The True Story of Diego Silang, A Philippine Patriot

Sunday February 09, 2014 ()

WE might say that every man who has been a prominent figure in history is a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde whose character differs when viewed from different angles. Their friends and their foes judge them from opposite sides. In striving to judge impartially it may be they are not so white as painted by their friends nor so black as painted by their enemies for posterity is inclined to analyze histories written by prejudiced parties with a view of revising them to facts. Relative to Diego Silan, the historians of that day were ecclesiastics who saw him as a heretic who led an unsuccessful revolt — a revolt ended by his assassination at the age of thirty-three.

   Diego Silang
   (Diego Silang, a painting by Makabuhay, 1940)

Of the three outstanding native figures in the revolts of the Philippines, there is no doubt but that Silan accomplished most in the line of a high endeavour, and had he lived long enough to carry out his plans, the course of history might have been changed. Rizal the Tagalog, Dagohoy the Visayan, and Silan the Ilocano seem to embody the three ideals of their times. Of the three only Silan was able to realize any of his policies before his death. While Rizal's ideals were general, and Dagohoy's personal, those of Silan were in aid of the down-trodden, the poor and lowly-the kailanes who were little better than serfs on the lands of the babaknangs or principalia, who were held loyal to the Church rather than to abstract principles of justice or equity. Silan, on the contrary, although of the principalia himself, with no particular grievance and no ambition to lead a revolt, found it forced upon him through an accident beyond his control.

Historical Factors

The insurrection of the Ilocanos under the leadership of Diego Silan or Silang was the most obstinate and stubborn of all that broke out during the eighteenth century. His primitive idea was to found a more equable social order, which in the Ilocano provinces under the two centuries of Castilian domination had crystalized into a semislavery of the plebes known as kailanes to the principalia known as babaknangs, vestiges of which order still remain. The kailanes were mere bond or rather debt-slaves attached to the lands of the rich and the mestizo classes, who in turn were dominated by the clergy, naturally ardent supporters of the status-quo.

It was the more meritorious of Silan, who was of the better class, that he possessed the understanding which his lowly compatriots lacked and was not driven to leadership by anything more than compassion. Another marked trait in his nature was his disdain of the mestizo class, irrevocably bound to the Church in that age. Furthermore he was betrayed on several occasions by this class, and finally assassinated by one of them at the height of his power.

Conflicting Records and Annals

In attempting to relate his history and that of the uprising, it should be remembered that the records of the times were written by Spaniards, mainly the clergy, whose account of him can not always be accepted as trustworthy either as to motives or deeds. In a history of Ilocos he is referred to as a servant of the mestizo lawyer Santiago Orendain-the favorite of two governor-generals, yet letters have been found written to him by Orendain, that preclude his ever having been anything but a friend. The Augustinian histories refer to him contemptuously. Simon de Anda says he was a "cochero," but Anda's pen was always much more clever than his sword. But even in the friar histories he is referred to as being "wise, sagacious, educated and brave, and speaking excellent Castilian." The same difficulty is found in obtaining correct data as to his wife, who carried on the rebellion after Silan's death. In a history of Ilocos compiled by a native some forty years ago, she is mentioned as Gabriela, but from later records this seems to have been her surname, as she is called Doña Maria Josefa Gabriela, a native of Santa, Ilocos Sur. Both these ill-starred persons have been committed to oblivion because they headed an unsuccessful cause, that was neither the cause of the Church and its historians, nor of the principalia, which supported both.

The Field of Action

The long narrow territory comprising the ancient land of Samtoy or Ilocos was traversed in the eighteenth century by a highroad connecting the many coastal towns. Hemmed in by the waters of the China Sea and the rugged cordillera inhabited by savage pagan tribes, its arable soil was circumscribed in area and of low fertility. Short and rapid rivers sharply divided the coastal plains and gave no normal economic outlet to a population that was great even in the days of the Conquest. Known to the Chinese for a thousand years previous to the arrival of the Spaniards, Chinese influence on the population was very great, both in blood and in customs, for today we find the Ilocano the most frugal, thrifty, and industrious of all the peoples in the Islands. In that day the chief means of transportation was by sailing champans when the weather permitted, but these were useless during the period of storms, when recourse was had to horses or the traveling hammocks slung from the shoulders of brawny kailanes and called talibones. The three chief towns were Ilauag in the north, Vigan, the capital in the center, and Aringay in the south of the region comprising four provinces and known as Ilocos.

The State of Society

The trade of those times was not considerable as regards volume, but costly on account of its small bulk, being principally gold-dust from the washings of Balatao and Dingras, resins, bees-wax, and cotton cloths woven on hand-looms. This trade was monopolized by the provincial alcaldes, who, appointed for short terms, endeavored to amass a substance by buying at low rates and selling at exorbitant ones. By means of gifts and bribes they soon grew rich, paying little attention to the duties of government which function was engrossed by the clergy themselves, the Bishops of Nueva Segovia (Vigan) as secular princes outranking the weaker officials of the Crown sent to administer justice.

