Messianic Leaders of the Revolution

by Paul Dimayuga
© 1997 by Paul Dimayuga and PHGLA
All rights reserved

Tatlong Persona Three centuries of Spanish rule over the Philippines instilled a profound religious fervor among the population. This was the direct result of strict friar control, which was often abusive and which resulted in many uprisings against Spain, a paradox since the rebellions were against established Church authority who controlled most of the countryside. Many of the leaders of these popular uprisings proclaimed themselves as messiahs, prophets, popes, and royalty.

Some historians have presented arguments to explain this paradox. One is that a deep spirituality existed in the natives long before the colonizers came to Christianize them. This was manifested in the many abstract ideas of everyday use like tao and loob, words not easily translated into any Western equivalent. When Christianity was forced upon the people, social interaction in traditional pagan and native rituals was replaced by foreign Christian rituals like the Mass, group prayer, confession, and others. But as with any forced change, the transition was rather chaotic. The Ati-Atihan and Sinulog are examples of a fusion of native and Christian traditions. And so is the Pasyon, a narrative of the passion and death of Christ, which many believe was used to replace native epics passed on as tradition. People today still relate the hardships they experience with the Pasyon.

The backdrop of many of the uprisings in the Philippines was that visionary leaders exploited the confused state of the native's belief system. These leaders, who came from the lower ranks, had a moral and spiritual authority superior to that of the Spanish friars, not unlike the Christian God. These uprisings did not stop with the expulsion of Spain but extended well into America’s involvement in the Philippines. The Americans inherited an extremely complex situation which could not be easily suppressed with guns and bullets. This article presents a few selected leaders and/or movements that had religious or spiritual undertones.


Many of the uprisings in the 1600’s were led by local chiefs, primarily from Pampanga, Pangasinan, Ilocos, and Zambales, against the policy of reduction whereby a typical town was constructed around a church and a plaza and the people forced to live in and around it, making friar control easier and more absolute. A few were like the revolts in the Visayas whose leaders were embroiled in religious fanaticism. Bohol in 1622 saw the rise of a babaylan (spiritualist) named Tamblot who rebelled against Jesuit hamletting. His revolt spilled over to Leyte, where it was led by another local chief called Bankaw. Spanish authorities led Cebuano recruits to quell the movement before it could grow into a more serious regional disturbance.

Another spiritualist named Tapar revolted in Panay in 1663. He declared himself "God Almighty," two of his aides "Christ" and "the Holy Spirit," and a female associate "Maria Santisima." They led attacks on the town centers but were overwhelmed by Spanish forces. The "Holy Trinity" was captured and fed to the crocodiles while Maria was beheaded. Oppressive economic policies and friar abuses were the two main reasons for scattered uprisings throughout the islands. Their charismatic leaders took on sacred personalities or supreme royal titles to rally the beleaguered people. Also worth mentioning are the revolts led by Sumuroy of Samar, Maniago of Pampanga, Malong of Pangasinan, Gumapos of Zambales, Almazan of Ilocos, and Dagohoy of Bohol.

Confradia de San Jose

Then in 1841 the first in a string of rebellions of a larger scale organized around religious ideals broke out. The person behind this was Apolinario de la Cruz. He was born in Lukban, Tayabas (now Quezon) in July 1815 and was educated by the clergy. Naively idealistic as a young man and encouraged by the clergy, he decided to pursue a clerical career in Manila in 1839. As with many others before and after him, he was denied opportunities despite his repeated appeals. It was this disappointment that led to the idea of a religious organization open only to natives. He returned to his province and formed the Confradia de San Jose in 1840.

The charismatic leader proceeded to build up his membership roster rapidly so that in short time he had followers cutting across social strata and provincial boundaries (Tayabas, Laguna and Batangas). He acquired the title "Hermano Puli" and his closest aide was "Purgatorio." The vicar of Tayabas, Manuel Sancho, soon took to persecuting the Confradia claiming that such developments were dangerous and possibly irreversible. The leaders of the Confradia were jailed for a while and after release fled to Majayjay, Laguna. As recruitment continued, de la Cruz was still confident that acceptance of his organization by state and church authorities would legitimize the movement and save it from being forced to take on a more radical stance. But the Spanish authorities in Manila would not budge and even outlawed the movement, ordering de la Cruz to appear before them. He went into hiding while Purgatorio was harassed and arrested. But Purgatorio's release was again obtained by local influential figures.

