by Mac Ramirez
At the northernmost part of the Province of La Union is Bangar, a small and quiet town nestled between the West Philippine Sea to the west, the mighty Amburayan River to the north, and the majestic Cordillera mountain range to the east. Its people are famous for crafting the hand-woven fabric called ‘inabel’ which, because of its durability, were used as sails of galleon ships during the Spanish colonial days.
At present, Bangar’s ‘inabel’ blankets, table runners and hand towels are in high-demand, both locally and overseas. Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray visited Bangar last March 2020 and even sat on a native wooden loom to try her hand at weaving this beautiful fabric.
But apart from the ‘inabel’, not much is known about the town of Bangar.
Who would have thought that this small and quiet town has a valiant history of resistance and played a significant role during the Philippine-American War?
When President Emilio Aguinaldo and his Council of War resolved in November of 1899 to shift to guerrilla warfare as the means to fight the American invaders, Ilocano freedom fighters wasted no time in preparing and leading the masses for revolt.
Guerrilla units spread like wildfire in La Union and other Ilocano Provinces. The people of Bangar rose up and heeded the call to defend the country. The Bangar resistance movement was so strong and organized that American forces at that time dared not venture around those parts without sufficient numbers.
Hotbed of ‘insurrection’
US Army Captain F.O. Johnson of the 3rd Cavalry summarized the situation in Bangar in a report to General Samuel Young dated March 6, 1900. He informed the headquarters in Vigan of the presence of at least five active guerrilla organizations within a radius of merely ten miles of Namacpacan (present day Luna) and Bangar [Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade]:
“The situation is such that it is unsafe to send out bodies of less than 40 or 50 men. The insurrectos have a well-organized system of espionage and all movements are immediately reported by couriers. Secret information leads me to distrust most of the native officials…”
The cohesion of the Bangareños to the guerrilla cause was a major source of dread for the Americans during the war’s height. The place was literally crawling with guerrillas and sympathizers. Even the parish priest of Bangar, Padre Bonifacio Brillantes, was an ardent supporter of the ‘insurrectos.’ He was later convicted by the Americans for having once rung the church bells in a bid to warn the guerrillas on the approach of the enemy.
“The topography is such that it is impossible to bring large forces in contact with these insurrectos,” read part of Johnson’s report. “When they greatly outnumber the Americans; they fight, otherwise they retreat into the mountains.”
That was the situation in Bangar. As to the general situation in the First District of La Union in early to mid-1900, Major General Elwell S. Otis described it, thus: “This today is the worst part of the Philippine Islands.”
The final fall of the Spanish in Bangar
That Bangar is so committed to the cause of independence and freedom at that time was not at all surprising. Just a little over a year prior, in August 1898, the final victory of Filipino revolutionists in La Union against the oppressive Spanish colonial regime was sealed in Bangar.
After almost a week of intense fighting, Spanish soldiers under Lieutenant Don Goicochea, who were then holed up inside the Bangar Convento, surrendered to the Filipino revolutionists in August 7, 1898. Eleven days after, on August 18, General Manuel Tinio accepted the “Acta de Capitulacion” of the Spanish forces in Bangar – one of the only two official acts of surrender signed in La Union soil, the other one being in the cabecerra San Fernando which was signed on July 31. Thus the more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the Province of La Union finally fell in Bangar.
Historian Adriel Obar Meimban, in his book “La Union: The Making of a Province 1850-1921,” noted that during the final assault against the Spanish in Bangar, “all rose up to a man.”
Spanish Governor de Lara of Ilocos Sur testified that during the fighting in Bangar, the unremitting vollies of fire from the guns of Filipino revolutionists were heard from even across the Amburayan River in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. The Spaniard admitted then: “En La Union, no quedaba un hombre que no fuese rebelde” (In La Union, there was no man left who was not a rebel).
My great-grand aunt Paula Ramirez’s husband, Don Daniel Perez, was named Gobernadorcillo of the newly installed Filipino Revolutionary Government in Bangar. Back in September 1896, Don Daniel Perez (Interprete de este Juzgado) was among the twenty prominent Ilocanos who were tagged as leading “conspirators” and “subversives” in the friar-concocted “Supuesta Conspiracion.” The Vicar Forane of San Fernando, Fray Rafael Redondo, accused them of plotting to massacre Spanish officials in La Union.
Along with Daniel Perez who were exiled and banished to Palawan’s Balabac Island in 1896 were the leaders of the supposed ‘conspiracy’: Don Lucino Almeida of San Fernando, who would later on become La Union’s Presidente Provincial or Governor, and Don Ireneo Javier, who would later on become Ilocos Norte’s Governor and first representative of the province to the Philippine Assembly of 1907. Javier would also marry Perez’ daughter, Trinidad Ramirez-Perez.
