By Jhon Aldrin Casinas
It all began in Pinaglabanan.
The long and bloody quest of Filipinos for independence and freedom from Spanish colonizers after more than three centuries began not in Manila, the country’s capital, but in a small city in San Juan.
“The Battle of Pinaglabanan is considered as the first major battle of the Philippine Revolution because this is the first exploit undertaken by the Katipuneros against the Spaniards after its discovery,” Christian Bernard Melendez, curator of Museo ng Katipunan, told the Manila Bulletin.
Hundreds of Katipuneros armed with bamboo spears, bolos, and homemade weapons, led by its supreme leader Andres Bonifacio, fought Spanish forces when they attacked El Polvorin (a gun powder depot) and El Deposito (a water reservoir) in San Juan Del Monte, the city’s former name.
To commemorate the battle, a monument called the “Spirit of Pinaglabanan” was erected at the five-hectare Pinaglabanan Memorial Shrine that stands on top of the underground water depository.
The monument, created by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo, features elongated figures depicting the heroism of the brave warriors whose bloods covered the same ground.
“The old water reservoir still exists today…The National Historical Commission of the Philippines is renovating the tunnel underneath,” Melendez said.
The historic battle began before the break of dawn on August 30, 1896 when Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto, with roughly 800 Katipuneros, laid siege on the gunpowder depot and the water reservoir.
Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and inexperienced, the Katipuneros fought valiantly.
The revolutionary soldiers met a devastating defeat with around 150 of them dead and some 200 captured and executed.
The defeat at Pinaglabanan fanned the fire of nationalism and patriotism among Filipinos to take up arms in support of the revolution.
Today, the San Juan Elementary School now stands on the former grounds of the ruined gunpowder storage facility.
A museum, known as the Museo ng Katipunan, was opened in the city last February. It features innovative and conventional exhibits of artifacts and archival documents that tell the stories of the clandestine revolutionary movement.
San Juaneños will also commemorate in August the 123rd anniversary of the historic battle.
Unsuccessful attempts at first marred the quest of Filipinos for independence. But their unwavering will for freedom fueled them to fight against the oppressors, a testimony to the unyielding character of the Filipino people.