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Negros Oriental in the First 75 Years of Spanish Rule

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Negros Oriental History

The first documentary reference to the island of Negros appears in an atlas drawn in 1545 by the renowned Spanish cartographer Alonso de Santa Cruz (c. 1490- 1567). Though locally known as “Buglas,” the island in Santa Cruz’s map bears the legend y de negros, probably derived from reports of the presence of small blacks (negritos) on the island. Thus, a score of years before the Legazpi expedition, the Spaniards already knew the island of Negros by this name.

The first Spanish visit to Negros

The first known Spanish visit to Negros was in 1565, when Legazpi, who was then in Bohol, sent the frigate San Pablo on a reconnaissance trip to Cebu and other northern is­ lands.2 The guides were two well-travelled Bornean pilots, who had been captured when their junk, owned by a Portuguese settler in Brunei, clashed with the Spanish fleet off Bohol some days earlier on.

En route to the settlement of Sugbu, however, strong currents dragged the San Pablo to the island of Negros. A party of 12 men disembarked about what is now Sibulan, then walked some six kilometers- a little over a Spanish legua-southward along the shore to a settlement of some 50 houses, whose inhabitants had fled at the first sight of the strange vessel.

Miguel Lopez De Legazpi

The landing party having reboarded, the San Pablo then coasted around the southern end of Negros, seeing en route a large settlement in the region of what is now Bayawan. In the Ilog-Kabangkalan district, the Spaniards twice attempted a landing, but were accorded a hostile reception, the second occasion erupting in a brief skirmish sh. At a settlement near present-day Bacolod City, a landing party was ambushed by some 150 warriors who quickly killed the chief Bornean pilot with a lance thrust and promptly disappeared with his head into the bushes.

After these encounters, the San Pablo kept some distance from shore and coasted around northern Negros up to what is now Escalante, then crossed over to the western coast of Cebu, returning thereafter to Bohol.

The Bohol-Negros Connection

The hostility of the people of Negros may very well have been sparked by the Portuguese­ Ternatan raid on Bohol, Camiguin, and Limasawa around 1563, some two years before the arrival of the Legazpi expedition. The Portuguese, who had known of the intended Legazpi expedition as early as 1561, had capitalized on and joined a Ternatan vendetta raid on Bohol, to wreck future Spanish chances of a favorable reception in the Visayas. Suddenly attacking on a market day, the Ternatans and the “Castilians from Maluco” slew more than 300 indi­viduals, including nine chiefs, in Bohol and captured some 400 to 500 men, women and children.

Of the survivors, some 800 Bohol families resettled at Dapitan Bay in northwestern Mindanao, while others fled to other islands, including Negros and Panay. It is known that half of the population of Tanjay-perhaps as early as 1565 but certainly by 1568- were refugees from Bohol, who had settled beside the local black inhabitants.

Valeriano Weyler
Don Diego Dela Vina

Foraging for food in Negros

The island of Negros next appears in Spanish records in connection with the food­ hunting expeditions throughout the Visayas beginning the latter half of 1565, when Legazpi’s men increasingly found it difficult to discover and seize food caches in Cebu.

To discourage the Spaniards from scouring their island further for food, the Cebuanos told them that there was plenty of provisions to be had on nearby Negros. At the end of September that year, when the Spaniards’ daily ration had pitifully dwindled to but a small portion of millet per person per day, the Maestro de Campo Mateo del Saz and Captain Martin de Goiti led a party of 100 men to Negros.

The Cebuano guides, however, on the pretext of forging prior arrangements with the local people, landed at a settlement not far from Tanjay, and apparently warned all the local inhabitants to flee. When the Spaniards came to Tanjay two days later, the settlement had been abandoned. Though they remained there for a fortnight, all they could find was a little rice collected from the various deserted houses. Neither did they find anything in two nearby settlements.

In a third well-populated settlement in the region of present-day Bais , the people first skirmished with the Spaniards before fleeing across the river. In yet a fourth settlement, the local people at first promised to sell the Spaniards some 300 baskets of rice within three days. But the entire population promptly absconded into the hills under cover of darkness. The Spaniards subsequently heard from a local inhabitant that a survivor of the Portuguese- Ternatan raid on Bohol had warned the people of eastern Negros to be wary of newly arrived strangers.

Thus, the response of the people of Negros to the initial Spanish intrusion was one of hostility and distrust, not unlike that shown by the Cebuano’s and other Visayans. As the Augustinian Fray Diego de Herrera, O.S.A., a bitter critic of conquistador policy in the Philippines, would put it in a letter to King Philip II in 1567, the people of Cebu and other islands fled and deserted their villages, and those who remained determined not to cultivate sow their fields, believing that by this strategy of resistance (ardid de guerra), they could drive us from their land.

