Malvar was born in 1865 in Santo Tomas, Batangas to Maximo Malvar and Tiburcia Carpio. The Malvars were able to send their children to school by adding to their incomefrom a simple logging ownership to owning rice and sugarcane fields in the slopes of Mount Maquiling. Malvar spent three years in secondary school, married, and started acquiring land. He prospered from the oranges he planted there. Malvar, who was elected gobernadorcillo in 1890 against the Recollect Fr. Garces, led the reforum movement in Santo Tomas, which spread rapidly because of strong anti-friar sentiment. Garces worked intensively to defeat Malvar in subsequent elections. This started a power struggle between the two which often featured the fielding of puppet candidates, bribery, and other irregularities.
On the eve of the discovery of the Katipunan in Manila, Batangas was rife with resentment and ready for a revolution. As a man of political power, Malvar personally put an army together and participated in the battle for Talisay with Aguinaldo's men. This was the beginning of Malvar's military life. The success was short-lived. On February of 1897, Governor-General Polavieja ordered a massive attack on the southern provinces, isolating Cavite from Batangas, and forced the revolutionaries to retreat all the way to Biak-na-Bato. Malvar regrouped his men and linked up with Sebastian Caneo of the Colorum and the bandit Aniceto Oruga. Though not very successful, he was able to consolidate the leadership in Laguna, Tayabas, and Batangas and keep the momentum of the revolution going.
When the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed, thus officially ending the fight for independence, Malvar traveled around the province of Batangas to make sure the terms of the agreement were met and left for Hong Kong as part of the negotiated terms. But the revolution was far from over. A new enemy was about to steam into Manila Bay.
In May 1899, Malvar's Batangas Brigade was ordered to reinforce troops in Muntinglupa to prepare for an assault on American garrisons. When the main thrust of the American offensive focused on the Tagalog region, Malvar retreated slowly to Calamba and from there supervised the defense of Batangas. An elaborate trench defense was created around Santo Tomas and Tulo, Laguna., as did others in the neighboring towns.
As Malvar and his men lost more battles, they resorted to guerrilla tactics. Malvar reorganized his men into zonal columns led by officers with their own areas of responsibility. To feed his troops, he imposed taxes on the population, all the while doing his best to maintain good relations with the civilians because his army's success depended on their support. Aas the war dragged on, many of the wealthy families decided to cooperate with their new colonial masters. Collaboration became widespread and support for Malvar decreased considerably. Although the less wealthy were still willing to support the revolution, crops were being left unharvested, people were sick from various diseases, work animals were being stolen. There was too much hardship to endure and nothing much left to give to the revolutionaries.
At the final surrender of Aguinaldo, the Americans increased the effort to establish civil government throughout the country. In response, many towns displayed two faces: the public one for the Americans, the other a secret and risky faceshown only to revolutionaries and their supporters. In December 1901, Malvar who had previously taken only a defensive stance launched a major offensive against several American-held towns in Batangas. Though their gains were short lived, it was proof that the war was far from over.
A month before that offensive, significant changes had taken place in the American command. Gen. Samuel Sumner had been relieved of command of the Third Brigade and replaced by Gen. James Franklin Bell. Convinced of the need to end the war soon, Bell resorted to controversial tactics and strategies. He instituted a "scorched earth" policy. Civilians had to live in hamlets. Men were rounded up routinely for questioning. This marked the most destructive phase of the war. Relentlessly pursuing Malvar and his men who were close to starvation, his strategy worked. Ranks were broken, morale dropped, and surrender of Malvar's forces grew extremely high.
By April 1902, many of Malvar's former officers had changed sides and became volunteers in American forces. They exposed his hideaway. There was only one option left: Malvar with his sick wife and children surrendered on April 13, 1902. The revolution in Btangas was over.
Malvar retired to a quiet farming life and prospered from the land he had fought hard for. He died in October 1911.
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