Silang’s War Against Spain (Part 3)
Everything seemed to work for Don Diego and his cause. It looked like that his dream of establishing a united Ilocandia free from Spanish grip was becoming a reality right before his eyes.
While this momentous dream was taking place, Bishop Bernardo Ustariz proclaimed himself as provincial head. Before the month ended, May of 1763, he issued an official church censure (interdict) against Don Diego. The interdict is an ecclesiastical condemnation by the Catholic Church withdrawing certain sacraments and Christian burial from any individual or all members of a certain community. Aside from being declared criminal Don Diego was also excommunicated.
It was said that Don Diego never wanted to hurt the Spanish clergy much more kill them. What he really wanted was social reform. He was only hostile towards their abuses. In fact, not a single friar or Spanish authority was killed during his revolt.
The Assassination of Don Diego
Don Diego sent a letter to the clergy expressing his intention to settle the matter. The clergy however found his gesture treacherous and did not agree to meet with him. After declining the offer to talk, they feared for their lives and since they could no longer stop his growing power by means of force they decided to come up with an assassination plan. The idea was initiated by Miguel Vicos, Diego’s Spanish mestizo friend and a ‘Silanista’ (follower of Silang) himself. Bishop Ustariz and the rest of the friars concurred.
The Spanish authorities headed by the Bishop offered large sum of money to Vicos to put the sinister plan into action. The authorities assured him that Spain would be indebted to him for his effort to help restore order by murdering a madman. Of course, Miguel Vicos would not act alone. He employed the service of Pedro Becbec of Abra, one of Don Diego’s lieutenants.
On 28 May 1763, the Bishop, the friars, and the assassin were in fearful hiding inside the church in Bantay Ilocos Sur. Vicos entrusted his soul to God by saying his confession. The friars wished him well by giving him communion. The Bishop himself gave Vicos absolution, i.e., the remission of sin. After the ceremonial blessing the two proceeded to accomplish their ‘holy’ mission.
On that same fateful day, Vicos and Becbec paid Don Diego a visit. And at two o’clock in the afternoon as part of their murderous strategy Becbec diverted Don Diego’s attention and Vicos immediately fired his musket pistol into Don Diego’s side (some accounts say that he was shot in the back). Don Diego died in his wife’s arms. One account said that several nobles from Santa Ilocos Sur, savagely stabbed Don Diego’s already lifeless body thinking he was still alive.
After the successful assassination Miguel Vicos fled to Cagayan for fear of vengeance. The remaining followers of Don Diego’s cause continued the fight. Don Diego’s widow Gabriella and his uncle Nicolas Cariño took the lead. Without the Don himself leading the battles, the revolt inevitably failed. The story and exploits of Gabriella Silang, ‘the first woman to lead a revolt in the Philippines,’ will not be told here but will be featured as a separate article.
On 11 October 1765 the Spanish monarch Charles III granted Miguel Vicos the assassin a lifetime exemption from the tribute. This royal exemption was to pass on to his children. Pedro Becbec the accomplice was also given the same privilege.
Some Thoughts to Think About
There are some questions that curiously lingered while this series was still in its conceptual stage – questions that might put the great Don in a dubious position. Or maybe not.
When Silang made contact with the British expeditionary force and received the manifesto dated 24 September 1762, this meant that he was already aware and well-informed of their political intentions once they took control of the capital. Let me highlight the two most significant issues which I think captured Silang’s attention: “the free exercise of their religion” and “freedom from all taxes and oppressions.”
If he was already aware of these clauses why persuade the Ilocano people and the Spanish authorities to raise arms against the British for fear of taking away their religion. And yet, he was already assured that the British would never touch religion.
Was it perhaps that the real motive behind this persuasion was to obtain legality to organise an army of Ilocanos in disguise of assisting Spain? And the accusation that Spain could no longer defend its colony was just a way to obtain their agreement? It would be politically convenient indeed for Silang if the Spanish authorities themselves would approve the formation of such an army. He did not have to worry about being suspected as a rebel.
Furthermore, it was said that Don Antonio Zabala had him imprisoned and ordered him whipped because of his defiant attitude against Spain’s inability to defend its territory. Perhaps that was not exactly the reason. More likely, the Spaniards already had a suspicion that Silang might only use the army against them and not against the British.
Only Silang and those who were directly involved in this eventful period would be able to give certainty to these enquiries. Nevertheless, if these were really parts of Don Diego’s inventiveness to fulfil the One Ilocandia dream, this writer thinks that Don Diego Baltasar Silang was far from being foolish but rather a courageously clever fellow, a great military leader, and a far worthy threat to the Spanish regime.
If there were more like him in Philippine history I doubt that Spain would be able to prolong its reign. Maybe not. There could always be a Vicos the Vicious and Becbec the Heck for every Don Diego. Anyway, be sure to take a selfie when you pay his monument a visit.
- Corpuz, O.D., The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Volume 1. AKLAHI Foundation, Inc., 1989, pp. 328, 336-342.
- Agoncillo, Teodoro C. (1990) , History of the Filipino People (8th edition ed.), Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, pp. 110–111 , ISBN 971-8711-06-6
- Kahimyang.com, The True Story of Diego Silang, A Philippine Patriot, February 09, 2014.
- Vigan.ph, Diego Silang and Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang.