Story of Diego Silang: The Beginning

Silang’s War Against Spain (Part 1)

While growing up, the boy worked for the curate or parish priest of Vigan by carrying letters to and from Manila.

When Manila fell to the British the Filipinos were deeply demoralised. Understandably since they were only used to celebrating Spanish tales of triumphs and victories over past enemies who attempted to take the archipelago from Spain. Who knows what sort of embellishments adorned those stories. And who knows exactly what happens next after the invasion. Many were even miserably distressed thinking that their Roman Catholic faith will be supplanted by the Protestant beliefs of the invaders.

The Post-Invasion Situation

Sad to say however, military conquest like this inevitably leads to unfortunate series of events. The Spanish families who left the capital to seek safety elsewhere were assaulted by the locals on their way. Their valuable possessions were forcefully taken and their women sexually violated.

There were also accounts that mobs composed of locals who were recently discharged from work committed grievous excesses within the capital, particularly in Binondo and Santa Cruz. They even extended their atrocity beyond the city walls. Even servants who used to serve Spanish households joined the mob’s barbarity. Their actions were worse than the invaders. They committed plunder as if they were the victors of war.

It was also said that the Spanish friars themselves committed abuses. They abandoned their religious duties and disguised themselves as masters of resistance groups against the British. They took advantage of the situation by devising a pretentious strategy of taking all available provisions from the haciendas for the purpose of refusing food to the enemy.

Collectively, this was the post-conquest state of society in and around the capital. The allegations that the British were the only ones who committed horrific misconduct during the invasion were not true after all. Their actions were just part of the bigger whole. Even the fearful anticipation that the free exercise of the Spanish religion will be suppressed did not happen.

If there was a favourable time to rebel against Spain this was perhaps the moment to execute it. Two revolutionary leaders were audacious enough to try. They were Juan de la Cruz Palaris and Diego Baltasar Silang. Respectively, their efforts were called the Palaris and the Silang Revolts. This series of articles will focus on Silang who was regarded as one of the greatest heroes of Ilocandia. (Term given to the vast traditional homeland of the Ilocano people.)

Looking at the history of uprising that occurred during the Spanish rule, the Silang Revolt was considered the first major threat. It was so serious that even a Catholic bishop gave blessing to those who would assassinate Don Diego. But first, let us go back some years before the British invasion.

Silang Before the Revolt

Diego Baltasar Silang was born on 16 December 1730 in Caba, La Union. He belonged to a noble class family called the Principalia. While growing up, the boy worked for the curate or parish priest of Vigan by carrying letters to and from Manila. Thus, Diego became known in both places (most likely also in the provinces in between).

Related Story: Diego Silang, the Don of Justice

Winning his master’s trust, Diego was put in charge of a boatload of furniture to be delivered to Manila. The vessel got wrecked off Bolinao. Fortunately he survived but was taken by the pagan natives and they made him a slave. Consequently he learned the superstitious nature of their beliefs, including the anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic elements.

Some accounts say that the ship was raided by pirates and the boy was taken as prisoner and eventually forced to participate in piracy. Whichever account happened, the experience had a profound effect on the young Diego that ignited a growing hostility towards the friars.

The parish priest of Bolinao ransomed Diego from his captors and the young man stayed with his family in Pangasinan. He served the curate for a time and then went back to Vigan. This was the time that Diego married Gabriela.

Then he went back to the service of the parish priest of Vigan and resumed his former occupation – carrying important documents to Manila and back. At the same time he made profit by serving as courier for other people. He was progressively gaining trust and people looked up to him.

Related Story: The Fall of Don Diego Silang

It should be mentioned, however, that Diego already made contact with the British expeditionary force in September 1762 before the invasion started. The British now knew that there was an expressed support of the invasion. In response they sent a letter of manifesto to the Filipinos through Diego dated 24 September, the day the invasion started.

Therefore, he was already aware of the intentions of the British and the details of the public policies they would implement once they took control of Manila. Diego was in the capital on an ‘errand’ when Britain conquered Manila.

READ NEXT: Diego Silang, the Don of Justice
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  • Description: 1962 Diego Silang Revolt. The 25c Antonio Luna definitive stamp was overprinted and surcharged to mark the 200th anniversary of the Diego Silang Revolt.

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