On August 29, the whole Philippines will celebrate National Heroes’ Day. This is my personal nod to all the men and women who fought and continue to fight bravely for the sake of our country, national heroes or not.
The Battle of San Juan del Monte
On August 30, 1896, prompted by the discovery of Katipunan by the Spanish, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto led the Katipuneros in capturing El Polvorin or the Spanish powder magazine in San Juan del Monte. The powder would have given the Katipuneros the much needed boost in their quest for independence from Spanish rule. Armed only with bolo, bamboo spears, anting-anting (amulets) and a handful of guns, the Katipuneros faced the Spanish contingent who toted superior weapons. Unlike in movies where the underdogs lived to fight another day, 153 Katipuneros died and 200 more were captured by Spanish soldiers who were assisted by Filipino soldiers who fought under the Spanish flag. There was no happy ending for these men.
It was a huge setback for Bonifacio’s faction of Katipuneros, which contributed to his downfall as the leader of Katipunan, but that failed attempt to take over El Polvorin is one of the most important failures in Philippine history. It is called the Battle of San Juan del Monte, which is considered the catalyst of Philippine revolution. In less than two years after the Battle of San Juan del Monte, Philippines declared its independence from Spain.
In order to remember the heroics of the Katipuneros who fought courageously at the Battle of San Juan del Monte, Pinaglabanan Shrine was erected along a street that bears its name in San Juan City. “Pinaglabanan” is the Filipino word for “fought over”. The statue on top of a concrete elevated ground is so simple, it reminds of the image most Filipino students normally associate with Bonifacio, the camisa de Chino, the red bandanna wrapped around his neck, the rolled up black pants, and the raised hand with a bolo.
The Battle of Pinaglabanan Statue has that raised bolo, synonymous with the Katipuneros and their weapon of choice – the bolo. Diwa ng 1896 (Memory of 1896) pertains to the Battle of San Juan del Monte.
The Battle of Pinaglabanan Marker says, “Sa pook na ito naganap ang makasaysayang labanan ng mga Pilipino at Kastila noong 30 Agosto 1896. Dito unang sumalakay ang mga Katipunero sa pamumuno nina Andres Bonifacio at Emilio Jacinto. Sa labanang ito, na kinasawian ng 153 Katipunero, ipinakilala ng mga Pilipino na handa silang mag-alay ng kanilang buhay alang-alang sa kalayaan ng Inang Bayan.” (In this site happened the historic encounter between Filipinos and Spanish on August 30, 1896. Here, the Katipuneros led by Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto drew first blood. In this battle, which saw the deaths of 153 Katipuneros, the Filipinos showed that they were willing to give their lives for the freedom of Motherland. English translation is mine.)
The Pinaglabanan (Battleground) marker says: “So called since at this crossing the first fight between commoner Andres Bonifacio’s unarmed men, 800 strong and a company of Spanish troops, 100 strong artilleros, all Spaniards and well armed took place at dawn on August 30th 1896. Bonifacio lost 153 of his men and 3 artilleros including the commanding officer were shot down by Bonifacio’s only shooting gun. The Spaniards withdrew to the old Depósito (the only reservoir for the city water) and the commoner’s men advanced towards Sta. Mesa until they were met by the reinforcement from Manila consisting of the famous Regiment 73, all Filipinos, with the exception of the officers and petty officers, when by order of Andres Bonifacio they marched to Mandaloyon and tried unsuccessfully to enter Manila from Sta. Mesa at Calle Cordeleria.
120 years after the Battle of San Juan del Monte, the Filipinos still fight with antiquated weapons, far superior than the bolos of the Katipuneros but still undeniably not in the same league as the weapons of the armed forces of other countries.
For more information about Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan, please read Museo ng Katipunan.