The two men linked up in Ba'y, and with bolo-wielding followers marched to Igsabang, just outside Lukban. On October 23, 1841, Juan Ortega, the provincial governor, launched an ill-conceived attack on the now defiant rebels, was soundly defeated, and was himself cut down by Purgatorio. The Confradia then marched to Alitao, at the foot of Mt. San Cristobal and built a fort against expected attacks from the Spaniards. Meanwhile, Sancho had been so stunned by the developments that he abandoned Tayabas.

With 400 armed men ready to defend him, de la Cruz continued to rally his followers while taking on a more mystical persona and claiming to deliver messages from God. Their enemy, under the command of a certain Lt. Col. Huet, was a thousand-strong force composed mostly of detachments from Pampanga. On October 30, Huet guaranteed amnesty for all who would surrender. Receiving no favorable response, he marched his army on November 1 to the Confradia stronghold. Chaos erupted as close-quarter, hand-to-hand fighting went on. By mid-afternoon structures were burning and approximately 1,000 natives lay dead on the muddy grounds. No real count was attempted although about 600 Confradias were said to have been captured.

De la Cruz escaped unscathed and made his way to Sariaya, Tayabas on November 2. Disillusioned members surrendered him to the authorities and he was tried and executed in the town of Tayabas on November 4, 1841. His head was cut off and displayed on the road leading to Majayjay. Around 200 of his followers were also executed. For the next 30 years, Confradia survivors and their families continued to make pilgrimages by scaling the slopes of San Cristobal and Banahaw. They also lived by the teachings of Hermano Puli. By 1870 they had evolved into what is now known as the Colorums (probably a corruption of the Latin phrase saecula saeculorum). By the 1890’s the movement, still respected by the defiant natives, participated in the revolution and the war against the United States, allying themselves with Gen. Malvar of Batangas.

Guardia de Honor

The Ilocos region had a tendency to erupt in rebellion in the 1800’s but one stands out as having the widest support. It was the one launched by Guardia de Honor, a group founded by Dominican friars in Manila to uphold Christian orthodoxy among the laity. Their basic doctrine was devotion to the Mother of God, thus the members were called Guardia de Honor de Nuestra Señora del Santa Rosario or Guardia de Honor de Maria. Prayer rallies and processions held with much fanfare helped swell up the roster.

Outside Manila where clerical control was less centralized, the movement started taking on a different form. Fearing a rapidly growing cultist movement in their hands, the Dominicans severed all affiliations with the Ilocano chapters in 1882, but by then it was too late. A local anitero (animist) named Julian Baltazar from Urdaneta arose as spiritual leader, consolidated the movement on Santa Ana island in the Agno River, and prophesied judgment day. The Spanish authorities worked quickly to disperse them and Baltazar returned to Urdaneta which soon became a center for endless pilgrimages by his followers. The best the Spaniards could do was to issue a stern warning to the group not to cause trouble. In 1897, Baltazar, reverently referred to as Apo Laqai moved to a sitio called Cabaruan and set up a virtually autonomous state. It was here that he later picked Antonio Valdez to be his successor.

The political climate was changing rapidly as at first Katipuneros, and later Aguinaldo’s Republicanos, started courting Apo Laqai. Sensing problems with a Tagalog-led revolution which lacked religious foundations, Apo Laqai chose to remain neutral. Valdez however, anticipated the changes well and started amassing weapons from the Spanish garrisons. The response by authorities was to arrest Apo Laqai and disperse the people of Cabaruan. As negotiations were being conducted at Biak-na-Bato, Valdez moved his followers to the hills and organized guerrilla units for war against all outsiders, who he believed were undermining their cause. The Amnesty of 1897 brought the release of Apo Laqai who died shortly thereafter, and leadership was transferred to Valdez. He ordered attacks on towns and haciendas in 1898. Often referred to as bandits, the Guardia preferred the name "Los Agraviados." It was they who started civil strife between the economic classes of the region.

