General Macario Sakay – Was He an Outlaw or a Patriot?

General Macario Sakay y de Leon was born on Mar. 1, 1878, along Tabora Street in Tondo, Manila. and died 114 years ago today on Sept. 13, 1907, at age 29. He first worked as an apprentice in a kalesa (carriage) manufacturing shop. He was also a tailor, a barber, and a stage actor.

Sakay grew up in Tondo, where he had gotton to know Andres Bonifacio. Joining the Katipunan in 1894, Sakay acted in popular Tagalog verse dramas, which were staged in different neighborhoods in Manila, thus providing the perfect cover for the young Katipunero to move about. He fought alongside Bonifacio as a Filipino general in the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. In 1899, he continued the struggle for Philippine independence against the United States.

The Philippine-American War, also called the Philippine Insurrection by the United States, was a war fought from 1899 to 1902 by forces of the First Philippine Republic (also called the Malolos Republic) under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo (1898-1901) and Gen. Miguel Malvar (1901-1902) against the American forces under the command of Gen. Elwell Otis (1899-1900) and Gen. Arthur MacArthur (1900-1901). The immediate cause of the conflict was the fatal shooting of several Filipino soldiers over the San Juan Bridge by Pvt. William Grayson, an American soldier, on Feb. 4, 1899. It officially ended with the surrender of Gen. Miguel Malvar of the Philippine Republic in Batangas on Apr. 16, 1902.

Sakay was one of the founders of the original Partido Nacionalista, founded on Aug. 21, 1901, on Calle Guano, Quiapo, Manila (unrelated to the present Nacionalista Party founded in 1907), and held the office of Secretary-General. The party sought to achieve Philippine independence through legal means. The party appealed to the Philippine Commission, but the Commission passed the Sedition Law, which prohibited any form of propaganda advocating independence.

On Jun. 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission passed the Reconcentration Camp Act, rendering official what the military had been utilizing in the field. The Act authorized any provincial governor to reconcentrate all residents of outlying barrios in the towns if “ladrones” or “outlaws” operated in these areas.

Contrary to popular belief, the Philippine resistance to American rule did not end with the capture of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on Mar. 23, 1901. Even when the main detachments of the Aguinaldo government had been defeated, armed resistance against U.S. imperialism still persisted in practically every town of the entire archipelago. The people of Bicol continued to wage armed struggle until 1903, when their leader Simeon Ola betrayed them by surrendering. In the Visayas, particularly Cebu, Samar, Leyte, and Panay, the Pulahanes fought fierce battles against the U.S. aggressor troops and the puppet constabulary. So did the masses of Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, and Quezon. In Central Luzon, a religious organization, the Santa Iglesia, also waged armed resistance. In the Ilocos, associations that proclaimed themselves as the New Katipunan conducted a guerrilla war for national independence against U.S. imperialism. As late as 1907, puppet elections could not be held in Isabela because of the people’s resistance.

Some generals refused to recognize Aguinaldo’s order to surrender and sought to continue the war for several more years, considering themselves as spiritual heirs of the Katipunan, a Philippine revolutionary society founded by Bonifacio. The most prominent of the group was led by Macario Sakay, a veteran Katipunan member who seized the leadership of the revolution. After the United States declared war in 1902, Sakay and his men continued resistance to the U.S. They conducted guerrilla raids in Bulacan, Pampanga, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, and Rizal that lasted for several years. Early in the Philippine-American War, Sakay was jailed for seditious activities and was set free later. However, he continued to oppose U.S. sovereignty.

Sakay established the Tagalog Republic in 1902 somewhere in the mountains of Rizal province. Tagalog Republic, otherwise known as Republika ng Katagalugan, or Republika ng Kapuluang Katagalugan, referred to Kapuluan to include all the islands of the Philippines from Luzon to Mindanao.

Taking over the Morong – Nueva Ecija command and assigning his deputies to take charge of the other Tagalog regions, Sakay wrote a constitution in which traitors, or supporters of the enemy, were to be punished with exile, imprisonment, or death. It aimed as a continuation of Bonifacio’s Katipunan government in contrast to Aguinaldo’s Republic. Expressing ideas similar to those in Malvar’s proclamation of April 1901, Sakay called for unity among all Filipinos in the struggle against the Americans and decried the tendency of the upper classes to look down on the lower classes.

