaón
  4. Islote de Bantón
  5. Bajo Apó
  6. Isla Maniguín
  7. Isla de Apó
  8. Maestre del Campo
  9. Punta Apunán
  10. Isla de Malapascua
  11. Punta Bagacay
  12. Isla Cabilao
  13. Punta Cabicungán
  14. Isla de Malaqui

Return to the Lighthouse Directory index

Posted August 17, 2004. Checked and revised September 13, 2014. Site copyright 2014 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.