On this day, one hundred twenty one years ago, the Battle of Catubig took place. It was a four-day encounter between the Filipino troops and American forces belonging to the 43rd US Infantry. This battle ("siege" according to other sources) preceeded the notable Balangiga Encounter that would happen a year later.

The Philippine-American War in Samar began when American warships was sighted in Calbayog and then nine warships arrived in Catbalogan on 27 January 1900. On the next day, General Vicente Lukban ordered a retreat when reinforcement from other towns did not arrived. On 29 January of the same year, the retreating forces arrived in Blanca Aurora, General Lukban gave orders for his men to be disguised in the said barrio and they marched day and night until they reached at the foot of Mt. Huraw in San Jose de Buan.
General Lukban raised four battalions: The First Battalion was placed under the command of Col. Narciso Abuke and was assigned to the mountains of Calbayog. The Second Battalion was established in the Gandara-Catbalogan mountains under the command of Col. Claro Guevarra who was also promoted as the second in over-all Command of the Filipino Forces in the province. The Third Battalion was based in the northern part of Samar under the command of Marcos Espina. The Fourth Battalion was established in the eastern coast under the command of Capt. Acedillo.
General Lukban moved the seat of the Filipino government to Matuguinao where he also established a maestranza that manufactured cartridges and ammunition. He succeeded in consolidating the local governments and mobilized them to support the war with the Americans.
Starting in the 1900, the Americans occupied churches and convents as they garrisoned the other towns. Starting in the month of March of the same year, there were Filipino victories recorded such as in Paranas and in Oras. But among the early encounters with Filipino troops and the invading forces of Americans was the Siege of Catubig.
Let us glean from the article written by Quintin L. Doroquez, the celebrated local historian of Catubig who did the research on the said event drawn from the his own recollections of stories he avidly listened to—from eyewitnesses to the confrontation and who had no axe to grind—when he was growing up in his hometown of Catubig. Here goes the story:
It was a sunny April Sunday morning, typical of April, the rice harvest month in Catubig. The mayas were chirping their songs of joy in the abundance of rice grains, their favorite food, just in the outlying fields.
The date: April 15, 1900.
The longshoremen were piling abaca bales after bales in the street ready, as they appeared to be, for loading to a double-mast parao moored at the pier closeby where the American steamer had also been mooring. The giant out-triggered vessel was unloading earthen wares (pots, jars, etc.), but mostly 20-liter kerosene cans. The kerosene cans were, in the normal course of trade, being readied for delivery to consignees in town.
The belfry boys got their instructions before the fall of night, April 14. They usually were to ring one bell for the customary ringing at 6:00 A.M. on a Sunday of ordinary time. But for the following day they were to stay put and wait for a small-arm gunfire at which instance they were to ring in full blast all three bells, including the giant de ruida. This de ruida bell is rung only on solemn occasions, such as the arrivals of dignitaries, or at the inception and completion of a High Mass during town fiestas or special occasions, or in cases of calamities such as fires beyond control.
But Domingo Rebadulla objected to the small-arm gunfire, for it could in fact mean hostilities. He ordered instead dropping on the concrete street, with the appearance of casual fall from the head of a longshoreman, an empty kerosene can to produce the loud, sharp decibels that were to signal the American garrison did not accept the town leaders’ demand to surrender with their guns and military wares and to vacate the convent and the church vicinities.
At about 7:00 A.M., just before the Americans started their daily morning drills in small numbers, a courier was dispatched by the town capitan to hand in an envelope to the doorman at the rectory containing the demand. As anticipated the garrison turned the demand down. A thumb-down signal from the courier as he emerged from the rectory caused the fall of an empty kerosene can from a husky longshoreman while he was stacking kerosene cans not far from the town square. That sudden fall was the signal that the belfry boys were awaiting. A few bell rings sent the token force of militiamen at the rear of the convent firing to decoy the Americans in that direction.
At 7:30 A.M. all hell broke loose.
The bells of Catubig, especially the giant de ruida that day kept spinning in crescendo, the other two bells were tolling unusually fast. All able-bodied men ran toward the convent even without orders and volunteered to fight. But unarmed they instead ended up rolling the hemp bales around the convent to serve as shields to the militiamen.
At the indication that the Americans were forcing themselves out into their two small motorized boats, the militia, assisted by civilians, poured kerosene on the abaca bales and set them afire. Americans who dared to leave the convent were thus forced to negotiate their way through the towering inferno of abaca bales, then through the baids and guns of the militia. Fifteen of the 36 Americans perceived to be in the garrison tried to flee to safety, and fifteen burnt alive or were cut down by Catubignon fires or bolos to their bloody deaths.
