Macario Sakay: Hero or a Bandit?

Macario Sakay (seated 2nd from right) and his "bandits".

When fugitive general Artemio Ricarte was incarcerated by the Americans in mid-April, 1904, another Filipino rebel took over as leader of the revolutionary forces. He was Macario Sakay and he would ignite a bloody rebellion against the U.S. forces in the Southern Tagalog region from late April, 1904 to July, 1906.

But who really was Macario Sakay? Was he a bandit or a hero? For more than 80 years, Sakay was either known as a bandit to the Filipino public or he was not known at all. During my High School and College days, I couldn’t remember an instance wherein Sakay’s name was mentioned in all of our History classes. Thanks largely to the U.S. propaganda machine during the colonial period, Sakay was very successfully portrayed as a thug and a villain who deserved to be forgotten. In 1939, the award winning movie “Sakay” added much to this misconception. Sakay was portrayed as leader of brigands that roamed the mountains of Montalban, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Quezon. He and his bandit group were always looking for new towns and villages to pounce upon and pillage.

The role of Macario Sakay in the movie was played by Salvador Zaragoza while the role of his deputy, Julian Montalan was played by the enigmatic Leopoldo Salcedo. The film was directed by no less than Lamberto V. Avellana, the best movie director during that period and it was produced by Carlos P. Romulo. Whoa! The cast of Leopoldo Salcedo and Salvador Zaragoza in the movie production of Avellana and Romulo were probably enough to make the Filipino public believe the whole content of the movie. But anyway, I don’t blame these people. It was the year 1939 and it was the sign of the times, when being pro-American was “in”, and being pro-Filipino, passé or outdated.

In 1993, however, that will all change. In Raymond Reds’ movie “Sakay”, the true Sakay was portrayed- as the last revolutionary leader in the struggle against the U. S. colonial forces in the Philippines. The movie depicted Sakay as one of the original members of the Katipunan who fought alongside with Andres Bonifacio during our struggle for independence against Spain in 1896. Sakay’s revolutionary struggle continued all the way up to the Philippine-American War in 1898. Captured and later incarcerated by the Americans, Sakay was released when an amnesty was granted to all prisoners by the end of the war in 1902.

In April, 1904, however, Sakay issued a manifesto stating that all Filipinos had the fundamental right to fight for independence. Later, he established his own government called the Republica ng Katagalugan (Tagalog Republic) in opposition to U.S. colonial rule. In late 1904,

Sakay and his men took the offensive against the enemy. Using guerrilla tactics, they were successful in seizing ammunition and firearms in their raids in Cavite and Batangas. Disguised in Philippine Constabulary uniforms, they captured the U.S. military garrison in Parañaque and ran away with a large amount of revolvers, carbines, and ammunition. Sakay’s men often employed these uniforms to confuse the enemy. To counter the early successes of Sakay in the battlefield, the Philippine Constabulary and the U.S. Army started employing drastic measures like thehamletting (also used in the Vietnam War) wherein a large number of people were forcibly removed from their houses and reconcentrated in one specific area. This cruel but effective form of counter-insurgency tactic was disastrous to many families as hundreds of old people and children died from the outbreak of diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Meanwhile search and destroy missions operated relentlessly to put an end to Sakay’s rebellion. It was also believed that Muslims from Jolo as well as bloodhounds from California were brought in to join the fight against Sakay’s guerrillas. By 1905, Sakay’s Tagalog Republic was already weakened because of the continued American-led Philippine Constabulary offensive as well as the lack of support from the civilian population because of hamletting.

Later, a trap was laid out for Sakay. In a letter sent by the American governor-general promising amnesty for Sakay in exchange for his surrender, the last remaining Filipino rebel would be fooled when he agreed to the terms of the letter. On July 17, 1906, Macario Sakay was arrested when he attended a dance party which was supposed to be a reconciliation meeting. Later, he was convicted as a bandit and executed by hanging on September 13, 1907. Before his death he said, “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 were not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, Filipinas! Farewell! Long live the republic and may our independence be born in the future! Farewell! Long live Filipinas!”

Today, the 1939 movie “Sakay” which depicted him as a bandit is one of those listed in the book “Lost Films of Asia” by Nick Deocampo. Did this happen inadvertently? I do know one thing, Avellana was very sorry for depicting Sakay as a bandit in later years. Avellana added “If I were to do a picture again, I would depict Sakay as a hero because now I know better”.

Macario Sakay (seated 2nd from right) and his "bandits".
Macario Sakay (seated 2nd from right) and his “bandits”.
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