For hundreds of years Spanish colonial rule terrorised the Philippines with forced labour, excessive tax collection and payment of tributes. However, the nearly three century long Imperial reign of Spain was not passively accepted without resistance with nearly 300 significant armed revolts being launched the Filipino natives (Amodei et al; 2007). The longest sustained revolt against the colonisers was led by a fearless warrior, legendary leader and national icon whose legacy as a symbol of freedom and independence remains today; Gabriela Silang.
María Josefa Gabriela Cariño Silang was born on March 19 of 1731 to Ilokano peasants living under the Spanish colonial rule on the Philippines (Amodei et al; 2007). At 20 years old, she was married to Don Tomas Millan a wealthy and known businessman in Ilocos. The marriage lasted a mere 3 years before Don Tomas Millan passed on (Bayani Art; 2016) however shortly after the now widowed Gabriela met and fell in love with Diego Silang, a revolutionary intellectual and an avid member of the movement for Filipino Independence from the Spanish (Bayani Art; 2016).
During the Seven Year’s War between the British and French (aided by Spain), British forces from India occupied Manila in 1762 with the goal of seizing other Filipino provinces in retaliation against the Spanish alliance with the French (Rigor; 2016). In this time of Spanish weakness and chaos, Diego was imprisoned following his suggestions to Spanish authorities that they abolish colonialist tribute taxes (Amodei; 2007). His unjust imprisonment began his Ilocano revolt and with the help of British forces, gained control of Vigan (Rigor; 2016). It was in the midst of these events that Gabriela and Diego were wed in 1757 and in 1762, Gabriel became active in Diego’s revolt efforts as his equal and closest advisor (Amodei et al; 2007). However, the newly married Silang’s revolt came to an abrupt end when a traitor paid by the Catholic Church assassinated Diego (Amodei; 2007). This devastation would not serve to deter Gabriela though. Instead, this would become the catalyst for Gabriela to take her place as the new leader of the resistance; the Henerala (the woman General) (Bayani Art; 2016).
Gabriela led her resistance army to victory in their first battle; a battle in her hometown of Santa (Bayani Art; 2016). Following their devastating loss, the Spanish became hyper aware of and fearful of the female general (Bayani Art; 2016). Under greater threat and with a victory under their belt, Gabriela and her army travelled to the mountains of Pidigan, Abra to establish their new base (Amodei; 2007), a strategically effective choice as it was not far from Santa but in an area that made it difficult for the Spaniards to track the rebels due to the land’s rocky soil (Bayani Art; 2016).
It was in Abra that Gabriela was able to reunite with her mother whom she had been separated from since her childhood (Bayani Art; 2016). Along with Diego’s uncle, Nicholas Cariño, Gabriela led her army into battle once again in Vigan on September 10 1763 (Bayani Art; 2016). The battles were many and overwhelming for Gabriela’s rebel force and as a result Gabriela was captured in Abra by forces led by her husband’s assassin; Miguel Vicos (Bayani Art; 2016). Along with Gabriela, some ninety of her lieutenants were also captured and subsequently paraded and publicly hung for treason (Bayani Art; 2016). The morning after, the symbol of the resistance and a fierce leader, Gabriela Silang was hung in the town plaza before the crowd of Spanish colonisers who so feared her (Amodei; 2007). She was only 32 years old (Bayani Art; 2016). Today, Gabriela’s legacy lives on through the grassroots women’s alliance named in her honour; GABRIELA (Amodei; 2007). Though she is long gone, her legacy as a true Filipina hero with immense bravery and a fierce spirit remains.
“Hers is a timeless life weaving through other longer lives like a flash of lightning in a clouded evening sky.” ― Beatriz Fitzgerald Fernandez, Shining from a Different Firmament