Encomiendas and Evangelization

Before leaving Panay for Luzon, Legazpi paid a return visit to Cebu late in 1570, in order to found on January 1, 1571, the Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jess [now Cebu City] on the ruins of their earlier settlement of “San Miguel,” which the Cebuanos had burned down.

Sixteen days afterwards, Legazpi apportioned the various islands from northern Mindanao to Southern Luzon into four royal and forty-five private encomiendas.

Sixteen of the private encomiendas were established in Negros, all on the west coast except for the encomiendas of the rio de Tanae[Tanjay River], “Davi” [Dauin], and “Monalongon” [Manalongonl on the east coast.Of these three eastern coast encomiendas, the most important, as would soon turn out,was that of Tanjay.

It is also recorded that about 1573, the datu of “Tanae” [Tanjay] and all his retainers who accompanied him were slain at Ilog, where they had gone for a visit. From the context of the report, it would appear that these Tanjay folk were slain because they had submitted to the Spaniards, and the Ilog people had considered them traitors and puppets of the foreigners.

Despite the founding of Cebu in 1571 as a chief Spanish center, Filipino submission to Spain-signified by the erection of mission centers -was rather slow in the Visayas. Up to 1572, only the islands of Cebu and Negros had been “pacified” by the Spaniards.

The first Spanish-founded towns in Negros, resulting from Augustinian efforts to “reduce the scattered populations into compact settlements for easy political organization and control and missionary evangelization, were mostly in western Negros. The very first town founded was that of Binalbagan in 1572. This was followed by Bago in 1575, Tanjay in 1580, and Ilog in 1584.

For more than a decade, the Spanish Augustinians, who were then only friars in the Philippines till the coming of the Franciscans in 1578,were forced by the instability of peace and order and the hostility of the people, to confine their work to their original convent at Cebu and its nearby visitas [out-stations] in San Nicolas and Mandaue. The Augustinians began new work in 1578, their first outreach in Negros being at the river settlement of Tanjay, though no permanent results were obtained, its first missionary, one Father Bartolome de Alcantara, 0.S.A., moving to Panay in 1583.

The first baptisms in Negros were recorded in 1575. But due to the scarcity of personnel, mission work in Binalbagan and Ilog was abandoned in 1579. Though it is claimed that work there resumed in 1584, Bishop Fray Domingo de Salazar, O.P. would state in 1585 that since 1583 or 1584, Negros had been “abandoned” and “the baptized Christians neglected and have once more become idolatrous.

Early Christian missions in Negros

Early Spanish interest in Negros Island was largely confined to the west coast. This was due to the fact that this region was closer and more easily accessible to the Spanish settlement at Arevalo [Oton] in Panay than eastern Negros was from the Spanish city of Cebu. As has been seen, this interest was reflected in the number of Augustinian missions on the west coast as compared to the lone one at Tanjay on the other side of the island. At the Augustinian definitorium in Manila on June 11, 1580, it was noted that the newly founded parish ofTanjay included within its wide jurisdiction the settlements of Dumaguit [Dumaguete], Siaton, Marabago [Bacong], and Manalongon.

In a report of 1582, Don Miguel de Loarca, Corregidor of Arevalo [named after his home city in Spain], noted that the east coast of Negros was sparsely populated, except for the region of the Tanjay River. The encomienda del rio de Tanay [Tanjay], which belonged to Juan Martin, at that time had a population of some 2,200 inhabitants, who were assessed a total of 557 tributes. Tanjay was then served by an unidentified curate, who apparently had his residence in Cebu, and hardly, if ever, visited his wards across the strait.

Interestingly enough, Dumaguete was founded as a parish town only in 1590. Its first known parish priest, who was already there by 1599, if not earlier on, was an Augustinian named Fray Francisco de Santa Maria Oliva, O.S.A. (d. 1628).

Moro Raids in Negros

The Spanish intrusion into the Philippines, particularly their capture Islamic Manila in 1570, galvanized the Islamic peoples of the south into action. A Spanish expedition to Brunei in 1576, along with forays into Sulu and Cotabato, angered not only the rajahs of these places, but also their respective overlords, the Sultan of Brunei and the Sultan of Ternate.

The Spaniard s had come with a crusading spirit. Finding Islam in the Philippines, after having fought for several centuries its adherents in the Iberian peninsula, naturally caused the old spirit of the Reconquista to well up again in Spanish hearts. The result was a confrontation that for over 250 years would pit the Islamic peoples of southern Philippines against the Spanish conquerors and those Filipinos who had submitted to them.

As early as.1573, if not earlier on, the Moros had begun to make annual raids, lasting for the better part of the next 275 years, into coastal settlements which had submitted and allied themselves with the Spaniards. This inaugurated the perennial havoc and destruction along the coasts of Cebu, Negros and Panay, among many other islands.19

Thus, in 1599, a force of 300 Magindanaons in 50 paraos burned the churches and convents of Ilog and Binalbagan, and killed the friar-curate in each, as well as all other inhabitants they could find. The following year, another raiding party twice as large was repulsed at their main object ive in Arevalo, but they vented their fury on other coastal towns and took no less than 800 Christi an captives.

