The Philippine American War

Sakay and his Resistance Movement

In 1902, the last of the Filipino generals, such as Miguel Malvar and Simeon Ola either surrendered or were captured. American annexation had been completed and the civilian government of Taft was established. As early as 1901, the Americans had introduced a policy of attraction and accommodation of the Filipino elite. True to their form, prominent ilustrados, middle class Filipinos, welcomed the opportunity. They pledged allegiance to the United States and in return were rewarded with positions in the colonial bureaucracy.

But pacification was still far from over. Throughout the first decade of American rule, several patriotic Filipinos continued the resistance. A shining example was General Macario Sakay who, in 1902, proclaimed the Supreme Government of the Tagalog Archipelago with himself as President and Commander-in-Chief. In his manifesto, he declared a free Tagalog Archipelago which included all the towns and provinces of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. He claimed that his Tagalog Republic was a continuation of Bonifacio’s Katipunan which started the Philippine Revolution in 1896. In claiming ties with the Katipunan, Sakay aligned the Tagalog Republic with the Katipunan. Even his flag was a blazing sun with letter K perhaps for Katipunan and/or Kalayaan. He drew up a constitution and proclaimed several circulars and manifestos extolling the Filipinos to continue the campaign for independence started by Bonifacio and the Katipunan. He warned the Filipinos not to swear allegiance to the United States.

Meanwhile, the Americans waged a propaganda campaign against Sakay and his supporters. They branded Sakay as bandido or a bandit who preyed on innocent Filipinos. Even Sakay’s physical appearance was used to damage his character. The Americans noted that Sakay sported long hair, a proof that he was indeed a bandit. But Sakay purposely did not cut his hair because its length was indicative of the length of their struggle. American anti-Sakay propaganda was so effective that the stereotype image of bandits sporting long hair, like Sakay, was embedded in the mentality of Filipinos even after the war.

Sakay operated in the Southern Tagalog provinces of Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, and Tayabas. His headquarters was first in Mt. Cristobal, Tayabas, and later transferred in the mountains of Morong, Rizal. In 1906 or four years after he proclaimed the Tagalog Republic, he was persuaded to lay down his arms for the sake of peace. His surrender was necessary to establish a state of peace that was a prerequisite for the election of Filipino delegates to the American sponsored legislative body called Philippine Assembly. Sakay viewed his surrender not as capitulation but as a genuine step towards independence. He believed that the struggle had shifted to constitutional methods and that through the Philippine Assembly, the Filipinos could win their independence. For ending his resistance, Sakay and his forces were promised general amnesty.

On July 4, 1906, Sakay went down to Manila from the hills of Tanay, Rizal. An eyewitness claimed that Sakay and his men were followed by a brass band and hundreds of townspeople supporting him and shouting "Long Live Sakay! Long Live the Patriots!" In recognition of his heroism and patriotism, various Filipino banquets, dances and celebrations were held in his honor. But a trap was apparently being laid out for him by the Americans. On July 17, 1906, he was arrested and imprisoned on charges of banditry. Subjected to a court trial, Sakay was found guilty and ordered hanged on August 6, 1907.

But Sakay was not a bandit. In his proclamations, he recognized the right to privacy and called on his followers to respect the life, livelihood, and property of the people. He also advocated respect of women and their honor. By calling Sakay a bandit, the Americans disparaged the righteousness of Sakay’s cause and relegated him to a mere criminal. Sakay was a nationalist who envisioned a free and independent Philippines, and he continued the struggle for its attainment when most of the ilustrado Filipino leaders had opted to collaborate with the new colonizers to protect their own personal interests.

Sakay’s resistance was the last episode in the Philippine-American War. Figures on the extent of the casualties of the war vary, ranging from 600,000 to half a million Filipinos. Its gravity, however, was captured by a U.S. Congressman who stated at the turn of the century that "they never rebel in Luzon anymore because there isn’t anybody left to rebel." But the next forty-five years of American benevolent colonialism and the succeeding three brutal years of Japanese occupation, where the Filipinos and the Americans fought side by side, have seemingly dulled if not erased the bitter memories of a costly and savage Philippine-American War. Fortunately, the 1998 centennial celebration of the Philippine Independence have highlighted the series of events a hundred years ago which have become the defining moment of Filipino nationalism.