THE BATTLE OF BANGKUSAY: A PARADIGM OF DEFIANCE AGAINST COLONIAL CONQUEST
By Chris Antonette Piedad-Pugay
While it is true that it took us Filipinos almost three centuries before we successfully proclaim our independence from the Spaniards, and that several Filipino patriots sacrificed their lives and performed heroic deeds to liberate the country from oppressors, it is sometimes quite saddening that there are some events and people who remained unsung, not given proper places and worst, forgotten. The battles fought by Filipinos from the late 16th century until the revolutionary period should be hailed and recognized, whether they resulted to victory or catastrophe, since what matters most was the unselfish desire of its key players in demanding for changes. Among the battles fought by Filipinos that seemed unremembered was the Battle of Bangkusay, which was the last or if not one of the last resistance movements of the natives of Manila against the Spaniards.
As early as 1570, the Spanish forces headed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi heard of news about a rich kingdom in the northern part of the Philippines. Plans to conquer the said kingdom were immediately set and on 30 May 1570, an expedition consisted of 600 natives of the Visayan Islands and 120 Spaniards commanded by Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo left Panay and headed to the northern part of the Philippines.
Manila during the time was a flourishing Moslem kingdom under Rajah Sulayman. It was situated in the south side of the mouth of the Pasig River and being defended by a wooden fort. The area of Tondo, on the other hand was being ruled by Lakandula.
When the Spaniards arrived in Manila, they were initially accepted by the natives and their leaders, but when Sulayman learned that friendship with the Spaniards meant vassalage, he and his followers became hostile. An initial battle took place on 24 May 1570 where the natives were defeated and retreated. On the other hand, the Spanish forces returned to Panay to report to Legazpi what they have discovered in the northern part of the islands.
After a year, Legazpi headed the Second Conquest of Manila. He left Panay with 27 vessels, 280 Spaniards and several hundred Visayan auxiliaries. On 16 May 1571, Legazpi landed in Manila and took possession of the kingdom. Three native chiefs, including Laya and Lakandula declared themselves friends of Spain, but Sulayman at first showed hesitation and appeared before Legazpi only in May 18 to make peace with the Spaniards. The following week after his arrival, Legazpi released an edict in accordance to the king’s command that lands would be given to those who desire to settle in the City of Manila which he was founding in the name of His Majesty. These events were followed by a short period of peace. Soon enough, natives from other kingdoms/provinces insulted the Manilans by telling them that if the Spaniards would come to their place they would be received well in a battle. These natives also tried to influence village leaders, and in a few days, the Manilans tried to wage a war against the Spaniards. In a few days, thousands of warriors from Agonoy and Macabebe met in Tondo headed by a “brave youth” whose name was not mentioned (though accounts of Gregorio Zaide referred to him as Torik Sulayman, while other authors decided to maintain that it was Rajah Sulayman who headed the uncompromising natives from Bulacan and Pampanga and the other Manilans). Whether the identified “Brave Youth” was Rajah Sulayman or Torik Sulayman, is not a big deal at all, what matters most was there was a 16th century native from the islands who led a resistance against a formidable colonizer. Several warriors from nearby provinces were said to reach Manila through an estuary known as Bankusay Channel.
When the news about the coming of the warriors reached Legazpi, he ordered Lakandula to convince the uncompromising natives to cooperate with the Spaniards. Unfortunately, the “brave youth” who headed the group vehemently refused and declared that he and his people would never be friends to the Castilians.
When Legazpi learned about the incidence, he reckoned that he would not allow the said native warrior to find glory in challenging the Spain. He ordered his man to prepare for a battle. On 3 June 1571, the Spanish Forces embarked in search for native warriors in Bankusay.
A fierce battle ensued; unfortunately, the native forces did not withstand the Spanish Army’s might. The leader of the combined native warriors was killed and the rest of his men escaped and fled. When the battle ended, the Macabebes and Manilan natives were forced to accept Spanish sovereignty. When peace was established, Legazpi resolved with the agreement of the captains and the religious to establish a city on the site of Manila. The founding of the city took place on 24 June 1571.
The Battle of Bankusay remains to be historic and significant event in history, despite of the failure of the natives to expel the colonizers. It was the last or if not one of the last resistance of the natives of Manila against the Spaniards. The battle’s conclusion was deemed one of the major driving forces why Legazpi decided to establish the City of Manila.
San Agustin, Gaspar de. “Conquistas delas Islas Filipinas.” Manila: San Agustin Museum, 1998.
“Relation of the Conquest of Luzon and other Islands, Manila 20 April 1572” The Philippine Islands, Vol. VIII.
In 2016, based on thorough deliberation of primary sources from the Archivo General de Indias, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) Board of Commissioners ruled that the unnamed leader of the 2,000 warriors from Macabebe and Hagonoy was neither Rajah Soliman nor Torik Sulayman. The Board approved the historical marker for the said personality bearing the title “Ang Kabataang Pinuno ng Macabebe.” The same is iterated in the historical marker installed at Plaza Moriones, Tondo, Manila in 2021. The NHCP produced a short audio-visual presentation about the historic event here: https://fb.watch/dp16VGSUBa/.