When we talk about Fort Santiago these days, we often associate it with Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero as it was where he was imprisoned, tried, and where he would spend his final hours before his execution on December 30, 1896. While it is a distinction that deserves merit, this often overshadows to the actual importance of Fort Santiago. It was, first and foremost, the military headquarters for Spanish, British (during the 1762-64 occupation of Manila), American, and Japanese forces. As such, for a long while it held a very strategic importance as it was believed that gaining control of the fort provides one the greater advantage of gaining control of all the country.
Even its very name evokes a military heritage, with a bit of Moorish phobia in between. It was named after Santiago Matamoros or St. James the Moor-slayer, the representation of the Apostle St. James the Greater (AKA the brother of St. John) who is venerated in Spain for having said to have helped the Spanish forces defeat the Moors in battle. Considering that Fort Santiago was the site of the old seat of the Muslim-dominated Kingdom of Maynilad, the choice of the fort’s name may have been intentional, perhaps a threat as well to the Filipino Moros who would dare attack Spanish colonial rule, especially in Manila.