By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox

        It was the year 1892 when the Katipunan was formed which endeavored for the collapse of the three hundred-year Spanish regime in the country and bring back the lost freedom to the natural inhabitants who were brainwashed and turned into slaves by the Spaniards. The nationalistic spirit of Philippine revolution came later in the Bicol region, far later than the eight provinces placed under martial law by Governor-General Ramon Blanco, roughly due to its geographic location- being a peninsula surrounded by natural barriers. While some in Luzon were joyous of the independence they have just acquired, in Tarlac for instance, it was emancipated from the Spanish government in July 10, 1898 by Francisco Makabulos,  in Bicol, the Bicolanos have their arms wide open for the Spanish government. There were already news about Bicolanos being arrested and detained in prison without sufficient evidence to the allegation of rebellion, the Spanish government, to prevent the flow of sympathy from the Bicolanos for their compatriots, which may instigate an insurrection, made use of propaganda to brainwash the people and to secure their loyalty to the Spaniards.  The Bicolanos were ill-informed about the principal reason of the insurrection initiated by Andres Bonifacio, with the Cry of Pugadlawin that occurred about the last days of August 1896. Surprisingly, famous reformists such as Rizal, who fought the Spaniards with his writings, was unfamiliar not even to a single Albayanos. The deeds of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto and the existence of a then secret society called Katipunan did not bring even a whisper in the ears of the Bicolanos. In the month of September, the government organized and armed a company of volunteers composed entirely of Bicolanos. The Bicolanos proved that they were real friends to the Spaniards. Don Mariano Riosa, a prominent Filipino merchant of Tabaco, Albay, contributed 3,000 packages of cigarettes and 4, 000 cigars.  This only proved that the wealthy Filipinos were willing to pour their resources just to help the Spaniards in putting down the Filipino insurrection movements. Perhaps, those the ‘haves’ were already assimilated to the culture of the Spaniards and at the same time, they were enjoying high status in the community for which they were reluctant to give up just for the sake of the ‘have-nots’.

        The province of Albay was not alone in Bicol region refusing to join the insurrectional movement and in standing loyally by the Crown of Spain. The provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Burias and the military districts of Calamianes, Catanduanes, Masbate and Ticao, contributed for the cause of the government to help them subdue the rebellion.  Spanish authorities, who became paranoid from what was happening in the Tagalog region, began arresting influential persons who were suspected of rebellion and imposed the inhumane torture of prisoners.  One of the victim belonging to the upper class that were victimized by this unlawful arrests was Florencio Lerma, a wealthy man in Nueva Caceres, Camarines Sur. Although he denied the allegation of organizing a plot against the government and was even tortured to admit the things he didn’t know, they were sentenced to death. The same fate befell other men arrested for allegedly participating in the rebellion that spread in the Tagalog region. Even religious man was not excused, Fr. Gabriel Prieto, parish priest of Malinao, Albay, was accused to have committed the crime of rebellion within the jurisdiction of Camirines Sur and was imprisoned together with the prominent persons suspected of having schemed a serious plot to assassinate all the Spaniards in Nueva Caceres . The Bicol Martyrs composed of 3 priests and twelve laymen were brought to Manila and eleven of them were executed on January 4, 1897 in Bagumbayan for being guilty of the crime of rebellion.

       The pact of Biak-na-Bato in 1897 aimed to end the armed conflict between the Spaniards and the revolutionists under Gen. Aguinaldo and news came to Albay that the Spanish government accepted the terms laid down by Aguinaldo. It aroused the suspicion of the Albayanons that the Spaniards were having a hard time suppressing the rebels. The Spanish evasion of their promises enclosed in the Pact of Biyak-na-Bato caused bitter disappointments among the people. Thus, the Spaniards lost much of their prestige among the people. The raid in Pamplona in Camarines Sur on November 14, 1897 where the gobernadorcillo and some cuadrilleros were tied to the posts led the Albayanos to believe that the Tagalog insurrection had finally come to the Bicol region.

      The pulahan movement, a local militant movement composed of men wearing red clothes, gave the Spanish government a strong blow and exacerbated their worsening position in the region. This group was said to have originated in the barrio of Malobago, municipality of Cataingan, Masbate province. These bold pulahanes won the support and admiration of the local populace that many were convinced to join the movement against the Spaniards, although, they failed to win the patronage of the wealthy and educated class.  The Spanish authorities of Albay received in the last days of August news of the unfavorable outcome of the war with the United States, of the capitulation of Manila to the Americans, and of the expedition to the Bicol region of Gen. Lukban. The authorities decided to abandon the province for lack of sufficient forces for its defense, and to form beforehand a committee of prominent Filipinos to which the Spanish could turn over the government.

          Don Emilio Morera confirmed the Spanish surrender to the Americans and this news spread in Albay. On the night of 14 September 1898, several Spanish families left with Morera aboard the steamer Brutus without any suspicion coming from the Albayanos. Rumors even spread that the Spaniards are planning to execute Filipinos upon their departure from the province, as well as the news of the execution of the native civil guards and prominent Filipinos of Daet in April 1898, and the massacres in Pilar and Panlatuan. These news frightened the Albayanos so they decided to arm themselves in their homes with bolos, spears and arrows in order for them to defend their lives. This time, the people already know that the Spaniards were the real enemies, not the Tagalogs, or even their fellow Bicolanos.

          On September 20, rumors spread that the civil guards of Nueva Caceres mutinied, assassinated their officers and placed all Spanish officials in jail. Weak enough to fight the rebels, the provincial governor, Don Vicente Zaidin, decided to capitulate. The capitulation took effect at ten o’clock of that morning. Corporal Angeles assumed the leadership of the insurrection. The victory of the civil guards in Nueva Caceres resulted to the evacuation of the peninsulares resident of the said region. The provinces in Bicol were handed back to the Filipinos by the Spaniards peacefully after three centuries of domination. On September 23, Spaniards who lived in the remote towns arrived in Legaspi with their families and left for Manila aboard the ships. This triumphant event marked the independence of the Bicol region from Spanish auspice, a very important event in our history that we have to rekindle and remember.

Source: The Philippine revolution in the Bicol Region / Elias M. Ataviado; translated into English by Juan T. Ataviado. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1999.