On the other hand, the clergy supported the babaknangs who lived in the towns, owned the rice fields, fishponds, work-animals and stock, ships and property, besides the scanty amount of business capital. The kailanes were the helots who performed the actual labor. They were little more than slaves, and their drudgery was hopeless, offering no escape. Excessive tribute was demanded, usurious rates obtained, a poll-tax requiring sixty days labor each year and other services were required without compensation.

At the time of the uprising, the regular clergy, who administered the far flung parishes, kept a large number of adherents attached to convents as servitors, sacristans, fiscals, and laborers, which service generally included food but no other compensation. While this was a drain on the body economic, it still allowed those of the lower grades to acquire a smattering of education if they had the desire, and schools were at that time attached to each convent. The kailanes supplied the wherewithal for the society of the day and as a consequence were ripe for a change, but their abject state supplied no natural leaders.

Early History of Silan

The early history of Silan from the records reads like a romance. Diego Baltazar Silan y Andaya was born December 16, 1730, in the little town of Cava, then a barrio of Aringay, a part of Pangasinan province, which then extended so far north. His father was Miguel Silan, a native of Aringay, and his mother, Nicolasa de los Santos of Vigan, both of them belonging to the families of the principales, as only these possessed surnames until a much more recent date. He was baptized January 7, 1731 in Vigan, the godfather being Tomas Andaya, an uncle of the Sebastian Andaya, later Silan's secretary and the devoted follower of both him and his wife in the unequal struggle.

Silan was brought up under the shadow of the Church, was educated, and learned to read and write excellent Spanish. As the personal servant of Dr. Cortes y Orriosola, the cura of Vigan, he made frequent journeys to Manila carrying confidential dispatches and returning with the mails brought by the annual galleon. Being of a lively and engaging nature, he made many friends on these journeys, and educated himself in the school of practical experience as well.

A Prisoner of the Zambals

It was on one of these journeys that his champan was wrecked on the rocky and inhospitable coast of Zambales, then inhabited by the savage Zambals. The members of the crew of the champan were either drowned or sacrificed by the wild tribesmen of the mountains. Silan, whose address and person were pleasing to the Zambals, was the only one spared, but he was carried to the wild and inaccessible fastnesses, and held a prisoner. Later he was given leave to accompany the savages in their raids, and carried spear and shield, dissimulating to save his own life.

The parish priest of Bolinao, a worthy and kindly friar, hearing of his captivity amongst the blood thirsty savages, ransomed him for a quantity of sarampuli or native cloth, beads, axes, and other gifts. The Christian conduct of this good monk was never forgotten by Silan, who, at the height of his power, protected his benefactor from the opposing factions that carried fire and sword into the province of Pangasinan, under Juan de la Cruz Palaris.

Later Silan was claimed by his former master in Vigan and resumed his post as confidential and trusty messenger. In this service he acquired a wide acquaintance and became a well-known personage. During his travels he could not have failed to hear by tradition of the rebellion of "Rey Malong" in the preceding century and the defeat of the Spaniards by the cruel "Count" Gumapos at Agoo, and the uprising under another "King" Almazan in Ilocos Norte, and that these revolts were due in the main to the exactions of the tribute and to mis-government.

Courtship of Silan

The name of his wife, and her antecedents from ecclesiastical records, varies, and still may be a subject for controversy. Silan had, of course, in his missions met all kinds of men and women, but at the age of twenty-seven had not married. He was urged to do so by his mother in whom burned the keen interest in life which is an attribute of those living in isolated and secluded places. The custom is for the Ilocano to marry early, but Silan, due to his rambling life in the service of the Church, had no fixed residence except in Vigan, later to be his capital.

In the house of the good Provisor Millan, lived a young widow Doña Maria Josefa Gabriela, a native of Santa, a town on the borderland of the Christian lowlands and the mountain tribes of the Tinguanes. She had picked up the language of the latter, which was the reason she later possessed so much influence with them. At the death of her parents and husband, she had, at their solicitation, been adopted by the Provisor, as was the custom of the times, and this official was respected and loved by the Ilocanos of the region. She, in custom with the balasangs of her province, had been married much against her will to an elderly babaknang, who departed this life shortly after, leaving her a widow and the heir to numerous ricefields and fishponds.

She was handsome and lively, and a capable manager, and, attached to the household of the Provisor, she looked after the economy of the mansion, a large house in the walled city of Vigan. Both her beauty and modesty attracted Silan, who had free access to the house, and the Provisor, who liked Silan, urged him to marry the young widow, his adopted daughter.

His Marriage

Having had no say regarding her first husband, Doña Gabriela (we use the popular choice of her name) expected to be sole arbiter as regards a second choice. She became interested in Silan for perhaps the very reason he became interested in her, and his journeyings with their accidents of "flood and field" did not fail to rouse her attention.

