“That’s where Gabriela Silang was hanged,” said a friend referring to a spot somewhere along the national highway in Santa, Ilocos Sur. The place overlooks the sea, with what looks like a historical marker erected beside the road. It is indeed a marker, although painted gold, the only one we’ve seen, in contrast to the usual historical marker with white letters and black background. On the other hand, it turned out that this is not the place where Gabriela Silang was hanged.
This is the site where the revolutionaries, led by Gabriela Silang, made their last stand, captured by the Spaniards on 19 September 1763, and summarily hanged in the town plaza of Vigan on the next day, 20 September 1763. That’s more than 100 years before Jose Rizal or Andres Bonifacio started their fight against Spain.
The more famous “paso”, which is a narrow pass, is Pasong Tirad, better known as “Tirad Pass” (in Candon, also in Ilocos Sur), where the young Filipino general Gregorio Del Pilar (nephew of Marcelo H. Del Pilar) made a last stand, together with around 60 of his men, to protect President Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War in 1899. Yes, my dear, we had a war with the United States of America after Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S. through the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
Way before that, between 1672 and 1764, the British achieved a foothold in the Philippines, occupying Manila. Diego Silang already led a revolt in Ilocos at that time, principally against the heavy taxes and abuses of Spanish authorities. And because, in war, the enemy of my enemy is a friend, Diego Silang allied himself with the British in the fight against Spain. Diego Silang did not die in the battles against Spain – he was assassinated, upon orders of Spain, by a Spanish mestizo, his friend Manuel Vicos, with the help of Pedro Becbec. He was only 32 when he died on 28 May 1763.
His wife, María Josefa Gabriela Cariño Silang, an Ilocano-Spanish mestiza, took up the leadership and continued the fight against Spain. Talk about dying for your country and the one you love. The now-named Pasong Diego-Gabriela Silang served as a strategic choke point, pretty much like the legendary Thermopylae of the Greeks. And just like the Greeks, the outnumbered force led by Gabriela Silang was routed by the Spaniards. She was brought to the neighboring town of Vigan executed the very next day.
The historical marker slapped home the point that I know so little of this piece of Philippine history. Our lesson in Philippine history involves a passing mention that Diego Silang rose against Spain, that his wife, Gabriela, took up the fight after Diego’s death, and that she also died in the hands of the Spaniards. That’s it. In fact, we learned so much more from the marker, captioned Pasong Diego – Gabriela Silang, and which reads in full:
“Dating Pideg at ginawang Diego-Gabriela Silang noon 1976. Ipinagawa ng mga Pransiskano nooong 1600. Ginamit noon 1660 sa pag-aalsa nina Andres Malong at nina Diego at Gabriela noong 1762. Pagkamatay ni Diego noong May 28, 1763, ang pag-aalsa ay pinamunuan ni Gabriela, pagkaraan ng ilang sagupaan ay sinalakay ng mga Kastila ang pasong ito. Nadakip si Gabriela at pinabitay noong Setyembre 20, 1763.”
Yet there’s something missing here, a great tribute which another place, Makati City, bestowed on one of Ilocos’ great warriors. At the intersection of Makati and Ayala Avenues, you’ll see an impressive and well-maintained monument of Gabriela Silang, riding a horse and firmly holding the reins with one hand, her hair and garment flowing from the swift rush of air as the horse gallops in full speed, leaning to one side with her bolo ready to strike at the head of the enemy. It’s awe-inspiring. She looks very much alive and I can’t help, in a number of unguarded moments, to duck my head whenever I drive by, least she lops my head with one strike of the bolo. A historical site, right at the home province of the hero, with overgrown bushes and trees, without nothing much other than a skewed concrete bench and table, and a lonely marker at the side of the road, does not do justice to what that warrior has done. I really hope Ilocos would do something about it.
A look back at Philippine history, especially with the Philippine Independence Day celebration fast approaching in June 12 (see 2011 holidays), would probably include revisiting the ruins of Corregidor, Mt. Samat in Bataan, the shrine commemorating the Cry of Pugadlawin and the Lapu-Lapu Shrine in Mactan Island. On the other hand, a trip through Ilocos usually includes a visit to the Vigan, the beaches of Pagudpud, the Bangui windmills, or the old churches of Ilocos. The trip would hardly involve a stopover at a lonely roadside memorial of Diego and Gabriela Silang. This is a spot rich in history. It should be maintained and remembered.