Early setbacks by the Republicanos after the resumption of the revolution increased support for the Guardia, so much so that Valdez commanded the strongest military organization in the region in September 1898, much to the dismay of the Republicanos. As the native elite started taking positions of power in the towns and municipalities, the countryside belonged to the Guardia who strangely enough shifted their positions to become defenders of the Church (perhaps due to strong religious convictions). As Aguinaldo struggled with a nation in its infancy, Valdez tested the reach and capabilities of his organization. As a result, Pangasinan and La Union lost any semblance of law and order and Tarlac was in chaos as the Republicanos tried in vain to contain the problems. Urgent pleas by the residents of these areas to Aguinaldo brought an increase in military personnel, but they would be withdrawn as the Philippine-American War broke out.

As the Republicanos sought to consolidate all military organizations under their command, the Guardia continued to pursue its own struggle which was more socioeconomic than political. The Republicanos had the elite to support them, Valdez the peasants. In spite of the declarations by Gen. Tinio outlawing them, the Guardia held much sway in the countryside. The assassination of Luna increased resentment among Ilocanos in northern Pangasinan and La Union against Aguinaldo’s army. The death of at least one army officer, Pepito Leyba, was blamed on the Guardias.

As Aguinaldo’s army disintegrated in 1900, Valdez shifted the movement yet again. Convinced of the futility of direct confrontation, he had his followers lead double lives in Cabaruan: one to show to the Americans, the other to perform clandestine activities for the struggle. For about a year, the Guardia was able to exist in spite of repeated surprise inspections by the American forces, owing to a rather sophisticated alarm and communication system. But the Americans persisted and eventually discovered a parasite community living off the surrounding areas. The typical farmer would raid the haciendero’s grain supply after harvest and move permanently to Cabaruan, sharing with everybody his bounty. This was a virtual utopia for as long as people kept pouring in. Apo Laqai was elevated to a mystical personification of God Almighty, Valdez in turn became Christ, an associate named Claveria, the Holy Spirit and a female companion, the Virgin Mary. Twelve lieutenants, as well as the twelve streets of the town, were named after the twelve apostles.

By 1901, the population of Cabaruan reached an estimated 25,000 and food supplies were finally exhausted. This caused a radical change in the food acquisition tactics as attacks on poor peasants increased. It was not uncommon for the Agraviados to murder whole families who could not provide the needed supplies. Cabaruan and the surrounding areas were gripped in terror, and the peasantry, who to this point had supported Valdez, started cooperating with the Americans. The American response was swift and severe. On March 3, 1901, Cabaruan and Santa Ana were surrounded by American infantry and the leaders were captured. Valdez and Claveria were publicly hanged on June 1, 1901 in Urdaneta and within a few weeks, reverse migration left Cabaruan virtually nonexistent. The hard-core followers managed to regroup and minor skirmishes erupted sporadically. A loose alliance was forged with a new militant organization gaining strength in the nearby regions. By 1910 though, there were no more official encounters with what was known as the Guardia de Honor.

Santa Iglesia

As the Guardia slowly receded from the center of agitation, another popular movement had already taken shape and caused trouble for the Spaniards and, later, the Americans. It was called Santa Iglesia. Like other popular movements before it, Santa Iglesia started with the grievances of the peasantry successfully channeled by a central figure. In the Iglesia’s case it was Gabino Cortes, who operated from Mt. Arayat around 1890 with a loyal following of villagers from Pampanga called Gabinistas. Authorities became suspicious and arrested Cortes in 1893 and exiled him to Jolo. Leadership was assumed by a Tagalog named Felipe Salvador (born May 1870 in Baliwag, Bulacan).

Though from a relatively well-to-do family, he was an outlaw in the years leading up to 1893. He reorganized the Gabinistas in 1894 and renamed it Santa Iglesia. The tide of revolution swept the group to ally with the Katipunan, which helped the movement gain followers. After the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, Salvador sided with Aguinaldo’s forces as the political leadership of the revolution was becoming apparent. After a short time of inactivity, the Iglesia started harassing Spanish garrisons in 1898. The Spaniards executed Cortes, hoping to quell the disturbance, but momentum was on Salvador’s side as the Republicanos under Aguinaldo resumed the fighting. Salvador’s success was awarded by Aguinaldo with an appointment to the rank of major of the Revolutionary Army. But after the war with the United States broke out, officials close to Aguinaldo started accusing the Iglesia of disloyalty and counterrevolutionary actions. After Salvador was tried and acquitted of disloyalty and desertion, Aguinaldo sought to mend the rift by promoting him to the rank of colonel.

