Magat Salamat, chief of Tondo


We are reprinting this article as part of our series on Tondo, which aims to show the district’s rich history. Source is the Kahimyang Project, an interesting site that publishes articles on Philippine history.


Magat Salamat, Chief of Tondo, A Forgotten Hero of the First Katipunan over 300 years ago

One of the earliest heroes of the Philippines, in the words of Don Isabelo de los Reyes and Professor Austin Craig, was Magat Salamat, one of the chiefs of Tondo. Through the centuries his name has come to us in colors blurred and indistinct. Many are the legends and myths which were woven and rewoven around this hero of the sixteenth century, but most of them are nothing more than the fantasies of some hero-worshipper, which have proved brittle to the touch of reality. They make, therefore, no direct appeal to skeptical scholars, though they may fascinate fictionists and romancers.

Unfortunately for the development of our historiography, there are but fragmentary references to throw light upon the life and fate of Magat Salamat. Our celebrated lay and clerical chroniclers of the past, such as Frays Gaspar de S. Agustin, O. S. A., Juan de Plasencia, O. S. F., Pedro Chirino, S. J., Juan de la Concepcion, A. R., Antonio Morga y Sanchez, senior auditor of the Royal Audiencia, and Miguel de Loarca, Spanish soldier-of-fortune, were surprisingly silent with regard to the career of this hero. Only fragile threads of narration can be picked out, here and there, in the thick tapestry woven about the miracles of the missionary-martyrs and the exploits of the intrepid conquistadores.

A Filipino biographer, in the search for the elusive facts on the life of Magat Salamat, finds this task no easy one.

His parentage not clear

The parentage, birthplace, and birthdate of this hero are shrouded in mystery. The few extant sources agree only on one point-that he had the blood of datos in his veins. In the parlance of those early days, he was noble-born. Retana wrote that Magat Salamat was the son of Raja Matanda, chief of Tondo. The Benitez brothers in their little book, “Stories from Great Filipinos”, maintain that he was the son of Soliman. But Don Isabelo de los Reyes disagrees, saying that Lakandula was the father of Salamat-the same Lakandula who welcomed the Adelantado, Legaspi, to Manila in 1572. According to him, Raja Matanda had no sons, while Lakandula had three. To add to the confusion, some authorities claim that Raja Matanda and Lakandula were one and the same person. In other words, Lakandula was Raja Matanda while Raja Soliman, king of Manila, was sometimes called Raja Bata or Mura, he being younger than the former. So hopelessly entangled and conflicting are our sources that the truth of Salamat’s parentage will probably never be known, much less his birthplace and birthdate.

His eventful childhood

When the fleet of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi appeared in Manila Bay in the year 1572, Magat Salamat was a mere boy. Through the eyes of childhood he witnessed the crucial events of those years. He saw the first battle of Manila Bay when Raja Soliman, with the help of his friends and allies of the northern barangays, made a final stand to defend the land of his fathers against the white-faced invaders. History had given us the results. The Spanish conquistadores with their superior weapons decisively defeated the natives. Soliman was slain in battle. Magat also witnessed the entry of the victorious Spaniards into Soliman’s village, the pillaging of the house of the maharlikas including that of Soliman, and the founding of a new city.

As he grew older, Magat Salamat, son of a chief, became a chief too. The sources agree that he was one of the chiefs of the flourishing village of Tondo. The new city across the Pasig river grew from a mere citadel and trading post into one of the leading commercial cities of the Orient. The Adelantado, the best friend of Lakandula, was gone. So was his enterprising grandson, Juan de Salcedo, whom the late T. H. Pardo de Tavera called the “Cortez of the Philippines”. The provinces around the city and even some of the distant islands, the Pintados (Cebu and the Visayas), Calamianes, Paragua (Palawan), Romblon, Ticao, Buries, Masbate, Polillo, Marinduque, and Mindoro, were already won to the crown by the judgment of the sword. And in the wake of the soldiers came the friars, carrying the cross into the remotest wildernesses and mountain fastnesses, and thousands of converts were guided to the fold of Catholicism. But the changes which the years brought to the archipelago did not wholly obliterate the consciousness of race among the natives. The high spirit of Soliman still animated the datos of Tondo, among whom was Magat Salamat.

His humane character

Many legends are told of Magat Salamat, the man. It has been told that one day, while Magat was walking along the banks of the Pasig River, near the mouth of the bay, he heard frantic cries and saw a little boy struggling in the water and about to drown. Without taking off his clothes, he plunged in, and battling the treacherous currents, succeeded in saving the boy. Another evening, so runs a tale, Magat was on his way homeward. It was nearly dark when he overtook an old woman struggling under a big load of faggots. The young man offered his help and shouldered the firewood without further ado. Imagine the surprise and consternation of the old woman when, upon arrival at her home and asking his name, she learned that he was her chief! And those were the days when a noble was a noble and an alipin (servant or slave).

The first Katipunan three hundred years ago

Discarding such stories which are sure to be galling to the debunking school of historians, there is an event with history records. This was the famous “Conspiracy of 1588-89”. Retana called it “the first Katipunan of the Philippines”. The conspirators met secretly and, swearing by their dead ancestors to shed their last drop of blood for the liberation of the land, formed an organization or katipunan. There is a beautiful parallelism between this katipunan and the Katipunan founded by Bonifacio almost three centuries later. The “first Katipunan,” like the Katipunan of Bonifacio (Kataas-taasan, Kagalang- galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK)), aimed at the recovery of the independence of the archipelago by a revolution to be pushed to success through the concerted action of the different tribes. Many of the datos and rajahs of the barangays and villages of the islands subscribed to the movement. The plans were secretly laid in Tondo. And, just as Bonifcio and his Katipuneros appealed to the Japanese, Magat Salamat and his fellow Datos made an agreement with a Japanese captain who was then visiting Manila.

