Although Spain ruled the Philippines much of the time until 1898, the Spanish had to fight other powers. Dutch fleets attacked Manila several times between 1600 to 1647.
Pursuing their quest for alternative trade routes to Asia, the Dutch reached the Philippines and sought to dominate the commercial sea trade in Southeast Asia. Being at war with Spain, they engaged in privateering activities. They harassed the coasts of Manila Bay and its environs, and preyed on sampans and junks from China and Japan in an attempt to cut off Spanish trade with East Asia.
The first Dutch squadron to reach the Philippines was led by Olivier van Noort. Olivier van Noort was born in 1558 in Utrecht. He left Rotterdam on July 2, 1598 with four ships and a plan to attack Spanish possessions in the Pacific and to trade with China and the Spice Islands during the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain. His ships were poorly equipped, especially in the way of armament and the crews were unruly.
Nonetheless, Van Noort sailed through the Magellan Strait, and captured a number of ships (Spanish and otherwise) along the Pacific coast of South America. He lost two ships on the way due to a storm, including his largest ship, the Hendrick Frederick, which was wrecked on Ternate in the Maluku Islands. In November and December 1600, he established a berth for his two remaining sailboats, Mauritius and Eendracht, in the surroundings of Corregidor Island at Manila Bay in the Philippines. From there he engaged in what were perceived by the Spanish as pirate activities, targeting the sailing route to and from Manila.
This situation ended on December 14, 1600 when the Dutch warship Mauritius under his command grappled with the Spanish fleet under Antonio de Morga near Fortune Island, Nasugbu, Batangas where de Morga’s flagship, the fully laden “San Diego”, sank but the Spanish captured the Dutch Eendracht, making van Noort’s position untenable and forcing him to retire from the Philippines.
Nasugbu, Batangas is the site of the first recorded naval battle between two European powers in Southeast Asian waters, at Fortune Island to the west of the town.
Van Noort returned to Rotterdam via what would become the Dutch East Indies and the Cape of Good Hope on August 26, 1601 with his last ship, the Mauritius, and 45 of originally 248 men, thus becoming the first Dutch to circumnavigate the world. The venture barely broke even but was the inspiration for more such expeditions. The united Dutch East India Company was formed a few months later.
Another Dutch fleet of four ships under the command of Francois de Wittert tried to attack Manila in 1609, but was repelled by the Spanish governor-general Juan de Silva who launched a counterattack and defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Playa Honda, where François Wittert was killed.
On October 1616, another Dutch fleet of 10 galleons under the command of Joris van Spilbergen (Georges Spillberg) blockaded the entrance of the Manila Bay. A Spanish armada of seven galleons led by Juan Ronquillo battled against Spilbergen’s fleet at the Playa Honda in April 1617 (known as the second Battle of Playa Honda ). Spilbergen’s flagship, the “Sol de Holanda” (Sun of Holland) sank, and the Dutch were once again repulsed with heavy damage.
From 1640 to 1641, a Dutch fleet of three ships stationed near Embocadero de San Bernandino tried to capture merchant galleons coming from Acapulco, Mexico. These galleons, however, escaped safely by taking a different route after receiving warnings from a system of fire-signals placed in Embocadero which was devised by the Jesuit priest Francisco Colin.