Silan left for Manila on one of his usual trips. The widow took sick and in spite of doctors her recovery was slow. Upon Silan's return, he of course visited her. Now, no doctor has ever adequately realized the effect on the heart and spirits of a pretty woman, that of a man of agreeable temper and fine figure. It is a tonic and restorative superior to anything in the materia medica. Be this as it may, after Silan's visit the lady rapidly recovered her health and he became her accepted choice. A few months later he was wedded to the widow-called Doña Gabriela by some, Maria, by others. While the union was not blessed with children, it was nevertheless a happy one, for the devotion displayed was no ephemeral thing but grew into a faithful and lasting love.

First Causes

The arrival of the English in Manila in October, 1762, and the taking of the city by storm, had for the moment destroyed Spanish prestige. Silan soon heard of the "heretic" English and had remarked that if Spain could not protect both her religion and colony, the natives themselves would be forced to fight for their faith and property. This opinion, although reasonable, soon came to the ears of the clergy through the usual channel, that of the mestizo element, who inflamed the latter against Silan as being a dangerous individual. But Silan was then and later a good son of the Church.

Silan's animosity was first aroused against the venal alcalde of the province, Don Antonio Zaballa y Uria, who with his mestizo aide, Jose Gutierrez, forced the kailanes to sell their beeswax to him at ridiculously low figures, besides using false weights, and then forced them to buy it back from him in the shape of wax candles at an exorbitant price. This was done with the knowledge of the Bishop of the diocese, Don Manuel Ustariz, and against the protest of the good Provisor Fray Tomas Millan, a Spaniard universally loved for his just and impartial rectitude.

When in December, 1762, a petition for a redress of grievances was made to the Bishop by a number of influential Ilocanos, Silan was the man chosen to present it, although at first he demurred, saying he was not the proper person. This petition humbly requested the removal of the venal Zaballa, the appointing of the Provisor in his stead, and the election of one of the four chiefs of Vigan as justice. Later there was added a provision that all Spaniards or mestizos who were found guilty of exactions against the kailanes, should be banished from the province. This latter clause brought down upon him the hatred of this class. Silan also offered to recruit a force to act as a defense in case the English should extend their conquest to Ilocos, as their ships of war were seen daily hovering off the coast.

With lack of acumen, the authorities made suspicious of Silan by the mestizo class, lured him to Vigan and threw him into prison. But a number of influential people headed by the good Provisor who were aware of the justice of his demands, came forward with gifts and bribes, after which he was set at liberty. Silan again memorialized Bishop Ustariz for the removal of Zaballa, as that worthy was plotting against Silan, but the Bishop with true Castilian procrastination, not only remained inactive, but encouraged the plottings against the young leader.

Forced to Action

In view of the circumstances the aggrieved parties waited on Silan, and after a lengthy argument prevailed upon him to accept the leadership. Personally he had not a single grievance of his own to redress. He was happy and contented with his station in life, except for his compassion for the lowly plebes whose situation seemed hopeless. Adherents were rapidly gathering in numbers, for the reports of the English occupation had slowly filtered from Manila. He therefore addressed a meeting of the chiefs, informing them that the procrastination of the authorities was due to the fact that not only did they expect to refuse redress or the removal of the obnoxious officials, but that from advices, Anda was raising two regiments in Bulacan, one of Tagalogs and one of Pampangas to be sent against them as soon as circumstances permitted. The assembly unanimously agreed that they would recruit a defense force and arm themselves so that in any event they would be prepared. Silan then placed these forces under capable leaders with instructions to equip and drill them, but to commit no overt act, either against Spain or the Church. His wife, Doña Gabriela, seconded him with enthusiasm.

First Engagements

IN all these proceedings, Silan had merely been carried forward by force of circumstances due to the reactionary policy of the clergy, or the government, as one may prefer. He saw himself the acclaimed leader of the kailanes or plebes, and, calumniated by the mestizos to the authorities, he was a marked man.

Meanwhile Bishop Ustariz had raised a loyalist force in Vigan, Santa Catalina, San Vincente, and Bantay, the latter a much older town than Vigan. Bantay also possessed an elaborately fortified stone convent and a massive masonry church on a high bluff. These forces were sent against Silan. He met and defeated this army near Santo Domingo, some ten miles from Vigan, in a brisk engagement. According to the Spanish historians, when the loyalist force laid down its arms for a parley, Silan met them with a deadly and treacherous flight of arrows from a Tinguian contingent he had with him, for the kailanes were only armed with spears, swords, and a few firearms. We can doubt the veracity of this clerical account, for it would not be natural for an aggressive army, or even a rabble to lay down their arms during a parley. It serves merely to cover up the cowardice of the Bishop's forces.

The Bishop's next move was to send for help to the northern province then called Ilauag, where tIoops were being recruited by the parish priests. Silan dispatched along that coast some of his irregulars who captured the clergy and the principalia and held them for ransoms of from eighty to one hundred pesos, not an excessive sum if rank and importance is taken into consideration. These sums were turned in to a treasurer. At the same time active recruiting was adopted by Silan's leaders, which swelled their forces. But the holding to ransom of the babaknangs inflamed the Ilocanos of the north against him, and later bore bitter fruit, for he lost the adhesion of the more thickly populated province of Ilauag, under Botargas and Captain Cristobal of Paoay.

