Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Filipino Martyr: GABRIELA SILANG
(1731 – 1763)
First Heroine of Ilocos
Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang is known as the first Filipina to lead an uprising against a
She was born in the barrio of Caniogan, Santa, Ilocos Sur, on March 19, 1731. Her father
was an Ilocano peasant from Santa and her mother, an Itneg household maid from Pidigan, Abra.
A Spanish friar, Provisor Tomas Milan adopted her and brought her up as a Christian.
She grew up to be comely lass, pious and possessed a charitable character. At the age of
20, she was forced to marry a rich old man who died after three years, leaving all his wealth to her.
She met Diego Silang y Andaya, who was then a young and dashing mail carrier between
Vigan and Manila. He fell in love with the attractive widow and, after five years of courtship, they
got married in 1757 and eventually established their home in Vigan. For five years they lived
happily although they did not have any children.
The people of Ilocos, burdened with high taxes and forced labor were chafing at their grim
situation. They were waiting only for a leader who was sufficiently religious and who at the same
time had a political solution to their plight. Diego Silang, with the ideas he brought from Manila,
fitted their need. They rallied behind him as the emerging liberator. On December 14, 1762, he
proclaimed the independence of his people and made Vigan the capital of Free Ilocos.
He proved to be an able leader, but his success was short-lived. The Spanish authorities,
hailing to crush him by force of arms, hired assassins. A mestizo named Miguel Vicos, aided by
Captain Pedro Becbec, who were both Silang’s trusted friends, shot him at the back with a muskey
on May 26, 1763.
Gabriela, widowed for a second time, assumed leadership and carried on the war against
Spain. She was assisted by Silang’s uncle Nicolas Carino and other loyal lieutenants of her late
husband namely Sebastian Andaya and Manuel Flores.
She sent a plea to the Itnegs, the people on her mother’ side, to come down from the
mountains to assist her. They responded, rekindling tribal ties. When she was driven out of Vigan
with the remnants of her lamented husband’s army in Pidigan, Abra, the home of her mother, the
Itnegs were solidly with her. Pidigan became the capital of the Free Ilocos government –in – exile.
She recruited more freedom fighters, especially Itneg archers. From her new bastion, she
launched sorties against the garrisons on the coastal towns. These were dispatched and placed in
strategic places to ambush her forces.
By the first week of September 1763, Gabriela, astride a prancing horse, led the march
towards Vigan. Her bolo brigade, supported by Itneg archers, assaulted the city defenses. But the
disciplined defenders, commanded by trained Spanish Officers and supported by artillery, rolled
back the attack. Her army was badly beaten.
She retreated towards the unexplored regions of Abra and the Mountain Province. But the
Spanish military men and an army of Apayao under Don Manuel de Arza pursued her. The
villagers were not to extend assistance and “they were promised reward in the event of information
that would lead to her capture.”
She and 80 loyal soldiers were captured in the hinterlands. Brought down to the Ilocos
seacoast, they were hanged, one by one, all along the coastline from Candon to Bantay to serve an
example to those who would defy the right of Spain.
After making her witness to the heroic end of her faithful followers, Gabriela was publicly
hanged on September 20, 1763 in Vigan. She died with a calm courage. Thus ended the heroic life
of this fighting widow, the Joan of Arc of Ilocandia, and the short – lived independence of the
Quirino, Carlos. Filipinos at War. Philippines: Vera – Reyes, Incorporated. 1981.
Roces, Alfredo ed. Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation Volume 5. Quezon City: Lahing
Zaide, Gregorio. Documentary Sources of Philippine History Volume 5. Manila: National
Bookstore Incorporated. 1990