06 Nov 1621: The Gaddang Revolt 400 Years Ago Today

Reasons behind and impact of the rebellion

In his book, Fr. Pedro V. Salgado, O.P. stated that the Spaniards who conquered the Philippines expected the Indios to provide them with food, comfort, and wealth, thereby imposing, among others, the system of Encomienda. Under this system, a Spaniard was entrusted with the care of a number of natives of a given area, with the latter being obliged of providing tributes or taxes that have become more and more exorbitant. The early Nueva Vizcaya natives called the Spaniards robbers to their faces. A Spanish account of 1592 recorded the natives’ words, thus: “When asked if they had enemies, they answered, “Yes, we would have them if we would leave our land to commit depredations. But we are not like you Castilians, who rob everywhere.” They recognize no king among themselves, or any other sovereignty than to have a chief in each village, who is overall, and whom all of that one village alone recognize.

By Spanish law, every male Indio between the ages of 16 and 60, with the exception of the chieftains and their eldest sons, were obliged to serve for 40 days each year in forced labor or polo, but in actual practice could last for months and months. More often than not, the natives worked without pay and were whipped and beaten for what the Spanish overseers considered or imagined as negligence or laziness.

The Spanish local leaders also wielded virtually all the powers in the province, i.e., executive, judicial, legislative, and military, not to mention their monopolization of trade.

These, among others, precipitated the launching of uprisings among the natives.

Fr. Salgado wrote that the revolt led by Felipe Cuntapay and his brother Gabriel Dayag removed Spanish rule from Isabela for more than 100 years. Of their victory, the Spaniard friar and historian Julian Malumbres, O.P. said: “The most transcendental rebellion in the region was that launched by the Gaddangs in 1621 since with it the civilization from Tuguegarao to Furao (in Gamu) was paralyzed for more than a century, if one makes an exception of Cabagan which came to be re-established in 1646 from the remains of the rebelling villages.” The first Spanish pueblo in southern Isabela came to be established only in 1737, more than one hundred fifty years after the erection of the City of Manila. Bayombong had its first mass celebrated only on April 12, 1739 by a certain Fr. Pedro Freire, an Augustinian.

The Rebellion

Here’s an account of the revolt against the Spaniards launched in 1621 by the Gaddangs of northern Luzon.

This uprising of a large number of Gaddangs against the Spaniards happened on November 6, 1621 in the most distant parts of the province of Nueva Segovia, in the region known as Irraya. The revolutionaries burned the villages and avowed themselves enemies of the Spaniards. Practically all those in this village, and many of those in another near it called Pilitan, belonged to a tribe called Gaddangs.

This tribe was always regarded as more devoted to freedom, and enemies to subjection. It was these Gaddangs then who became restless, and disquieted the other inhabitants of that region. Though these others had always been very faithful to the Spaniards, they now joined the insurgents, partly as the result of force shown by the Gaddangs, for the latter greatly excelled them in numbers, and caught them unprepared for defense, and partly also being carried away by their own natural desire for liberty, to which they were invited by the safety of the mountains where they were proposed to go. The mountains, being very rough, offered opportunities for easy defense and, being very fertile, promised them an abundant living.

The Gaddangs had planned this revolt far ahead and had appointed a day for it to occur sometime later. Their purpose was to try to get back first certain chiefs who were held as hostages in the city of the Spaniards, and they had already sent there one of their chiefs, named Saquin, who had the influence of a father over the rest.

It happened that the father vicar of Abbuatan had grown weary of his work, and wished to resign his office. He had gone down at that time to the city to ask the father provincial, who happened to be there then, to give this office to someone else and to permit him to take some rest by being under his directions.

The Gaddangs thought that he had detected their purpose of rising, and had gone down to ask for soldiers to prevent it. Anxious of interference, they hastened on their plan and, without waiting for the appointed period or for the return of him who had gone down for the hostages (their relatives), they decided to rise at once. Without further deliberation or delay, they began active operations.

Fr. Alonso Hernandez who was at Abbuatan heard the tumult, and being above measure sad at what was happening, he tried his best to quiet them. He told them how foolish their proceedings were, citing the many temporal advantages that they possessed in their trade with the Spaniards as well as with the rest of the Indians in which they gained so much that they were the richest and most prosperous Indians in that entire region. All this, he said, along with their own quiet, peace, and comfort would be destroyed by their rising, while if they keep quiet they would preserve it all for he assured them that no harm would happen to them for what they intended to do.

But the chiefs who led the insurgents said to him that he should not waste his time by talking about this and that it was now too late since they were determined to carry on what they had begun.

“What is it that moves you to so imprudent an act? If we have done you any wrong, you have me here in your power. Revenge it upon me, take my life in payment for it.”, said the priest.

“It is not because of any wrong from the priests, or resentment toward them,” said the Indians, “but because we are weary of the oppressive acts of the Spaniards. Depart hence in peace for though it is true that our rising is not against the priests, we cannot promise that some drunken Indians may attempt to take off your head.”

