Few Filipinos or Filipino-Americans on this matter, know about the only Katipunan organized outside of Manila or Luzon. This is the story of an Esquestrian General Francisco del Castillo and the nineteen martyrs of Aklan, whom we honor their centennial death anniversary.
Nobody knows who Francisco del Castillo was and an interview with those people living during the revolution of 1896-97 produced negative result. Even the church has no knowledge about this man.
Francisco del Castillo met Candido Iban of Malinao in Australia while both diving for mother of pearls called tipay, which was the only profitable occupation in that British colony. They became friends and in their off hours they spend talking about how to help the people back home from the bondage of Spanish colonizers.
While they were fishing and diving they also met Valeriano Dalida and Albino Rabaria both of Contang, now Ochando, a coastal barrio in Batan in the Aklan section of Capiz. The four compatriots accumulated some sums of money besides winning in the lottery. They all decide to go home and while passing through Hong Kong, they met Procopio Bonifacio, brother of the Supremo of the Kataas-taasan Kagalang-galangan Katipunan (KKK) or the Highest Noble Organization. They were told about the armed rebellion headed by his brother, Andres Bonifacio who was called the Supremo.
Soon after, Procopio sent a letter to his brother through Francisco del Castillo and the three others with instruction to meet Andres, the Supremo, personally and be initiated to the movement. Andres, after telling them about the noble aim of the KKK, had them blindfolded, drew blood from their shoulder, and signed their membership in their own blood.
Thereafter, Andres Bonifacio ordered them to go to Aklan and organized the local KKK. So in December of 1896, Del Castillo and his three companions ordered a big boat and christened it the Holy Trinity. But before they sailed for Aklan, Andres told them about the desire to have a printing press so that they can publish some propaganda materials and other information vital to the campaign. The KKK had no money to buy for the machine. So Del Castillo, Candido Iban, Valeriano Dalida and Albino Rabaria decided to donate money to buy the printing press from Hong Kong. The Katipunan was able to buy the the printing press and began publishing Emilio Jacinto's cartilla and the Diario de Manila . The Diario de Manila was born but short lived. A floundering wife of Katipunan member told the priest about it and in turn reported the location of the printing press to the authorities. The following day it was raided and destroyed.
Del Castillo and the three Aklanons landed in Lagatic (now the town of New Washington), Batan in January 1897. They immediately went to the task of dividing the vast territory into two. West of Aklan River, Candido Iban was to organize the peasant from the west bank while del Castillo with Dalida and Rabaria took care of towns east of Aklan River.
Soon after their number increased to a thousand and in a general meeting and initiation of members in large numbers. The group then made del Castillo a general of the KKK, and Dalida and Rabaria his assistants. After this, General del Castillo sent an emissary to the civil authorities of Kalibo for a conference. Reluctantly, Don Vicente Azarraga, the Spanish hybrid and commander of the Garrison; Fr. Francisco Jayme and brothers Don Ayong Laserna and Don Vicente Laserna, Presidente Municipal of Kalibo, went with the emissary for a conference with Del Castillo.
In the minds of these four prominent people of Kalibo, it seems it was an insult to them being called instead of calling the head of the KKK. So their minds were buffled when they accepted the General's invitations.
Upon arrival at Mabilo where General Del Castillo was headquartered, a well-built, bull-necked man named Tomas Briones with a talibong in his right hand approached the carriage. With one fling of his talibong, he forcefully open the mahogany door and heard a pistol-like sound to which he commanded, "step down now and follow me", pointing to the direction where the vice supremo was seated and waited for them. Del Castillo greeted then in an official manner and bid them to sit down around the table.
The conference was called to order by General del Castillo and briefed them about the progress of their local societies. He made it plain that the purpose of the conference was to expect cooperation from local civil authorities and to money people of the Poblacion.
Before del Castillo was through with the preliminary talk and condition, Don Vicente Laserna, the Presidente Municipal of Kalibo, said: "This being a conference, we thought out views on the matter should also be heard".
"What you have to say, please speak out", the Vice Supremo said.
"I believed that this resistance is inutile", Laserna continued. "There have been uprisings long before we and our forefathers could remember and they all ended in the same fate: death of all rebels. We fear the same thing this moment. The handicap of our people was the same - lack of good weapons which to fight the Spaniards; and the odds which we pitted against are the same, superior arms".
"I agree with you", del Castillo conceded in fine Spanish. "I also agree with you that our weapons are inferior to those of our foes because they have firearms and we have only bolos (large single-eadged knife used as weapon or cutting tool). But this should not daunt our spirit. If our forefather failed, should we accept tyranny of the foreign oppressors as a permanent alternative, without doing anything to liberate ourselves? With regards to the weapons, the superior arms of the Spaniards could be overcomed by strength of number, courage and tactics in warfare."