The appeal to the Japanese and Borneans

Historically speaking, this plot or “Conspiracy of 1588 -89” is important. It was the first concerted attempt of the Filipinos to oust the Spaniards and gain their freedom with the help of foreigners, the Japanese. The Sultan of Borneo also promised to help the conspirators. The only extant original document that throws light upon this event is the “Report” of Esteban de Marquina, notary public of Manila, to Santiago de Vera, Governor-General of the Philippines (Reprinted in Blair and Robertson, “The Philippine Islands,” Vol 7, pp 95 ff.) The Augustinian historian Martinez de Zuñiga, in his “Historia de Philipinas,” and the oidor-historian, Antonio de Morga, in his “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas,” dismiss the Salamat conspiracy with a few bare sentences. This may have been due to a lack of sources or to the fact that they looked upon the matter from the prejudiced Spanish point of view. Unfortunately, there is no documentary source to represent the Filipino side of the subject. Since history is based upon written records, there is for us, too, no remedy to our having to utilize the “Report” of Esteban de Marquina.

The plot

According to this document, in the year 1588, the chiefs of Tondo, Bulacan, Morong, Pandacan, and the neighboring barangays, among them Agustin de Legaspi, Magat Salamat, Luis Amanicalao, Calao, Pitongatan, Martin Panga, Pedro Balinguit, Phelipe Salonga, Daulat, Phelipe Amarlangagui, Juan Basi, Francisco Aeta, joined in a conspiracy against the Spaniards and sought the help of the Sultan of Borneo and the Emperor of Japan. A pertinent excerpt illustrates the agreement between the chiefs and the Japanese:

“When Captain Don Juan Gayo and many Japanese with merchandise arrived at this city in a ship from Xapon, Don Agustin de Legaspi became very friendly with him, inviting him many times to eat and drink at his house which is on the other side of the river of this city. The agreement and stipulation which he made with Don Joan Gayo through the Japanese interpreter, Dionisio Fernandez, and in the presence of the said Magat Salamat, Don Agustin Manuguit, Don Phelipe Salalilla, his father, and Don Geronimo Bassi, Don Agustin de Legaspi’s brother, was, that the said captain should come to this city with soldiers from Xapon, and enter it under pretext of peace and commerce, bringing in his ship flags for use of the Spaniards, so that the latter should think his intentions peaceful. It was also agreed that the chiefs of the neighborhood would help them to kill the Spaniards, and would supply the provisions and everything necessary.”

After driving out the Spaniards, the Filipinos and Japanese were to make Agustin de Legaspi king of the entire archipelago, and “collect the tribute from the natives” which was to be divided between Don Agustin and the Japanese. The pact was sworn to and sealed in the fashion of the natives, “by anointing their necks with a broken egg.”

According to Martinez de Zuñiga, the native conspirators also made a compact with the Borneans. To use his words, the chiefs “conspired with the Moros of Borneo who would come (to Manila) for commerce; by nightfall, they would enter the city, put it on fire and, in the confusion, assassinate all Spaniards.” (“Historia de Philippinas,” p. 158.)

Fortunately or unfortunately, the plot was discovered, but not until many months had passed, as is revealed in a letter of Governor Santiago de Vera to the King of Spain, dated July 13, 1589, which reads in part: “The plot existed for fifteen months, and neither I nor the friars and any other person ever knew of its existence.” (“Archivo de India,” Doc 24, Ind. 5).

The betrayal

Just like that of the Katipunan of Bonifacio, the discovery is shrouded in mystery. Two versions have been advanced. Martinez de Zuñiga maintained that “an India, married to one of the Spanish soldiers,” betrayed the conspiracy to the proper authorities. The other version, given in the “Report” of Esteban de Marquina, reads as follows:

“It appears that on the fourth of November of the said year (1588) … Captain Pedro Sarmiento arrived in this city from the Calamianes, which are islands near Burney; and brought the news and information that he had left behind in the said Calamianes three Indian chiefs of Tondo, namely, Magat Salamat, Don Agustin Manunguit, son of Don Phelipe Salalilla, and Don Joan Banal, brother-in-law of the said Magat. Through Don Antonio Surabao, his servant and chief of his encomienda, he had learned that these men were going as ambassadors to the petty king of Burney, in order to induce him to send a fleet to attack the Spaniards and to join the chiefs of Jolo, and Sumaelob, chief of Cuyo, who had already come to terms and offered to help them with two thousand men. They had persuaded the said Don Antonio Surabao to accompany them and carry out their plans; but the latter, while on the one hand promising to help them, unfolded the plan to Captain Sarmiento.”

To be exact, the existence of the plot was discovered on October 26, 1588. Governor Santiago de Vera took immediate and drastic action before the conspirators could strike. Magat Salamat and his co-plotters were arrested and tried before a special court. They were found guilty. The “Report” tells us of the tragic end of the conspiracy and the conspirators.

“Magat Salamat was condemned to death. His goods were to be employed for the erection of the new fortress of this city. He appealed to the Royal Audiencia; but the case was remitted to the Governor, in order that justice might be done-except that the goods were to be set aside for the treasury. The sentence was executed.”

Such was the fate of Magat Salamat — death upon the gallows.

With the death of Magat Salamat and his companions, the first attempt at winning the independence of the Islands by revolution came to an end. Magat Salamat paid dearly for the “lost cause”. But his spirit lived beyond the grave It survived the centuries, and was reincarnated in Andres Bonifacio who raised the red standard of revolution in 1896.


  • Gregorio F. Zaide, Philippine magazine, Volume 27, Number 6, November 1930, Philippine Education Company, Manila.
  • The image used here is a watercolor painting by Dan H. Dizon, 1964.

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