When the Spanish iron clad conquistadores came to the Bicol region to claim the land for their king, they met stubborn resistance from the Bicolanos. Though poorly armed compared to the conquistadores, the people from the area did not surrender unless conquered in battle.
Their heroism was noted by Spanish priest Fr. Martin de Rada, one of the first members of the Order of Saint Augustine to evangelize the Philippines who sailed with Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s expedition. He wrote of the Bicolanos: “These people are the most valiant and best amongst men of these islands. Although they never attack the Spaniards yet they defended themselves in all their villages and would not surrender unless conquered by force of arms.” The year was 1571.
More than 300 years later, as the Filipino-American War was in full swing, the Bicolanos were again faced with the same threat when in January 20, 1900, news from Sorsogon reached General Vito Belarmino, the commanding general of the Filipino garrison in Albay, that American troops occupied Sorsogon, the ports of Bulan and Donsol that day.
The Legazpi garrison was then defended by a force of more or less 300 to 500 men under the direct command Brigadier General Jose Ignacio Pawa. His men were armed with rifles and bolos (mostly bolos called tabak), and a few guns serving as artillery support stationed at Capuntukan Hills guarding Legazpi Bay.
The American Expeditionary Force came on two troop ships. They were well armed and escorted by the cruiser Nashville.
The battle started at noon of January 23, 1900 when the cruiser Nashville started its naval bombardment of the Filipino positions at close range. Under cover of this bombardment, the Americans landed. Heavy fighting ensued. After fierce fighting, the Filipinos retreated to Albay across the nipa swamps. They suffered 172 killed with 18 wounded. The dead were buried in a common grave.
Though the battles against the Spaniards and then the Americans both ended in defeat, the fighting spirit and heroism shown by the Bicolanos in defending their land against the invaders no matter the odds, continue to inspire us to never let the fire of freedom in our hearts die. These battles put the Bicolano freedom fighters on the forefront of the fight for freedom in our land.
Today, January 23, 2023, is the 123rd anniversary of the battle, of the sacrifice made by fellow Bicolanos.
Led by the Legazpi City government officials together with uniformed personnel, students and members of civic organizations, the commemoration was celebrated in Quezon Avenue where the trylon monument stands.
Photos: FB/Gie Rosal