Capitan Juan Azarraga who was not use to lengthy discussions, stood up with impatience to say his piece:
"This is what I have to say about this banditry, or revolt as I choose to call. This is a stupid thing and this conference is an idle talk. I think we have to forget the whole matter and return our senses to normal and dedicate our efforts in the pursuit of making use of our hands to produce more food".
The uncalled admonition fueled the hatred of the gathered peasant.
"Tan Juan you are a man who always thinks in terms of food to fill your belly, money to fill your pocket, squeezed from the blood of the people", said Tomas Briones. "The time has come when you should stop the mercenary thinking, otherwise, you will be the first casualty of this revolution", Briones continued. Del Castillo asserted his presence with a pound of his fist on the table and demanded sobriety.
"This conference will now come to its decision and the following are the demands of the people's army: First, that the local civil government, particularly Kalibo should recognize the Katipunan and the cause it has chosen to expose; Second, that said government consider the fight as its own and that it should participate and work hand-in-hand with the people's army; Thirdly, that the cooperation of prominent and well-to-do residents of Kalibo, it should supply the revolutionary army with food, money and other forms of aid, more particularly weapons, like firearms, that it could produce; Fourth, that Tan Juan Azarraga should allow his house in the poblacion of Kalibo to be made into headquarters of the Katipunan. Fifth, that the Municipal President, Capitan Vicente Laserna and other capitanes present: Tan Juan Azarraga and Tan Asyong Laserna, should willingly submit themselves to blood compact, to signify their membership to the Katipunan."
In reply, Tan Juan blurted aloud: "This conference is a sham and the demands you are asking is preposterous. I refuse to submit to these proposals".
Tan Vicente rejoined, "If you expect cooperation from us then you admit our counter proposals, aside from our individual reactions to those issues you have just mentioned".
Del Castillo replied with courteous firmness, "I think that up to this very moment we have not yet made ourselves clear to you. Our stand on the matter admits no compromise, your positions or personal views are not withstanding. You have to accept these proposals or you don't. And if you don't, we consider you enemies of the cause and as such we have no choice but to execute you summarily as the first barrier we overcome".
Tan Juan's and Tan Vicente's haughtiness reduced to submissiveness, haggled with elimination of just the last demand, namely that they spared from blood compact.
Del Castillo would not concede. So with the exception of Fr. Francisco Jayme, the three capitanes underwent the usual rites inspite of their protest. They were blind folded, made to swear allegiance to the cause, incised at forearm and made to sign with their own blood.
The conference was a great news throughout the town. It was considered a triumph of the insurrection. There was a great rejoicing among Katipunan followers, a source of great pride and inspiration.
When the Katipunan in Manila knew the impending invasion of Aklan, Bonifacio sent an urgent message to de Castillo about the coming of the Spanish forces and thereby telling him to be prepared. So on March 16, 1897, he ordered all his men to gather at his headquarters in Mabilo, so that all forces from Ibajay, Makato, Malinao went and passing through the valleys during the night they arrived in Mabilo on March 17, 1897, and they began to march towards the poblacion.
The rebels all dressed in white with bolos on their waist and sumbilings on their shoulders marched in two columns and in front were General Del Castillo riding on his white stallion and twenty other higher leaders, all in horse backs.
Upon arriving near the Azarraga residence, he marched towards the garrison for he knew there were only three Spaniards and a few auxilliary Filipino civil guards on duty and so he was unperturbed, and ordered a close formation. The revolutionary troops started filling the east side of the plaza. In front of the imposing coral building which was the residence of Capitan Juan Azarraga, the equestrian general halted his spirited horse and looked up at the narrowly opened window where Moises Ilicito, a guardia civil corporal, stood on guard.
"Donde esta el Capitan Juan Azarraga? (Where is Capitan Juan Azarraga)" the general asked. Ilicito replied that the capitan must be at the convent, pointing at the building across the plaza near the church. When the general turned his horse Moises Ilicito rested his rifle on the window sill, aimed at the general's back and fired.
The general did not feel the sting of the bullet. In anger he turned his prancing horse about with a powerful tug at the reins and facing his countrymen up at the house, shouted at the top of his voice, "Otro mas, fuego! (Fire some more!)".
Moises Ilicito a confirmed shapshooter could not believe that he did not hit his target . His mind ran swiftly to a belief that the general had supernatural power of invulnerability to have bullets dawned upon him. He ran his mind with the belief that a morsel of rice can help solve the invulnerability problem. So he took a morsel of rice, placed it in his mouth and ran back to the window. General del Castillo hurling defiance from the streets below challenging the Spaniards and civil guards to come out and fight. He was brandishing his revolver in the air. Ilicito hurriedly spat out the rice into his palm, stuffed it into the chamber of his Mauser rifle and cocked the hammer, so the story was told. He made the sign of the cross with his prayer, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I hope I will harm my target". He aimed at the upturned face of del Castillo and fired. And fell to the ground fatally wounded the most spectacular revolutionary figurein Aklan's history.
