Christian Bernard A. Melendez
Senior Shrine Curator, Museo ng Katipunan-PMS
Considered as the first battle for independence, the Battle of Pinaglabanan was an encounter between the Katipuneros and of the Spanish Civil Guards and soldiers on the area of San Juan del Monte. As agreed upon by Andres Bonifacio and his fellow katipuneros, they will march and proceed in the walled city of Intramuros. Bonifacio and his men, will march from Balara dissecting San Juan del Monte.
The encounter in San Juan del Monte proved to be futile for the Katipunan. Their first attempt to shake the Spanish confidence and to seize authority was put into vain. Nonetheless, though the first try failed, the attacks elsewhere in the archipelago, especially in the north and south of Manila, gained momentum.
But what can be the causes of the failure? Three critical factors played a huge consideration and greatly affected the outcome of the battle. These are:
Prior to the revolution, one major problem the Katipunan sought to address is the lack of arms. Previously, a few months before the revolution, they made an attempt to connect to the Japanese to purchase arms. They even paid a visit to a docking Japanese cruiser Kongo at the port of Manila to negotiate the purchase.
Upon the confirmation of the existence of the Katipunan, in Balintawak, the armaments for the revolution was once again tackled. All they have secured were bolos, spears, and a handful of revolvers and mausers. This was the reason why they had decided to attack El Polvorin in San Juan del Monte to secure and to increase their armaments.
All the abovementioned produced little to no success. The procurement of arms from Japan did not materialize. The bolos and spears they gathered in Balintawak were not enough.
Majority of the bolo-wielding katipuneros encountered the properly armed Spanish militia. The katipuneros, with melee fighting as their only option, is no match against the Spaniards equipped with long-range armaments such as remington, mauser, and revolver.
From this factor, the Spaniards had the edge.
It was said that the Katipuneros who marched towards San Juan del Monte ranges from 800 – 2,500 men, depending on who you read. Coming from different Sangguniang Balangays within the area, all converged into one place.
On the other hand, the Spanish contingent consists only of regiments and cavalry – still fewer than the marching Katipuneros.
With overwhelming numbers, the Katipuneros got the edge.
Katipuneros versus the Spanish soldiers.
The former were ordinary citizens, living simple lives prior to the revolutions. No experience on organized warfare, no idea on how to operate a rifle. What do they have were farm tools – bolos, spears, and knives – the only available arms in the surroundings. Few members belonged to the artillery of the Spanish army who either sympathizes or an active member of the secret society.
The latter, on the other hand, were trained personnel prepared to combat.
The katipuneros, though determined to fight, cannot sustain their efforts with a futile knowledge in the battle field. They were no match against the Spanish troops who were far more organized and knowledgeable in warfare.
Counter-intelligence also played a crucial role. Though Bonifacio and top Katipunan officials devised a plan on how to take-over Manila and the surrounding suburbs, the counter-intelligence report received by Governor –General Ramon Blanco dictated the Spanish government’s next move. He ordered the movement of troops within Manila. He also ordered fortifying El Deposito.
Coordination, fighting prowess, ability and knowledge on tactical strategy and familiarization on the usage of arms are needed in the battlefield, which the katipuneros lack of.
With this, the Spaniards clearly had the edge.
The Best-of-Three Scenario
Imagine a collegiate finals basketball game – where two universities vie for the championship through three games. In the Battle of Pinaglabanan, these three games are arms, participating soldiers/katipuneros, and experience. The Katipunan will easily win the number game, but they will be defeated on arms and experience.
Having discussed the three factors, we can surmise that to win a war, these three factors should be considered. The Katipuneros, though overwhelming in members, cannot compete against the Spaniards without proper armaments and proper knowledge and experience in warfare.
Dr. Pio Valenzuela and the Katipunan; Arturo Valenzuela, Jr.
The Revolt of the Masses; Teodoro Agoncillo
Bonifacio’s Unfinished Revolution; Alejo L. Villanueva, Jr.
The Tragedy of the Revolution; Adrian E. Cristobal
Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People