Martín Delgado was born on November 11, 1858 in Santa Barbara, Iloilo, Philippines to a rich and aristocratic Spanish mestizo family. His parents were Don Jacinto Delgado and Gabriella Bermejo. He went to school at the Santa Barbara Parochial School and later at the St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary, then known as Seminario de San Vicente Ferrer, in Jaro and Ateneo Municipal in Manila.
At the age of 25, he was appointed teniente mayor of his hometown and capitan municipal; positions under the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines. During this period, he was conferring in secret with other Visayan revolutionaries, in preparation for the liberation of the Philippines from Spanish rule.
On 28 October 1898, Delgado marched into Santa Barbara and took control of the municipal building. On that same day, simultaneously uprisings took place in towns across Iloilo. On 17 November 1898, Delgado was promoted to Lieutenant general. On 24 December 1898, the Spanish forces under the command of General Diego de los Rios evacuated Iloilo:511 and the Filipino flag was raised on Christmas Day. On 28 December 1898, General Marcus P. Miller leading an American force arrived to conquer Panay. Assisted by warships from Admiral George Dewey's command, they lowered the Filipino flag and hoisted the American Stars & Stripes, signifying American control.
General Delgado encouraged the Filipino troops to revive their nationalist cause. As the military governor of the province and General-in-Chief of the army, he challenged the American forces led by General Hughes using guerrilla tactics. Eventually, leading citizens of Iloilo wrote a circular urging General Delgado to surrender for the benefit of "the victims of useless resistance."
On February 2, 1901 General Delgado formally surrendered in Jaro to the American military governor, Edmund Rice. Up to the time of his surrender, Delgado was the chief insurgent leader on the island of Panay. He was recognized by the Americans as "the ablest leader" on the island and appointed as the first Governor of Iloilo province upon the establishment of the civil government on 11 April 1901.