The Pulahan (literally “those wearing red”) is a controversial organization developed in the Visayas before the Philippine Revolution. Its members called “Pulahanes” numbered around 10,000-15,000 during the peak of the movement. The Pulahanes who wear red trousers during raids (hence the name) were known for their use of the anting-anting [an object with magical powers] and their feral boldness in battle. The group practiced its own brand of religion, which is a fusion of ancient babaylan [indigenous native religious leader] traditions and Catholicism. Various historical accounts paint disparate portraits of the group – some portraying the Pulahanes as legitimate revolutionaries, some as bandoleros or bandits and some as mere religious fanatics.
Among the most extensive research done on the Pulahanes was conducted by Professor Daniel Talde of the University of the Philippines Tacloban. His paper titled “Beliefs and Practices of Samareño Pulahanes: A Struggle for Freedom and Self-Rule,” was read during the 21st Philippine National Historical Society National Conference on Local and National History at the Ateneo de Naga University, Naga City, in 2000. The following words are Talde’s definition of the movement, “The Pulahan is a socio-political millenarian movement composed of ordinary individuals who resided in the interior areas of Samar. They descended from the taong-labas or people who refused to be influenced by the colonizers for they dwelt outside the pueblo centers. The Pulahanes organized the said Samahan [organization] to rival the communities of the pueblo-centers and paved the way for the kind of life they aspired for.”
Weapon of choice
The dreaded weapon of the Pulahanes is the talibong.
In his book “Jungle Patrol: The History of the Philippine Constabulary,” Victor Hurley describes the details of the talibong of the Pulahanes, it reads, “The bush opened again after a while, and Crockett [Philippine Constabulary Captain Cary Crockett] came back to the beach. His men were carrying trophies of the chase now; great crescent-shaped blades that were heavily weighted towards the point. The knives were without guards, and the handles were of carabao horn and heavily mounted with silver. The edges were as keen as razors. These were the talibongs of the hillmen – the great fighting bolos of the fanatical mountaineers.”
Besides using the talibong in war there were accounts of Pulahanes using this blade in duels. Henry F. Funtecha, PhD., in his column “Bridging the Gap” published by IloIlo Views wrote that Pulahan leader Macario Lukso died in a one-on-one fight with a talibong, it says, “Unfortunately, Lukso was killed by Boni Palomar, an equally brave and heroic man in a manly talibong (long sharp fighting bolo) duel.”
Faustino Ablen in captivity
One particular system of Filipino martial arts associated with the Pulahanes is the Derobio style of escrima brought to Hawaii by Master Braulio Pedoy during the 1920s. Pedoy was among the masters featured in Dan Inosanto’s classic book “The Filipino Martial arts.” A short entry in the book reads, “Through Master Pedoy I became more aware of the history of the Filipino martial arts and culture, and learn to appreciate his methods of Derobio in escrima.” Derobio, which literally translates, “rhythm of a horse,” is a style that Pedoy said he learned from Faustino Ablen, a renowned leader of the Pulahanes. A testament to Ablen’s fighting skills is the fact that he was among the last of the bandoleros or outlaws as the American colonial government branded revolutionaries at that time, that were captured. Ablen was first arrested for initiating revolt in Leyte against the Spanish authorities in the late 1880s. He escaped captivity. After the Americans took over the country, Ablen and his followers continued to fight for independence. Ablen was wounded in the head and captured by the Philippine Constabulary near Dagami, Leyte on June 11, 1907. Carrying the tradition of the group, Pedoy became known in Hawaii as a warrior and healer.
Anting-anting for protection
The Pulahanes’ name for anting-anting is “hapin” and each man was not allowed to leave the camp without one. Juan Nueva, a Pulahan member of Camp Katagoyngahan that Talde interviewed stated, “We were encouraged to use the oracion any time as a weapon against enemies and as a preparation for any surprise attacks. One should have his own libretta [prayer booklet]. You can either put it in your pocket or you can wrap it with a piece of cloth, sew it and with a piece of string, wear it as a necklace.” The Pulahanes literally counted on the power of their hapin for survival. They were not allowed to eat even if an operation would last for days because of the belief that eating would diminish the mystical protection provided by the hapin.
The term for a Pulahanes combat operation is “salida.” Talde wrote of a pre-raid ritual by the group. Some of the former Pulahanes and descendants of the group he interviewed revealed that before a salida, the mayor or leader orders his men to unsheathe their bolos for him to lace his saliva on the blades. The ritual was believed to endowed special power on the Pulahanes’ bolos, which must not be pulled from its scabbard unless an encounter erupted.
The Pulahanes’ steadfast faith on the power of their anting-anting could explain the group’s high casualty in battle. The Pulahanes were known to rush boldly towards a hail of gunfire believing that their anting-anting would make them impervious to bullets.
Talde in his paper notes that the Pulahanes’ veneration of the two foremost figures of the Philippine Revolution; Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio is a clear indication that the group is, “acting not out of banditry but out of a desire to be free.”