First Filipino Cannon Maker
The presence of canons used against the Spaniards when they came to Manila in
1570 was only one of the evidences of the civilization the Filipinos already have. These
early cannons were credited to Panday Pira, a native from the Southern islands of the
country, who migrated to Manila in 1508. Panday is a Tagalog word, which means
Stories in Tausug “tarsillas” mention that Sumatran Muslim prince, Rajah
Baginda, brought the first firearm to Sulu in 1930, and it was possible that he introduced
the manufacture of artillery, which Panday Pira learned and introduced when he arrived
in Manila and established a foundry in the north bank of Pasig or San Nicolas district.
Rajah Sulayman commissioned Panday Pira to make several pieces of cannons to be
mounted on the palisades surrounding his kingdom and on the seaside portion of his
The Spanish forces led by Martin de Goiti were not able take Maynilad easily in
1570 because the natives defended it with the cannons of Panday Pira. After the brief
battle, which his better-armed army won, he took Panday Pira’s cannon as war booty and
presented them to Adelantado Legaspi in Panay. They found these cannons to be of
superior quality and could stand continuous firing in spite of the quantity of gunpowder
On May 19, 1571, Legaspi eventually took Maynilad and established a permanent
Spanish settlement. On June 3 that same year, Rajah Sulayman, in his bid to retake his
honor from the Spaniards, waged his final battle at Bangkusay Channel, off the shore of
Tondo but he perished. After the battle, Panday Pira fled to Pampanga and started a new
life, this time as a blacksmith of farm tools like plowshare and mould board. Before long,
he was manufacturing other farm and household implements like bolos and knives.
Panday Pira, perhaps, was not meant to settle in Pampanga. Legaspi summoned
him to build cannons for the Spanish army in Manila. In exchange for his services, he
was exempted from tribute and forced labor and other obligations to the church. Panday
Pira, often called by the Spaniards as Pandapira, established his foundry in Lamayan,
now Santa Ana. Even after Legaspi’s death on August 20, 1572, Panday Pira continued
his services to the Spanish army. His cannons were not only used in the fortifications of
Manila but also in the military expeditions to Borneo and the Moluccas.
In 1576, Panday Pira died of old age. He was 88. His death was a great loss to the
Spanish army who valued the quality of his work. The Spanish authorities, being unable
to find a good cannon-maker like Panday Pira wrote to the King of Spain saying,
“Pandapira our cannon maker is dead. We cannot find a single man among us to take his
place.” This was answered in 1584 when a Spanish smith from Mexico arrived in the
country and took the cannon maker’s place.
The anti-Filipino Spanish chronicler Father Gaspar de San Agustin admitted that
Panday Pira’s cannons were “as good as those made in Malaga.” According to Filipino
historian Jaime de Veyra, “Panday Pira’s cannons are as good as those produced in Spain
and became the official cannon-maker for the Spanish army in the Philippines. His
efforts contributed much to the defense of the islands against sea pirates.”
Quirino, Carlos. Who’s who in Philippine History. Manila: Tahanan Books, 1995.
Zaide, Gregorio F. Great Filipinos in History. Manila: Verde Bookstore, 1970.