Maria Josefa Gabriela fought and died for the freedom of her country. She helped her husband, Diego Silang, lead a revolt against Spain in 1763. She underwent many hardships and sacrifices for the liberty and the rights of her countrymen. She was one of the bravest women in our history.
Maria Josefa Gabriela came from a fighting family. Her father was a soldier and her mother had the fighting spirit, too. They were both from the town of Santa, Ilocos Sur.
Her parents taught young Josefa to be a good housekeeper. She was a strong and healthy girl. After her parents died, she was adopted by a rich man named Don Tomas Millan. Josefa was thrifty and took good care of the house of her adopted father.
Later on they went to live in Vigan. Here she met Diego Silang and soon married him.
Josefa Helps Diego Silang
At that time the people of the Ilocos region were suffering from the unjust rule of the Spaniards. The people were made to pay very high taxes. The men were forced to build roads without pay. The people therefore wanted to free themselves from the rule of the unjust officials.
Diego Silang and his wife were among those who suffered from these abuses. Diego said, “I will lead the people of the Ilocos to free themselves. We will put down the government of these unjust officials. We will revolt!”
“I will fight by your side,” promised Josefa.
“Diego Silang started the revolt in 1763. Many of the people of the Ilocos rose against the unjust officials and put themselves under the leadership of Silang. Josefa went with her husband to the battlefields. She fought side by side with him. Diego led his men well. The revolt succeeded and the cruel officials were driven out of the Ilocos.
But Diego Silang was not to live long. A traitor soon put to an end his brave life. One of his men, Miguel Vicos, was the traitor. The Spaniards gave Vicos money to kill Diego. So one day he went to Diego Silang and pretended that his visit was friendly. When Diego turned his back, Vicos shot him.
Jose Fights On
At the sound of the shot, Josefa rushed into the room. She saw her husband on the floor, bleeding badly. As she lifted his head, he said, “Josefa, I shall die, but you must carry on the fight. Our people will need a leader. Promise me you will lead them!”
“I will,” promised Josefa to her dying husband.
After Silang’s death Josefa went to Abra to hide for a while from the enemies of her husband. When they were no longer looking for her, she returned to Vigan. She came down from the hills one night. Then she went from house to house to call the former soldiers in Diego Silang’s army.
“Friends of Diego Silang,” she said to them, “let us carry on the fight for freedom. There are many people in this town that will help us. And I shall lead you.”
The people answered her call. Many men joined her army. Others who could not fight gave money and clothes. Josefa was soon at the head of a large army.
They were ready to fight again. With Josefa as their leader, the rebels came down from the hills to attack Vigan.
The Piddig Bowmen
But the officials of the town had learned that Josefa’s army was coming. The officials sent a group of bowmen from Piddig to fight the rebels. In the distance, with their huge bows, the Piddig bowmen threw many shadows behind them. Josefa’s soldiers thought that there were thousands of the bowmen.
The rebels became afraid and turned back to the hills. Then many of them began to desert. They grew fewer and fewer. But Josefa did not give up.
With her few soldiers Josefa returned again and again to attack Vigan. The governor of the province, Manuel de Arza, decided to have her captured. He sent a troop of soldiers led by a Spanish captain named Garza.
Josefa was captured together with her followers. She was sentenced to die by hanging. So one early October morning in 1763, the weeping townsmen of Vigan saw Josefa and sixty of her faithful followers hanged at the town plaza.
Josefa died bravely. When the rope was placed around her neck, she said, “My poor countrymen! They will continue to suffer more wrongs. But there will be others to lead them!”
Josefa died, but other brave men and women were to carry on the fight for freedom through the years afterward. After her came Bonifacio, Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, Tandang Sora, and many other leaders. We should always remember Maria Josefa Gabriela, for she was one of the first Filipino leaders who gave up their lives to make our country free.