The memory of victory against their former colonial oppressors is still fresh in the hearts and minds of the people of Bangar. Thus with a new set of invaders and colonizers at hand, they are ever prepared and willing to defend their hard-fought freedom.
Summing up the sentiment of the La Union umili (townsfolk), Governor Almeida telegraphed President Aguinaldo in Malolos on January 6, 1899. He said that La Union is prepared to go to war for independence as it did so valiantly against Spain, this time against the Norte Americanos:
“The dissemination of the news that the war against the Americans is impending as they greedily prey upon this Philippines, a continuous stream of news from all the towns have been received by me to show to the authorities and to the people that they resent, and they do request to offer themselves, including their possessions and lives, and they are grateful for your acceptance of their offer.”[English translation from original Ilocano, by Meimban]
Thus, the people of La Union prepared for war. And when the Americans set foot in La Union soil in November 20, 1899, Filipino guerrillas are ready for action.
The guerrillas of Bangar were part of Guerrilla Unit No. 1, led by Captain Anacleto Mendoza who was tagged by the Americans as the ‘prime disturber’ in that part of La Union. This outfit was responsible for the successive strikes in the first days of the year 1900 that completely infuriated the Americans.
Attack on Bangar
On the night of January 10, 1900, some fifty armed guerrillas led by Lieutenant Francisco Peralta stormed Bangar, ransacked the Presidencia and executed the Presidente Municipal “who had earlier been marked for liquidation for his collaboration activities.” [Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade] Two other municipal officials, the Delegado de Justicia and the Delegado de Industria, were also executed by the guerrillas that night for supporting the enemy.
In response, the Americans sent a cavalry patrol to hunt down the daring raiders but they were ambushed in Sudipen (then a part of Bangar) by waiting Filipino forces under Lieutenant Simplicio Geronilla. The clash left two Americans killed and three others wounded.
A few days before the January 10 Bangar night-raid, Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Gutierrez, commander of all the guerrilla forces in La Union and Southern Ilocos Sur, ordered all guerrilla units to collect “acts of adhesion” from prominent citizens for purposes of propaganda abroad.
The Civil Governor of La Union, Don Lucino Almeida, likewise, convened all the Presidentes of the Province at his residence in San Fernando and ordered them to “furnish food, provisions and supplies from time to time to the forces in insurrection against the United States.”
Pocket guerrilla operations will continue to pester the Americans in the succeeding months. But the twin attacks in Bangar that greeted the New Year of 1900 – the night-raid of January 10 and the ambush thereafter – stood out for its cunning and audacity. Orlino Ochosa, in his book “The Tinio Brigade,” wrote that the said attacks were deemed by the Americans then as “war crimes” that were “unpardonable.”
Apart from the presence of armed guerrilla bands, the American occupation forces in Bangar also had to contend with the existence of the Sandatahanes – a phantom army of bolomen – that by March of 1900, a new garrison was set up by the US Army in Bangar.
The presence of another American garrison, however, did not dampen the fighting spirit of the Bangareños. By the middle of April 1900, Major Pascual Pacis and Lieutenant Juan Mendoza, of the guerrilla army’s Milicianos Territoriales, were at Barrio Paratong in Bangar recruiting men by the hundreds to join the resistance.
Said recruits were initiated similar to that of the Katipunan rites, in that they were made to sign their oaths with their own blood and they were subjected to branding on their right breasts using the mouth of a heated bottle.
Maj. Pacis and Lt. Mendoza, who were later convicted by the Americans for their guerrilla activities, must have been recruiting members for the recently revived Katipunan in Bangar, considering that on May 5, 1900, a cache of Katipunan blood-oaths were discovered by the Americans in nearby Tagudin in Ilocos Sur.
Bangar will yet again witness another bold guerrilla attack on the night of May 5, 1900. Lt. Peralta and his men managed to sneak past American lines and again entered Bangar and assassinated five locals who served as Americans scouts. One of them, a former soldier of the guerrilla army who, exactly a month before, deserted to the Americans and turned-over to the enemy his company’s complete muster-roll [Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901].
Back then, the locals derided their town mates who were being too friendly with the American forces. On the part of the guerrilla army, this is considered a mortal sin that is punishable by death.
By December 22, 1900, the US Army’s 48th Infantry listed a total of nine persons killed and thirty persons or more assaulted in Bangar for “sympathy and assistance rendered the American cause.” Three of those killed and two of those assaulted were municipal officers.
In all areas covered by the US Army’s First District, Department of Northern Luzon, a total of 100 persons were assassinated for supporting the Americans, 26 of them were municipal officials.
