Ilonggos recall Freedom Day moments in ‘Cry of Santa Barbara’

Ilonggos recall Freedom Day moments in ‘Cry of Santa Barbara’
Reenactment of the "Cry of Santa Barbara" during the "Kahilwayan" Festival. —FACEBOOK PHOTO

ILOILO CITY—While the Cry of Pugad Lawin in Luzon often takes center stage in history books as the trigger event of the Filipinos’ open revolutionary struggle to gain independence from the Spanish colonial regime, another pivotal moment took place in the Visayas, specifically Panay Island.

The first sparks of rebellion flew in Barangay Jelicuon in Iloilo’s New Lucena, culminating in the historic Cry of Santa Barbara. Brave men and women gathered in the simple village of Jelicuon to plot the uprising in what is now known as the Cry of Jelicuon.

From there, the uprising spread and reached Santa Barbara to become a full-fledged revolution in Panay and, eventually, the rest of the Visayas and parts of Mindanao. 

The events have been reenacted since 2019 in Santa Barbara’s Kahilwayan Festival (Nov. 17), the name derived from the Ilonggo word “kahilwayan,” meaning freedom or independence. A vibrant dance-drama encapsulates the local revolutionary spirit and showcases the people’s courage and unity.

Flag-raising in the plaza

On Nov. 17, 1898, the Philippine flag was raised by revolutionary forces led by Gen. Martin T. Delgado in Santa Barbara’s plaza.  For the first time, the flag flew outside Luzon before a large crowd, but more than a symbolic gesture, the act was a bold declaration of the Visayan’s commitment to the fight for independence. 

Local historians cited by the state-owned Philippine News Agency narrated the following account of what might have happened during that time:

The 1896 uprising in Luzon did not spread immediately to Iloilo as the Spanish authorities believed that Ilonggos would remain loyal to the Crown, with then Governor—General Basilio Agustin even enlisting the Ilonggos to join the Volunteer Militia to fight the Tagalog rebels. 

They appointed Delgado, a “mestizo” serving as Santa Barbara’s chief executive, as commander of the “voluntaries,” not knowing that he was already a “revolucionario”. Delgado declared his stand on Oct. 28, 1898, and took the municipal building. 

Revolutionary government

Santa Barbara
Artistic rendition of one historic moment in Santa Barbara —NATIONAL HISTORICAL COMMISSION

A revolutionary government of the Visayas was organized and formally established on Nov. 17 that year during the flag-raising program at the plaza. Its officials were Roque Lopez, president; Vicente Franco, vice president and secretary of the interior; Venancio Concepcion, secretary of finance; Ramon Avanceňa, secretary of state; Jovito Yusay, secretary of justice; Julio Hernandez, secretary of war; Fernando Salas, secretary general. 

Delgado was General–in-Chief of the Revolutionary Forces, and Santa Barbara became its base from which they launched a campaign to liberate Iloilo. On Dec. 24, 1898, Governor-General de los Rios surrendered.

A year after Spain lost the archipelago, however, the Americans came. With his army, Delgado fought the new colonizers until his surrender on Feb. 2, 1901. He was appointed the first governor of Iloilo province by the Americans and kept the position after the 1903 elections

With Santa Barbara under American rule, it was established as a municipality by the Commonwealth government. Its significant role in Philippine history was recognized during the Philippine Centennial Celebration in 1998 as a National Trunk Site in the Centennial Freedom Trail.

Keeping the flame alive

Cry of Santa Barbara
“Kahilwayan” festivities —FACEBOOK PHOTO

In 2001, the Kahilwayan Festival was launched during the administration of Mayor Isabelo Maquin. It has attracted visitors and tourists, aiming to deepen their appreciation of the historic events and to promote Santa Barbara as a cultural and historical destination.

One of the festival’s highlights is the reenactment of the Cry of Santa Barbara, a dramatic performance accompanied by the stirring “Marcha Libertador” which culminates in the raising of the Philippine flag.

Santa Barbara’s dance-drama will be staged on the streets of Manila as part of this year’s celebration of Independence Day on Wednesday (June 12). 

“This is historic for us because this is the first time that we were invited to join the parade at the national level,” Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. said in a statement. 

Irene Magallon, municipal tourism officer, highlighted other meetings and uprisings across the Visayas, including the Cry of Jelicuon in New Lucena, Cry of Lincud in Dingle, the 19 Martyrs of Aklan, and the Battle of Balisong in Capiz.

“We will carry this experience through our lifetime,” she said.

Read more: Artist paints tribute to heroes in time for Independence Day

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