When Malolos fell, Salvador retreated to Baliwag to ponder his losses and enlarge his army. He was captured but released after pledging allegiance to the United States. He returned to the field and, with his closest aide Manuel Garcia (a.k.a. Kapitan Tui), embarked on a massive recruitment effort. Captured and convicted of sedition in 1902, Salvador escaped in transit to Bilibid. News spread rapidly of his invincibility and the peasantry responded to his calls to arms. Making Arayat the center of his operations, Salvador converted people to his new spiritual movement. By 1903, he had a large army scattered throughout Pampanga, Bulacan, Pangasinan, and Tarlac, an extraordinary accomplishment since these areas consist of several linguistic groups with traditional antagonism for each other. Salvador unleashed his forces in September 1903 with an attack on the constabulary cuartel in San Jose, Nueva Ecija, which left eight constables and fourteen rebels dead. Investigation later revealed that at least two constables had collaborated with Salvador. As tensions in central Luzon rose rapidly, the government declared an all-out war against Santa Iglesia.

Salvador played "Robin Hood" to the peasantry. Supplies obtained from raids and robberies on the constabulary and the privileged were distributed among the needy. He avoided large-scale confrontations and preferred little battles, resulting in great success. Many of the raids were led by Tui who was fearless in battle. He wore a bronze medal of the Holy Trinity on his forehead and carried an "enchanted" cross, taunting the enemy with his bare chest against their volleys of gunfire. This classic little war continued into 1905, and support had spread to Cavite and Laguna. The Guardia de Honor experienced an upsurge in activities after allying themselves with the Iglesia. Of the many popular religious uprisings, Santa Iglesia evolved into the most successful one, encompassing different cultures and regions of Luzon. But success was not to be on their side much longer.

In 1906, the group increased their raids on constabulary detachments in preparation for the "great war." On April 16, 1906, a successful raid by Tui on the Malolos detachment marked a coordinated move to inspire an uprising in the other provinces. But the response the Iglesia got was a massive mobilization of the constabulary against them, resulting in the death of Tui in Bulacan on July 9. This event marked the fall of the Santa Iglesia. Attempts to either capture or negotiate a surrender proved fruitless as the peasantry still sympathized with Salvador. Four more years of proselytizing and preaching produced stories of extraordinary but fictional feats by Salvador as supporters again came to his calling. Ricartistas and other defiant ilustrados started courting him. Native politicians used him as a symbol of defiance to rally the people.

Finally in 1910, the mysticism that shrouded Salvador slowly unfurled when reports of an impending uprising surfaced as groups like the Colorum, Sagrada Familia (another mystical movement), and remnants of Santa Iglesia increased activities in the general area of Arayat. Swift action by the constabulary resulted in the capture of Salvador on July 24. Convicted of murder and sedition, he was hanged on April 15, 1912. The most successful leader the peasants of Luzon produced was gotten rid of. But the sentiments that surfaced at the beginning of the century were to be expressed again by more sophisticated leaders a generation later, for the 1930’s marked yet another turbulent stage in the history of the peasantry of Luzon.


At about the same time Salvador was preaching on the slopes of Arayat, a conflict that became a savage struggle was developing in the southern provinces of Leyte, Samar and Bohol. As with the uprisings in the north, this was the result of the grievances the peasants of the hills had against the wealthier coastal inhabitants. Hemp was grown in the hills, mostly by kaingin farmers whose livelihood was passed on from generation to generation. A cold tolerance had existed between the highlanders and the coastal traders, who the peasants thought always cheated them in their business dealings. In 1887 a peasant named Papa Faustino Ablen(a) was jailed for leading a religious cult called Dios-Dios. His capture revealed a complex movement among the peasants to rebel against the existing order, one which soon was to enmesh the region in a very bloody conflict.

Samar at the turn of the century was mostly a trackless, uninhabitable jungle. As with Leyte, a Dios-Dios cult was also in existence under Papa Pablo Bulan. Though a rebel group, there was a lack of proof linking them with Lukban, the Tagalog general who decided to make Samar his last stand against the conquering Americans. As a result of Lukban’s activities, the American army took steps to contain sporadic outbursts of defiance. But the Balangiga affair turned Samar into a "howling wilderness" and the suffering people turned for comfort to mysticism. All that was needed was a leader to organize them and the popes of Dios-Dios took on the calling.

