THE BATTLE OF CATUBIG
QUINTIN L. DOROQUEZ*
August 26, 2006
Fought at the
turn of the 20th century—between the local militia of Catubig and a
contingent of General Vicente Lukban’s incipient Army of the
Philippine-American war in Samar and Leyte on the one hand and the
U.S. Regular Army on the other—the battle of Catubig(1)
brought into focus two aspects of the combatants: raw courage and
humanism on the part of the Samarnons, and the penchant of a
vanquished, proud U. S. Army to hide the truth from the Filipinos.
to be a small town some eighteen kilometers from the mouth of the
deep, navigable Catubig River that empties into Lake Lao-ang in the
northern section of what used to be the one-province island of
Samar. Today, further inland, in the upper source of the river is
another town, Las Navas, which regained or was granted its own
municipal charter in 1948.
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last two decades of the Spanish rule in the Philippines, Las Navas
was in fact the set of municipal government in the Catubig Valley.
However, toward the close of the 19th century, Kagninipa (now
Catubig) started to out-grow Las Navas. This is understandable
inasmuch as Kagninipa is located right at the stretches of wide
agricultural lands in the vortex of the rich rice-growing Catubig
Valley, reputedly the rice granary of Samar. So, ecclesiastical
authorities or the Roman Catholic Church built a strong stone church
in Kagninipa in 1886. This edifice is stronger in construction and
larger in size than the Church in Las Navas even to this day.
settlements themselves had a romanticized rivalry, especially when
it became apparent that ecclesiastical authorities had its bent on
Kagninipa. To avoid a violent confrontation to settle the issue as
to where the permanent seat of government was to be located, the two
rival chieftains, or capitanes at the time decided it will be
a waste of human lives and ugly to fight employing armed men.
Capitan Saro of Las Navas and Capitan Mecias of Kagninipa agreed to
settle the conflict by staging a carabao bullfight one
Sunday. Should the Las Navas bull win, Las Navas will keep the seat
of government; should the Kagninipa bull win, the seat of government
will, accordingly, be transferred to Kagninipa.
exhaustive search for the best bulls, the two chieftains were ready
to settle the issue. To cut a long story short, it was the bull from
Kagninipa that decisively won, in fact chasing the Las Navas bull
until it jumped into the Catubig River in fright and pain where it
drowned from the wounds gorged in wildly by the strong horns of the
more powerful Kagninipa bull.
Thus the seat
of municipal government permanently moved to Kagninipa. This took
place, however, not without any further enmity.
Then early in
February 1900 some Americans started coming in trickle posing as
private surveyors. The local church authorities were perceptively
more friendly with the visitors than they were with the natives. But
the “visitors” were also trying their best to be friendly with the
natives. At one point, on a pleasant sunny morning, as two
“surveyors” were strolling along Kagninipa Brook, one saw a cat
sunbathing by rolling along the grassy edge of the brook. The
Americans approached a young lady who was doing her laundry and
asked, “What is that, cat?” The lass, hardly seeing the cat which
was in higher elevation, and not knowing what the foreigners were
asking about, responded, “Tubig,” meaning the water of the brook.
In a short
while bystanders gathered around. And they started saying, at the
bidding of the Americans, “Catubig!” The Americans thought that
“tubig” means cat, and the Filipinos, yes, the Catubignons, thought
on the other hand that “cat” means tubig. When this news reached
Domingo Rebadulla, the most respected and admired citizen of
Kagninipa at the time, he suggested that this “word-compact” or word
of friendship be used henceforth as the new name of the town of
Kagninipa to signify the friendliness of the Americans and the
native populace. Hence, the name “Catubig” today.
