How an unheralded leader named Sakay built the ‘Tagalog Republic’

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By Anna Valmero


TONDO, METRO MANILA – Few Filipinos today are familiar with Macario Leon Sakay, the founder of the so-called ‘Tagalog Republic”. But some put him in the same league as Andres Bonifacio, the more popular revolutionary leader who founded the Katipunan.

Available historical accounts said Sakay was born in 1870 at Tabora Street in Tondo, Manila. Born out of wedlock, he used the surname of his mother. During childhood, he worked as apprentice for a calesa or horse-drawn carriage.

He acted in comedias and moro-moros, and some historians say his is where he met Bonifacio, a fellow Tondo native and the founder of the Katipunan. Later in 1894, Sakay joined the Katipunan to resist the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.

The Katipunan’s yearning for  kalayaan (freedom),  calling for the redistribution of wealth and liberty from foreign domination, inspired Sakay’s political views. Sakay founded the Nacionalista Party, but this is unrelated to the present Patrido Nacionalista ng Pilipinas (Nacionalista Party).

He became the leader of the revolutionary organization Republika ng Katagalugan in 1902, a year after Emilio Aguinaldo was captured. He and his comrades preferred to name their republic Katalugan over Filipinas or Philippines because it was associated with the Spanish colonizers.

Along with revolutionary leaders Bonifacio and General Miguel Malvar of Batangas (who set up his own government after Aguinaldo’s arrest), Sakay is often mentioned as among the “unofficial” presidents to have succeeded Aguinaldo although not recognized until today.

One of the most important contributions of Sakay to Filipino psyche is the “unity of loob”, which literally translates to a person’s inner being. This is a defining concept espoused by the Tagalog Republic’s constitution:

“Sino mang tagalog tungkol anak dito sa Kapuluang Katagalugan, ay walang itatangi sino man tungkol sa dugo gayon din sa kulay ng balat ng isa’t isa; maputi, maitim, mayaman, dukha, marunong at mangmang lahat ay magkakapantay na walang higit at kulang, dapat magkaisang loob, maaaring humigit sa dunong, sa yaman, sa ganda, datapwa’t hindi mahihigitan sa pagkatao ng sino man, at sa paglilingkod nang kahit alin.”

(Literal translation: No Tagalog, born in this Tagalog archipelago, shall exalt any person above the rest because of his race or the color of his skin; fair, dark, rich, poor, educated and ignorant all are equal, and should be one. There may be differences in education, wealth and appearance, but never in one’s essential nature and ability to serve a cause.)

Some attribute the success of Sakay’s guerilla tactics to a vest with all its religious and Latin phrases, which served as his anting-anting that protected him from bullets and other hazards of war.

Upon talks with mediator Dominador Gomez, Sakay surrendered after receiving a letter from the American governor-general promising amnesty for himself and his 30,000 men. Three days later, he and his top officers were arrested while attending a dance hosted by Acting Governor van Shaick in celebration of their surrender.

Gregorio Bituin Jr. wrote that Sakay’s surrender should not be judged as a sign of weakness but of him considering a possibility that their surrender will usher an independent government of the Philippines.

Although he was branded a bandit by the Americans and was sentenced to death by  hanging on September 13, 1907, Sakay’s dream of kalayaan is the same as that yearned for by Bonifacio and other national heroes.

After his trial under the Brigandage Act that identified all acts of armed resistance as banditry, he was sentenced to death and branded a “bandit”. Before his death, he ascended the scaffold and paused briefly to say these parting words:

“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!”

A poem entitled “Walang Katapusan ang Hibik ng Pilipinas” was written by Lamberto Antonio in honor of Sakay’s bravery. The poem details Sakay’s struggle and highlights a supposed conversation with Bonifacio during the night before the former’s execution. It was only in 2008 when a monument honoring Sakay’s bravery was unveiled in Manila.

Blogger Bert Drona, who promotes Filipino nationalism through his essays online, wrote that while only one movie in the 1990s was filmed about Sakay (played by Julio Diaz), “his story is vividly alive in the events currently shaping the Philippines.”

Another blogger Jun Panganiban Austria regarded Sakay as a legitimate president country, the fourth in the country’s history.

“The history of Sakay is imminently present and real. In this context, historical recounting is not a value-free academic task. Rather, it is an essential tool in the continuing struggle for justice and kalayaan,” wrote Drona.

“A historical retelling of these events serves not merely to commemorate and honor those who struggled and died, or to learn the lessons of the past, (both worthwhile tasks) but to generate mobilizing narratives that motivate and empower people to act now against structures of oppression and inhumanity.”

(Photo taken from Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin)


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