‘King of the Philippines’
Independence in a box—that was what Ruperto Rios promised his followers in Tayabas at the turn of the 20th century, when the Philippines was passed from Spain to the United States, making a stillborn babe of the Malolos Republic. One report on the Philippine resistance to US rule mentions outlaws, bandits, ladrones, and fanatics that we read little about in our textbooks, especially the fanatics:
“Sorsogon suffered from fanatics under Antonio Colache, organized under the name of Anting-Anting. Colache had served in the Spanish army and had been a lieutenant under Aguinaldo during the revolution. After his capture by the 47th Infantry he returned to his home and went into the hemp business but, becoming involved in debt, turned bandit.
“Tayabas was cursed with the presence of Pope Rios; Leyte with Popes Faustino Alden and Rios; Pampanga and Nueva Ecija with the Santa Iglesia Movement under Felipe Salvador, and Cebu and Samar with the Pulajanes… Pope Rios was typical of the fanatical leaders. He represented himself to be an inspired prophet and found little difficulty in imposing himself upon the ignorant and incredulous people of the district in which he started his operations. He established what he designated as an ‘Exterior Municipal Government’ and surrounded himself with a staff consisting of one captain-general, one lieutenant-general, 25 major generals, 50 brigadier generals, and a long list of minor officers. He declared himself the Generalissimo and Viceroy and announced his intention to drive the Americans out of the islands and constitute himself as King of the Philippines. He later announced himself as the Son of God. Still later he was hanged for his crimes.”
Harry Hill Bandholtz, Philippine Constabulary chief (1905-1913), claimed the disbanding of the Rios Movement in Tayabas as one of his achievements. When Ruperto Rios announced that he would enter Atimonan on Aug. 8 (1902) and there be crowned king of the Philippines, Bandholtz reported: “Before that date, however, I had personally visited Atimonan and effected the arrest of about eighty of his high ranking officials, and the coronation was postponed indefinitely.”
Historians are fortunate that Bandholtz produced detailed reports that provide more about Rios:
“As Hijo de Dios (Son of God), he received confessions and granted absolutions considerably below market price, and which he claimed were much more efficacious than those dispensed by an ordinary padre.
“On one occasion he built a fire under a tree, and, by means of a rope, descended through the smoke announcing he had just arrived from Heaven. He is also understood to have done a thriving anting-anting business, which, however did not prevent many of his followers permanently retiring from business owing to being perforated by constabulary bullets.
“For some time he carried with him a box on the cover of which was painted the word, Independencia, and which was guarded by three picked virgins. He stated to the ignorant barrio people that the Filipinos had for a long time been struggling for independence which he now had in his possession, and that as soon as he was convinced that his followers deserved it, he would remove the lid from the box, ‘Independencia’ would jump out, they could catch her, and be every afterwards happy.
“Another idea which these people had of independence was that once acquired, it would mean a go-as-you-please life; no taxes, no jails, and that each man could help himself to whatever he desired. Rios frequently concealed himself at night and would appear in the morning announcing to his followers that he had spent the evening in conversation with the Emperors of Russia and Germany, and the President of France, and that these potentates would soon send over large fleets which would distribute 10,000 arms with necessary ammunition on the shores of Tayabas province.”
Rios was dismissed as a madman by the US colonial authorities and forgotten by Philippine history. But his tragic and comic story should be revisited to see if his definition or understanding of the words “independencia,” “kalayaan,” and “kasarinlan” is the same as ours in the 21st century.
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