While high school history books told us that Batangas was one of eight provinces that first revolted against Spanish colonial rule late in the nineteenth century, and that prominent Batangueños supported the clandestine revolutionary movement, because of the national scope of these books, they also contained little – if at all – about the actual fighting that took place in Batangas when the revolution openly broke out in August of 1896.
Barrio histories contained in documents filed away as “Historical Data1” by the National Library of the Philippines contain passing references to either the recruitment of men or skirmishes that actually took place in some barrios mostly but not exclusively in the Taal-Lemery area. These were, however, mostly recollections of old men that were vague and cried out for more details.
An article written by a French journalist by the name of Gaston Rouvier2, who was in the Philippines at the time of the revolution, provides some – not a lot, but enough to enable visualization – details about troop movements and fighting in some parts of Batangas.
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Just to lay down a brief backgrounder for the benefit of those who might have snored through high school History, in August of 1896, the Spanish colonial government discovered the underground revolutionary society called the Katipunan3.
“Vast organization of secret societies discovered with anti-national tendencies. Twenty-two persons detained, among them the Gran Oriente (of Philippine Freemasonry) of the Philippines and others of importance4.”These were the contents of a telegram sent by Ramon Blanco, Governor-General of the Philippines, to the Colonial Minister. The insurrection out in the open, the Katipunan under Andres Bonifacion openly declared a revolution and ordered the attack of Spanish outposts in Manila.
These attacks met with limited success, albeit other provinces had also picked up the fight. In an article about the life of Miguel Malvar, Paul Dimayuga wrote:
“Emilio Aguinaldo was scoring significant gains in Cavite. So successful was the revolution there that his army made a push across the Batangas border in late September 1896 and occupied Talisay in hopes of spreading the revolution. Intense fighting quickly broke out in the western and northern parts of the province. Civilians were massacred in Nasugbu and this became the rallying point for people to rise up in arms. As a man of political power, Malvar personally put an army together and participated in the battle for Talisay with Aguinaldo's men5.”
At this point, we refer to the Frenchman Rouvier for more details of what transpired in Batangas in the early days of the revolution, albeit from the Spanish point of view. The general headquarters of the insurrection, Rouvier wrote, was “in a kind of peninsula south of Manila formed by the sea, Balayan Bay, Pansipit which drains the Taal Lake, the lake itself, Laguna de Bay and its outlet the Pasig River.”
Not that, of course, Rouvier was being precise, knowing as we all do that the area he described spanned the provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.
By late September of 1896, Spanish troops erstwhile engaged in Mindanao were recalled to quell the Filipino rebellion. Rouvier wrote that these troops were the size of a brigade6, with 310 artillery men, a mountain battery7 and a battery of engineers.
Anxious to keep the Pansipit River open as a route for communications and troop movements, Blanco made sure that the pueblo of Taal and its barrio San Nicolas were heavily occupied by Spanish troops. Revolutionary forces were repelled in fighting which broke out on 24 October and continued onto the next few days. These encounters must have been what the barrio histories contained in the Historical Data of the Taal-Lemery area were referring to.
Meanwhile, revolutionary forces took the pueblo of Talisay north of Taal Lake, a strategic move with the object of keeping communication lines open with fellow rebel forces in western Batangas. In response, Blanco sent an entire garrison8 of soldiers to attack Santo Domingo9 on 27 October and organized a defensive line of troops from Calamba through the pueblo of Tanauan and on to barrio Bañadero, still part of Tanauan but very close to Talisay.
By November, troops sent over from Spain were ready for deployment against the rebel forces. Blanco had at his disposal three marine battalions10 and three battalions of chasseurs or “cazadores” (rangers11). One column of these troops was dispatched west through Noveleta under a General Rios, according to Rouvier (probably Diego de Rios). This column failed before reaching Novaleta and had to return to its garrison in Cavite.
A second column was sent “east from Calamba over Talisay and Silang” (Rouvier, who was of course a foreigner, must have gotten his directions wrong since Talisay is southeast of Calamba while Silang is slightly northeast). Talisay was subdued on 12 November, but the Spanish troops had to be redeployed back to Laguna where fighting had also flared up.
By the first of December, Laguna had been pacified and Blanco was again ready to send his troops on the offensive against the rebels. However, news arrived that Blanco was being replaced as Governor-General, something which Rouvier blamed upon the church in the Philippines. He wrote:
“He (Blanco) was held by the Archbishop of Manila, the Dominican (priest) Nozaleda and the religious orders as too lukewarm and too independent. The brutal executions were repugnant to Blanco; he refused to have Dr. (Jose) Rizal shot; he had allowed him to leave for Spain; they cried treason. Nozaleda wrote Madrid that the insurrection was taking alarming proportions; the conservative government of Canovas del Castillo12 then replaced Blanco with Polavieja13.”
Notes and references:1 “Historical Data” is how the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) calls local histories required by the administration of President Elpidio Quirino of all Department of Education districts around the country in 1951. These are available online as part of the NLP Digital Collections.
2 “The War in the Philippines, 1896-1898,” one of two articles written by French journalists published in the book “War in the Philippines,” translated by E. Aguilar Cruz, published 2012 by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
3 “Katipunan,” Wikipedia.
4 “The Katipunan or the Rise and Fall of the Filipino Commune,” by Francis St. Clair, published in Manila in 1902.
5 “Miguel Malvar, the Last Holdout,” by Paul Dimayuga, published online in 1996 at the Philippine History Group of Los Angeles.
6 The size of a brigade varies internationally, but in the present day typically has anything from 3,200 to 5,500 soldiers. “Brigade,” Wikipedia.
7 A mountain battery was artillery that could be dismantled, loaded onto carts and used in mountainous regions. “Mountain Artillery,” online at FIBIS.
8 A garrison is “body of troops stationed in a fortified place.” Online at Dictionary.com.
9 I am unable to determine exactly which barrio Santo Domingo is, although in the context of Rouvier’s report, it had to be close to Talisay.
10 The number of soldiers in a battalion varies internationally, but it typically contains anything from 300 to 800 troops. “Battalion,” Wikipedia.
11 “Chasseur,” Wikipedia.
12 Antonio Canovas del Castillo was the Spanish Prime Minister in 1896. Wikipedia.
13 Blanco’s replacement was General Camilo Garcia de Polavieja. Wikipedia.