The insurgents on Samar regarded themselves as the legitimate government of the island. They were lead by General Vicinte Lukban, who had been dispatched to the island by the President and Commander in Chief of the Philippine Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo, in December 1898 just days after the Americans had acquired the Philippines from Spain. Lukban was educated, resourceful, and over the two and a half years on Samar had proved himself to be a worthy and determined adversary to American rule.
One of the educated Samarenos who took a position in Lukban’s army was Eugenio Daza, a thirty year old former schoolteacher from Borongan on the Pacific east coast of the island, whose mother was a Salazar of Balangiga. Daza grew up in Borongan and then was trained by the Jesuits at the Escuela Normal de Maestros — a teacher’s school in Manila. He was educated and ambitious, and by the time he was twenty-five the Spanish had given him permission to set up his own school in Samar, which he did — but soon after Lukban arrived he moved to Catbalogan and signed up as an officer of the Philippine Republic under Colonel Claro Guevara.
Holding the rank of Major, in 1901 he was responsible for southeastern Samar as Lukban’s intelligence officer, which included responsibility for tax collection and food security. His jurisdiction included the pueblos of Llorente, Hernani, Guiuan, Balangiga, and Basey, and his headquarters were in the steep jungle-covered hills above Lawaan, the largest of the outlying barrios of Balangiga. Daza’s local intelligence officer in Balangiga was Police Chief Valeriano Abanador while Mayor Pedro Abayan was responsible for tax collection. Pedro Duran, a sergeant of the Police Force, also reported to Daza and was a member of the Army.
Word of the Americans’ arrival reached Daza quickly. Pedro Duran, the sergeant at arms of the town police and simultaneously an officer under Daza came with the news on the afternoon of August 11th.
While others might view the arrival of the Americans with dismay — for Daza, it was precisely what he had hoped for. His career with Lukban’s army had prospered reasonably well to date, but a significant combat victory was lacking. Elsewhere on the island, other Presidentes had written letters to Lukban promising a strategic uprising and attack against American occupiers, but with one minor exception in faraway northern Samar, nothing of the sort had happened.
Daza realized that an attack against the Americans in Balangiga, organized and led by Daza himself, would advance not only the cause of Lukban’s army — it would provide an opportunity for Daza to prove himself as more than an intelligence officer and tax collector. Would he be able to convince the townspeople to act?
Daza was just ambitious enough to possibly make it happen.
Schooled in Manila by the Jesuits, an intellectual equal in his own mind to General Lukban, the Major firmly believed he deserved a seat at the leadership table with Lukban, Malvar, Sakay, and the other remaining leaders of the Philippine Republic.
The arrival of the Americans in his territory was an opportunity for greatness. There were contingents in Basey to the west, toward Tacloban, and in Guiuan to the southeast, on the narrow peninsula that stretched southward from the main island, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Leyte Gulf.
An uprising in any of those three towns would be a coup for Daza.
But Balangiga, he was certain, was the one.
Guiuan was too isolated on the narrow peninsula — it was impossible to bring the reinforcements that would be necessary to embolden any group of townspeople to rise up against the Americans close enough without being detected. And the American contingent there was larger.
As for Basey, it was only a few miles from Tacloban, across the narrow San Juanico Straits, where there was a large contingent of Americans who could come to the aid of the garrison .
No, it was Balangiga.
Tiny, isolated Balangiga, nestled against the friendly mountains, surrounded by thick, dense undergrowth that would allow reinforcements to be in place within yards of the unsuspecting Americans, was the one.
Balangiga, where the chief of police and his sergeant were true warriors of the cause.
Balangiga, where Daza had personal influence due to his relationship as an in-law of the Salazars, one of the two most important families.
It was the one.