The English Recognize Silan

At this time, the English naval governor of Cavite, Captain Brereton, sent Silan a letter appointing him governor in Ilocos for the British, together with some supplies and brass cannon. He further requested that Silan send the captured Spaniards and clergy to Manila and suggested that he seize their estates and property to help him equip his army. Silan accpeted the alliance in good faith, as it served his purpose, and the English had solemnly assured him that they would not interfere with either the religion or the customs of the people, who were to be free to form their own system of government.

The disgruntled Ilocanos of Ilauag were raising troops against him, the loyalist element of Vigan with the clergy confronted him, and Anda in Bulacan was raising a force to dispatch north to crush him. In these circumstances, any alliance was better than none, but his great mistake lay in not sending the captured clergy and Spaniards to Manila as advised by Brereton, a mistake that cost him dear. He was further counselled to appoint priests to act temporarily until the titular head of the Spanish government in Manila, Archbishop Rojo, could send new priests who were on the way from Mexico and Spain.

The Battle for Vigan

Upon the arrival of the loyalist forces from the north, who came by sea, they joined with those in Vigan to make a compact army, to which were added the musketeers of the garrison together with those of Ilauag. This force with beating drums, clanging trumpets, and holy banners carried by the clergy, sallied out of the walled city to give battle to Silan. He had drawn up his men on the sandy plain not far from the same place where the handful of Conquistadores under the gallant Salcedo had won Vigan one hundred and ninety years previous. On the heights, and facing river and plain, ran the walls of the city, crowded with spectators to view the debacle of the leader Silan.

Silan's rude levies, faced by the smoking muskets, backed by the holy banners and the more potent weapons of excommunication borne by the clergy, at first took to flight. Sword in hand Silan threw himself before them and assured them by words and actions that to fly was to lose life as well as to lose their cause. Dismissing the cowardly officers, he hastily replaced them with more trusty leaders. He first detached a strong and determined force under Flores, his chief lieutenant, to take the city, and he renewed the fight with the loyalists in a hand to hand encounter.

Meanwhile the attacking party under Flores had entered Vigan, denuded of its defenders, and the loyalist troops under the friars and Spaniards, hearing the cries of the fleeing inhabitants and seeing the dark columns of smoke rising to the sky in heavy volutes threw down their arms and fled in all directions, terror adding wings to their feet. Vigan was entered victoriously by Silan, the Bishop and his followers escaping across the river and taking refuge in the fortified convent of Bantay, where Silan besieged them with a rapidly increasing force. The captured arms, supplies and banners were appropriated by his men, adding to their meager equipment the muskets and firearms of the royal forces.

Underground Warfare

The defeated remnants of the loyalists had fled, carrying the news far and near, and the parishes rose as one man to place themselves under the banner of the new leader. The convent of Bantay soon surrendered to Silan, but with lack of foresight or, shall we say, too much of the Christian spirit, he simply contented himself with retaining the Spaniards and clergy there, and allowed them complete freedom to receive visitors and supplies. Their numbers were added to daily by the clergy and others brought in from the coast towns from as far north as Cabugao to as far south as Agoo in the province of La Union. Very naturally they began to plot against him.

His forces increased, and he appointed officers to equip and instruct only the best, as he knew the real struggle was about to begin. According to Spanish historians, Silan set up a shrine and placed his army under the protection of Jesus Nazareno, which, they add, drove the friars to frenzy.

Anda as usual offered a reward for the head of Silan and commissioned Fray Francisco Maldonado, an Augustinian, to interdict and excommunicate him, and a man was found who for a considerable reward offered to carry a copy of this missive to Silan. This was Don Diego Aldais, another mestizo, who, traveling up from Bulacan, narrowly escaped being made prisoner in Pangasinan, where the revolt was just assuming large proportions under Juan de la Cruz Palaris, the uprising being based on the same grievance as that of Silan-the removal of an obnoxious alcalde, in Lingayen. While passing through Santa Lucia-the old town of Kaeg-Aldais was seized by the forces of Silan, and the letter was forwarded to Silan in Vigan. Aldais was kept a prisoner in Candon, one of Silan's headquarters.

Previously, Zaballa, who had caused the revolt and who had reason to fear Silan, from his calumnies spread amongst the authorities, was in Narvacan, besieged by Leonardo. He escaped, pursued by the infuriated people of San Esteban, who killed his aide, Gutierrez, while Zaballa took refuge in the great stone convent. Seeing that vengeance faced him, he attempted to throw himself to certain death from the high windows. Silan, arriving in the town at this juncture, cried out that if he surrendered he would be safe as a prisoner of war. And he kept his word, much to the disgust of the kailanes of San Esteban who had suffered heavily from both Zaballa and the cruel Gutierrez.

Beginnings of Government

Silan's attempt to organize society on a more just and equitable basis, was not given time to flower. His decrees as given by historians contained few things that could be termed radical. There was to be a cessation of the tribute. The onerous polltax was abolished. Money was to be raised by contributions, forced or otherwise, from those who had it and could afford graded levies. Silan was in advance of those who promise the wealth of the rich to the poor and downtrodden. It was a mere gesture for the moment, perhaps, for he recognized that orderly government needs certain revenues to exist. It is the way these are collected and disbursed that causes revolts.