The Americans, on the other hand, also vented their ire on town officials whom they suspected of supporting the “insurrectos”. On Christmas Day of 1900, American authorities ordered the arrest of all of Bangar’s municipal officials led by its then Presidente Municipal for “conspiracy.” [Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901]
In early 1900, the legendary General Manuel Tinio, commander of all Filipino forces in the entire Northern Luzon, issued an order to punish, by penalty of death, all those who will surrender, support or give assistance to the enemy.
“Although I would regret to have to shed the blood of my compatriots, I am disposed to take all the steps necessary to punish rigorously the traitors to the country.”
Guerrilla chiefs were also instructed by Aguinaldo’s Chief of the General Staff in 1900, to “kindly order all their subordinates, down to the lowest level, to learn the verb ‘Dukutar’ so as to put it immediately in practice.” In so doing, he said, it is “most salutary for our country.” [JRM Taylor papers]
“Dukutar,” from the root word “dukot” or “ca-ut” in Ilocaco, meant the abduction and assassination of enemy forces, collaborators and spies.
It is worthy to note that the liquidation of spies and traitors to the cause were part and parcel of guerrilla warfare. In the face of a superior adversary, Filipino freedom fighters then had no choice but to resort to these kind of tactics, which also include, among others, the cutting of telegraph wires and the constant harassment and raids on enemy patrols, posts and detachments.
Even the commander of the American Forces, General Arthur Mac Arthur, admitted the prevalence of assassination of traitors on the part of the guerrillas. In 1901 he reported: “The cohesion of Filipino society in behalf of insurgent interests is most emphatically illustrated by the fact that assassination, which was extensively employed, was generally accepted as a legitimate expression of insurgent governmental authority.”
My great-grand father Isidoro Ramirez, the son of Don Hipolito Ramirez and a distinguished citizen of Bangar, was implicated as one of the conspirators in the January 10 Bangar guerrilla attack. He along with his town mate and cousin Manuel Bautista and Maximo Roldan, a native of nearby Namacpacan, were arrested and jointly tried by a US Military Commission convened June 3, 1900 in San Fernando, La Union.
Though they pleaded “not guilty” to all the charges, they were sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until they are dead.”
Public hangings in Bangar
Ramirez, Bautista and Roldan were publicly executed at the Plaza of Bangar on November 23, 1900. They were the first Filipino patriots to be hanged in La Union (perhaps in the entire Ilocandia) and, as such, the US Army meticulously planned and prepared for their public execution.
Adriel Obar Meimban, in his book “La Union: The Making of a Province 1850-1921,” wrote that Colonel William Penn Duvall, the American Commander based in San Fernando, received specific instructions to conduct their execution in a manner that is “quiet, orderly, dignified and soldierly.”
He was told to “select the particular place in Bangar, providing suitable material and the necessary labor for erecting the scaffold and procuring the rope, cord, etc required.” Thus an imposing wooden scaffold was ordered constructed in Bangar’s town plaza beginning October 1900.
Because two of the sentenced men – Ramirez and Bautista – were Bangar’s native sons, the Americans were extra-careful in keeping them in custody from their detention cell to the gallows, “lest they tempt guerrilla attack or attract ‘special attention’ from the people.”
On the day of the execution, Col. Duvall was instructed to undertake precautionary measures “to control the throng,” as thousands of Bangar-folk and citizens from surrounding areas were expected to gather at the town plaza for the hanging. The taking of photographs of the hanging was banned and newspapermen were not allowed on site.
“The Provost Martial executed the martyrs upon the order of the Commanding Officer. Then the C.O. reported personally to Vigan for further instructions,” Meimban narrated.
Thus, “with no mawkishness of sentiment nor with the least abatement of the intended grimness and terror,” Ramirez, Bautista and Roldan were hanged in front of a horrified people, on top of a newly-built scaffold that would soon hang several other high-ranking guerrilla officers of the Tinio Brigade.
The public execution of sentenced “insurgents” was a major part of the US Army’s anti-guerrilla strategy – and they chose Bangar as their stage.
Perhaps to strike fear among the populace and to punish the town for its strong support to the guerrilla resistance, the people of Bangar were, on every occasion, herded to the town plaza to witness these “macabre public hangings.’
On September 13, 1901, the town hosted yet another triple-hanging of top leaders of Guerrilla Unit No. 5. They were 1st Lieutenant Natalio Valencia, 2nd Lieutenant Hilario Quesada and 2nd Lieutenant Patricio Zaidin.
Zaidin, a native of Alilem, was the last guerrilla leader to fall into the enemy’s hands in the La Union and Southern Ilocos Sur theatre of war.
