The Pulahans of Leyte
Cultist Beginnings
Pulahan Origins
Early Skirmishes
Second Phase of the Anti-Pulahan Campaign
Continuing Military Operations
More Encounters

Pulahan Origins

THE early days of July 1902 saw the end of the resistance movement under the leadership of Aguinaldo's men. For the first time since the American occupation, everything was quiet in the province. Leyte enjoyed three months of absolute peace.

But the revolutionary stirrings were still alive and would soon erupt in another era of conflict. This time, the uprising would be led by indigenous leaders.9

Contrary to the expectations of the Americans, hundreds of revolutionary insurrectos did not surrender with their leaders. Many of them went back to civilian life, but the more aggressive ones went back to the hills to continue the fight.

Leadership appeared to have been taken over by native leaders who could barely read or write but who had enough faith in their own abilities to defeat a well-equipped enemy. These were the pulahanes.

Faustino Ablen

However, the pulahan leader who caused fear and apprehension among the Americans was Faustino Ablen of Ormoc. A report of the Philippine Commission in 1907 portrayed Ablen as a "perfectly ignorant man who can neither read nor write." Assisting him was his daughter Rosa, who was said to be the brains behind the movement. At that time, he was already 53 years old and living in barangay Mahayag, a mountainous area at the outskirts of Ormoc.

He was the youngest of a large family and had five living children, four of whom have been with him in the hills with his wife, sharing his hardships there. In about 1887 or 1889, he was arrested by the Spanish authorities for having organized the Dios-Dios movement in Ormoc.

In another Philippine Commission report, Ablen accordingly declared himself "pope" of the island and promised followers immunity against constabulary bullets if they wore an anting-anting (amulet) which he sold. According to Vic Hurley in his book "Jungle Patrol," he signed himself "Senor Jesus y Maria," and began the distribution of charms, love potions, and "religious trumperies with a tone of paganism."

Faustino can give no intelligent idea of himself or his plans, simply stating that he preferred to live in the hills, and giving various more or less incoherent accounts as to his religious or fanatical plans," the report said.11

The Pulahanes

Just like its earlier biased description of Ablen, another commission report describes the pulahanes as "nearly all ignorant, superstitious persons" who could easily be influenced for good or evil. The commission however admitted that they were "not naturally bad people". They could "be reclaimed to civilization if brought under the influences mentioned above. They are all naturally religious and a good priest could exercise more influence over them than anyone else."12

Another report by Governor-General Smith as late as 1908 is quoted by Vic Hurley in his "Jungle Patrol":

"The pulajan is not a robber or a thief by nature -- quite the contrary. He had his little late of hemp on the side of the mountain, and breaking out his picul of the product he carried it, hank by hank, for miles and miles over the almost impassible mountain trails, to the nearest town or barrio. There, he offered it for sale and if he refused the price tendered, which was generally not more than half the value, he soon found himself arrested on a trumped-up charge and without hemp or money."

In the words of Hurley, the original pulajan trouble that flared in Samar and Leyte had its beginnings in financial transactions between the highlander and the coast merchant. The robbing tactics of the latter brought on retaliatory pulajan raids. The raids increased in frequency and severity, and the glow flamed to a blaze with a hitherto peaceful people suddenly aware of their capabilities and in command of the island. In turn, the lowlanders became the victims.

An earlier report by Leyte Governor Joseph H. Grant on the dios-dios read: "This latter class, when fired by fanaticism, are the most desperate, bloodthirsty, cruel and barbarous fighters encountered in the southern islands, sparing neither women nor children in their mad frenzy. All who refuse to embrace their doctrines are regarded as enemies, and are, therefore, their legitimate prey; their property is confiscated, such of it as cannot be appropriated being destroyed, and their lives forfeited.

"Their leader claims to make spiritual visits to Rome nightly, to confer with the Virgin Mary and receive his daily orders. Each convert is required to purchase an anting-anting, which is supposed to render him invisible to his enemies and invulnerable alike to bullets and bolo thrusts. An anting-anting may be a small piece of wood, carabao horn, piece of paper with some curious characters inscribed on it, or, in fact, anything which the leader may sanctify and give to them. The price of one of these valuable charms depends upon the ability of the purchaser to pay.

"An anting-anting is supposed to retain its efficacy for about one month, but if you are supplied with a certain liquid, which may be bought of the leader, you can renew it yourself by applying the 'holy ointment' to the charm, but if you haven't it then you must seek the leader to have it renewed." 13 This biased portrayal of the pulahanes by the American governor is understandble considering the colonizer's enormous hatred for the native guerillas. To be smitten by such types of enemies was a blow to their caucasian pride which had for centuries looked down upon and persecuted the native Indians of America.

The Americans would admit a few years later that what they were fighting was not simply a band of religious fanatics but that the group had a political agenda not unlike those of the early revolutionaries.

The word "Pulahan" was derived from the word "pula", which means red in Waray-waray, a dialect spoken in Samar and Eastern Leyte. The term pulahanism seems to have been given to a subversive organization which in 1894 brought death and terror to every town in Samar from Pambuhan in the North to Basey and Giporlos in the south. 14

Unlike the Dios-Dios of earlier days, the members of the pulahan organization wore, as a distinguishing mark, red trousers or a dash of red color elsewhere about their sparse clothing.15

Their weapon was a heavy crescent-shaped bolo with which they could capitate a man with one blow. Their battle preparations consisted of bottles of holy oil, prayer books, consecrated anting-antings and other religous paraphernalia. Their mode of attack was a massed bolo rush, shouting "tad-tad", which means "chop to pieces". They moved into action behind waving banners.

From a military viewpoint, their tactics were unsound, as they gave no thought to casualties. They were contemptuous of death, and they rushed without thought of position or the possibility of encountering murderous rifle fire.

They could be stopped by a determined stand of accurate riflemen if the odds were not too great. Often, the odds were too great and it resulted in the death of every soldier who faced them. When the pulahanes once got to close quarters with their great knives, massacre was the result.16