He forced the rich babaknangs to supply the money needed for the expenses of the new regime, who, as he said, "had enriched themselves at the cost of the poor, practising exactions and illegal usury," all of which sounds familiar to us. That he would have countenanced this indefinitely does not seem probable, but he did no more than thousands of successful leaders the world over in the first flush of power.

In place of the ejected Spaniards and mestizos, he appointed officials who were popular and took over the property of the churches and convents, arguing that those who constructed them by their toil and money had an indisputable right to them. Local criers promulgated orders to the people that they should not neglect mass, that they should send the children to school, and that they should not neglect the growing of crops simply because there was a change in authority. Sacristans would perform the duties of priests temporarily. In all the towns there were under this order of things two opposing factions, those of the kailanes and those of the babalgnangs, each one necessary to the other, but this was the chief factor working against a natural cohesion.

Attempt to Consolidate Power

Silan's wife, young and enthusiastic, was his constant companion in town and field, and from his affection towards her, and his conduct to the lowly he tried to aid, as well as to the venal Zaballa and others, it is hard to believe the accounts of his blood-thirstiness given of him by his clerical annalists who branded him as Antichrist. After being proscribed by De Anda, he accepted the challenge, sending two ships laden with supplies to the English in Manila. Commissions were dispatched to the Cagayan Valley urging the kailanes to throw off the yoke of Spain. An embassy was sent inviting the Zambals, his old friends, to join the cause, but his old benefactor, the cura of Bolinao, was recommended both to them and to Palaris, the head of the revolt in Pangasinan.

The latter suggested he combine with him and send a force to attack Anda in Bulacan. If this had occurred, and with the English holding Manila Bay and the sea, Anda would as a consequence have had to surrender, as he would have been caught between the two forces.

As a military leader, his plans were satisfactory in relation to the defense of Vigan, the capital and principal city of the region. The city lies on a peninsula with a considerable elevation, bounded practically on three sides by the River Abra and its affluent, the Mestizo river, both flowing into the China Sea a few miles away. Between Vigan, built of stone and brick, and its port Pandan, lie a series of low hills forming a natural barrier from the sea. As he had command of the entire coast from Agoo to Cabugao, and his allies, the wild Tinguianes, held the mountains in his rear, his natural line of defence was towards the sea, so as to contain the city.

Foundation of the Port

The road to the port, passing over the hills and along the right bank of the river, was securely held by the construction of a fort on the hill still known as the hill or Pan tok ni Silan. This was fortified so as to command both town and river. On the opposite spur ran a line of earthworks known as the Baluarte, Spanish for bulwark. The population of the city and that of the cluster of towns within a five-mile radius, were intensely loyalist, having been in favor of Spain for almost two centuries. Furthermore what passed for commerce and trade, and positions and officialdom, depended in a great measure upon the clergy who were attacked by Silan and his kailanes.

Under the circumstances, Silan with military acumen did not occupy the city as a headquarters but merely held it with detachments of guards. His main camp was on the Pantok ni Silan, on the crest of which he erected spacious barracks for a regiment, with a battery of cannon and earthworks facing the river. At the foot of the hill was a guardhouse held by a company of musketeers and a detachment of Abrans, trusted partisans of his wife and himself. Armed sentries permitted no one to ascend to the camp or batteries until first scrutinized by a captain of the watch, as the friars and their allies were continually plotting to eliminate their leaders and officers.

Mutterings of Reprisal

The country had settled down. Crops had been gathered, and life was assuming a new outlook in Ilocos. Anda had not moved to accomplish anything except with his agile pen, in which he advised that if Silan was made away with, the revolt would undoubtedly fall of itself, which in a measure was true. He had dismissed the main part of his army to their homes, retaining only those who would form a defense force, and upon whom he could depend.

With the exception of Nicolas Carifio, his uncle, his chief lieutenant, Miguel Flores of Tayum, and Sebastian Andaya, there were few upon whom he could depend for sagacity as leaders. The oppressed kailanes who formed the bulk of the uprising, contained within themselves no outstanding leaders to second his plans of government. Still the historians all declare that his rule was benign and that no murders, robberies, or reprisals occurred during his tenure. His leaders were Botargas in Ilauag, Corcuera in Bacarra, Captain Cristobal in Paoay, and his brotherin-law, Benito Estrada, alluded to by the Spaniards as "a fierce man".

The convent of Bantay became a kind of opposition court, a hotbed of conspiracy, for the Bishop and clergy had no lack of well-wishers and the principalia were becoming uneasy as to their status under Silan. It seems strange that the young leader should have allowed them complete liberty to plot against him, or that he did not send them to Manila, but it is thought that this was due to the advice of the Provisor, who was a man of peace and averse to plots, but nevertheless a Churchman and a Spaniard for all that.

