5 Ilonggo Heroes You Should Look Up On Independence Day

By joseph batcagan

Anyone who follows Philippine history knows that Iloilo also has no shortage of national heroes. Unfortunately, we only know a few of them, and the few we do know only get the occasional shoutout, like when we’re celebrating Graciano Lopez Jaena Day, gawking at the brand-new statute of General Martin Delgado at Iloilo Business Park, or simply remember what street we were walking on.

The people—and by “people”, I mean “us”—defines a place’s culture as much as be influenced by it. While it’s sad that we only know a few heroes here, we also have the local heritage conservationists to thank for being continually anal about names and dates; they provide us clues on what they did to get us to where we are now, and hopefully even an insight on how we can chart our course for both present and future.

In short, we’re saying it’s important you know who the heroes listed here are. Think about it in these terms: we’re also giving you another reason to wave that Ilonggo pride flag high again today. That’s as good a reason as any, if I say so myself.

So, without further ado, here are the few Ilonggo heroes who you should know about (and, before anyone else says anything, is not to be taken as a “ranking” because we’re not arbitrary like that):

Graciano Lopez-Jaena

By Jose N. Sevilla [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Who else would we start with? If we’re basing on recognition alone, then Graciano Lopez Jaena tops this list. However, I don’t advise you to vote on the next elections based on name recall, but I digress.

As of this writing, he’s the only one Ilonggo hero who has a holiday named after him. Despite that, I think the guy still doesn’t get the credit he deserves, and it’s probably because of his association with José Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar, the two other Filipino propagandists he’s pals with during the time when all three were living in Spain. And because… well, it’s Rizal we’re also talking about here.

Of course, there’s more to Lopez-Jaena than simply being an overachieving son of Jaro. For starters, he wrote “Fray Botod”, a character sketch depicting a self-centered, corrupt, and abusive Spanish friar that has been, as of modern days, transposed to include just about any person in power (mostly politicians, of course) abusing his privilege (and they’re mostly male, of course). So, not only is Lopez-Jaena’s place solidified in Pinoy culture, he’s also punk as hell.

After early dalliances with the priesthood and medicine, either of which would have made his parents so damn proud of him, he gravitated towards journalism. It was during his self-exile in Spain that he founded, and became the first editor of, La Solidaridad, a Filipino-driven liberalist newspaper that openly called for systematic reforms of the Philippine colony, which was a temperate stand to take for any citizen who wants his or her country to improve. However, the indios who read the smuggled copies of La Solidaridad back home even got a more radical idea out of it: revolution. So yes, that turned out well, I suppose.

However, just like many national heroes, he also died young and in tragic circumstances; he succumbed to tuberculosis just days before his 40th birthday. Being poor, his friends buried him in a mass grave in Barcelona, where his remains still lie unmarked.

Martin Delgado

Gen. Martin Delgado is enjoying a sort of popular resurgence these days; having a statue erected of one charging triumphantly on horseback would do that to anyone, it seems. Well-deserved as this may be, many Ilonggos only knew of Delgado for the longest time as that long city street in downtown Iloilo. Thankfully, we could say that the Delgado Recognition Par-taayy started way back when the official Independence Day celebration was held at Sta. Barbara in 2015, which many took as the state recognizing Iloilo’s huge contribution to the creation of the independent Philippines we now know.

As for Delgado, he was an important figure in Iloilo’s important battles against the Spanish during the dying years of the 19th century. Like many Philippine revolutionaries, he was born to an elite mestizo family and would have been set for life during that era—he was appointed teniente mayor in his hometown of Sta. Barbara at age 25, for instance—before rumblings of revolution from their Luzon compatriots also inspired him to liberate their country against the Spanish regime.

In 1898, about two years after Andres Bonifacio led the Cry of Pugad Lawin to jumpstart the widespread Philippine revolt, Delgado used his position as the leader of the Batallon de Voluntarios Ilonggos, a Spanish-supported local militia, to influence the troops to join the revolution. They helped the revolutionaries in other towns by giving them arms they received from the Spanish, which was a pretty neat doublecross, and they promptly met not long after to plan for a simultaneous uprising all across Iloilo.

On October 28, Delgado and his army stormed Santa Barbara and captured its municipal building, as fighting went on in other towns. The tale of how the Philippine flag was smuggled from Jaro to Santa Barbara by Patrocinio Gamboa while pretending to be the domineering wife of Honorio Solinap is worth a read if you want more specifics into how everything happened. But suffice to say, this was how Santa Barbara became the first site of Philippine independence in the Visayas on November 17.

By Conger, Emily Bronson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On December 24, they marched into Plaza Libertad to accept the surrender of Don Diego de los Rios, the last Spanish governor-general of the Philippines. If the Americans hadn’t invaded three days later, Gen. Martin Delgado would have been one of the top leaders of what would have been the Federal Republic of the Visayas. Yes, Philippine politics is confusing and schismatic, so I recommend you read this to get a better context of this story.

It was Dinggol Araneta Divinagracia’s book, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Federal Republic of the Visayas,’ that mythologized the precious few days when Iloilo enjoyed its status as the country’s seat of power before the Americans arrived to put the kibosh on the start-up government. As for Delgado, he kept on fighting the new colonizers, but surrendered in 1901; he was appointed as the first governor of Iloilo Province that same year. He won the first election for governorship in 1902, but that’s as far as the extent of his public life went. He returned to Santa Barbara to oversee the leprosarium, but died in Culion, Palawan in 1918.

Juan Araneta and Aniceto Lacson

If you’re reading this as a student of Ilonggo history, your first reaction would have been, “WHAT THE HELL? WHY ARE THEY HERE???”