Meanwhile, Leyte’s Dios-Dios had again become active in the towns and principalias. Wearing the traditional red breeches of the hill people, these "Pulajanes" (reds) were led by Papa Faustino who claimed to possess Messianic powers. He distributed anting-antings and other sanctified charms to his followers. Their first organized raid was in Ormoc in October 1902 when four policemen were killed in an ambush and their weapons taken. Attacks became more frequent and followed the same basic pattern. As described by one American officer, a force of two- to six-hundred would let out a blood curdling scream of tad-tad (chop-chop) and rush toward the enemy whirling talibongs in both hands, overrunning anything in their path, then disappearing back into the forest. A clampdown on military organizations in Leyte forced Papa Faustino into hiding yet he still managed to recruit more peasants.

Similarly, Papa Pablo’s Samar Pulajanes started increasing their attacks and recruitment in 1902. By 1903, constabulary estimates put the number of bolo men at 7,000 in Samar. The center of Pulajanes activity shifted to Samar in 1904 with the arrival of Enrique Villareal (a.k.a. Enrique Dagohob), a native of Samar, who provided strategies for staging a general uprising which involved kidnapping and arson. Coastal villages were burned, forcing people inland where they were persuaded to join the Pulajanes. The group then exploded into a burning frenzy as villages in the Gandara River valley rose in flames. In conjunction with this, constabulary and scout detachments were attacked constantly. Their sheer numbers usually routed the government forces. Casualties soared as the Manila press started calling the island, "Bloody Samar."

As control was lost, the US regular army was sent in 1905. A savage war of attrition took hold and casualties mounted. To counter Pulajanes tactics, patrols combed the interior and anyone found outside reconcentration camps were shot. Many American soldiers described the Samar campaign as "pure hell" with mud slowing down advances and materiel, and a fanatical enemy constantly harassing them in the gloom of the jungle. (Years later, veterans of this campaign would be honored by their peers who stood up and called out, "Attention men, this man served in Samar," whenever one of them entered a room.)

But the Americans were relentless and in July 1905, a surprise attack on Dagohob’s fort turned the tide. Ninety-four Pulajanes including Dagohob were killed. The Pulajanes never recovered from this loss. In August, another leader, Antonio Anugar was also killed. Sensing weakness in the enemy, the governor of Samar negotiated terms for their surrender. Nasario Aguilar and 130 Pulajanes gathered at Mactaon under the guise of surrendering, but attacked the constabulary detachment instead. None of the dignitaries who came to witness the event were hurt but twenty-two constables and forty-three Pulajanes lay dead after only five minutes of chaos. Hope for a peaceful settlement died with that affair, and one by one the leaders fell. Papa Pablo was killed in an attack in 1906 and Papa Faustino in 1907. The last of the Pulajanes popes, Papa Otoy (Isidro Pompac) fell in 1911 and the campaign came to a close. By then about 7,000 Pulajanes had died in Samar alone.

Tres Personas Solo Dios card by Tita Pambid.
Portrait of Felipe Salvador by Anna Dimayuga.

Further reading:

  1. Alejandrino, Jose M. The price of freedom. Manila, 1949, rep. 1987.
  2. Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A past revisited. Manila, 1972.
  3. Ileto, Reynaldo C. Pasyon and revolution: Popular movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. Quezon City, 1979.
  4. May, Glenn Anthony. Battle for Batangas, a Philippine province at war. New Haven, 1991.
  5. Ochosa, Orlino A.. The Tinio Brigade: Anti-American resistance in the Ilocos provinces 1899-1901. Quezon City, 1989.
  6. Roth, Russell. Muddy glory: America’s "Indian Wars" in the Philippines 1899-1935. Boston, 1981.
  7. Sturtevant, David R. Popular uprisings in the Philippines 1840-1940. Ithaca, 1976.
(This article was originally presented by the author to PHGLA on 7/13/96.)

To cite:
Dimayuga, Paul. "Messianic Leaders of the Revolution" in Hector Santos, ed., Philippine Centennial Series; at US, 13 July 1997.

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

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