A strong and well-drilled force was now being massed in the northern province to take the field against him, if plots did not avail under the militant clergy of Ilauag, Dingras, and Bacarra, thickly populated districts, and this force was given al the ecclesiastical powers of a holy crusade against "all heretics and enemies of the Church". The last act of the tragedy drew to a close in the forti fied convent of Bantay across the river from the old episcopal city.

The Plot

A mestizo, named Miguel Vicos and an intimate friend of Silan in the days of his travels along the Ilocano coast, was called by Bishop Ustariz to the convent in Bantay for a conference. With him was associated a captain of infantry, Pedro Buekbuek, or, as the Spaniards call him, Pedro Bicbic. In all probability he was an instrument of the clergy to watch Vicos in his undertaking.

This mestizo was induced by the friars to assassinate his friend Silan. In defence of Vicos it must be said that he at first in horror refused to commit the deed. The desperate clergy, however, argued down all his objections, continually reminding him of the favors he had received from "both their Majesties of Heaven and of Spain" and they worked on his sense of gratitude until at last they prevailed. The religious historians, to excuse the murder of the young leader, have vainly attempted to explain that Silan wished his adherents to massacre the Bishop and the clergy imprisoned in the convent, but that they refused to commit the deed, and that he had bribed the savage Tinguianes to do it, the signal being a shot from Silan's camp on the Pantok ni Silan. Looking back over the history of the revolt and its causes written by the same clergy, we are forced to deduce the following: if Deigo Silan had really wished to kill the prisoners it could have been easily accomplished by his men in the heat of fury when the convent was taken; or he could have brought them to trial, or even disposed of them without any legal procedure. We can therefore dismiss these flimsy excuses for the crime.

The Assassination

Miguel Vicos, under the repeated urgings of the Bishop and the clergy, at last exclaimed, "Senior, este va con la pachora indial," or, literally, "This is in accordance with native custom". "Give me your illustrious blessing and I will kill the tyrant." He confessed, took Holy Communion, received the episcopal blessing, and in company with Pedro Bicbic departed on his sinister errand.

It is said that Vicos was in a vacillating humor, and as they climbed the steep road from the river to enter Vigan, he repeatedly halted and stooped to tighten his shoes. An old woman, who kept a stall at the gate, threw a stone at him, adding a malediction, after which he continued through the city in the direction of Silan's camp. This was on the afternoon of May 28, 1763. He loaded his gun with four balls and a round stone picked up from the river. Only the clergy were in the secret. Arriving at the guardhouse, they addressed themselves to the captain of the watch and, on pretext of urgent business, were allowed to pass. Both were in uniform, armed with muskets and bandoliers, but so were the partisans of Silan, and in addition the captain knew Vicos by sight as a friend of his leader. They ascended the hill.

The young Commander Deigo Silan was inspecting the mounting of some cannon in the battery of the fort and received them kindly., He left his work and kept them in conversation concerning the arrival of the loyalist 'forces said to be advancing from Ilauag, at the same time walking up and down the banquette. As he turned, Vicos took aim and shot him in the back with his musket, the distance being so close that his uniform was burned by the powder. Silan fell covered with blood, crying to his wife, who was 'nearby in one of the barracks: "I am killed, Gabriela," and shortly afterwards expired in the arms of his wife. This happened between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. Such was the cold-blooded assassination of the patriot at the age of thirty-three.

The Surprise Attack

SO confident had the clergy been as to the outcome, that they had arranged for a surprise attack on the fort, to take advantage of the murder, with the idea of killing the defenders and capturing the funds of the treasury. A strong force of trained loyalists had crept up and concealed themselves in thickets of tall talajib close to the fort. On hearing the fatal shot, and seeing the re-appearance of the assassins, flag in hand, they immediately stormed the fort. During the attendant confusion many of Silan's adherents were shot by Vicos and Bicbic, in the back, as they vainly attempted to defend the barricades, but the surprise was complete.

Silan was dead and both Flores and Carifio were duty at the distant posts.

A despirate defense of the guardhouse allowed Sebastian Andaya, Silan's secretary, to rally enough of the regiment to take the treasure and the weeping Gabriela, and escape by boats up the Abra river that flowed by the fort. The Tinguan detachment fought its way through and fled to the hills, but the cannon, supplies, and personal papers were of a necessity abandoned in their haste. With the sole exception of the regiment of Silan, the greater part of the troops had been dismissed, as the rising, being a popular one, Silan was intent on establishing a civil regime. Carifio was guarding Cabugao, and Flores, Aringay, the danger points. The guards in Vigan extricated themselves, joining the fugitives with Doña Gabriela at the Abra Gap. For the moment the Church was triumphant.

The Reaction

After the storm of the fort, the loyalist forces entered Vigan with drums beating and banners unfurled. The bells of all the churches rang for joy, and the Bishop and the imprisoned clergy were escorted from Bantay to the episcopal city in triumph, where a solemn mass and a Te Deum was sung in the old gray cathedral. Under the circumstances the loyalists believed that the rebellion was about to be stamped out.