Meanwhile, the proponent of the audacious raids in Bangar in the first half of 1900, Lt. Francisco Peralta, was also hanged in Bangar on October 11, 1901. Before his execution, Peralta uttered these last words: “Goodbye my beloved country. I am going to another world, sparing you further pains and anguish by sacrificing my life. Beloved countrymen, pray for me as I will pray for you in the next life. With love and courage, I am willing to die for your sake. I am not afraid to die.”
“Beyond death, Peralta became a hero,” wrote Meimban.
Also to meet his fate at the gallows of Bangar was Major Aniceto Angeles, one of the original commanders of the Philippine Republican Army’s La Union Battalion and the guerrilla chief of Guerilla Unit No. 2. He was hanged on October 18, 1901 with fellow guerrillas Fermin Directo and Tomas Torres.
More than 2,000 people were made to witness the hangings which, according to Meimban, was a “nauseating spectacle.” When he was given the chance to speak before the gathered masses, Major Angeles shouted in defiance: “I am satisfied with the sentence and accept death!”
The hanging of Filipino prisoners of war by the Americans was strongly denounced by President Aguinaldo. From his mountain lair on January 17, 1901 he issued an urgent proclamation condemning the hangings as “repulsive and inhuman” and castigated the practice as “unheard of cruelties and shameless violations of the most elementary laws which are being committed by the imperialists.” [JRM Taylor papers]
He then “ordered and commanded” guerrilla chiefs to negotiate prisoner exchange “at the rate of one American for every three of the many Filipinos who have been condemned to death by them, and who are expecting to be executed at any moment.”
Furthered Aguinaldo: “In case the American commander refuse us the requested exchange, the American prisoners, whatever be their number, will be shot – the punishment for those attempting our national integrity…”
War in the mountains
Despite the bloody triangle of US Army’s anti-guerrilla campaign in the Ilocos Provinces – the prosecution of guerrilla supporters, the garrisoning of towns, and the public execution of ‘insurgents’ – the ‘war in the mountains fit for the small against the big’ (guerra de montaña es la propia del pequeño contra otro mayor) as described by Col. Juan Villamor in his memoirs, continued to rage in Northern Luzon for almost two years.
Ochosa summed up the valiant and impressive resistance of the Ilocanos:
“Manuel Tinio and his brave band of Ilocanos and a few Tagalogs fought the invaders for almost two years. Surely it was a short war, but that beau geste demonstrated once more the sturdiness and indomitable character of the Ilocano “nation,” this time fighting as part of the Filipino nation; and it was a great struggle that proved the worth and mettle of their Tinio Brigade. The history of that brigade is the history of that war.
“The last word on the historical and political significance of the Ilocano phase of our national struggle for independence comes from no less than the American Commander himself, General Arthur Mac Arthur, who defined that little war in Ilocos as the “most troublesome and perplexing military problem in all Luzon. In all Luzon.”
Bangar – that small and quiet town at the northernmost part of La Union – truly was a giant when it came to fighting for freedom and independence. Its people courageously fought and booted-out the Spaniards in 1898 and again bravely faced head-on the American occupation forces during the tumultuous Ilocano phase of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1901.
Sadly, Bangar’s valiant contributions remain seemingly forgotten and untold. There is not even a mention of it in its own official town history.
Nevertheless, Bangar has distinguished itself and has proven worthy to be called “ili daguiti kalalakkian” (where men-of-men come from). More than four decades after the Philippine-American War, the sons of Bangar’s guerrillas of 1899 -1901 will step up to the plate and assume the honorific role of their fathers before them and will gallantly face another set of unwelcome occupiers – this time the Japanese Imperial Army and this time, fighting side-by-side with their fathers’ former adversary, the Americans. As was before, the guerrilla movement in Bangar during the Japanese Occupation was so strong and organized, as evidenced by the presence of a big guerrilla camp situated in the fastness of Barrio San Cristobal in Bangar.
Indeed, Bangar’s valiant history of resistance must be remembered and retold. The martyrs of Bangar and the many others who laid their lives in the defense of our Motherland must forever be put in a place of honor and recognition. #
- Charges of cruelty, etc., to the natives of the Philippines. Letter from the Secretary of War relative to the reports and charges in the public press of cruelty and oppression exercised by our soldiers toward natives of the Philippines. February 19, 1902;
- THE TINIO BRIGADE: Anti-American Resistance in the Ilocos Provinces 1899-1901, Orlino A. Ochosa;
- Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901, William Henry Scott;
- La Union: The Making of A Province 1850-1921, Adriel Obar Meimban, Ph.D;
- The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States: A compilation of documents with notes and introduction by John R.M. Taylor
Photos used in this article had been supplied by the historian.
Mac Ramirez is a long-time national president of the Commission on Elections Employees Association. His previous history article for Kodao may be read here: MYSTERY SOLVED: Spot where missing Fil-Am war memorial once stood finally found