BRIDGING THE GAP
The Tapar uprising in Oton, Iloilo
The Bisayans, like the rest of the Filipinos, did not take the Spanish colonization of their country sitting down. From the moment the Spaniards settled down permanently in the country in 1565, the natives fought back and continued their resistance in the form of revolts up to the end of the Spanish rule in 1898. The revolts were either caused by personal and religious motives, by the oppressive Spanish-introduced economic as well as religious institutions, and by land problems.
Revolts that had personal motives were led by former barangay datus and babaylans who had lost their prestige and influence in their communities with the coming of the Spaniards. This was so because they were supplanted by leaders chosen by the colonizers and by the Spanish friars who, naturally, preferred subservient local wards. Not only did they yearn to go back to their old ways and their own culture then gradually being eroded by Hispanization and Christianization, but most of all regain the freedom that they formerly enjoyed. The former datus whose rule and subsistence were secured through the annual tributes or gifts from the barangay people now lost their influence and prestige. Of course, some of them who joined the Spaniards in the pacification campaign and the subsequent exploitation of the natives were able to regain their position. They therefore, retained their patronage and were granted exclusive royal privileges of exemption from paying tribute and from rendering polo or forced labor.
As to those uprising with religious motives, they were led by babaylans who lost their influence and power because they were stripped of such by the Catholic evangelization of the country. They were soon superseded by the different waves of Spanish regular clergy who spread out to various parts of the country. The babaylans apostasized and desired to go back to their public acceptance of Catholicism, continued to secretly practice their rituals and beliefs behind the backs of the ever-vigilant Spanish friars. Those practices were, from the start, declared by the Spanish friars as idolatrous and unlawful, and practitioners were severely punished.
Spanish impositions like taxation, forced labor, galleon trade, indulto de comercio, and the various monopolies (tobacco, liquors, betel nut among others) were persistent irritants and were common cause of Filipino revolts. Another major cause of peasant unrest was agrarian in nature ranging from disputed fraudulent land surveys to usurpation and outright land grabbing committed especially by unscrupulous Spanish hacienderos and some religious orders in the country.
In 1663, a native revolt with religious overtones was led by Tapar in Oton, Iloilo. He was a babaylan who was a new convert to Catholicism. He founded a new syncretic religion which was a modified form of Christianity. He proclaimed himself "God Almighty" and went around garbed in a woman's dress. Tapar's syncretic religion appropriated Catholic terminologies and ignored the Spanish priests because Tapar believed that they had their own "popes", "bishops", and "priests", as well as "Jesus Christ", "Holy Ghost" and "Trinity" who could minister to them in their own nativistic ways.
The Spanish curate assigned to the town of Oton tried to persuade the people to go back to Catholicism but he was killed in the process. Tapar's group burned the church and the priest's house, and fled to the mountains. Spanish troops were sent to Oton and by employing hired spies, the Spaniards caught up with the principal leaders who, in the process of fighting back, were killed. Their corpses were carried back to the port of Iloilo, then fastened to bamboo poles in the Halawod (Jalaur) River to be fed on by crocodiles. The woman who was named as the group's "Blessed Virgin Mary" (Maria Santisima) was mercilessly impaled on a bamboo stake and placed strategically at the mouth of the Laglag (now Dueñas) River to be eaten also by crocodiles. By 1664, as claimed by the Spaniards, peace had returned to Oton. (Agoncillo 1979, Zaide 1957).