Most Filipinos ought to have a fairly good grasp from high school history lessons of what went on in the Philippine Revolution of 1896, since this was the event that subsequently gave birth to the republic. What is probably less known and likely because many Philippine history textbooks often give passing references – if at all – to these is that the Spanish colonial era in the country was actually pockmarked with many pocket revolts by the so-called Indios (native Filipino “Indians,” as the Spaniards used to call them) against Spanish rule.
Among these were the so-called “Tagalog revolts” of 1745, seen by some historians as among the milestones leading to Philippine nationalism in the nineteenth century. However, as the reader will see soon enough, these revolts were not at all fueled by concepts of statehood but were more local conflicts between religious orders and townsfolks over land.
The conflict would begin in the town of Silang in what in the present day is the province of Cavite and spread as far north as Bulacan and south to Balayan and Taal in Batangas. There was, however, one major difference in the way the revolts were carried out in Cavite and Bulacan and those that were carried out in Batangas. This shall be discussed later in the article.
Controversy first brewed in Silang as early as 17071 between the people of that town and the Dominican Order over something as trivial as grazing rights for cattle. At the time, Biñan was an estate2 belonging to the College of Santo Tomas, which the Dominican friars owned.
Tenants of the friars continued to take their cattle into Silang’s territory despite the townsfolks having already revoked an earlier agreement allowing them to do so. In 1717, the people of the town reached boiling point and injured one such tenant, at the same time killing some of the cattle. In retaliation, some of the tenants burned down houses in Silang.
The townsfolk elevated the conflict to the Royal Audiencia or the high tribunal representing the King of Spain in the Philippines. Initially, the tribunal ruled in favor of the townsfolk of Silang. However, after the College of Santo Tomas appealed the ruling, in 1744 the Royal Audiencia overturned its earlier decision.
Regrettably, this overturning of its earlier decision by the Royal Audiencia was construed not just by the Dominicans but also by other religious orders as the precedent for the acquisition of more lands to add to their already existing estates. It triggered a “wave of claims” so that land surveyors started visiting towns, presumably commissioned by religious orders, and this started to alarm townsfolk in places where lands adjoined religious estates.
Things came to a head in March 1745 when land surveyors accompanied by two Augustinian Recollect friars were driven out of the town of Kawit by townsfolk armed with “arrows, lances, daggers, knives and even some pistols.” In this incident, the townsfolk were assisted by a Jesuit priest. Apparently, the Jesuits often did not see eye to eye with other religious orders in the country.
The incidents in Silang and Kawit fueled unrest as well in places such as Bacoor, Las Piñas and Parañaque; and it was also noteworthy that townsfolk trusted and favored the Jesuits where they were suspicious of other religious orders. While there were incidents of bloodshed, these were nowhere near what one would normally associate with a revolt.
Nonetheless, the towns were starting to talk to each other even as far north as Malabon, determined as people were to hold on to their lands in the face of usurpation by the religious orders. The Audiencia had appointed Pedro Calderon to “pacify” the towns. Calderon sounded a lot like a fair man and he understood that the townsfolk were fighting merely for their traditional lands which they needed to survive.
These were lands from where they took their firewood and wild fruits; and where they hunted for food or took their livestock to pasture. By and large, people were prepared to lay down their arms on the basis of Calderon’s promise to listen to their gripes and help to find solutions.
In San Mateo, however, the townsfolk refused to lay down their arms and killed one Spaniard in a firefight. Calderon and his few men had to seek refuge in a house until reinforcements arrived the next day with superior firepower. The rebels were forced to flee and the town was set ablaze by the Spaniards. This was the worst that the revolt got, and other towns later saw reason in dialoguing with Calderon.
In Batangas, there was also unrest. In June of 1745, one official in Balayan wrote to the colonial government to say that Indios had taken over the estates of Lian and Calatagan, which at the time were still part of Balayan. The details of what went on were provided by the Recollect friar Juan de la Concepcion, who wrote:
“With the pretext that the fathers of the Society (of Jesus) had usurped from them cultivated lands, and the untilled lands on the hills, on which they kept enormous herds of horned cattle – for which reason, and because the Jesuits that these were their own property, they would not allow the natives to supply themselves with wood, rattans, bamboos, unless they paid fixed prices. The Indians committed shocking acts of hostility on the ranches of Lian and Nasugbu, killing and plundering the tenants of those lands, with many other ravages3.”
The unrest spread to Taal and Rosario4, where there were also similar uprisings. Spanish troops would be deployed from Manila; and just like what happened in San Mateo, there would be firefights before the rebels were subdued. When the uprisings were finally quelled, no less than thirty men were condemned to die. Most of these had become fugitives so that only five were actually executed.
The leader of the uprising was a native priest by the name of Francisco Matienza, about whom very little is known in the present day because of the scarcity of documents written about him. He was said to have sought refuge in a church5 but was subsequently captured. Because he was a priest, he was spared from being given the death sentence but was, instead, condemned by ecclesiastical justice “to eight years in prison in Zamboanga and barred from returning to Tagalog towns, on pain of death should he fail to comply.”
There was something curious in de la Concepcion’s narrative of events in Balayan because he made it sound as though the Jesuits were guilty of doing exactly what his own order was doing to ignite unrest in Cavite. The Jesuits there had by and large stuck to what was legal and often took the side of the townsfolk against the religious orders, which was probably the reason why de la Concepcion’s narrative was critical of them. Not as curious, though, was that the Recollect friar expectedly kept out details of his own religious order’s excesses in obtaining more lands.
Notes and references:1 Majority of the details in this article about the Tagalog revolts are taken from the paper “The Tagalog Revolts of 1745 According to Spanish Primary Sources,” written by Fernando Palanco and published in 2010 in the journal “Philippine Studies” of Ateneo de Manila University.
2 In the western context, an estate was land granted by the monarchy or the aristocracy in return protection and use of the land for the growing of crops and livestock.
3 Along with other details of the “revolt” in Batangas, from “Historia de Philipinas,” by Juan de la Concepcion, as cited in the footnotes of “The Philippine Islands Volume 48,” as compiled by Emma Blair and James Alexander Robertson.
4 I am unable to establish that the Rosario mentioned is the modern day town, which at the time of the uprising was still situated closer to present-day Taysan.
5 Seeking refuge or sanctuary in a church in medieval Europe was often a way to avoid capture, because soldiers respected the holiness of the place and generally did not enter. The custom was to wait outside until the fugitive had no recourse but to leave the church’s sanctuary usually due to hunger.