After 359 years, local hero gets his due

By Vicente Labro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:15:00 06/01/2008

TACLOBAN CITY — EXACTLY 359 years after he started a rebellion in Samar that spread like wildfire to other parts of the country, local hero Agustin Sumoroy is finally getting well deserved recognition.

The National Historical Institute (NHI) led by its chair, Ambeth Ocampo, is to unveil this morning a marker at the foot of Sumoroy’s life-size statue in the town plaza of Palapag in the province of Northern Samar.

While Sumoroy’s name may be known in many places and has appeared in a number of books, this is the first time that the hero will be officially recognized for his role in Philippine history, Palapag Mayor Ricardo Daiz said.

A native of Palapag, Sumoroy was one of the early Filipinos who rose in rebellion against the Spanish colonizers.

Historians consider the Sumoroy uprising (or the Bisayan Revolt of 1649-1650) “the first major rebellion to burst wide open during the first 84 years” of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.

On June 1, 1649, Sumoroy plunged a spear into Fr. Miguel Ponce Barberan, the rector of Palapag, killing him and signaling the start of the rebellion in the town.

Historians say the forced drafting of men for labor in the shipyards in Cavite was the main cause of the uprising.

The rebellion in Palapag immediately caught fire in other towns of Ibabao, the ancient name of the northern and eastern parts of Samar, the country’s third largest island.

Historians say the rebellion gained momentum and quickly spread to other places such as Catubig, Pambujan, Bobon and Catarman towns in Northern Samar, then to the towns of Taft, Dolores and Can-avid in Eastern Samar, and Paranas and other towns in the west coast of Samar.

A revolt subsequently broke out in Leyte, followed by insurrections in Sorsogon, Albay and Camarines (in Bicol), in Cebu province (in the Visayas), and then in Caraga, Iligan, Camiguin, Zamboanga and some parts of Butuan, Basilan and Davao (all in Mindanao).

Spanish officers, together with hundreds of men from Zamboanga and Pampanga, moved to quell the rebellion in April 1650. But it took several months before they finally defeated Sumoroy and his troops, who had taken refuge in a fortified place called “Mesa de Palapag.”

The rebellion lasted for a year and three months. It ended tragically when one of Sumoroy’s men, who sided with the enemy, killed and beheaded him in August 1650.

10-foot pedestal

It was the national government that recognized Sumoroy, and the local government coordinated with the NHI only when it conducted studies on the hero, Mayor Daiz told Inquirer Visayas by phone on Friday.

He said the statue of Sumoroy—which stands on a 10-foot pedestal and depicts the hero with a spear in the right hand and a sundang (a long bladed weapon) tucked in the waistband—was put up in the town plaza years ago.

“I just had the statue painted,” he said.

According to Daiz, a similar statue of the hero stands in the capital town of Catarman, about 60 kilometers from Palapag, and the main camp of the Army in the province, also located in Catarman, is named after Sumoroy.

The ruins of the ancient church of Palapag, where the Sumoroy rebellion began, can still be seen in the coastal town.

Northern Samar Gov. Raul Daza and the NHI’s Ocampo are to lead today’s unveiling ceremony that will be witnessed by Palapag officials and residents.

“We have been preparing for this big event, and the guests have already confirmed their attendance,” Daiz said.

He said barangay officials, public school teachers, war veterans and soldier-engineers based in Palapag had been invited to the affair.

“We expect a crowd of 500 people,” he said.

2nd in the province

The Sumoroy statue is the second in Northern Samar to be recognized by the NHI, Daiz said.

The first is in Catubig town, where the NHI earlier installed a historical marker in recognition of local guerrillas who valiantly fought American troops on April 15, 1900.

The US War Department described the Catubig battle as the “heaviest bloody encounter yet for American troops” in the Philippine-American War.

Some 20 American soldiers died in that battle that lasted for four days.


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