BANCAO OR BANKAW
Rebel Chieftain of Limasawa
One of the first converts to Catholicism under the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, Datu Bankaw was the old chief of Limasawa, site of the “first” Catholic mass held in the Philippines. He received a royal gift from the Spanish monarch Phillip II in recognition of his grandfather’s hospitality to the navigator Magellan. Later, in appreciation of his own hospitality toward Legazpi and his men, whom he provided with food and other provisions, the Spanish king sent him a letter of gratitude.
In 1622, after around 50 years of peaceful life within the Catholic fold, Bankaw apostatized. Earlier, on the island of Bohol, the babaylan Tamblot had instigated a religious revolt against the Spaniards. Assuring the natives of divine aid from the diwata, he had convinced them of victory over their Spanish oppressors. Although his insurrection was quelled by the alcade mayor of Zebu (Cebu), it had spread to Leyte, where Bankaw, by this time around 75 years old, was aided in his own revolt by his two sons and a daughter, who had likewise apostatized. He built a temple to the native gods, and with the help of his son and a man named Pagali, a babaylan, convinced six other villagers to join the insurrection.
Greatly alarmed, the parish priest, Fr. Melchor de Vera, immediately journeyed to Zebu to report the incident and seek the assistance of the alcalde mayor, Don Juan de Alcarazo, in putting down putting down he rapidly-speaking rebellion.
After mobilizing a flotilla of 40 vessels manned by Spanish soldiers and Cebuano natives armed with harquebusiers, Captain Alcarazo sent he rebels surrender feelers, which Bankaw and his men out rightly rebuffed. Consequently, the government forces formed into three groups for a three-sided assault on the rebels’ fort in the hills. In the ensuing battle, the rebels, despite their numbers, were defeated. Many died, including Bankaw and one of his sons. Both were beheaded. His other son and daughter were captured along with others. Later, Bankaw’s head was put on a stake and displayed in public as a warning against further insurrection. Several other rebels were also shot, while a babaylan was burned at the stake. These atrocities were all meant to strike terror not only among the Leyteños but other natives as well.
Thus ended the revolt of Datu Bankaw.
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Blair, Emma H. & Robertson, James A. The Philippine Islands 1493-1898 Volume XXXVIII. Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur Clarke Co., 1903-1909.
Zaide, Gregorio F. History of the Filipino People. Manila: The Modern Book Co., 1969.