In a matter of
weeks the “surveyors”, apparently having understood and learned the
psyche of the local populace, were already wearing military
uniforms, and more men were pouring in, ferried by a gunboat. The
priest had left, if temporarily, apparently at the bidding of the
Americans, for his safety as well as to make room for the Americans
to establish a garrison in the rectory or convent and in the
adjacent stone church of Saint Joseph the Worker Parish.
as the surveyors finally turned out to be, were of Company H, 43rd
Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. Their real mission was
two-fold. First, on the short term, to deny General Lukban access
that year (1900) to the bounty rice harvest of the Catubig
Valley. This harvest takes place, until now, during the month of
April. Second, to deny the General, on the long-term, from making
the lush and rice-rich Catubig Valley as the alternate if not
permanent headquarters of the Army he was raising in Samar and Leyte
for the Philippine Revolution, which had already metamorphosed into
the Philippine-American War.
The people of Catubig naturally resented the
deceptive presence of the Americans upon discovering the Americans’
real intentions. The local leaders, hospitable as they customarily
were to visitors, started a series of hurriedly-convened secret
Fincalero, the local real-estate and rice magnate and adoringly
called Taga-ta by his associates, sent out instructions to his
tenants that if the Americans commandeered his harvest, his tenants
were to resist. Homobono Joli-Joli, a young man from Las Navas,
forgot the past rivalry of Las Navas and Kagninipa and volunteered
with 25 men, with himself at the head, to join the militia. Domingo
Rebadulla, the acknowledged leader of Catubig during the Filipino
American War and first mayor thereafter, was the over-all overseer
in forming the local militia. Domingo, charismatic by personality,
easily counted the assistance of Juan Alaras and Probo Plagata, men
who later also became municipal mayors of Catubig.
responded quickly and favorably. A 300-man strong, fighting force
was easily raised.
the men were ill-trained and ill-equipped, well-off families—the
Orsolinos, the Tafallas, the Mercaders, the Tentativas, the
Turbanadas, etc.—donated their mousers and revolvers. Local
blacksmiths worked overnights to make palteks (locally
manufactured guns) and baids (the Samarnon’s
counterpart of the Samurai blade).
military know-how of the militiamen, Domingo Rebadulla dispatched a
three-man courier party, overseen by his fourteen-year old son,
Pedro, to make contact with General Lukban. The General responded by
dispatching for a few days one of his deputies, Col. Enrique
Villareal Dagujob, a college-educated native of Bicol. The colonel
was to check the terrain of the possible battleground and to give
secret military instructions to the militia.
likewise assigned one of his chemists to the fighting men of Catubig
to ensure that they had adequate and steady supply of gun powder to
recycle used cartridges.
Above all, the
General assured the “boys” liaison that should hostilities break
out, he will immediately reinforce the Catubig militia with at least
The success of
the “boys’ mission” was quickly apparent. Col. Villareal-Dagujob
showed up in a few days incognito. The colonel found the morale of
the town’s leadership and the fighting men unusually high. Leaving
specific instructions as to what to do upon the start of
hostilities, Col. Villareal-Dagujob returned to Blanca Aurora, in
the highlands of the Gandara Valley, the headquarters of General
Sensing immediate hostilities, the General deputized
back Col. Villareal-Dagujob to head a 600-man raiding force. Just a
day away of mostly jungle marching to Catubig, the raiding party
learned that the battle of Catubig had begun. The local leaders took
advantage of the fact that the steamer Tonyik which had been
ferrying supplies and men to Catubig was nowhere to be found in Lao-ang,
the closest port. Informers reported it was in Calbayog, in the
westside of the island of Samar. In the estimation of the leaders in
Catubig, this means at least about three days before the garrison in
Catubig could be reinforced or rescued in the event of hostilities.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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:
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.”
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.
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(2).
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.
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
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.
estate immediately to the right side of this segment of the river,
on the downstream direction toward Lao-ang, was then owned by—and
still belongs today to the descendants of—Domingo Mercader(3). In
fact the settlement that later sprang from the adjoining real estate
is now called Bgy. Domingo Mercader.
After a week the American corps of engineers
salvaged the sunken boat, but not without leaving some heavy items
like some steel ballasts and anchors to the Mercader household as
gratuity of battle and for having given humanitarian aid to the
scared and distressed American survivors—with the consent of the
Catubig militia and the Lukban men of course.
