Diego Silang, the Don of Justice

Silang’s War Against Spain (Part 2)

The new leader of Ilocandia was a capable military commander who defended Vigan against retaliatory attempts of the Spaniards.

What Diego Silang witnessed was not just the fall of Manila, but the failure of Spain to defend the capital from the new foreign power. Whether this failure was a sign of doom or a spark of hope only Diego knew exactly what he thought and felt about it. He left Manila for Vigan. But on his way he stayed shortly in Pangasinan.

During that stay he learned about the soon to explode Palaris revolt. The social conditions of the province restlessly stirred malcontent sentiments among the people. They could no longer endure the abuses of the Spaniards. Silang himself witnessed these forms of excesses wherever he travelled as a trusted courier.

When he returned to Vigan, he immediately circulated the news about what was really happening in Manila. It was reported that he presided daily meetings just to persuade his fellow Ilocanos (natives of Ilocos) to fight the British because he was distressed of the thought that the new conquerors would take away their Roman Catholic faith. He also raised the issue that paying tributes was no longer necessary since Manila had been taken captive and was already a non-functioning authority.

Silang’s propaganda spread rapidly and was received widely. Then he made demands to the Spanish authorities to abolish the tributes and to organise a military force composed of Ilocanos to fight the British since Spain could no longer defend its territory.

The town mayor, Don Antonio Zabala, had him imprisoned and ordered him whipped as a political trouble maker. The whipping was withdrawn due to the intervention of Tomas Millan, Provisor and foster father of Gabriella Silang. His friends and followers worked hard for his release. Silang’s movement continually grew despite his imprisonment.

Related Story: Story of Diego Silang: The Beginning

The Diego Silang Revolt 1762

Infuriated by his incarceration and by the rejection of his demands for social change, he gathered his followers from various Ilocano provinces – Abra, Laoag, Paoay, and Batac. And on 14 December 1762 he carried out the revolt by banishing the town mayor and the rest of the abusive Spanish authorities. He made a formal declaration of the abolition of tributes and excessive labour practices.

According to Vigan’s official tourism on-line page:

Ilocanos have suffered long the unreasonable taxes, free labor for the construction of religious and administrative structures and the suppressive monopolies that the Spaniards imposed upon the populace. That is why they were quick to respond to the call for revolution.

The new leader of Ilocandia was a capable military commander who defended Vigan against retaliatory attempts of the Spaniards. Vigan became the capital of the new revolutionary government. The movement quickly spreads throughout the provinces of Cagayan and Pangasinan.

Don Diego of Ilocandia

Governor General Simon de Anda heard the news of the revolt and its growing influence in the Ilocos. On 1 February 1763 Anda issued an order to Silang to surrender within nine days or else he will be declared a traitor. Silang did not comply.

In late April or early May 1763, Silang sought the help of the British. It is important to mention that Silang never showed any visible indications of having pro-British actions prior to this time. He offered to send the hated friars as prisoners and even asked for secular priests to minister in the Ilocos.

The British responded promptly by sending the Norfolk to Pongol, a small port near Vigan. The vessel brought important documents and some items for Silang. The British officer on board and the Ilocano leader met. Silang formalised his alliance with the British Empire by pledging allegiance to King George III of Great Britain.

The letter carried by the officer addressed Silang as “Don Diego” and “Your Grace.” The letter recognised Silang’s loyalty to Britain. He was also given the military rank of sergeant-major and was granted authority as town mayor, with it a uniform of honour and an official baton. The newly ‘independent’ government was also given one small bronze cannon and 138 printed commissions for the new local officials.

Related Story: The Fall of Don Diego Silang

Don Diego issued leaflets to be distributed to villages to inform them of Britain’s official visit and its recognition of their independence from Spain. Attached with these leaflets was the 24 September 1762 manifesto sent to the Filipinos through Diego at the start of (or even before) the invasion.

The manifesto guaranteed the treatment of the natives with utmost humanity; to leave them in quiet possessions of their properties; to allow them the free exercise of their religion; and lastly to free them from all taxes and oppressions. Don Diego yearned for these same privileges for his people.

Another set of leaflets was distributed later. These were copies of his letter of commission signed by the British governor general himself, Dawsonne Drake. Attached to this commission was a proclamation addressed to the people of Ilocos, Cagayan, Pangasinan, and nearby provinces assuring them of Great Britain’s protection and liberty. It assured the Filipinos the same privileges that other British colonies enjoy and experience and it also asked them to recognise the sovereignty of the King of Great Britain.

Finally, Don Diego Silang was now the king of Ilocandia; the liberator of the oppressed; and the target for assassination.

READ NEXT: The Fall of Don Diego Silang
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