Yes, the Aranetas and the Lacsons are two names synonymous with Negros as far back as anyone can remember, but there’s also a reason both men are listed here: they were born in Molo during the mid-1800s, when it was still one of the classiest districts in Iloilo. And if you’re following the rules of Pinoy-style regionalism, then you would have to admit that they’re—ahem—Ilonggos, too.

Their respective families moved from Iloilo to Negros at some point, and you could probably guess how they fared afterwards: as one of the first landed Filipinos in Negros, they became extremely wealthy in the process, with their riches and influence spanning generations. So, if you ever wondered how this silly feud of one-upmanship between the Ilonggos and Negrenses started, then we might consider this as the start of it all.

As what we’ve also seen with Delgado above, Araneta and Lacson, being the elite of Negros society due to their status as lifelong hacienderos, assumed leaderships of Negros’s armed revolutionary forces. The latter also had the advantage that their Ilonggo counterparts did not have: money. That’s not the be-all and end-all of everything, but it sure makes getting arms and supplies easier.

The Negrense revolucionarios started the revolt in Nov. 5, 1898. The day after, they succeeded in getting the unconditional surrender of the Spanish forces. They then established the Republic of Negros in Nov. 27, with Aniceto Lacson becoming its only president. See, we do have a precedent for the Negros Island Region!

There is, however, a big difference between how Iloilo and Negros treated the entry of America to their shores: Iloilo didn’t take too kindly to the U.S. denying them their newfound independence, and they suffered heavy casualties because of their resistance; Negros, under the leadership of Lacson, negotiated immediately with the Americans to secure the landowners’ property rights. That cooperation arguably facilitated the boom of Negros’s sugar industry with the implementation of the quota system. The region went on an impressive fiscal streak before going on a decline that went unabated from the ‘70s till now. Real life has no clean endings, sadly.

Teresa Magbanua

What I loved most about Filipino history, even back when I was taking Sibika at Kultura in grade school, was how even the historians of yesteryears took pains to include the contributions of women in nation-building. Gabriela Silang, Josefa Llanes Escoda, and even Iloilo’s very own Patrocinio Gamboa were just among some of the numerous female heroes who fought for the nation’s independence at various points. The Pototan-born Teresa Magbanua, dubbed as the ‘Visayan Joan of Arc’, might be only one of the few people who either actively fought or was involved in armed campaigns against the Spanish, the Americans, and the Japanese. That’s some cradle-to-grave revolutionary we have here.

When books say that ‘Nay Isa’, as Magbanua was known by her peers, fought against the colonizers, they literally mean it: she led a bolo battalion when Iloilo province started fighting against the Spanish, with her two campaigns taking her as far as Sara and Capiz. The year after, she also fought the Americans in the Battle of Balantang, where they actually succeeded at retaking Jaro, despite the revolutionaries being under-armed. Of course, that wasn’t enough for the Ilonggos to win the war, even if the guerrilla-style campaigns they waged against the Americans were accounted. She finally surrendered in 1900 because, like many of the aging revolutionaries she fought with, she came to realize they just can’t beat America with force.

Those contributions would have been enough for her to be included in the history books, but she just have a knack for getting involved in battles for freedom. When World War II hit the Philippines, she helped obtain rations and supplies for the local guerrillas. At 79 years old. Let that sink in.

The Allied forces landed in Panay on March 18, 1945. After the surrender of the Japanese, the Philippines, which was still reeling from massive war losses, was granted full independence by the U.S. on July 4, 1946. About a year later, Nay Isa died in Zamboanga. We could only hope that she would have been happy to see her country finally become free before passing away.

Quintin Salas

For the longest time, I only knew of “Quintin Salas” as that barangay which was adjacent to ours (and also, as that school which schooled an immeasurable number of siga students, so hello, privilege). It was only a few years ago that I even knew that the real Quintin Salas was a revolutionary during the late Spanish colonial years. I’m sure my ignorance of his story isn’t a totally unique phenomenon to just me; really, what would barangays, plazas, and streets be to us other than just names until we attach faces and stories to people named after them?

Regardless, the other reason I’m including the Dumangas-born Salas in this list is that out of all the Spanish- and American-era freedom fighters to come out of that era, he was the last Visayan to have resisted the Americans the longest; Delgado, ironically enough, surrendered a few months earlier than him.

While a statue of him was erected in Dumangas, where he served as its capitan del pueblo before joining the revolution and turning against the Spanish powers that conferred him his position, I did find it odd that a barangay in Jaro carried his name. Well, as it turned out, the province named a barrio after him on the area where he fought with other Ilonggo troops to liberate Jaro during the Battle of Balantang. Yep, it’s the same Battle of Balantang where Teresa Magbanua also fought in.

All in all, that’s far from an ignominious end that was originally envisioned for him when he was exiled from Iloilo after surrendering. He went to Escuela de Derecho in Manila in 1908 to study law and became a full-fledged lawyer by 1912. Thanks to the intercession of then-Justice Secretary Victorino Mapa, he eventually came back to Iloilo to practice his profession before his death by tuberculosis in 1917.

Obviously, this is far from being a definitive list of the Ilonggo heroes we have in history; even the information contained here doesn’t do enough justice to the heroes listed here.

So, this is where you come in: we know there are many history enthusiasts in Iloilo, and what better way to celebrate Philippine Independence Day (or… well, just a regular day) than by sharing what you know about them and other Ilonggo heroes, too? Please do so in the comments section below.

What we’re doing here with this piece isn’t just a commemoration of Ilonggo heroism; it’s also a reminder to not forget the sacrifices made by people who lived before us. Because in this era where increasing misinformation is currency, the truth is an eternal value worth fighting for.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.