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Our long-haired freedom fighter

/ 04:44 AM September 16, 2019

Last week, Malacañang declared Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, as a special nonworking holiday in the Cordillera Administrative Region to commemorate the 1986 peace talks between the administration of President Cory Aquino and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army led by Fr. Conrado Balweg.

There is an even stronger reason to declare last Friday a special holiday throughout the country. It was on Friday, Sept. 13, 1907, 112 years ago, that Macario Sakay was executed by American colonial authorities allegedly for being a “bandit” under a Brigandage Act, proclaiming that captured insurgents were to be treated as bandits, robbers and ladrones. The Act also called for the arrest and execution of anyone refusing to pledge allegiance to the US government in the Philippines.

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For so long, Sakay and other freedom fighters who carried on the struggle against American colonial domination were portrayed as common criminals in order to justify continued occupation of our nation. This historical distortion — some folks prefer to call it a lie — appeared in textbooks used by public schools established by the colonial regime. It is similar to the fairy tale about how American forces supposedly captured Manila after defeating the Spaniards in a sham battle in August 1898. In truth, Filipino forces had totally surrounded the city and it was just a matter of time before Manila would fall.

Today, we remember and honor Sakay as a freedom fighter and patriot. A Senate resolution several years ago honoring Sakay’s sacrifice and martyrdom served to highlight a renewed advocacy to rectify Philippine history. In 2010, the City of Manila led by Mayor Alfredo Lim unveiled the first monument to Macario Sakay at Plaza Morga in Tondo. Six years later in 2016, AFP chief of staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri issued General Order No. 30 renaming Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna, to Camp General Macario Sakay. The name change was another step in bringing closure to one of the most serious misrepresentations in our military history. We must continue to carry out this difficult task, and we can only succeed if we know more about our heroes, particularly those whose reputations were tarnished by black propaganda depicting them as criminals because of their anti-American activities.

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Who is Macario Sakay? What was his role in the fight for freedom?

Sakay was born in Tondo, Manila, in 1870. He worked as a blacksmith, a tailor and a stage actor before joining the Katipunan Movement led by Andres Bonifacio. During the revolution against Spain, he led his men to victory in San Mateo, Rizal, while establishing his headquarters in the Marikina Montalban area. From 1902 to 1906, he continued the fight against the new colonizer, leading an effective guerrilla campaign against US forces. Vowing that he and his men would not cut their hair until freedom was achieved, Sakay kept his locks long, and this became a symbol of resistance. The “Sakay look” (long-haired and unkempt) was used by the Americans to portray him as a bandit and not a freedom fighter.

Sakay’s main area of operations was in the Southern Tagalog provinces of Rizal, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. So successful were his exploits that the Americans resorted to “hamletting” (concentrating villagers in one location for more effective control) in areas where Sakay had strong mass support. Years later, the same tactic would be applied by US forces in Vietnam.

Using an ilustrado, Dominador Gomez, to speak to Sakay, US Governor General Henry Clay Ide offered him amnesty. Part of the offer was the establishment of a Philippine Assembly as a starting point toward eventual independence. The idea appealed to Sakay and, as a result, he came down from his mountain redoubt and surrendered. It was a trap. Once he and his subordinates were disarmed, they were arrested and charged with refusing to pledge allegiance to the American government in the Philippines. On Sept. 13, 1907, Macario de Leon Sakay, the most prominent of the Filipino revolutionaries who continued the fight for independence against US forces, was hanged by American authorities in the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila.

His last words were: “We are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us. We are members of the revolutionary force defending our mother country, the Philippines. Farewell! Long Live the Republic! Long Live the Philippines!”

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