Revolutionary War in the Ilocos

by Alfonso S. Quilala, Jr.
© 1996 by Alfonso S. Quilala, Jr. and PHGLA
All rights reserved

Before the Spaniards came, the northwestern part of Luzon was known as Samtoy. It became one big province named Ilocos under Spanish rule until it was split into Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte by a royal decree in 1818. Abra and Benguet were carved out of Ilocos Sur to form independent provinces in 1846. La Union was later formed by merging the southern part of Ilocos Sur and the northeast portion of Pangasinan in 1854.

The Ilocos is a long, narrow strip of land-- a rugged region that nestles between the South China Sea on the west and the great Cordillera ranges on the east. Its scenery combines the beauty of the mountain and the sea. The narrowness of the strip also means that natural resources are limited and this has had a tremendous effect on the character of the Ilocano. He is hardworking and frugal and is probably more adaptable to more situations than one from the other Filipino groups.

Land of revolts

During the Spanish regime, a number of armed protests, or alzamientos, took place in the Ilocos. The first recorded rebellion occurred in 1589 at Dingras, Ilocos Norte when its inhabitants killed six tribute collectors from Vigan. The Ilocos Revolt to protest forced labor in 1661 was next. Then came the Great Rebellion of 1762 led by Diego Silang, later by his wife, Gabriela. Tribute collection, forced labor, and various monopolies imposed on native industries triggered this revolt. The tobacco monopoly precipitated another uprising in Laoag in 1788. In 1807, the Basi Revolt led by Pedro Ambaristo broke out to protest the wine monopoly.

The Ilocanos, uncharacteristically, were left behind when Andres Bonifacio tore his cedula in the now famous "Cry of Balintawak" that signaled the start of armed struggle against Spanish authority. But in 1898, two Ilocano clans, the Abayas and the Guirnaldas, organized a Katipunan chapter in Candon. Despite its secrecy, the Candon Katipunan was uncovered on the night of March 24, 1898. Isabelo Abaya had no choice but to strike prematurely. His forces took control of the town and in the morning of March 25 announced the formation of the Republic of Candon. Fernando Guirnalda assumed authority and proclaimed martial law. Three days later, Spanish shock troops landed and easily retook the town. They executed all leaders of the takeover with the exception of the Guirnalda brothers and Isabelo Abaya who had escaped to the mountains.

Tinio of the Ilocos

Gen. Manuel Tinio Gen. Manuel Tinio, not Gregorio del Pilar as commonly believed, was the youngest general during the Revolution. He was born in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija on June 17, 1877. When Aguinaldo put up a republic at Biak-na-Bato, Tinio was appointed a brigadier-general in the Revolutionary Army at which time del Pilar (born 1875) was still a lieutenant-colonel. Tinio accompanied Aguinaldo to exile in Hong Kong in 1897.

The Americans fetched Aguinaldo from Hong Kong to restart the revolution against Spaniards. Gen. Manuel Tinio was assigned the task of destroying the Spanish forces in Ilocos. He proceeded to Dagupan where he found his brother Maj. Casimiro Tinio and his troops cooperating with Gen. Francisco Makabulos in the siege of the town. With the situation under control, Makabulos allowed Casimiro and some of his officers to be incorporated into the Ilocos Expeditionary Forces.

Gen. Tinio's vanguard marched to San Fernando and found the town besieged by revolutionaries from Zambales under "General" Mauro Ortiz. In a combined effort, Tinio and Ortiz finally forced the surrender of the Spaniards. Tinio resumed his march to the north and helped to liberate the towns of Balaoan, Bangar, and Tagudin. He proceeded to Candon where he met Isabelo Abaya, who had just liberated the town. Abaya was commissioned by Tinio as Captain of Infantry in the Tinio Brigade. Tinio and his force went farther north and entered the city of Vigan on August 13. He found the city already under control by Blas Villamor and Estanislao Reyes.

The Ilocano forces grew to a full brigade of more than 3,000 fully-equipped and combat-ready troops. This regional army was formally integrated as an armed unit of the republic on the occasion of Gen. Tinio's appointment as military governor of the Ilocos provinces and commanding general of all Filipino forces in Northern Luzon.

Phil-Am War in the Ilocos

Gregorio Aglipay, a Catholic priest at that time, had gone to join the Aguinaldo government's withdrawal and personally accompanied him to Ilocano territory after the death of Ilocano patriot Gen. Antonio Luna at the hands of Aguinaldo's guards.

Aguinaldo transferred his capital to Bayambang and summoned Gen. Tinio to help Gen. del Pilar fortify Lingayen. Americans under Gen. Lloyd Wheaton landed at San Fabian. A battle ensued which resulted in heavy casualties among the Filipinos. Sensing his precarious position, Aguinaldo and his generals agreed to disband the regular army and resort to guerilla warfare. They transfered the seat of their government to the mountains of Northern Luzon. He left Bayambang and eventually reached Pozorubio. The men of the Tinio Brigade checked the enemy in preestablished positions to allow Aguinaldo's party to leave Pozorubio.

In La Union, Gen. Tinio and his men protected the retreat of Aguinaldo. They fought admirably in Rosario, Sto. Tomas , and Aringay. After those battles, Tinio withdrew his forces to Tagudin. The Americans under Gen. Samuel B.Young, meanwhile, reached Namacpacan (now Luna) just 18 km. south of Tagudin. Young waited for three days before advancing. This delay gave the Aguinaldo's retreating party enough time to reach Candon.

From Candon, Aguinaldo decided to move east to the mountains in the interior. Fr. Aglipay and Col. Quesada were ordered to proceed north. Gen. Tinio, meanwhile, had withdrawn his forces to San Quintin, Abra. He ordered a night raid on the American garrison in Vigan. The attackers found the Americans waiting for them in a most advantageous position. Heavy casualties were reported on both sides. The Americans successfully defended their garrison, however.

Gen. Young ordered a general assault upon Tangadan Pass in the afternoon of the same day of the Vigan attack. The Americans waited for the dark of night to cover the movement of their troops. They were able to climb the adjacent hill without being noticed. Realizing that their position had now become indefensible, the Filipinos withdrew, avoiding another tragedy that would have duplicated Tirad Pass.

The Americans moved on to San Quintin, then to Pidigan, and finally occupied Bangued in pursuit of the enemy. But Gen. Tinio had already fled to Ilocos Norte accompanied by his staff. The Americans found his whereabouts and followed Tinio to Solsona. They were close on his heels when they reached the rancheria of Maan-anting where they finally lost track of him. Cols. Howze and Hare carried on to Cabugaoan but Tinio could not be found as he had secretly made it back to Banna.

Guerilla warfare

While the Americans were running after Tinio in Ilocos Norte, many officers of the Tinio Brigade were busy organizing guerilla bands. The initiators of guerilla fighting in Ilocos were Capt. Francisco Celedonio, Capt. Estanislao Reyes, Capt. Gregorio Pauil , and Capt. Pioquinto Elvinia.

On Jan. 14, 1900, the only artillery duel of the war was fought in Mount Bimmuaya, a summit 1,000 meters above the Cabugao River northeast of Lapog (now San Juan, Ilocos Sur). It is a place with an unobstructed view of the coastal plain from Vigan to Laoag. The American with their machineguns won mainly because their locations were concealed by their use of smokeless gunpowder so that Filipino aim was wide off the mark. Many believe that Tinio, Reyes, and Celedonio were present at this encounter but got away unscathed.

Juan Villamor was in command of another guerilla organization. His forces were made up of three rifle companies from Abra and southern Ilocos Sur under Capt. Isabelo Abaya. These Abra-Candon guerillas were credited with several victories over the American forces. A strong force was sent against Villamor while he was camped at Pilar. Villamor ambushed the Americans one night inflicting heavy casualties. The same thing happened again in the Battle of Cosocos. Villamor trapped the Americans who could only retreat while suffering considerable losses in men and equipment.

According to an American report, Capt. Isabelo Abaya and two others were killed when they attacked a detachment of 30 men of the 33rd Infantry led by Lt. McCleland who were on their way to Guling, a mountain town.

Fr. Aglipay was one of the most colorful Ilocano guerillas but did not operate under Tinio's command. He never held a military commission but quickly became a legend by galloping into battle on a large American horse. Despite his independent operations, he presumably had the cooperation of both Villamors when he ambushed a pack train of medical supplies three miles from Tayum. It is interesting to note that Aglipay's own followers quickly earned a reputation for throwing themselves into battle with the suicidal abandon of religious fanatics. During three days in April 1900, 333 of them died in action, mostly in hand-to-hand combat in the streets of Laoag and Batac.

End of the struggle

As early as January 1901, the end of the resistance in Ilocandia was beginning to be apparent. The following month, 20,000 men bowed to American sovereignty in the Ilocano provinces. By then, a good number of minor leaders had either been killed or captured while the rest, demoralized, voluntarily gave themselves up.

One by one, the principal leaders came to submission either through mediation or through force. In March 10, Maj. Reyes surrendered at San Vicente. With him were several other officers including Capt. Galicano Calvo. Next to fall was Maj. Francisco Celedonio. Then on April 15, Col. Gutierrez was brought as a prisoner to Santa Cruz. With his capture, resistance in La Union and southern Ilocos Sur died for good.

On the 26th of April, Fr. Aglipay gave up. But it was not until May 25 that the last of the Aglipay men were finally brought to submission in Laoag. On April 29, Blas and Villamor surrendered their forces at Bangued. Then on May 1, 1901. Gen. Tinio formally surrendered his entire command to Gen. Bell at Sinait. Included in his surrender were Gen. Benito Natividad, Col. Joaquin Alejandrino, and 25 other officers with 350 riflemen.

The last word on the historical and political significance of the Ilocano phase of the Philippine struggle for independence came from no less than the American commander himself, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, who characterized the war in the Ilocos as the "most troublesome and perplexing military problem in all Luzon."

Further reading:

  1. Ochosa, Orlino A. The Tinio Brigade: Anti-American resistance in the Ilocos provinces, 1899-1901. Quezon City, 1989.
  2. Scott, William Henry. Ilocano responses to American aggression 1900-1901. Quezon City, 1986.
(This article was originally presented by the author to PHGLA on 2/10/96.)

To cite:
Quilala, Jr., Alfonso S. "Revolutionary War in the Ilocos" in Hector Santos, ed., Philippine Centennial Series; at US, 25 August 1996.

PHGLA Logo The Philippine History Group of Los Angeles invites you to send your comments to the author, Alfonso S. Quilala, Jr., or the editor of this Philippine Centennial Series, Hector Santos.

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