If one reads through the histories of barrios in Taal and nearby towns, one finds countless stories of village folk, tired of Spanish oppression, joining up with revolutionary forces late in the nineteenth century. There were also plenty of stories of skirmishes in these barrios between the Guardia Civil and the Katipunan.
These were stories of the common folk, however, which all the more make the patriotism of the “Ilustrado” class of Taal all the more remarkable. This was the educated Filipino middle class of the nineteenth century1, immersed in commerce or wealthy landowners; and, therefore, had more to lose by rocking the boat, in a manner of speaking.
Among the members of this class in Taal were Eulalio Villavicencio and his wife, the former Gliceria Marella. Eulalio, born in 1842, was one of the town’s wealthy shipowners2. It may be hard to visualize in the present day when Taal is not among Batangas’ port towns, but back in the nineteenth century, ships came and went from its port laden with its exports of sugar and woodwork or imports or rice and European goods from the warehouse of Manila3. Presumably, it was from this commerce that Eulalio made his fortune.
Gliceria, meanwhile, was born to Vicente and Gertrudis Marella4 in 1852. The Marellas were among Taal’s most affluent families. Gliceria and her siblings, however, were orphaned early and had to live with one of their grandfathers. When her older sister died, it became Gliceria’s responsibility to manage her family’s considerable estate.
Eulalio married Glicera in 1871. Both were followers and supporters of the brewing underground revolutionary movement against Spanish colonial rule. While on one hand the “Ilustrados” had a lot to lose from a full-blown revolution breaking out, on the other hand they were also the class who had access to and the capability to understand liberal political ideas emanating from Europe and the Americas.
The couple helped to distribute propaganda material against Spanish rule. Among these were copies of La Solidaridad5, a paper published in Spain by an organization of the same name. The organization was co-founded by Jose Rizal’s cousin Galicano Apacible, originally from Balayan but who also had strong connections in Taal.
In 1892, Eulalio travelled to Hong Kong to personally deliver ₱18,000 of family funds to Jose Rizal “to finance his subversive propaganda movement against Spain6.” The Inflation Calculator estimates that amount to be worth about ₱473,683.79 or almost half a million pesos in 2015. Eulalio returned to the Philippines with more propaganda pamphlets for distribution among the locals.
The Spaniards were not oblivious to the Villavicencios’ involvement in the revolutionary movement; and their house was frequently being searched by the Guardia Civil. Eventually, Eulalio would be arrested, charged with sedition and incarcerated at the Bilibid Prison.
This act of harassment, if anything, steeled Gliceria even more into throwing her support into the revolutionary movement. She opened her house for use as a secret meeting place by the Katipunan’s leaders, including Andres Bonifacio, Gen. Miguel Malvar and Gen. Eleuterio Marasigan of Calaca.
The Spaniards tried to cajole her into divulging information about the Katipunan’s movements, promising her the release of her husband if she did so. She was supposed to have retorted, “I love my husband very much as few wives do but I would consider it insanity to carry his surname if I should obtain his liberty by betraying him and his cause.”
Eulalio was finally released in 1898, but his health had so deteriorated while incarcerated that he died just three months later.
Meanwhile, Gliceria continued to expend her family’s vast resources in support of the revolution. She donated the SS Bulusan, one of the family’s ships, to the revolutionary movement. The ship would become the first warship of the revolutionary army, then under the command of General Emilio Aguinaldo.
She would also clandestinely found and support the so-called Maluya Batalan7, a combat group that would play a “pivotal role in the surrender of Spanish forces in Batangas, Tayabas, Capiz, Panay and Iloilo8.” On the day of the declaration of the First Philippine Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo acknowledged her contributions to the revolution by declaring Gliceria “Madrina-General de las Fuerzas Revolucionarios” (Godmother-General of the Revolutionary Forces).
Gliceria, who was also fondly called “Aling Eriang,” would continue to support Filipino freedom fighters even after the Americans had taken over from the Spaniards. In fact, to isolate her from Gen. Miguel Malvar, American troops had to forcibly relocate her entire family away from Taal under heavy guard.
She passed away in 1929, not one of the country’s more celebrated heroes and heroines because ultimately, she remained a wife and later a widow taking care of her children. Her greatness was in her refusal to safeguard her family’s vast financial clout, instead preferring to expend her fortunes in support of the vision of an independent Philippines.
Notes and references:1 “Ilustrado,” Wikipedia.
2 Along with other details of this article, from “Eulalio Villavicencio and Gliceria Marella Villavicencio,” online at Taal, Heritage Town.
3 “Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
4 Along with other details of this article, from “Gliceria Marella-Villavicencio,” online at the Orosa Family Web Site.
5 “La Solidaridad,” Wikipedia.
6 Along with other details of this article, from “Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio - Godmother of the Revolutionary Forces,” online at the Villavicencio-Marella Genealogy.
7 A National Historical Institute (presently the National Historical Commission) document says “Battallon Malaya” instead of “Maluya.”
8 “The House on Marella Street,” online at Taal.PH.