Bankusay refers to the Bankusay creek located off the north shore of Manila Bay. It was here where the bloody Battle of Bankusay took place in 1571, a battle which would immortalize the heroism and extraordinary courage of a young warrior whose name continues to elude the Filipino consciousness.
While several Filipino patriots sacrificed their lives and performed heroic deeds to free the Filipinos from foreign oppressors, some events and people remained unsung, not given proper credit or merely forgotten. Among the battles fought by Filipinos that seemed unremembered was the Battle of Bankusay on June 3, 1571. It was a naval engagement that marked the last or if not one of the last resistance of the natives against the Spanish Empire’s occupation and colonization of the Pasig River delta which had been the site of the indigenous polities of Maynila and Tondo.
Macabebe, an ancient town in the province of Pampanga is geographically situated along the shores of Pampanga River (Rio Grande de la Pampanga). The river’s routes and its northern tributaries provided the pathways to the early major settlements in Pampanga. Some called it Macabibi because the river was abundantly grown with corals and shells (bibi) during the early times. The Macabebes were originally known as Kapampangans. During the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines, Macabebe was considered one of the oldest and most important communities of Pampanga.
While it is not highlighted in Philippine history, the first Filipino martyr who fought for freedom against the Spanish rule was a Kapampangan, (a native of Pampanga Province) and a Macabebe in particular. When Spanish forces under the leadership of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed on the shores of Manila in June 1571, the Tagalog chiefs namely Rajah Matanda, Lakan Dula and Rajah Soliman welcomed them.
Not too distant from Manila was the pre-Hispanic Kapampangan settlement ruled by a young datu who would be known in history as Tarik Soliman or Sulaiman. When Legaspi sent out word to the chiefs of the surrounding country demanding that they too pay allegiance to the king of Spain, it was Tarik Soliman, a Macabebe who raised a fist of defiance against the invaders.
Tarik Soliman also called Bambalito, the chief of Macabebe tribe, exploded with fury and refused to be friends to the Castillians. He called on the chieftains of Pampanga and Bulacan to join forces with him in driving the foreign devils away. A fleet of 40 karakoas (ancient warships) was assembled, each equipped with cannon. Tarik Soliman with his troops of 2,000 composed of Macabebe, Hagonoy of Bulacan and Kapampangan warriors set sail down Pampanga River to Manila on May 31, 1571.
He tried to convince Lakan Dula of Tondo to join his campaign but the latter had already pledge his loyalty to the Spaniards, together with Rajah Matanda and Rajah Soliman of Manila.
Upon their arrival, Legazpi sent two representatives to Lakan Dula’s camp where Tarik Soliman’s troop was to convince Tarik Soliman of their real intentions and talk him out of his plan of an all-out war against the Spaniards. Legazpi’s wishes fell on deaf ears. It dawned on Legazpi that the young Kapampangan warrior was really in the mood to fight so he immediately ordered his troop of 27 vessels, 280 Spaniards and 600 native allies to face the furious Pampanga warrior in Bankusay Channel in Tondo.
On June 3, 1571, a fierce battle ensued. Unfortunately, the native forces could not match the Spanish Army’s might. Bambalito was killed and the rest of his men escaped and fled. After their defeat in the Battle of Bankusay, the Macabebes and Manila natives were forced to accept Spanish sovereignty.
When peace was established, Legaspi was able to establish a municipal government for Manila on June 24, 1571 which eventually became the capital of the entire Spanish East Indies colony and subsequently the capital of the Philippines.
Kapampangans slowly submitted themselves to the colonizers, culminating in the declaration of La Pampanga as Spain’s first province in Luzon in December, 1571. The same people who once defied Spanish rule would later serve as mercenaries for the Spaniards. They would fight against the Chinese pirate Limahong, the Moros, the Dutch, and the British.
It should be noted that “Tarik Soliman” is not the real document name of our young Kapampangan hero. It first appeared as “Toric Soleiman” in Pedro Paterno’s Historia de Filipinos and has since been widely used to prevent people from confusing him with Manila’s Rajah Soliman.
Tarik Soliman may not be the first documented hero who fought against the invaders (Lapu-Lapu holds that distinction), but he was the first martyr killed while fighting for their freedom.
So each time you read about Philippine heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio and Lapu-Lapu, remember that before the Spaniards completely deprived the Filipinos of their freedom, a young man, a brave hero and extraordinary warrior chose to stand up and fight for what he believed was right.
The Manila Times, July 5, 2014
National Historical Commission of the Philippines website