Countering U.S. efforts to brand Filipino fighters as brigands, General Sakay declared himself Supreme President of the Philippines in 1903 and decreed that “anybody who contributes or gives aid and comfort to the government of the United States of America will be considered a traitor to this native land.”

Sakay issued his first military circulars and presidential orders as “President and Commander-in-Chief” in 1903. Sakay’s military circular No. 1 was dated May 5, 1903, and his Presidential Order No. 1 was dated Mar. 18, 1903.

In April 1904, Sakay issued a manifesto declaring Filipino right to self-determination at a time when support for independence was considered a crime by the American colonial government.

By 1905, Sakay had developed a following among the rural populace of southwestern Luzon. Sakay was based in the mountains of Morong (today, the province of Rizal).

Concerned about Sakay, the bands that followed him, and the growing rural unrest, the Philippine Commission decided in late January 1905 to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in both Batangas and Cavite. In subsequent months, it ordered that the inhabitants of several barrios of Taal, Tanauan, Santo Tomas, Nasugbu, and other towns be concentrated to protect peaceable citizens and prevent the furnishing of supplies to the ladrones. Intensified military operations by the Constabulary, assisted by U.S. Army units, resulted in the capture, killing, or surrender of most of the leaders of Sakay’s Republic. Continuing operations by U.S. troops forced Sakay to move, and eventually, he agreed to yield.

In 1905, Filipino labor leader Dominador Gómez was authorized by Governor-General Henry Clay Ide to negotiate for the surrender of Sakay and his men. Gómez met with Sakay at his camp and argued that Sakay’s intransigence was holding up the establishment of a national assembly and that its establishment would be the first step toward Filipino independence. Sakay agreed to end resistance on the condition that a general amnesty is granted to his men, that they are permitted to carry firearms, and that he and his officers be allowed to leave the country. Gómez assured Sakay that these conditions would be acceptable to the Americans, and Sakay’s emissary, General León Villafuerte, obtained an agreement from the American Governor-General.

Sakay believed that the struggle had shifted to constitutional means and that the establishment of the assembly composed of Filipinos who would serve as the “gate of freedom” was a means to win independence. As a result, he and his followers came down from the mountains of Cavite on Jul. 20, 1906 – four years after the war was officially declared over and ending the Tagalog Republic in 1906.

With Villafuerte, Sakay traveled to Manila, where they were welcomed and invited to receptions and banquets at the governor’s residence. One invitation came from the Constabulary Chief, American Colonel Harry H. Bandholtz, to a party in Cavite hosted by the acting governor Colonel Louis J. Van Schaick on Jul. 17. It was a trap. While the party was in progress, Sakay and his principal lieutenants were disarmed and arrested for crimes under the Brigandage Act. They were incarcerated at the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila and quickly brought to trial.

At his trial, Sakay was accused of bandolerismo under the Brigandage Act of Nov. 12, 1902, which interpreted all acts of armed resistance to American rule as banditry. Not surprisingly, he was found guilty. The American colonial Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld the decision. Sakay was convicted and sentenced to death and hanged on Sept. 13, 1907.

Before his death, the revolutionary general declared to the small crowd of witnesses (mostly prison guards and employees):

“Death comes to all of us sooner or later, so I will face the Lord Almighty calmly. But I want to tell you that we are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, the Philippines! Farewell! Long live the Republic, and may our independence be born in the future! Long live the Philippines!”

He was buried at Manila North Cemetery later that day.

Eliminating these men did not end the rural disturbance in Batangas and the southern Tagalog region. Bands continued to roam the hills, and millenarian organizations continued to gain adherent.

A life-sized statue of Sakay was unveiled at the Plaza Morga in Tondo by the Manila Historical Heritage Commission on Sept. 13, 2008, the 101st anniversary of his death. That same month, the Senate adopted two separate resolutions honoring Sakay’s life and his fellow freedom fighters for their contribution to the cause of independence.

In January 2016, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri issued General Order No. 30, changing Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna, to Camp General Macario Sakay.


Battle for Batangas – Glenn Anthony May

A History of the Philippines by Luis H. Francia



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