These raids and those which followed impeded and significantly slowed down the Spanish reducci6n of the scatered farming and fishing communities into regular towns. The attack on Ilog and Binalbagan in 1599, for example, forced the Augustinians to abandon these places. Other Augustinians in equally unprotected and dangerous areas were also moved to safe r missions elsewhere. Thus, at the end of 1599, Padre Oliva of Dumaguete, was transferred to Panay, where he served successively at Potol, Mambusao and Jaro. As a result, the Augustinians by 1600 had handed over to the secular clergy at Cebu their work in the towns of Binalbagan, Ilog, Tegdaguang, Bago, Tanjay and Dumaguete.

With the initial hostility of the local people and the perennial Moro raids from the south, not to mention other perils that arose from time to time, the Spaniards were able to dominate Negros Island-as indeed also the rest of the country- only by a combination of force and persuasion, politics and religion, and one might even say- threats and promises.

The Mission of Tanjay

At a time when colonization [conquista temporal] and Christianization [conquista espiritual] were juxtaposed one beside the other, the Spaniards decided to offset the effects of the Moro raids by strengthening their hold on those coastal places they already controlled. In the circumstances, the best way to do this was to hasten the process of conversion and strengthen the new converts’ commitment to the Christian faith. This is best illustrated by the mission of Tanjay in 1599, the administration of which had by this time been ceded by the Augustinians to the secular clergy in Cebu.

The secular priest assigned as vicar of Tanjay at that time was Don Diego Ferreira, the first archdeacon of the Cebu Cathedral. But as he had no knowledge of Cebuano and, moreover,resided only at Cebu, no one really took care of the spiritual nurture of the baptized Cristians of Tanjay.

Fortunately, the Jesuit Visitator of the Philippine Vice-Province had earlier promised the Bishop of Cebu to include Tanjay in the Jesuits’ regular circuit in the Visayas. On Father Ferreira’s personal request, the Jesuit Superior sent over to Tanjay Father Gabriel Sanchez,S.J.,of the Baclayon mission in Bohol. A man noted for his quick mastery of Cebuano and his success in converting and baptizing the aged Bohol chieftain Datu Sikatuna and the latter’s wife, Father Sanchez seemed the best person for the Tanjay mission.

When Father Sanchez first came to Tanjay toward the end of 1599, there were little more than 500 baptized Christians out of the 2,800 inhabitants or so of the settlement near the mouth of the Tanjay River. As the people had not had any missionary to teach them the Christian faith, they had not been able to form any “concept of the things of God,” nor had they even heard of the Holy Spirit.
Upon his arrival, Sanchez found all the people gathered on the beach, rejoicing with much music and other signs of joy. They then immediately proceeded to the makeshift church, where Sanchez promptly preached and explained to them the basic fundamentals of the Christian faith. By the second sermon, almost all reportedly had become “suddenly changed.” Within one month, Sanchez received the confession of some 400 penitents, who afterwards partook of the Eucharist with great devotion. During the same period, Father Sanchez also baptized some 80 well-instructed converts. There were also reports of numerous “miraculous” healings and a heavenly vision of Christ reportedly seen by a number o fpeople.

So successful was Father Sanchez in this mission that when he returned to Tanjay much later, he found his wards continuing steadfast in the faith and living as best they could the Christian ideals he had taught them. It is perhaps not surprising that subsequently, Tanjay would justifiably be the pride of Catholic missions in Negros-a fact which today has not diminished in meaning or significance. The Filipino is inherently religious, and it was through religion that the Spaniards were able to exercise-in both positive and negative ways-control over those eastern Negrenses who had submitted to the Christian Gospel.

Although the ecclesiastical administration of Negros remained nominally under the control of the See of Cebu, the lack of secular priests led to the regular clergy, and in particular the Recollects and the Jesuits, being subsequently asked to take over certain parishes which the seculars could not occupy. The first Recollects came to Negros in 1622. Largely through their efforts, the disbanded settlements of Ilog, Binalbagan and Bago were reorganized as towns in 1625, while a new one was also established at Jimamaylan. It was also the Recollects who convinced Governor General Alfonso Fajardo de Tenza, to fortify the island of Negros. This resulted in the erection in several coastal towns of defense and lookout towers, some of stone masonry, though the rest were only of light materials. Under San Nicolas’s leadership, a tower was completed in Dumaguete in 1624, though the present tower beside the cathedral is of a date nearly a century afterwards. By 1628, however, the Recollects decided to concentrate their efforts in northeastern Mindanao, and turned over to the Jesuits all their missions in Negros.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Jesuits had taken over the administration of all former Recollect missions in western Negros, except one which remain ed in Augustinian hands. The eastern half of the.is land, however, remained in the hands of the diocesan clergy of Cebu.