The priest perceived the obstinacy of the Gaddangs, and the fact that arguments would be useless in this matter, he went away to watch over the village of Pilitan, which was under his care. That early Sunday morning, he found the place quiet, but that peace continued only for a very short time as he heard a very great noise and a loud Indian war cry. The Indians came in a crowd, after their ancient custom, naked, thickly anointed with oil, and with weapons in their hands. These were the insurgents from Abbuatan, coming to influence the Indians of Pilitan to join the uprising, in order that they might have more strength to resist the Spaniards when the latter should wage war upon them to bring them to subjection.

One of the chiefs who were leading the insurgents, named Don Felipe Cuntapay, a young man of about twenty-three, came forward. He had been brought up from infancy in the church with the religious, and when he was a mere child had aided in mass as sacristan, and afterward as cantor. At this time, he was governor of Abbuatan. He went direct to the church to speak to the priest, intending to inform him as to what they were about to do and to advise him to go down the river for fear that someone might get beyond control and harm him.

While he was talking with the religious in the cloister, his elder brother, named Don Gabriel Dayag, who was acting as a guide to the others, came in. Being somewhat agitated, he approached the priest with little courtesy. Cuntapay rebuked him for the way in which he was acting, saying to him that he should remember that he was before the father, to whom he owed more respect. The elder brother answered: “Cuntapay, if our minds are divided we shall do nothing.” However, he grew calm and behaved respectfully in the presence of the priest.

The shouting increased, and there were now in the courtyard of the church about eight hundred Indians armed and prepared for battle. The priest roused his courage and, laying aside all fear, went out to them. Standing in the midst of this multitude, he caused them to sit down and addressed them for more than an hour. He urged upon them what would be for their good, and endeavored to persuade them to see the great error into which they were falling. Among other things, he said: “My sons, whom I have so long been, and to whom I have so many years preached, I am greatly grieved to see the mistaken path which you take, casting yourselves over precipices where destruction is certain, and from which your rescue is difficult. If your wish to secede is on account of the bad treatment which you have received from us priests and from me in particular, as being less prudent than others, here you have me alone and defenseless. Slay me then. Let me pay with my life that which you are about to do.”

Some of them made the same answer as before, that they had not done this because of ill-will toward the priests, but on the contrary, they felt for them affection and love and therefore did not intend to do them any harm. This they said was plain because, although they had him alone in the midst of them, no one was rude to him, and even in the midst of the tumult showed him respect. “The reason of our uprising,” they said, “is that we are weary of the oppressions of the Spaniards and if you or any other priest desire to come to our villages, any one of you may come whenever you please, providing you do not bring a Spaniard.”

The priest responded by offering that the Spaniards would do them no harm, especially for what they had already done, promising to remain among them as security, so that they might take away his life if the least harm should come to them from that cause.

But they were very far indeed from accepting his advice, and some of them went away and set fire to some houses, upon which a great outcry arose in the village.

Cuntapay stood up and rebuked what had been done, saying that it was very ill-considered and a daring outrage to set fire. “I call your attention,” he said, “to the fact that the father is in the village, and so long as he is here nothing should be done to grieve him.” He then commanded people to go and put out the fire and to calm the village.

The priest began to preach to them again, but though there were so many people before him, he was preaching in the desert, and hence could accomplish nothing with them.

They asked the father to depart and to take with him the silver and ornaments of the sacristy of this church and of that of Abbuatan. This was no small generosity from an excited body of insurgents. They provided him with boats, and men to row them, and the friars went down the river to the friendly villages.

The insurgents immediately began to do some acts of an uprising and threatened those who oppose them. The result was that many joined them, being forced by the fear of death or thought of liberty from Spanish subjection.

A few of the villagers who decided not to join stayed put and went down the river after the fathers, some leaving their sons and others their fathers.

There was one chief who, spurning his wealth and his gold, left it all and came with the priest, taking with him only his wife. His name was Don Bernabe Lumaban.

Doña Agustina Pamma, who was a member of one of the noblest families of the region and the wife of one of the chiefs, hid in a marsh, standing in it up to her neck that she might be left behind. However, she was discovered and taken along by the insurgents. Nevertheless, she was safe and went on to live for a long time.

The insurgents did not cease until they had convinced all the villages in their vicinity.

In the village of Abuatan, they sacked the church and the sacristy and made a jest and derision of the things which they found there.

They treated irreverently that which they had a little before reverenced: the women put on the frontals as petticoats [sayas], and of the corporals and the palls of the chalices they made head-kerchiefs. They dressed themselves in the habits of the religious and even went so far as to lose their respect for the image of the Virgin. The feet and hands of this image were of ivory, and it was one of the most beautiful in that whole province and in all the islands.

