Some 150 years ago, the east coast of Negros was but a string of seven sleepy parish towns, hardly touched by the main currents of Philippine political, economic and cultural life,the ripples of which almost always stopped short either at Bacolod or Cebu.
For a seafaring people, the demographic observation almost invariably applies that mountains divide and seas unite. Not surprisingly, eastern Negros speaks Cebuano, while its western counterpart follows the Hiligaynon tongue of Panay. This divided identification was one of the main reasons for the retarded progress of eastern Negros. For while culturally it belonged to the Cebu orbit, politically it was attached to Hiligaynon-speaking western Negros. Moreover, for more than 150 years beginning 1734, the provincial capital of Negros Island was located on the west coast, and after 1854 only a corregidor, who apparently was more often at his residence in Bacolod than at his post, was appointed to Dumaguete to oversee affairs on the east coast.
The Beginnings of the Provincial Government
The eighteenth century was a period of fierce resurgence of “Moro piracy.” To a great extent, this was merely a continuation of the resistance of the Islamic peoples in Mindanao against Spanish intrusion. But there was an economic dimension now involved, because the great demand for labor in the plantations of the Dutch East Indies [now Indonesia] encouraged slave trading at the expense of the coastal Christian communities in northern Mindanao and the Visayas, and even as far as the Batanes.
Partly to remedy this adverse condition, the island of Negros was created into a separatee corregimiento [politico-military district] in 1734. Previous to this, Negros had been administratively divided between Cebu and Arevalo. The first capital was Ilog till it was transferred Jimamaylan in 1745. Only in 1854 was the capital, of what by then had become the Province ef Negros, moved to Bacolod.
No matter how primitive compared to twentieth century standards, the modicum of sanitation and health measures introduced by the Spanish missionaries tended towards the increase of population-and this despite the frequent Moro depredations. The result was that the closing years of the eighteenth century and immediately thereafter witnessed the establishment of more towns in Negros.
On the east coast alone, the two towns of Tanjay and Dumaguete, which had stood alone for nearly two centuries, were augmented with the creation of Dauin in 1787, Tayasan in 1790, Siaton in 1796, Jimalalud in 1797, Guihulngan and Bacong in 1800, as well as the town of Siquijor in 1794.
The Towns of Negros Oriental
In 1850 the seven parish towns of eastern Negros stretched along only a third, the southernmost, of the entire coast-from Tayasan in the north to Siaton in the south. These towns [pueblos] were usually described as con cura y gobernadorcillo [“with parish priest and mayor”], and had a church, a convent, a municipal building [tribunal], and sometimes also a parochial school supported by community funds.
The largest pueblo was Dumaguete, which with its barrios [or anejos], had a total population in 1850 of 18,261. The second largest pueblo was that of Bacong, which had a total population of 5,017. Tanjay came next with 4,966 inhabitants, followed by Tayasan with 4,912, and then Siaton with 4,689. Then came the only recently founded town of Amblan [Amlan], which at that time had a population of 3,281, plus another 317 residing in its visita [mission out-station] at Ayuquitan. The smallest towns were Dauin with 1,903 people, Sibu lan with 1,371, and finally Guihulngan, which with its two missions of Bauyan and Cotcot only had a total of 22 houses and 132 souls.
As the largest parish center, Tanjay then had six visitas stretching northwards more than 100 kilometers along the coast. These were Bais, with a local population of 458, followed by Manjuyod with 741, then Ayungon with 300, Jimalalud with 393, and Hinubaan [now La Libertad] with 80. In connection with Siaton, mention was also made of the mission of Basay, which at that time had a population of 425, of whom 11 adults and 65 children were baptized only on December 19, 1850.
On Siquijor Island in 1850, there were only two towns, namely, Siquijor with its visitas at Tigbauan and Macapilay, and Canaan [now Larena], which had a population of 6,137 souls.