The friars returned to their parishes escorted by the armed forces of Vigan and Ilauag, but the people were sullen and it only needed a spark to have the revolt break out afresh, as they resented the base manner by which their leader had been murdered by those who professed a gentler creed, for they looked upon Vicos as a mere instrument.

No severe measures were taken against those who had taken up arms, the clergy contenting themselves with warnings against those who had followed Silan's banner. The Bishop recommended that the Provisor be made Alcalde in place of Zaballa and that Vicos be appointed justice of Vigan by De Anda. But Vicos, evidently ashamed of the part he had played against his friend, retired to Cagayan under De Arza. He refusing the post, it was given to Pedro Bicbic, Anda recommending that Vicos be given a cash reward. As the people were disaffected, Bishop Uztariz issued an amnesty after which he applied to Anda for permission to come to Bulacan to recuperate from his hardships, in the convent of Bantay. He also sent Anda all Silan's correspondence with the English.

The Revolt Flames Up Afresh

Anda sent an entirely new set of officials to Vigan, who, unused to the situation, used harsh instead of tactful methods. The followers of the dead chieftain soon recovered their courage and, being a set of desperate men, they appointed Nicolas Carifio, Silan's uncle as their chief and governor. Carifio was a blood relation of the Miguel Carifio hanged during the Rey Malong rebellion of 1661, both being natives of Aringay. Doña Gabriela, hearing that Bicbic and another mestizo, Pimentel, were in Santa raising forces, made a sudden attack on the town, forcing them to fly for their lives and pursuing them to the gates of Vigan. It was not difficult to rally the kailanes to the cause. They had no great urge to return to their old bondage, and, being masterless men, they had nothing to lose even if the struggle seemed desperate. The new officials exacted an increased tribute, to the indignation of the principalia who had rallied to and supported the cause of Spain, and the same grievances remained, excepting the removal of Zaballa and the justice.

Battles and Engagements

The forces under Carino at Cabugao were joined by those of Doña Gabriela, determined to carry out the ideals of her dead husband and if possible to avenge him. Talented and spirited, she put new life into the revolt and with Botargas and Estrada led a large force of Tinguans armed with lances, bows and arrows, for weapons were primitive in those days. These men were brave enough in mountain warfare, but were untrained for the plains and easily broken or put to flight by a sustained front on the part of the enemy. Near the town of Cabugao, on the borderland of the two provinces, the army of Cariiio was attacked by a strong force of well led, well armed loyalists, and a pitched battle ensued, the total forces being estimated as seven thousand. Advancing to the attack, the well sustained volleys of the loyalist forces caused Carifio's men to waver, and Doña Gabriela's Tinguans took to precipitate flight. In the melee, Carifio was killed by musket balls and lance thrusts and left on the field of battle.

Again Doña Gabriela escaped with her savage allies to the wilds of Abra, followed by Sebastian Andaya. Again this spirited woman plotted to avenge her husband, formulating schemes to overthrow the Spaniards. Adopting a guerilla warfare, she kept the latter in mortal fear from onfalls and ambuscades, and the attacks from the desperate kailanes-a kind of Jacquerie-almost turned the coastal regions into a general rebellion. Many of the dissatisfied and discontented staged onsets to satisfy private grudges, and the holding to ransom of the babaknangs were all laid at her door.

The treasure accumulated by Silan from ransoms and sums gathered from the principalia remained intact, but it could not have exceeded ten thousand pesos in any event. With this sum she was enabled to equip a third army which included two thousand Tinguans in all the savage panoply of war. Massing her forces together, she issued from the Abra Gap where the. turbulent river bursts from the mountains, and boldly marched on Vigan. Flores, with a handful of followers of the better class, was hastening to join her, and implored that she wait until they could make a juncture. But the demands of the savages for immediate action kept her from complying. The die was cast for her.

Tne Battle of Bantay

The inhabitants of the city were thrown into consternation and terror by the reports of the advancing army, magnified beyond its true size. The Provisor-Governor hastily assembled the musketeers and all loyalists from the cluster of towns about the capital, and these were joined by a compact battalion of some three hundred brave and expert archers from the town of Piddig under master bowmen. These were immediately sent out under a trusted captain with orders to burst on the flank of Doña Gabriela's army at the appropriate moment. If the people of the capital were in consternation, the historian adds, so were the wild allies from the rugged mountains, when they saw for the first time the turrets and towers of the episcopal city, which to them seemed supernatural and impregnable. On the flanks moved partisans who set fire to the houses of the babaknangs which had heretofore escaped damage, columns of smoke ascending to the sky and denoting the presence of the enemy.

The main forces moved on and met in the shock of battle on the uplands east of Vigan, the trained musketeers doing great damage to the lighter armed forces of Doña Gabriela. The vanguard of the latter, however, rallied, and with fierce yells forced the loyalists back to a small creek, where some began to abandon their arms and others to flee. At this critical moment, when all seemed to be going well, the archers of Piddig opened up on the exposed flank of the army, and their well aimed and continuous flights of arrows soon threw them into disorder and they began to give way in turn. At this juncture the appearance of the hastening detachment under the leader Flores, came into view which was taken by the loyalists to mean reinforcements for them, and by the attacking army to mean a further addition to the loyalists.

