Diego Silang and Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang
The first major revolution waged against the Spaniards was waged by the Silangs during the time of the British forces’ military incursion in the Philippines which began in September 1762. It was the period of the Seven Year’s War between the British and the French, who were aided by Spain. In October 1762, the British expeditionary forces from India occupied Manila in retaliation to Spain’s alliance with France, and sought to take control of the other provinces of the Philippines. Diego Silang saw this as the opportune time to lead an Ilocano revolt against the weakened Spanish forces. Ilocanos have suffered long the unreasonable taxes, free labor for the construction of religious and administrative structures and the suppressive monopolies that the Spaniards imposed upon the populace. That is why they were quick to respond to the call for revolution.
Diego Silang’s aim was the creation of an Ilocano nation. This vision began when he personally witnessed the many abuses of the Spanish government and the Roman Catholic Church not only in Ilocos but wherever he traveled as courier for Vigan’s parish priest, delivering letters and documents to Manila and back. Having failed in negotiations with the Spanish authorities to establish a government in Ilocos with Ilocano functionaries, Diego Silang worked with the British forces to defeat the Spanish in the North.
He already had control of Vigan in December of 1762. He was promised military assistance by the British to strengthen his hold and complete his plan, which unfortunately never came. Diego Silang was later killed by Miguel Vicos, a friend who was a mestizo (mix blood of Spanish and Ilocano). Vicos carried out his assassination of Diego during his visit to the latter’s house, accompanied by another of Diego’s friend Pedro Becbec. The traitorous act was of course instigated by the Spanish church and government authorities. Diego’s cause did not die with him, however. His wife, Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang, continued his
leadership. Her valiant efforts were overpowered by massive forces set upon her, forcing her retreat to Abra. She tried to lead her army back to Vigan but was again repelled. She was captured and put to death publicly by hanging in September 1763. Almost a hundred of her followers were also publicly hanged to serve as a warning to the Ilocanos. She is now remembered in Philippine history as the country’s Joan of Arc and first female leader for Filipino liberation. Her furious ride towards Vigan is immortalized in many statues all over the country erected in memory of her courage and sacrifice. She rejoined her husband only four months after his death.