These demographic statistics, however, are quite misleading in that the vast majority of the population, who were either farmers or fishermen, did not live in the poblaciones, but in the barrios. But if one may hazard a guess in the light of all available evidences, it appears that the largest poblaci6n, Dumaguete, which in 1850 had 896 houses of light materials [de sencilla construccion], probably had about 5,300 people; while Tanjay, which had some 360 houses, also of light materials, perhaps had some 2,200 the rest of the people being in the barrios.
Weyler and the creation of Negros Oriental
In a letter to the Minister of the Ultramar [Overseas Possessions] Manuel Becerra, dated Manila, January 8, 1899, Governor General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau expressed the view that the major cause for the rise of lawless elements in the east coast of Negros was the lack of effective government control.
This was because Bacolod, the island’s capital, had really no contact with the east coast for the greater part of the year Governor Weyler therefore suggested the creation of a comandancia Politico-Militar, comprising the territory of the pueblo de Tanjay and extending as far south as the mission of Bagajian near Tulong.
This was to be called “Negros del Sur,” and was to be headed by the Commandant of the Comandancia Politico-Militar of Escalante, founded by royal decree in 1859. The latter official, Cavalry Lieutenant Don Miguel Reguera, was to take his residence in Tanjay until otherwise instructed.
What then ensued was a lot of debate, haggling and gerrymandering when the plan took effect in 1890, Negros was indeed divided in two provinces, but not according to Weyler’s original delineation.
Instead of Norte and Sur, the island was divided into Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, the powerful men in Bacolod masterfully succeeding in retaining for their province the well developed area of the entire northeastern section of the island [which really is in the oriental part of Negros!], placating Negros Oriental by tilting the boundary line a bit to the southeast, to include a portion of dense forests and road-less coasts from Bayawan to Basay.
Thus was born in 1890 the two provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.
The Philippine Revolution
The next great event which sharply impinged upon the life of the people of Negros was the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896. In Negros, the local leaders were generally mestizo- Spanish Filipino or Spanish-Filipino-Chinese, some of them with Chinese sounding names like Lacson or Locsin. These mestizo elites represented a commingling of interests, the result of intermarriage between the Spanish overlords, the Filipino principalia or petty ruling classes, and the despised but moneyed Chinese merchant class.
But except for Pantaleon “Leon Kilat” Villegas, Don Diego de la Vina (1849-1920), a Spanish-Filipino-Chinese mestizo and a liberal arts graduate from the University of Oviedo, and a few young illustrados like the brothers Meliton and Demetria Larena, Hermenigildo Villanueva, Felipe Tayko, Luis Rotea, Pedro Tapia, Sergio Cinco, who were all students or graduates of colleges in Iloilo or Manila, 49 the rest of the Negros elites were disinterested, if not in fact, hostile to the revolution. Indeed, Bais and La Carlota mustered volunteers to defend their towns “against the Tagalogs,” while the former and Cadiz celebrated the Spanish recapture of the Cavite towns of Imus and Bacoor in 1896.
The fact is that Leon Kilat was the only one from Negros who had voluntarily enlisted in the Philippine Revolutionary Army in 1897.But there was no revolutionary army to speak of in Negros. As late as April 5, 1898, the Spanish Governor of Negros Oriental would report to the Governor General that the inhabitants of this province were “peaceful in character,” and that “no associations whether authorized or secret existed.”Thus, Leon Kilat had to go to Cebu to take command of the revolutionary forces in that province till his assassination at Carcar on April 8, 1898.
The fact is that actual conflict in Negros did not take place until after the American capture of Manila on August 13, 1898. When General Diego de los Rios, commanding officer of all Spanish forces in Visayas,and Mindanao, sought to continue the Spanish colonial government from his headquarters in Iloilo, Filipino leaders in Negros rose to action. Under the command of General Juan Araneta, Negros Occidental raised the standard of revolt on November 5, 1898,with the Spaniards in Bacolod promptly capitulating the following day. Within a week, revolutionary forces in Negros Oriental under the command of General Diego de la Vina likewise drove away the last of the Spanish troops and colonial officials from Negros Oriental.