In the pantheon of Filipino heroes, General Gregorio del Pilar stands out as the fabulous ‘boy’ general of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. Educated, audacious, and idealistic, his total commitment to national independence at a very tender age, and his military exploits culminating in the tragic defense of Tirad Pass, make him the most endearing figure of Philippine history.
Born on November 14, 1875 in San Jose, Bulacan, he was educated at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and earned his Bachelor’s degree at the age of 20. When the rebellion against Spain intensified in August 1896, the young Del Pilar, imbued with patriotism, eagerly joined the revolutionary forces of Andres Bonifacio. In his baptism of fire at the Battle of Kakarong de Sili in Pandi, Bulacan, Del Pilar distinguished himself for his daring attack and prodigious leadership.
One of the co-signers of the Truce of Biak na Bato, he was exiled in Hongkong together with General Emilio Aguinaldo. At the resumption of hostilities against Spain, Del Pilar commanded all revolutionary forces in the provinces of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. After his well executed siege of Bulacan leading to the surrender of the Spanish provincial troops on June 30, 1898, he was promoted to general at the age of 22, becoming the youngest general ever in the Philippine military.
Shortly after the Philippine-American war broke out in early 1899 Del Pilar successfully led the attack on the 4th US Cavalry in the Battle of Quingua (now Plaridel, Bulacan) where the commander of the reinforcing Nebraskan 134th Infantry, Colonel John M. Stotsenburg was killed. His proven leadership and gallantry in combat made him the singular choice to protect the President of the revolutionay government, General Emilio Aguinaldo.
It was at Tirad Pass, Aguinaldo’s passageway to the Cordillera mountains, where the boy general organized 60 handpicked men, to block the pursuing 500-strong U.S. 33rd Infantry Volunteers. In a brutal combat lasting for 5 hours on December 2, 1899, 52 Filipino soldiers were killed including Del Pilar, who was felled by a sniper’s bullet. Recovered from his pockets was a handkerchief bearing his girlfriend’s monogram, and a personal diary with this historic last entry written the night before the battle: “I am surrounded by terrible odds that will overcome me and my gallant men, but I am pleased to die fighting for my beloved country.”
The site of the country’s premier training institution for military officers, known as the Philippine Military Academy, is named Fort del Pilar in his honor, as the enduring symbol of courage, loyalty and youthful idealism.