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

Early Skirmishes

THE earliest report of pulahan-instigated episode was that of San Isidro in 1901. Some 300 pulahanes sacked the town, confiscating the firearms and food. The group was said to
have come from Ormoc. Seven people were killed and an undetermined number of houses burned.

But the official records would show that the pulahanes became active in Leyte only in early October 1902 when 10 large bancas reportedly crosssed over from Samar to Biliran, with each banca carrying 10 to 15 pulahanes. This band attacked the contabulary detachment in Naval, hoping to capture arms, but were repulsed with considerable losses.

The attacks were kept up for several nights in succession. Several troopers were killed and wounded but they held on until Capt. Peter Borseth arrived at the scene with reinforcements. A vigorous campaign was started in the island. After six weeks, Biliran was reportedly cleared.

The survivors made their way to Leyte (presumably by boat), and arrived near Ormoc. On November 18, they attacked a barrio. At this time, there were no constabulary troops in Ormoc, only the local police with four or five shotguns with no ammunitions. In the ensuing encounter, four policemen were killed. Constabulary troops arrived only in the 28th of that month.

In the meantime, their leader had attracted a lot of followers. He reportedly proclaimed that he could cure the cholera that was then raging at that time in the town. A report from the Philippine commission in 1903 said:

"Generally speaking, sanitary conditions are bad. There is usually an estero or sluggish river through the principal part of the town, into which rubbish, garbage, refuse, etc. is dumped and allowed to accumulate and over which as many houses are built as space will permit. These are the only substitutes for sewers. When the water runs out at at low tide, there is left a foul, stinking, slimy swamp, the odor from which is sickening to one not accustomed to it. There is little or no attempt made in most places to clean the streets, yards or waterways.

The next paragraph describes in detail how toilets were constructed in these days, such that hogs are often seen roaming the streets "with human feces on their heads." Because of that unsanitary condition, cholera raged in Ormoc since August 19, 1902, the Philippine Commission report said. The report was written by a sanitary inspector who was sent to investigate the cholera epidemic. This would explain why the town was quarantined. Apparently, Ablen and his group took advatage of the situation to introduce pulhanism.

At that time, the disturbance was confined around Ormoc. On two or three occasions, the group also raided other towns, but there were no detailed reports on such raids. Other areas appeared to be very peaceful, even in the southern towns that used to be the base of Jorge Capili, a revolutionary leader under Gen. Ambrosio Mojica.

Hence, the authorities did not seem to be alarmed. The governor's report read:

"Future disturbances of any magnitude in Leyte need not be apprehended, as the more intelligent class of people will readily lend their influence and assistance against any attempt at violence, while the great mass of the people are contented and satisfied." However, as a precaution, the governor recommended that every town be given arms and that reliable and trustworthy policemen be appointed.18

But not long after, trouble erupted. In December 1902, for unstated reasons, Faustino Ablen's men burned all the houses in the foothills of Ormoc, entered Villaba and killed three policemen. They also entered Tabango and San Isidro del Campo, and tried to burn the latter but were frustrated by a heavy rainstorm.19

By January 1903, the US-led government had identified the leaders of the pulahan band the mountains of Ormoc. Besides Faustino Ablen, his sub-chiefs were: Damaso Cajidoria, Mariano Villanueva, Custodio Librea, Juan Tamayo, Felipe Claros, Victor Claros, Domingo Ca?iso, Nicolas Malasarte and Juan Amimipot. Of these Damaso Cajidoria had a command of a band on the ranch of Pablo Tan. Tan was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for his connection with this band.

Nicolas Malasarte was in command in the mountains of Palompon and Juan Amimipot a captain under him. Malasarte was a leader of the insurgents during the Spanish regime.

Ablen's band was augmented by 23 prisoners who escaped from the provincial jail in Maasin in January 23, 1903. At this time, government estimates had pegged Ablen's men to number about 500, with the mountains of Ormoc as his headquarters.

Subsequent military operations severed the group, so that by March 15, 1903, Ablen had only about 50 men, while Juan Tamayo had about 20. In June 1903, it was reported that Ablen and his band were surrounded in the mountains of Burauen by constabulary and municipal police. Prisoners captured at that time declared that Ablen and many of his companions were killed. Later reports would show these to be inaccurate.

Damaso Cajidoria was captured and served a 22-year sentence in Bilibid prison. Mariano Villanueva served four years. Victor and Felix Claros served 20 years each.20

In July 1903, spies told Capt. Peter Borseth that Ablen was holed somewhere deep in the mountain regions between Ormoc and Dagami. Lt. Joseph O'Connor was sent to search for him. On the 28th, O'Connor discovered the stronghold and took it by storm, killing 32 pulahanes and taking many prisoners.

Faustino, although severely wounded, escaped. Because of heavy casualties on the pulahanes, the bands began to break up into smaller groups and some members drifted back to civilian life in the lowlands.21