The Battle of Bangkusay, June 3, 1571
On June 3, 1571, Muslim warriors from Macabebe and Hagonoy, ancient communities north of Manila Bay controlling the mouth of Pampanga River (now part of the Provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan), riding in 40 ancient Southeast Asian colossal warboats called caracoas, fought the newly arrived Spanish invaders in Luzon led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Rajah Sulayman, Rajah Matanda, and Lakan Dula already sided with the Spaniards but were waiting for the result of the battle. Hundreds of Visayan tattooed warriors aided the Spaniards in this naval battle by the Manila Bay. A fierce battle ensued; unfortunately, the native forces did not withstand the Spanish Army’s might and owing to advanced firearms, the Spaniards emerged victorious. The leader of the combined native warriors was killed and the rest of his men escaped and fled. When the battle ended, the Macabebes and Manilan natives were forced to accept Spanish sovereignty. When peace was established, Legazpi resolved with the agreement of the captains and the religious to establish a city on the site of Manila.
As early as 1570, the Spanish forces headed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi heard of news about a rich kingdom in the northern part of the Philippines. Plans to conquer the said kingdom were immediately set and on 30 May 1570, an expedition consisted of 600 natives of the Visayan Islands and 120 Spaniards commanded by Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo left Panay and headed to the northern part of the Philippines.
Manila during the time was a flourishing Moslem kingdom under Rajah Sulayman. It was situated in the south side of the mouth of the Pasig River and being defended by a wooden fort. The area of Tondo, on the other hand was being ruled by Lakandula.
When the Spaniards arrived in Manila, they were initially accepted by the natives and their leaders, but when Sulayman learned that friendship with the Spaniards meant vassalage, he and his followers became hostile. An initial battle took place on May 24, 1570 where the natives were defeated and retreated. On the other hand, the Spanish forces returned to Panay to report to Legazpi what they have discovered in the northern part of the islands.
After a year, Legazpi headed the Second Conquest of Manila. He left Panay with 27 vessels, 280 Spaniards and several hundred Visayan auxiliaries. On May 6 1571, Legazpi landed in Manila and took possession of the kingdom. Three native chiefs, including Laya and Lakandula declared themselves friends of Spain, but Sulayman at first showed hesitation and appeared before Legazpi only in May 18 to make peace with the Spaniards. The following week after his arrival, Legazpi released an edict in accordance to the king’s command that lands would be given to those who desire to settle in the City of Manila which he was founding in the name of His Majesty. These events were followed by a short period of peace. Soon enough, natives from other kingdoms/provinces insulted the Manilans by telling them that if the Spaniards would come to their place they would be received well in a battle. These natives also tried to influence village leaders, and in a few days, the Manilans tried to wage a war against the Spaniards. In a few days, thousands of warriors from Agonoy and Macabebe met in Tondo headed by a “brave youth” whose name was not mentioned (though accounts of Gregorio Zaide referred to him as Torik Sulayman, while other authors decided to maintain that it was Rajah Sulayman who headed the uncompromising natives from Bulacan and Pampanga and the other Manilans). Whether the identified “Brave Youth” was Rajah Sulayman or Torik Sulayman, is not a big deal at all, what matters most was there was a 16th century native from the islands who led a resistance against a formidable colonizer. Several warriors from nearby provinces were said to reach Manila through an estuary known as Bankusay Channel.
When the news about the coming of the warriors reached Legazpi, he ordered Lakandula to convince the uncompromising natives to cooperate with the Spaniards. Unfortunately, the “brave youth” who headed the group vehemently refused and declared that he and his people would never be friends to the Castilians.
When Legazpi learned about the incidence, he reckoned that he would not allow the said native warrior to find glory in challenging the Spain. He ordered his man to prepare for a battle. On June 3, 1571, the Spanish Forces embarked in search for native warriors in Bankusay.
The Battle of Bankusay remains to be historic and significant event in history, despite of the failure of the natives to expel the colonizers. It was the last or if not one of the last resistance of the natives of Manila against the Spaniards. The battle’s conclusion was deemed one of the major driving forces why Legazpi decided to establish the City of Manila.
The City of Manila leads the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the Valor at Bangkusay today. The National Historical Commission of the Philippines will unveil a historical marker at Tondo, Manila in memory of the heroes and martyrs of this fateful event on June e, 1571. National Artists Carlos Quirino and Nick Joaquin memorialized the event as a special day in Philippine history as equally significant struggle of our ancestors against colonization. In 2011, the Province of Bulacan declared June 3 of every year as Araw ng mga Bayaning Bulakenyo. In 2016, NHCP recognized the unnamed commander of the armada in Macabebe, Pampanga by way of a historical marker. It, thus, corrected the misconception that Rajah Sulayman was the one martyred in the Battle of Bangkusay. Three years later, the Office of the President of the Philippines declared June 3 as special non-working holiday in Macabebe known as Aldo ning Macabebe (Macabebe Day). In 2021, the National Quincentennial Committee, through Proclamation No. 1128, s. 2021, included the 450th anniversary of the Valor at Bangkusay as one of the activities for the Year of Filipino Pre-Colonial Ancestors.
San Agustin, Gaspar de. “Conquistas delas Islas Filipinas.” Manila: San Agustin Museum, 1998.
“Relation of the Conquest of Luzon and other Islands, Manila 20 April 1572” The Philippine Islands, Vol. VIII.
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