August of 1896 was about to end. Shortly after the members of the now-discovered separatist movement the Kataastaasang, Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (popularly known as the KKK or Katipunan) cried out for freedom in Balintawak, (which some say was held in Pugad Lawin) the leader of the movement, Andres Bonifacio began to plot their next move against the Spanish colonial government: an attack on the Spanish gunpowder depot in San Juan del Monte called El Polvorin.
Before dawn of August 30, 1896, Bonifacio and about 800 men launched their offensive. Despite being poorly armed against the Spanish troops stationed in El Polverin, the Katipuneros managed to prevail at first as the Spaniards retreated to defend the Manila waterworks building, the El Deposito* where the Katipuneros moved to next.
Unfortunately for the Katipuneros, enemy reinforcements arrived from Fort Santiago who managed to wipe out about 150 men and captured about 200 others. Bonifacio and the rest of his men retreated, thus avoiding capture. It was the first major battle of what would become the Philippine Revolution. And despite the loss, this event, like that of the Alamo, still managed to stir the burning desire for freedom was ignited among Filipinos who eventually rose up against the colonial government. In fact, later that day, the situation was bleak enough for the government that Governor General Ramon Blanco declared a state of martial law in Manila and 7 nearby provinces. In two years’ time, the Spaniards would lose control of their 300+ year-old colony.
The Battle at San Juan del Monte has been immortalized since with a new name, “Pinaglabanan” or battleground. In addition, there is also the presence of not one, but two memorials in what is now the city of San Juan. The most notable perhaps would be the one unveiled in 1969 at the corner of Pinaglabanan and N. Domingo Streets known as the “Diwa ng 1896” or “Spirit of 1896.”
But the most historically-significant memorial would be the one found at the former site of the El Deposito, now known as the Pinaglabanan Shrine, where much of the bloody encounter took place. Unveiled in 1973, the shrine itself is a vast open space itself, marked by the presence of a mini-obelisk depicting the sun in the Philippine flag standing on a triangular base with the 3 stars and an imposing Pinaglabanan monument by Eduardo Castrillo at the background.
As significant as Pinaglabanan is in the country’s history, it has also been significant in the shaping of modern San Juan as a city. The first Pinaglabanan memorial found its way to be part of the town, eventually city seal, while the new San Juan City Hall was built right next to the Pinaglabanan Shrine itself.
May we never forget the blood and sacrifices our fathers and mothers suffered for our country’s liberty.
*As part of Manila’s waterworks system, the El Deposito actually figured in Bonifacio’s elaborate plan in bringing down the Spanish colonial government. According to the plan, the Katipuneros would strike at the site and cut the water supply to the city, which would help bring Intramuros on its knees and thus, an opportunity to strike the Walled City. Unfortunately, the grand plans went awry as other phase of the plan which involved cutting the electrical supply did not materialize. Nevertheless, despite the lack of coordination which came as an effect, Bonifacio still proceeded with the plan. And the rest, they say, is history.