With the general was his aide whom he had instructed previously that if he should fall wounded in the battle he was to get the red handkerchief in his breast pocket and spread it on the leader's face and the leader would then come back to life. But when the catastrophe occurred and the aide saw the the leader was hit, and was slowly sliding downward from his horse, the trusted aide panicked and fled. Thus in a single stroke, the back of the Katipunan in Aklan was broken, hardly before it even got tested.
Arriving in Kalibo the same day, Col. Monet proclaimed amnesty for all Filipino rebels who participated with Gen. del castillo. The anmestry provided that clemency was extended only to those who presented themselves voluntarily to the authorities in Kalibo. It also provided that the relatives of those who failed to present themselves would also be arrested, held hostage, and incarcerated while the insurrectos would be captured and be summarily executed with their heads exhibited publicly in town.
The most effective manner with which anmesty was brought to the people was through pulpit. Father Francisco Jayme of Kalibo parish read the proclaimation duing the sermon on the Mass the following day. And in a voice vibrant with emotions, he appealed to his flock, to go home and tell the insurrectos to surrender themselves to authorities so they could be pardoned.
The word of a priest always carried much weight to those who seek God's intervention. It was believed sacriligious to question or disobey it. And immediately that day the women and children went to work.
So on March 19th, up to 22nd, 1897, amidst a tumult of conflicting reasons, arguments and emotions of reasonable doubt against unfounded trust of fear and possible death of the belief in the amnesty with guarantee of the clergy against brutal memory, made hazy by time and erased by hope. Hundreds of Katipuneros accompanied by their families trooped to the town to surrender. Among those who did were Benito and Gabino Yonsal believed on the promised amnesty.
Untrue to their proclaimation of clemency the Spaniards detained most of those who surrendered allegedly for further questioning and investigation. Some surrenderees were shipped to Capiz for questioning, torture and hard labor. On the fourth day, the upper and ground floors of the tribunal and coral house of Tan Juan Azarraga were utilized to accomodate those detained surrenderees.
Col. Monet who presided the conference left the decision upon the body composed of Spanish and Filipino officials of the puppet government. Present also were prominent members of the community such as Spanish mestizos who were influential businessmen. The priest Father Francisco Jayme was there. The ruling opinion of the Spaniards was to liquidate the twenty rebel leaders as a necessity to end the rebellion. They averred that the Indios, if rendered leaderless, could not rise in arm again.
Father Jayme who was silent at the start of the proceedings now rose to his feet in controlled trepidation and asked for recognition to speak. In a tone quivering with emotions, he said, "amnesty was offered to pardon those who presented themselves in token of surrender", his voice choking and his face white in supressed anger. "It was because of this assurance that they came. I for one appealed to the people at the pulpit and I gave my guarantee for a just treatment in the hands of the authority". But the voice of the priest soon drowned by other voices.
In that room, the appeal for clemency was a lonely cry. The same iron hand that wielded the power over life and death in the colony for centuries was to sow itself again in a swift ruthless reprisal through deceit. The hands found in the alliance among some Filipinos in the graces of the powers and who were afraid to lose their holdings, their influence, their comforts and their lives have favored the segment which was to think the way the Spaniards did, the rebelling countrymen, the insurrectos were traitors to their country, bandoleros (bandits) of the highlands, ambitious and despicable Indios who deserved the treatment of a beast.
Castillian bigot, said, "I understand that the enforcement of law, the priest has no place. His place is only the church. These prisoners have got to be killed to teach the rest a lesson. If they are pardoned and released now they would again regroup their men and rise against the authorities.
At 2:00 that morning, March 23, 1897 after a short reprieve as the prisoners were dozing off or nursing their bruised and broken bodies, they leaned each other against the wall in standing position. Muzzles of mauser rifles were furtively stuck through the wall. From outside the volley of shots rent the silent air, waking them from their sleep into instant death.
When the moaning of the dying subsided the marinos entered the place to check whether the massacre was consumated. They found two men, Candido Iban and Valeriano Dalida, who were said to possess anting-anting (talisman) still alive and unscathed. Beating them with rifle butts and wooden pestles, they finished them off.
The following morning all nineteen bodies were brought to the plaza laid in front of the Tribunal. Their bodies were drenched with their own blood, and a Misa de Campania was said for them by the Catholic priest at the church across the street.
So the nineteen steps of the Kalibo Shrine of Freedom with Equestrian General Francisco del Castillo at the top was erected in their honor.
And it is in their names that we honor them in this year's celebration.
1. "Town of A Thousand" by Roman A. dela Cruz, Macar Publishing House, Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines, First Edition. Copyright 1993
2. Church Archives, Archdioces of Kalibo, Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines