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Simeon Ola Was the Last General to Surrender to the Americans

The man from Albay chose to give up a comfortable life to fight for the country.
ILLUSTRATOR Roland Mae Tanglao
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What drives a man to do heroic deeds? In the early years of the 20th century, the Philippines was host to an entire nation of heroes: farmers, workers, young men, and professionals, all of whom took up arms to fight for an ideal they shared. Many of them don’t have names we remember or statues we commemorate them by. But we do remember them, collectively, as a nation.

Some heroes aren’t so unfortunate. Simeon Ola was more than just another name on a long list of revolutionaries: He was the last.

Ola was a brave general on a long list of brave generals. With people such as Miguel Malvar in Batangas, Vicente Lukban in Samar, and Macario Sakay in Morong (now Rizal), it’s hard to make your name stand out. But Ola from Albay managed to do just that.

And yet, Ola is somebody we remember but don’t really know all that well. Beyond the surface, it seems that facts about Ola remain few and far in between.

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We do have a lot of facts on Ola. He was born in 1865, in Guinobatan, Albay, to Vicente Ola and Apolonia Arboleda. He managed to rise to the position of teniente de cuardillos in his hometown, and he took Philosophy at the University of Nueva Caceres. But the call of Revolution in 1896 meant that he stopped his studies at 31 years old.

We know Ola used his position as teniente, as well as his close relationship with the parish priest to secure arms and ammunition. We know the battles he fought in: Camalig, under General Vito Bellarmino, where he attained the rank of captain; Binogsacan, right in Guinobatan; Oas, Macabugos, and many more.

And, we know Ola was the last general to formally surrender to the Americans. He held out until September 25, 1903, when the toll of constant raiding and the internment camps finally caught up with Ola and his men. We know that he, along with 28 of his men and officers, formally surrendered to the Americans after realizing it was impossible to win the war he fought so valiantly in.

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But these facts don’t give us a glimpse of who Ola really was. Stories of his valor don’t truly allow us to look into what drove him to battle, what his convictions were, what motivated him to Revolution. Any analysis of history that focuses only on dates and figures is woefully incomplete, and we can only guess at who Ola was by looking at what he did, in the context of where he came from.

We can take a look at his standing in life to glimpse what his ideals probably were. He was a teniente in Guinobatan, a well-respected position usually attained by middling principalia. He was also a close confidant of the parish priest, which is nothing short of significant. In colonial Philippines, where society is drawn across racial lines of Spanish and Filipino as much as it was divided among classes, a close relation with the local Spanish powers only meant one thing: You were powerful enough for the Spanish to respect you.

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Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

That Ola was no doubt well-off is pretty clear. His early life was marked by his education: first in the Colegio de San Buenaventura de Guinobatan, then to the University of Nueva Caceres to take up Philosophy. One can only guess that had the Revolution not come, Ola would continue on to become a priest, as well.

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His class origin, education, and eventual membership to the Katipunan can only lead us to guess what his convictions were. He could be like Emilio Aguinaldo: bourgeois, comfortable in his lot in life, but sparked by a sense of patriotism. He could be a Juan Luna or a Jose Rizal: influenced by liberal ideas and the concept of a Filipino identity. Regardless, his middle-class upbringing and university education were central to his eventual membership to the Katipunan.

We could paint Ola in the same broad strokes that colored his contemporaries. Bourgeois and influenced by liberal ideas, he took to Revolution, willingly giving up his comfortable life in favor of serving his country. He, like the rest, eventually surrendered and became part of the very colonial government he sought to drive away. His revolutionary candor gave in to his middle-class upbringing and he passed away in 1952 the same way he lived before 1896: enjoying a quaint middle-class lifestyle.

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Ultimately, though, what Ola was becomes secondary to what he is today. In Guinobatan, Albay, Ola is the local hero. He is forever immortalized as the last general to surrender to the Americans; never mind that people like Lope K. Santos and Isabelo de los Reyes continued the militant tradition through other means, or that the Moros of Muslim Mindanao never really accepted U.S. rule. 

More generally, Ola, at one point in history, represents what our idea of a hero should be. He was a guerrilla. He was a man who gave up the comforts of his lifestyle in service of a higher cause. He was Magtanggol Roque before Magtanggol Roque was even born. Ola isn’t like the thousands of people who took up arms, but are now forgotten except for their collective action. He represents them more than he represented anybody.

And in these trying times, people need symbols of heroism and self-sacrifice to inspire us. We may never fully know who Simeon Ola was, but what’s important to us now, is that we know that he gave up the comforts of his life for the Revolution, and maybe that’s enough.

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Sources:

National Historical Commission of the Philippines. Simeon Ola.

Bicol Standard. Who was Simeon Ola?

Inquirer.net. Ola, not Malvar, was last general to surrender, say sons.

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About The Author
Justin Umali
Justin is left-handed, left-leaning, and best left in a cool, damp place. He listens to Vampire Weekend when he's down and Car Seat Headrest when he's not. He usually writes about Philippine history and politics, and believes that you cannot change the world without understanding it first.
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