But the Americans were shooting too and in higher volume of fires. After all they had better guns. Their bullets were proportionately taking higher tolls than those of the Samarnons’. Badly outnumbered, however, the American ceased firing. Yet their will to fight echoed in the halls of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., later when one soldier, Cpl. Anthony J. Carson, of Boston, Massachusetts, was given the U.S. highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his, according to the citation:
“𝘼𝙨𝙨𝙪𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙛 𝙖 𝙙𝙚𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙝𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙖𝙣𝙮 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙝𝙖𝙙 𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙣 𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙠 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙢𝙮, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙗𝙮 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙗𝙧𝙖𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙚𝙛𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙩 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙚𝙭𝙚𝙧𝙘𝙞𝙨𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙜𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙟𝙪𝙙𝙜𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙛 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙚𝙣 𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙘𝙚𝙨𝙨𝙛𝙪𝙡𝙡𝙮 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙤𝙙 𝙛𝙤𝙧 2 𝙙𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙠𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙖 𝙡𝙖𝙧𝙜𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙘𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙢𝙮, 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙗𝙮 𝙨𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙤𝙧𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙩𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙙 𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙡 𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙞𝙚𝙛 𝙘𝙖𝙢𝙚.”
1st Lt. J. T. Sweeney, one of the few survivors of the four-day confrontation, later recounted that they had superior arms than the Samarnons, but when they smelled kerosene from the bales of hemp piled around the rectory and, had the rectory caught fire itself from the burning bales of hemp, they (Americans) could have been roasted and charred alive inside the rectory.
The Americans, however, did not easily surrender. It was discovered later that they were buying time for reinforcement or rescue to arrive. And they had dug trenches at the back of the convent.
Then early on the third day of the siege, the 600 men of General Lukban arrived. Intelligence report from General Lukban’s men revealed that American reinforcement or rescuers were steaming up the Catubig River from Lao-ang. The rescuers arrived in the town early on the fourth day, i.e., Wednesday, April 19, 1900.
A great battle immediately erupted after a lull of almost two days when only sporadic fires where heard. The bells of Saint Joseph Church did not stop ringing the entire morning of the final day of the battle of Catubig. The Americans tried to take the bells by scaling the belfry. But they never succeeded for two reasons. First, they were getting killed in their attempt; second, the belfry of Saint Joseph Church was difficult to scale. It is mounted on the highest point of the church frame over the main facade, unlike other churches in Samar, as the one in Balangiga, where belfries are built detached from the church and lower in height.
Sensing disaster because it was trapped from two open sides of the Catubig River by militiamen in their dugouts—as people do now in peacetime during fluvial parades in celebration of Santo Niño—the steamer Tonyik, which ferried in the reinforcement from Lao-ang, suddenly pulled out. But it was chased by the militiamen and by some of General Lukban’s men who captured two motorized smaller American boats.
Some two kilometers down the river, downstream toward Lao-ang, the steamer ran out of control due to heavy fires by some Lukban men who set a sentry at the Irawahan tributary river to the left of the main river. Those manning the steamer were so scared to death because they were also being chased by Catubignon militia and the Lukban men in the main river. The ill-fated Tonyik hit the sharply curving, rocky edge of the Catubig River at a hillside called Kalirukan (a local term for maelstrom because the water in that segment of the river is violent during high floods) and suddenly capsized and went down the deep water, lying on its left side and bringing seven soldiers to their watery graves.
The U.S. War Department recorded the event as “…the heaviest bloody encounter yet for the American troops” against the Filipino freedom fighters. This account is so intriguing. This seems to include those in Luzon!
The New York Times called the Battle of Catubig, “horrifying”.
The Americans recorded their casualties at 22, 19 dead and three wounded. But the Lukban forces believed there was a cover up by the Americans of their actual casualties. Other published accounts recorded 31 American deaths, which obviously included the fatalities when the Tonyik capsized, as well as those who jumped ship as it was speeding away from the thick of battle almost uncontrolled from the town of Catubig.
The Battle of Catubig is an unknown event to some Filipino historians. Even you can rarely seen it in the footnotes of the annals of the Philippine history. This is something have been overlooked or perhaps neglected by Filipino historiographers being an event happened locally in an obscure place. If the Balangiga event is a celebrated one, I dare to say, the Battle of Catubig happened as the first successful Filipino battle in the entire Philippine-American War (Texts, mine.)
Cabardo, Charo N., Philippine-American War in Samar: Local History as National History (A presentation delivered during the opening of the Samar Heritage Museum at Samar State University), October 14, 2016.
Doroquez, Quintin L., The Battle of Catubig (published in Gugma han Samar Cyersace Movement) August 26, 2006 <accessed on April 15, 2020, 10:55 A.M.>
(c) Manuelito Uy

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