The Last Holdout

© 1996 by Paul Dimayuga and PHGLA All rights reserved

Few men lead lives with unquestionable conviction and character. And when it comes to the leaders of the revolutionary movement, such a person would definitely be the exception. Bickering and personal rivalries plagued the movement, caused factionalism and disunity, and may have prevented the revolution from reaching its full potential.

One person of such exceptional character was Miguel Malvar(1865-1911). There may have been flaws in his character but none were in the same league as those of the more controversial and celebrated revolutionary leaders.

Malvar was born in 1865 in Santo Tomas, Batangas to Maximo Malvar and Tiburcia Carpio. Maximo was an enterprising businessman who improved his lot from a simple logging operation to owning rice and sugarcane fields just off the slopes of Mount Maquiling. This success enabled his children to acquire an education, an achievement common to those who would eventually lead the revolution. Malvar spent three years in secondary school, married, and started acquiring land. He prospered from the oranges he planted there. In turn, Malvar sent his brother Potenciano to secondary school. Potenciano finished his studies and later became a doctor.

By the mid-1880’s, discontent among the Filipinos resulted in organized movements for reform. Batangas was no different from the rest of the Tagalog region. Earlier leaders of the reform movement in Batangas were Felipe Agoncillo, Ananias Diocno, and Ruperto Laurel among others. Agoncillo has been identified as an active member of the Liga founded by Rizal. This point is important because some historians do not believe that the Katipunan existed in Batangas before 1896. It is clear that when the Liga dissolved most of its members reorganized into other societies, many into the secret society of the Katipunan. No undisputed proof exists but it seems unlikely that the reform movement followed a different path in Batangas.

Early discontent

Early Batangas political leaders used their influence to agitate against Spanish authority personified by the friars. The movement spread rapidly because of strong anti-friar sentiment. In Santo Tomas, this action was led by Malvar who had been elected gobernadorcillo in 1890 against the Recollect Fr. Garces. After gaining influence and respect, Malvar made known his opposition to friar control of much of their daily lives. Garces worked intensively to defeat Malvar in subsequent elections. This started a power struggle between the two which often featured the fielding of puppet candidates, bribery, and other irregularities. Throughout the province, anti-friar sentiment grew to strain relations between the native political elite and the colonial power. By the eve of the discovery of the Katipunan in Manila, Batangas was rife with resentment and ready for a revolution.

While Andres Bonifacio was not very successful in Manila and its environs, Emilio Aguinaldo was scoring significant gains in Cavite. So successful was the revolution there that his army made a push across the Batangas border in late September 1896 and occupied Talisay in hopes of spreading the revolution. Intense fighting quickly broke out in the western and northern parts of the province. Civilians were massacred in Nasugbu and this became the rallying point for people to rise up in arms. As a man of political power, Malvar personally put an army together and participated in the battle for Talisay with Aguinaldo’s men. This was the beginning of Malvar’s military life.

Colorful though they may be, the revolutionaries lost most of the battles they fought. Luckily, the colonial government’s priority was to pacify Manila and the suburbs north of it. For a while there seemed to be a chance of keeping the revolution alive. Then on February of 1897, Governor-General Polavieja ordered a multi-pronged attack on the southern provinces, which isolated Cavite from Batangas. This caused the revolutionaries to retreat all the way to Biak-na-Bato. While the more prominent figures of the revolution were embroiled in personal conflicts, Malvar regrouped and linked up with Sebastian Caneo of the Colorum and the bandit Aniceto Oruga to broaden his area of operation. Though not very successful, he was able to consolidate the leadership in Laguna, Tayabas, and Batangas and keep the momentum of the revolution going.

He was opposed to negotiating peace with Spain and he ably showed his willingness to fight on but the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed by other less enthusiastic leaders. That officially ended the fight for independence.

Tasked with rounding up his followers, Malvar traveled around the province of Batangas to make sure the terms of the agreement were met and left for Hong Kong as part of the negotiated terms.

