ESTEBAN D. CONTRERAS
(1864 - 1904)
Capiz Revolutionary Leader
One of the leaders of Panay during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino - American War, Esteban Contreras initiated the First clashes between the Filipinos and Spaniards in Capiz in 1897.
The only son of Simeon Contreras and Carmen Dichosa, he was born on May 12, 1864, in Capiz, now Roxas City. He grew up in his birthplace, where his parents engaged in fishing and farming.
Due to the early death of his father and subsequent remarriage of his mother, his father’s sister, Lucia Contreras, who never married, adopted him. She sent her nephew to study in Iloilo. In return, he managed her sugar plantation.
It was during his schooling that he was exposed to the writings of the leaders of the Propaganda Movement, like Graciano Lopez Jaena, and the insensitivity of the Spanish civil and religious authorities.
In 1887, Contreras, with a few companions, formed in the remote barrio of Malag-it, Ponteverda, Capiz what became the nucleus of the revolutionary movement in the province. The revolution had broken out in Luzon and the colonial authorities had resorted to terroristic measures to prevent its spread to other areas of the country. The unjust execution of the 19 Panay martyrs on March 23 of that year only increased Contreras' resolve to free Capiz from Spanish domination.
Contreras devised clever measures to avoid premature detection of his radical group by the colonial authorities and their native spies. He often held parties with much merry-making to camouflage its clandestine meetings. His mother-in-law, who was unaware of the real reason for the boisterous gatherings, scolded him for indulging too much in such wasteful activities.
Contreras planned to launch the revolution in Capiz by attacking a camp of the Civil Guard. Unfortunately, this plan was betrayed to the Spanish authorities, forcing him to flee. For a while, he and his followers, mostly husky farm hands, evaded the enemy in the swampy area in Capiz. Later, they ambushed a Spanish unit in Sitio Tadiao.
On May 4, 1897, Contreras and his men had their first big battle at Tanza. They would have overwhelmed the Spanish defenders but for the timely arrival of reinforcement from Capiz. Instead, they suffered heavy casualties, including 150 men killed.
Despite this setback, Contreras continued to build up his motley army of peasants, armed with spears, bolos, and a few rifles. This prompted the enemy to launch a big offensive against him at Balisong Hill, Capiz. Actually, Contreras was waiting for the Spaniards to attack. He had ordered large trees cut into logs and placed on the hills’ edges, and had trenches and other fortifications built strategically.
When the Spanish forces attempted to climb the hill, the Filipino defenders rained them with gunfire and various missiles, like spears and arrows. Three assault waves they launched were repulsed in this manner with heavy losses on their side. By the time the Spaniards launched their fourth charge, however, Contreras and his men were already low on ammunition. That was when he ordered the large logs rolled down the hill, causing the enemy to retreat in disarray. To avoid being trapped by the enemy when its ranks were swelled by reinforcements, Contreras decided to abandon his position.
After the lull in the fight against Spain, during which the Americans emerged as the new enemy, Contreras returned to the battlefield, with his revolutionary comrades, to engage the U.S. Army
in guerilla warfare for two years. He gave up the struggle and surrendered to Lt. M.F. Grote in 1901, upon learning that President Emilio Aguinaldo had been captured in Palanan, Isabela.
Not long after his surrender, Esteban was reunited with his family and later went back to his old occupation - farming. In 1904, while spending a day in Casasayan, Pila, Esteban was struck by a deadly fever, which ultimately ended his life.
He left behind his wife and four children.
Sonza, Demetrio. Illustrious Ilonggos Volume I. Iloilo City: Iloilo Provincial Historical Society, 1972.
____________. Visayan Fighters for Freedom. Iloilo City: Agustin Sonza and Sons,