J. Carson of Company H, 43rd Infantry Regiment (later awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor, as aforementioned), one of the
survivors, openly admitted that the Battle of Catubig was a total
defeat for the American forces.
another steamer that picked up the survivors of the capsized Tonyik,
Lt. Sweeney, one of the survivors, was so thankful to his Maker for
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
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(4),
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.
Maria Mercader Lambino(5),
then a 13-year old daughter of Domingo Mercader and an eyewitness to
the battle, used to tell her grandchildren that one American soldier
who jumped into the water, as the Tonyik was attempting to pull out,
shouted, “Dinamat!” The American while swimming and cursing
was hacked to death by a militia boloman who was in a dugout. A
Lukban soldier could have shot the American point blank, but to
conserve ammo he let a militiaman do the kill with his baid.
grandchildren later interpreted dinamat as “god damn it”.
accounted 150 deaths of their own due in large measure to their
exposed position when attacking the rectory.
(now deceased)(6), who was a
clam diver, together with other clam divers, had recovered quite a
heap more of steel ballasts that the corps of engineers, in
salvaging the Tonyik, had left at the bottom of the waters in
Kalirukan. However, local blacksmiths had made most of them into
The battle of Catubig is an overlooked glory of Filipinos in the
Philippine-American war, some say. By the same token, this is
attributed to the penchant of the U.S. military at that time for
spiriting away immediately to Washington, D.C., any records of
combat that gave the American side the appearance of ignominy and
total defeat. Hence, Filipino historians doing research in the
Philippines—and writing history books with what they had—were left
without complete information. The battle of Catubig had not appeared
even in footnotes of Philippine history books.
+ + + + + + + + +
narratives in this article are in many cases drawn from the author’s
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. The battle should thus be a subject
for further research and study by serious students of history and
The author wishes to
acknowledge the suggestions of Dr. Romeo V. Cruz, UP professor of
history (ret.), on how to proceed with the narratives that involve
oral accounts of individuals who are eyewitnesses to historic
events. Likewise, the author wishes to convey his gratitude to
Prof. Cesar Torres, formerly of UP, for soliciting this article and
for encouraging its completion.
While growing up, the author used to play with other boys of his age
inside the trenches.
Domingo Mercader was the maternal great, great grandfather of the
Samar Daily Express, May 14, 2000.
The author is one of Maria Mercader Lambino’s grandchildren.
Antonio Hipe was the husband of the author’s aunt Lucia Mercader
This was as of April 1957 when the author left for Manila to pursue
his college education.
also end note (1), above: (1) U.S. War Department records on
the Philippine insurrection, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Samar Daily Express, May 14, 2000.
(3) Elinando B. Cinco’s
cyber article, April 2003.
Copyright ©2004 Quintin Lambino Doroquez
All Rights Reserved
The author is a native of the towns of Catubig and Las Navas in the
Catubig Valley, Northern Samar, where he grew up. He graduated
valedictorian from high school and went to college with
scholarships, while working at the same time. Immediately after
college he left for the U.S. to attend graduate school and earned an
MBA in accounting and finance.
college, he was editor-in-chief of his school newspaper and became a
member of the foremost student association of the Philippines, the
College Editors' Guild of the Philippines.
for and retired from the University of California (UC) System. Thus
far he is the only Filipino to attain a management level position in
the Office of the President of the University, where his primary
responsibilities were editing the four-volume University of
California System Accounting Manual and the formulation and
development of policies pertaining to the business and financial
affairs of the University.
college for two years, but abandoned this pursuit—even after being
encouraged by the chairman of his department to pursue tenure—in
order to focus in earnest on his management career.
working at the UC, he was selected to attend a four-summer
management program at full University’s expense, for which he
obtained an advanced certificate in college and university financial
administration. He won three outstanding performance awards at
different times—including the coveted Management Incentive Award in
the Office of the President of the University. In view of the heavy
writing requirement of his work, this award qualified him for
admission to the English department of Oxford University in England
where he earned a certificate in creating writing.
Doroquez is enjoying presently his retirement by writing short
stories, articles, essays, poetry, humor, etc. He has put on hold a
novel he was working on entitled, Widowed Young, in order to pursue
other pressing writing projects.]