There was one man who dared to give it a slash across the nose, saying, “Let us see if she will bleed.” They also committed other sacrileges, and even greater ones, as a ferocious tribe of apostates. Afterward an Indian, finding an opportunity to flee from them to a Catholic region, did so. He carried with him the holy image of the Virgin of the Rosary which had been slashed across the face.

The man who at that time used to collect the tributes/taxes went up when he heard this news, to try to bring them back by argument, was killed by the Indians.

The Peacekeeping Friar

One of those who were most grieved by this disastrous uprising was Fr. Pedro de Sancto Thomas, for he had dwelt for a long time among this tribe, and had been the vicar and superior of those churches and loved each one of the insurgents as his spiritual son.

He was determined to remedy the situation as completely as he could, without shirking from any danger or effort for the purpose.

The places where the insurgents went to had been selected as particularly strong and secure, and were in the midst of mountains so high and craggy that they might be defended from the Spaniards, if the latter should try to attack them. Hence the journey to them was long and excessively difficult.

Yet, in spite of this, without hesitating at the hardships of the road, and at the great danger which he ran by passing through villages of Indians with whom he was not acquainted, and who were generally looking out for an opportunity to cut off some head, he made his way through everything. He went to them alone, tried to arrange for bringing them back, and made agreements with them. Spaniards dared not to appear among the Indians for they were certainly be killed.

Fr. Pedro however was admitted and entertained and, early in the following year (1622), he was able to bring back in peace with him some three hundred households of those who had rebelled. These had gone with the body of insurgents from the villages of Pilitan and Bolo. (Pilitan, Bolo, and Abbuatan are larger and older in the faith, such as each of which had two thousand inhabitants or more.) Most of them had been persuaded to do so, as has been said, and they were accordingly brought back as a result of the earnest efforts and the courageous boldness of Fr. Pedro.

Returning to a pacified region, they were settled at the mouth of the river of Maquila. After this was accomplished, he went further up the river of Balisi, where it was most difficult, with the alcalde-mayor and the troops who were advancing against the rebels.

The leader of the uprising, Don Gabriel Dayag, came to him and kissed his scapular with great reverence, and embraced him. Don Gabriel planned to return, and although at that time he did not carry it out, he finally came down in peace later and revealed to the father some ambuscades on the road in some dangerous passes where the Indians intended to kill the Spanish soldiers, which danger was avoided by his information.

Fr. Pedro paid little attention to his bodily health, and the hardships which he endured were most trying. His exhausted strength was insufficient to resist so severe a disease, and they accordingly had him carried down to be cared for in the city of Nueva Segovia. Being nothing but skin and bone, he was like a living image of death. He died on the day of St. Peter the Apostle.

In the provincial chapter, the following record was entered on the minutes: “In the convent of our father St. Dominic at Nueva Segovia, died the reverend Fr. Pedro de Sancto Thomas, an aged priest and father, vicar of Irraya. He was beloved by God and man, and most observant of the rules of the order and, although he suffered from disease, yet he underwent the greatest hardships for the conversion of the Indians and for sustaining them in the faith.”

The 21st Century

In early 2006, the Philippine Embassy in Madrid and the Provincial Government of Nueva Vizcaya (PGNV) started collaborating to undertake a number of initiatives to strengthen the links between Nueva Vizcaya and its namesake province in northern Spain.

Due to the historical and cultural ties between the two provinces, the leaders of both sides have enthusiastically endorsed the deepening and expansion of relations in such areas as education and labor.

For the next two years, several delegations have in fact visited Nueva Vizcaya which laid the foundation for the visit of Nueva Vizcaya officials to Vizcaya and the adjoining province of Alava in January 2009, employment of 15 Nueva Vizcaya nurses in Vizcaya, and exchanges of faculty and students between the Universidad del Pais Vasco (UPV) and Nueva Vizcaya’s Aldersgate College (AC), Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU) and Saint Mary’s University (SMU). #jlc


[1] The Project Gutenberg eBook of the “The Philippine Islands 1493-1898”, Volume XXXII, 1640, Fr. Diego Aduarte, Edited and Annotated by Emma Helen Blair, and James Alexander Robertson

(Fr. Aduarte died in 1636, but the events subsequent to 1634, with a sketch of his life, are added by the hand of his editor, Fr. Domingo Gonçalez. The period of mission history here, which covers 1608–1637, includes the November 6, 1621 revolt launched by the Gadanes/ Gaddangs in northern Luzon, of which a full account is given.)

[2] Cagayan Valley and Eastern Cordillera 1581-1898, Volumes I and II, Pedro V. Salgado, O.P., Quezon City, 2002

(In this book, Fr. Salgado cites chronicles of Spanish Colonialism in Cagayan Valley and Eastern Cordillera, along with the hardships, virtues, and victories of our out-financed and out-gunned forebears.)

[3] Historia de Cagayan, Fr. Julian Malumbres, O.P., Manila, 1918

[4] Report on the Visit of Nueva Vizcaya Officials to Spain, Bayombong, 2009

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