Gen. Sakay: Honoring the forgotten and maligned hero

by Margarite Igcasan

It is crucial for today’s Philippine society to learn about our heroes. Common textbooks may tell us about some, but we are often clueless about the heroes whose images were “tarnished” by the black propaganda for branding them as “common criminals” just because of fighting and being against the Americans.

General Macario de Leon Sakay was one of the great revolutionary heroes who continued to fight for Philippine independence in both the Spanish and American regimes– even after Gen. Miguel Malvar’s surrender in April 1902 and the US President Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation that “peace had been established in all parts of the archipelago except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes.”

Sakay was born in Tondo, Manila back in 1870 and was a tailor and stage actor before he joined Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan movement.

He led a guerilla campaign against the American from 1902 to 1906 in the Southern Tagalog provinces of Rizal, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. It was in his struggles in CALABARZON where established the “Republika ng Katagalugan” as stated in Erwin Fernandez’s “Philippine Studies.” We can say that the Americans were greatly threatened by him as they resorted to hamleting, or concentrating villagers in areas where Sakay had most of his supporters. According to Samuel Tan’s “The Filipino-American War”, Sakay and others were named as “bandits” and “tulisanes” by the US government. This was used to show “support” the American propaganda. These disrespectful labels against the Filipino freedom fighters were “meant to downplay the criticisms of influential anti-imperialism Americans.”

He and his men promised not to cut their hair until freedom were ours to hold.  And indeed, Sakay kept his hair long as a symbol of the resistance they were holding, although this was used but the Americans as proof of him being a bandit and freedom fighter.

It was stated in Renato Constantino’s “A History of the Philippines” that Dominador Gomez, an illustrado sent by Governor-General Henry Ide, talked with Sakay about offering amnesty to him and his men back in 1905. They also talked about establishing a Philippine Assembly that would become the opening for the country’s freedom and independence (“pinto ng kalayaan”). Sakay was, of course, persuaded as he was also one of the many Filipinos who dreamed of independence and full ‘Filipino-control.’

And in Antonio Abad’s “General Macario L. Sakay, the only president of the “Tagalog Republic: Was he a bandit or a patriot?” Sakay’s last words, that will forever shake the nation, were:

“Death comes to all of us sooner or later, so I will face the LORD Almighty calmly. But I want to tell you that we are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, the Philippines! Farewell! Long live the Republic and may our independence be born in the future! Long live the Philippines!”

“I want to see him as a symbol of a Filipino soldier who fought for his people.”

For Lt. Col. Ronald Jess Alcudia, the dream of rectifying the historical distortion and honoring the name of General Sakay started way back in 2007 when he was assigned as the Assistant Commandant for UP Diliman’s ROTC. Coincidentally, UP Diliman’s celebration for General Macario Sakay’s centennial death anniversary on Sept 14, 2007 triggered Alcudia’s spark and interest in honoring Sakay, the “forgotten and maligned hero.”

Alcudia emphasized the irony on how little recognition we give to Sakay. When he attended the centennial death anniversary in UP Diliman, he was surprised on how the ceremony honored Sakay, a man unfamiliar to him even though he studied in UP. He also shared how Philippine Military history books accepted the American colonial perspective, because like many of us, we thought that the Philippine-American war ended in 1902. This colonial perspective omitted the campaign of Sakay and other movements, such as the Moro struggles against the pacification effort in Mindanao.

“Renaming a camp after Sakay would be a good way to honor him.”

Coming upon Camp Eldridge in Los Baños from his search of camps for possible renaming was also one of the few first steps he did in rectifying Philippine history for General Sakay — apart from numerous articles and studies he did to call out the attention of fellow Filipinos.

There weren’t any big resistances in renaming the camp; the pace was just slow as it took 8 years to get everything done. But nevertheless, many Filipinos as different news articles about the re-naming poured in different publications.

Some were happy that we are now fixing Philippine history and some were excited about the idea of the proper recognition we are giving our Filipino heroes by renaming another establishment.

“He revived the revolution, he was a man of his period. I could not think of anything else but his love for the country.”

And so, last September 13, 2016, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) held General Sakay’s 109th death anniversary commemoration in Camp Macario Sakay in Los Baños, Laguna.

Officials and members of the AFP, Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) and VFP-Sons and Daughters, Inc. (VFP-SDAI) the local government of Laguna and its district members, students and teachers from nearby schools, national government officials, and distant relatives of Macario Sakay attended the ceremony.

Probably because of the small attention that the re-naming of the camp elicited Lt. Col. Alcudia asked himself “What’s next?”

He and some friends are now “very excited in preparation for the 110th commemoration of heroism for General Macario Sakay on September 13, 2017. Among the plans is the commissioning of a bust of General Sakay for the camp.

This is a probably a good time for realization that honoring our forefathers should never stop. They have given us the independence and freedom we are now taking for granted, it is only right to give them the respect and honor they deserve.

Renaming a camp for a hero is a very big step in honoring and respecting our heroes, but simple acts as learning the history as how it truly was is one of the great things we can normally do. We shouldn’t be neglecting our history just because it has passed, but simply we should know how it came to be and where the gift our freedom and independence came from.

MIgcasan, 18, is a resident of Brgy. San Antonio in Los Baños, Laguna and is currently taking up BS Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

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