MEN IN RED
By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox
Often, revolution is expressed in the form of a red flag, and in the design of the national flags all over the world, red is widely used. It may be associated with the emotional state of being in love, or it can be the color of roses that are given in every Valentines Day of each year. Although the color signifies several states of being, it is a symbolism of powerful feelings such as passion, courage, sacrifice and others. In Masbate, there were men who initiated the fight for freedom; feared and dreaded, and dressed in red. They gave the Spaniards the terror of their lives.
There are immense accounts on the history of Kabikolan, but there are still provinces that need further exploration such as Catanduanes and Masbate to bring the inadequacy of knowledge of yesteryears into a halt. The Exodus of the Spaniards in Masbate on August 19, 1898 came ahead of the departure of the Spaniards in the port of Legazpi on September 23, 1898 signaling the end of Spanish rule in the Bicol region.
The Christianization of Masbate
The province of Masbate comprises the islands of Burias, Ticao and Masbate. Burias derived its name from the buri, a palm tree endemic on the island. Ticao is a tiny strip of land, south of Sorsogon province, north of Masbate, and close to the Strait of San Bernardino. During the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, the Acapulco-bound galleons anchored here to escape heavy monsoon rains before the coming of typhoon and for replenishment. Masbate, the largest and richest of the three islands of Bicol west of San Bernardino Strait, was then hardly populated. By 1844 only three small towns existed on the northern coast, namely, Baleno, Mobo and Palanas. The whole southern coast was placed under the mercy of the Moros.
The Christianization of Masbate dated back to 1569 when the Spanish explorers set their feet in the island. Fray Alonzo Jimenez, an Augustinian, was the first missionary to Masbate. Like in other parts of Luzon, the natives fled to the mountains in defiance of the Spaniards. The expeditions headed by Enrique de Guzman and Captain Andres Ibarra ended the resistance of the natives who eventually conceded to the new rulers of the island resulting to the establishment of settlements in the islands of Burias, Ticao and Masbate. But long before the advent of the Spaniards, a thriving commerce already existed between the natives of Masbate and Chinese traders in the first decade of the 16th century.
By July 1574 Governor-Geneneral Guido de Lavezares wrote to Philip II informing that the lands of the Camarines, Sorsogon, including the adjacent islands of Masbate, Burias, Ticao and Catanduanes were placed under the royal crown of Spain. In 1688, the Recollects took charge of the spiritual administration of the islands.
The Siege of Masbate and the Spanish Exodus
The rebellion in Masbate and other parts of Kabikolan might have been encouraged by the miserable conditions of the inhabitants in the various shipyards like the revolt by Agustin Sumuroy from June 1649 to July 1650, and the abusive polo system. The pulahanes originating from the barrio of Malobago in Cataingan, Masbate besieged Pilar in the last months of the Spanish regime. Considered fanatics and illiterate by the educated Filipinos in Masbate, the movement failed to get their support, but it won thousands adherents among the local people. Thus, the pulahanes treated the educated class as enemies similar to the Spaniards.
The Spanish governor, Don Luis Cubero y Rojas, attempted to organize a local militia but an assault against the rebels was not possible as the Spaniards were insufficient in number. The Visayan General Headquarters could not send reinforcement as they suffered the same problem. Caught in a dangerous situation and the threat of pulahan attack, the Spaniards and loyal Filipinos, who numbered 1000 therefore, decided to abandon the island and fled to Capiz on August 19, 1898. Following the departure of the Spaniards, the capital was occupied by the pulahanes; they plundered the capital and burned the houses to the ground before abandoning it and returning to Uson.
The Establishment of Revolutionary Government in Masbate
While Luzon, especially the Tagalog region, was engaged in fighting against the Spanish government, Aguinaldo deployed expeditionary forces led by Generals Justo Lukban and Riego de Dios to the Visayas and Masbate. Brig. Gen. Don Mariano Riego de Dios with soldiers from Cavite left Cavite on July 22, 1898. The revolutionary forces headed by Gen. Riego de Dios arrived in Masbate on the last days of August and found the town annihilated by the pulahanes led by its general, Pedro Quipte, after the Spaniards and loyal Filipinos escaped. Since the Spaniards had left the town, Riego de Dios persuaded Quipte to disband the pulahan as it was deemed unnecessary to maintain such a large army.
In the bay of the Masbate, the revolutionary forces had a brief encounter with the Spanish squadron consisting of five gunboats and a brigantine that resulted to the sinking of the Filipino ship Bulusan. Pedro Quipte, the leader of the pulahan, did not return to Masbate after Riego de Dios commissioned him to deliver the instruction to the captain of Isabe who was in Cataingan to hide the ship from the enemies. Meanwhile, local governments were set up in the towns along the coast up to Cataingan. The representatives from the revolutionary government were well received in all towns of Masbate, the people showed their willingness and cooperation to establish a new government under the revolutionaries government. The provinces of Masbate and Sorsogon were placed under the auspice of Gen. Diokno who arrived at the end of September in San Pascual, Burias Island. A historic event was witnessed by the local people with the proclamation of the revolutionary government in the town and unfurling of the Filipino flag in the plaza.