A new enemy

Not long after Dewey decimated the Spanish armada, fighting broke out again in May 1898. With the help of the Americans, Aguinaldo returned in mid-May, followed shortly by Malvar. The revolution the Spaniards had left for dead was very much alive. In fact fighting was already taking place in many parts of Batangas when Malvar returned to take charge of an army once again. By late July, much of the province had been liberated and Malvar and his troops turned towards Tayabas. Local governments had already been set up as the first shots were being fired in Manila to mark the beginning of the Philippine-American War. Around this time, Malvar was in the process of setting up a real provincial army. He recruited people who he believed would be loyal to him. In doing so, he inadvertently chose people who would later lead their own armies and not cooperate with each other.

By May 1899, Malvar’s Batangas Brigade was ordered to reinforce troops in Muntinglupa to prepare for an assault on American garrisons. The main thrust of the American offensive until then had been concentrated north of Manila making the battles in the southern provinces relatively light. This situation changed when the American command decided to pacify the rest of the Tagalog region. Malvar retreated slowly to Calamba and from there supervised the defense of Batangas. An elaborate trench defense was created around Santo Tomas and Tulo, Laguna. Other towns likewise prepared trench lines. The seaside communities prepared for an amphibious assault which, however, never materialized.

In retrospect, Malvar may have spread his forces too thinly so that when the American assault in January 1900 finally came much of the established defenses were easily overrun. As Malvar’s army suffered consecutive defeats, it started dissolving. When the order to conduct guerrilla warfare was given, Malvar had been mainly hiding in the hills around Maquiling and traveling occasionally to check with his field officers. Morale had dropped but Malvar was determined to keep the fight going. This was enough to inject new vigor into his army which he reorganized into zonal columns led by officers with their own areas of responsibility. He imposed taxes on the populace to feed his troops.

He understood that it was essential to maintain favorable relations with the civilians because his army’s success depended on their help. At this point, much of the people still supported their general. But as the war dragged on, many of the well-to-do started seeing the benefits of cooperating with their new colonial masters. Collaboration became widespread and support for Malvar started waning. Even if the majority were still for resistance, it was impossible to get needed support. Crops were left unharvested, people were sick from various diseases, work animals were being stolen, and there was too much hardship to endure.

Malvar takes over

Aguinaldo was captured and shortly after, his successor Gen. Mariano Trias also surrendered. The task of running whatever was left of the resistance fell on Malvar. He accepted the task with realistic expectations, saying that although there were others more capable of the job, the rule of succession dictated that he take the job.

One of his first manifestos reversed Aguinaldo’s policy of favoring the elite. He described the role of the peasantry in the struggle and how through them it might still be won. So while American-formed civil governments were being established, the resistance movement was still active. Many towns showed two faces: one for the benefit of the Americans, the other to aid their resistance fighters. The result was a significant upsurge in military activity. In December 1901, Malvar who had previously taken only a defensive stance launched a major offensive against several American-held towns in Batangas. Though their gains were short lived, it was proof that the war was far from over.

A month before that offensive, significant changes had taken place in the American command. Gen. Samuel Sumner had been relieved of command of the Third Brigade and replaced by Gen. James Franklin Bell. Convinced of the need to end the war soon, Bell resorted to controversial tactics and strategies. He instituted a “scorched earth” policy. Civilians had to live in hamlets. Men were rounded up routinely for questioning. This marked the most destructive phase of the war. Relentlessly pursuing Malvar and his men who were close to starvation, his strategy worked. Ranks were broken, morale dropped, and surrender of Malvar’s forces grew extremely high.

End of revolutionay succession

By April 1902, many of Malvar’s former officers had changed sides and had become volunteers for the American force. They exposed his hideaway. Believing that a few more months of fighting would only imperil the masses and surrounded by Americans and their native troops, Malvar with his sick wife and children surrendered on April 13, 1902. By the end of April, most of Malvar’s troops had also surrendered and the battle for Batangas was over.

Malvar retired to a quiet farming life and prospered from the land he had fought hard for. He died in October 1911, the last general to surrender to American occupational forces.