The galling flights of arrows continued to search out the chiefs, and the Tinguans, unable to bear the volleys, turned and retreated in a mad flight for the hills, carrying the main army, Doña Gabriela, and Flores with them. A few minutes later the field was deserted, the savages flying pell-mell through the Great Gap to the settlements in Abra. The cause was definitely lost.

The Revolt Stamped Out

Vigan breathed again but retained her loyalist forces on a war footing. The archers of Piddig were feasted and rewarded. But for them, the city would have fallen a second time, and reprisals would have undoubtedly followed under the capable Flores and the wife of the murdered Silan. Simon de Anda now commissioned the LieutenantGovernor of the Cagayan, the savage Don Manuel de Arza, -of the type of the Duke of Alva-to hunt down and destroy the intrepid woman and her chiefs. Marching overland, he camped in the midst of the Tinguan villages, warning them that he would kill and burn all those who refused obedience to the Crown.

By holding out the reward of the supposed treasure in the hands of Doña Gabriela, and bribing the other tribes of Apayaos and Tinguans, he kept them busily tracking and hunting down the remnants of the enemy. For some time the hard driven fugitives were tracked and driven from rancheria to rancheria in the rugged and sterile mountains east of Ilocos, swimming rivers, hiding in caves and canyons, and eking out a precarious existence on the wild tubers and roots of the forests of this inhospitable region. Several times they escaped ambush and death by a hair, and the only reason they were not shot to death by arrows or poisoned lances, was the fact that the Tinguans had no great love for the task, which was taken up in the main by the Kalingas and Gaddans under De Arza.

The unhappy woman was at last captured together with Flores, Andaya, and over ninety leaders of the uprising. These, together with the unfortunate widow of Silan, were publicly hanged in the various towns along the Ilocano coast as warnings and examples to the kailanes and in strict accordance with the usages of the times. The native troops who had fought under the banners of Silan and his wife were rounded up and given from one to two hundred lashes each in the plazas of the coastal towns. After a term of imprisonment they were set free under a sort of parole.

The rebellion finally flickered out due to a lack of sup port from those whom it would have benefitted most, but who lacked the ideals as well as a common cohesion. The exploits of Silan and his intrepid wife lived long in the tradition of the humble plebes they hoped to benefit, much longer, indeed, than the histories handed down by the monkly chroniclers of that day and generation. To the Ilocano kailan, Silan more than equals Rizal as a national hero, and their traditions attest it.

The Monument

Some years later the clergy erected a monument to Miguel Vicos "the patriot", after the latter's death. It was a monolith built of brick with inscriptions on all four sides detailing their version of the circumstances. "In honor of Miguel Vicos, a Spanish mestizo, for having shot and killed the seditious traitor Diego Silan in the year 1763, after having invoked the blessing of the Holy Virgin on his deed". By the inscription we see that the Virgin gave the blessing rather than Fray Manuel Ustariz, the Bishop, as recorded by the historians of the period. The monument remained in a conspicuous place by the roadside in the atrium of the Bantay convent facing Vigan until the year 1914, when the people of Bantay resolved to change both monument and inscription. This was done by erecting a graceful shaft squarely over the former one which had stood for over one hundred and fifty years. Needless to say the title of patriot was reversed after its long mis-representation.


Summed up, the life of this remarkable leader and his wife shows us that they assumed an almost superhuman task in attempting to raise the condition of their downtrodden countrymen from a system that held them in an Egyptian bondage. The revolts of Dagohoy, Sumuroy, and Malong were uprisings without system. That of Silan was different and with a much more worthy motive.

There is no other instance, either, in Philippine annals where a native woman fought for a cause as a leader and commanded levies in the field. Both young and innocent of wrong-doing, the mere victims of circumstance, the one was murdered, the other hanged, probably the greatest patriot pair produced by the Philippines. While Silan lacks the popularity given to others like Rizal, his ideals were just as worthy. Dying in the night of a dark century in the Islands, with none to justify either his motives or ideals, historians and his countrymen have allowed him to lie in oblivion.

As for his effort to found a better social estate, it was a task too heavy indeed for him or any other man, and he had against him the principalia and babaknang element backed by the power of the Church, a much more stern opponent than the shadowy power of Spain. Still his enemies agree that his demands were not revolutionary, that his rule was benign, that he upheld religion in the main, and that he had no direct cause to head a rebellion to benefit others than himself. Comparing his ideals and fruitless struggle with the base and venal motives of Vicos, the ignoble instrument of others, how mean and contemptible appears the latter's conduct. Nor does the manner in which he was eliminated, together with his wife and followers cast any luster on the escutcheon of Castile.


  1. Philippine magazine, Volume 26, Number 2, Philippine Education Co, Manila, July 1929
  2. Philippine magazine, Volume 26, Number 3, Philippine Education Co, Manila, August 1929
  3. Philippine magazine, Volume 26, Number 5, Philippine Education Co, Manila, October 1929


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