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

Cultist Beginnings

SOCIAL unrest in Leyte in the last decades of the Spanish colonial regime may not have been as noted as the ferment in Manila and surrounding provinces. But archival documents show that the social ferment that simmered during the early Katipunan months has somehow filtered down to the provinces, taking shape in varied cultural forms. Leyte was no exception. Here, a quasi-religious movement called the "Dios-Dios" (loosely translated as "God-God") was taking shape as early as 1887 in the mountain fastness of Jaro and Ormoc. It was founded by one called "Fruto," but nothing much has been recorded of this cult founder.

To make converts among the unlettered barrio folks, he would place a sack of salt in a culvert in Sityo Kanipaan where a small creek ran across the road to Carigara. There he made people believe that at that point the sea began, and one could even sail to Europe from there.

Many people were convinced and followed him. Mt. Amandiwing, which was said to be the dwelling place of their god located between Jaro and Ormoc, became their sanctuary. The members of the cult wore white clothes manifesting the color of their flag which Fruto distributed for P7.50. The flag bore letters in black which summed up his teachings.

He told the people that those who possessed the white flag could be saved from a big flood which God was sending as punishment. Alarmed, the Spanish authorities sent for the leaders of the sect. Members were punished with lashes at the entrance of the church by the guardia civil and cuadrilleros.

A member named Tasio was arrested in Carigara and brought to Jaro where he hanged from the cross for hours. He was transferred to the capital, deported to Puerto Princesa, but escaped during the revolution. He came back to Jaro and became a propagandist during the revolution. Faustino Ablen, another follower, took Fruto's lessons to heart and ardently devoted himself to the movement, until the Spanish authorities had him arrested.

A few cult members had drifted to nearby Samar and even to Mindanao to spread the movement. Later, after serving their sentences, some went back to their hometowns and became propagandists of the Katipunan.

Social roots

Although the movement appeared as a simple religious escapism from Roman Catholicism, then becoming a hated symbol of oppression, it could have been motivated by economic as well as political causes.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Leyte was a thriving producer of abaca hemp, besides cultivating coconuts, corn, sugar and rice on subsistence level. But it was from hemp that Leyte derived much of its wealth. A few years later, the Americans would observe that Leyte?os were contented with their lot.

Next to abaca was copra as the second income-earning crop. It was profitable and did not require much labor. Trading of these goods was cornered by the Chinese and a few Spaniards who lived in some towns and married with the natives. Rice, on the other hand, was imported from Manila and Cebu and locally traded by "small dealers and agents".4

An Oppressive Political System

But what was probably an aggravating factor was the onerous political system imposed by the Spanish colonial regime. The historian Manuel Artigas, who had a first hand experience of this system, observed that people could not understand why they had to pay taxes to the government when there was very little service being given back and no proper accounting system or inventory controls. Neither could they understand why they had to pledge allegiance to a king in Spain.5

Two practices were particularly hateful to the population: taxation and forced labor or polo. When the latter was imposed in October 30, 1827, everybody was required to render 40 days of service to public works, such as, buildings, roads and bridges. Those who could afford to pay did so in equivalent wages to exempt themselves.

In 1883, work was reduced to 15 days but included communal and provincial projects. By January 18, 1888, even Spaniards and other foreigners were required to render polo service or paid 100 pesos a year in lieu of this. By October 25, 1889, a provincial requirement was added. Local residents were made to pay 50 percent more for the provincial treasury. Later, in December 7 that same year, half of the amount collected went to the municipal treasury.

To implement these measures, the colonial government appointed their minions, usually members of prominent families. At the barangay level, the enforcer was the cabeza de barangay. At the municipal level, it was the gobernadorcillo.

While in the early part of the 19th century the cabeza de barangay was an honorable position, by the turn of the century, the cabeza was reduced to a mere tax collector and issuer of cedulas. Moreover, the cabeza had to serve as eyes and ears of the colonial government at the barangay. Those who were appointed were naturally hated by the people because of such roles. Indeed, they were avoided whenever they were around.

The gobernadorcillos, on the other hand, were embroiled in graft and corrupt practices. Malversation of government funds was a common practice. The government tried to institute political reforms in 1875, but mismanagement of government continued as they were. Even members of the rich and influential principalia, who were in power, could not resist misusing government funds because of the weakness of the system.

Now the military arm of the regime at the provinces were the cuadrilleros who often functioned like the guardia civil.Their services were supposed to be voluntary, but when they were on duty to guard prisoners, the municipal hall where the arms were kept or at the town entrances, they were paid one real a day. They also served as witnesses against criminals. In the last two years of the Spanish regime, they were allowed to use firearms for more efficiency. 8

It was in this social context that the dios-dios movement flourished. Its members gravitated towards the emerging katipunan in the late 1890s and later to the forces of Mojica which fought against American occupation in the beginning of this century until 1902 when its leaders, who came from the ranks of the intelligentsia, finally surrendered.

The last of these leaders was Vicente Lukban who was forced by the Americans under Gen. Jacob Smith to finally give up the fight in Samar. Leyte's forces under Florentino Pe?aranda and Jesus de Veyra had earlier given up 13 months after Ambrosio Mojica's surrender.