Negros Occidental

Negros Occidental
By Apolinario Villalobos

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Negros Island was known as Buglas. The Spaniards, however, who saw the island inhabited by Negritoes, called it Negros which stuck until today.

Starting as a military district during the occupation of the Spaniards, the western part was sparsely populated, with only Ilog and Binalbagan as the major settlements. For administrative purposes, the western part became a part of the Province of Iloilo with Ilog as the capital. The seat of government, however, was transferred to Himamaylan, then to Bacolod, the present capital.

Don Emilio Saravia was the first politico-military General when Negros was raised to the category of a politico-military province. Rapid growth took place in the last half of the nineteenth century during which there was a heavy incursion of migrants from Antique, Capiz and Cebu, who occupied sparsely populated districts. Sugar cane plantations mushroomed. Partly responsible for the remarkable increase of haciendas, were the opening of Iloilo and Cebu ports the ports to foreign commerce. As for the province, strategically located harbors became the site of busy days in hauling loads of sugar canes to barges and ships.

The island was divided into two in 1890, but the civil government was established only on April 20, 1901. The islanders were lucky for not having experienced a bloody revolution, unlike the provinces of Luzon. This could be attributed to the lax administration of the Spanish and the ingenuity of the Negrenses during the “actual” revolution which lasted for only twenty-four hours. Revolutionary plans which were closely coordinated with Aguinaldo in Luzon were also smoothly carried out on the island.

November 5, 1898 saw the forces of General Araneta converging at the town plaza of Bago and amidst shouts tinged with patriotism, proclaimed the “First Republic of Negros”. It was the beginning of the island’s own version of revolution which was full of bluff. The Negrenses were poorly armed, though overwhelming in number compared to the only three hundred but well-armed Spanish soldiers and two platoons of native civil guards who were concentrated at Bacolod. The governor-general during that time was Col. Isidro de Castro y Cisveros.

The Negrenses’ only armament consisted of three guns: a mauser rifle, a Remington revolver, and a shotgun. The rest were with knives, bolos, and spears. The ingenuity of Gen. Araneta made him thought of letting his men carry nipa stems to look like rifles and pull rolled “sawali” mats to look like cannons which they did at dawn. The effect was tremendous, that the outnumbered Spanish forces under Castro did not offer any resistance at all.

The bluff which probably was the biggest and most daring in the annals of the country’s historic past made Negros Occidental a free province while on the island of Luzon, lives were sacrificed and bloods were shed.

The Negrenses as the rest of the Filipinos in other parts of the archipelago had all the reasons to fight to the last for freedom’s sake. They knew the extent of the land’s fertility which is particularly suited to sugar cane. It once competed with Cuba and other sugar producing countries in supplying the world market with the sweet granules, reputed in the ancient times as the food of the kings.

Occupying the northern and western part of the island in the heart of the Visayas region, the province has an area of 774,000 hectares with 560,988 actually cultivated, the bigger chunk of which to sugar cane.

By sea, the province is accessible through the ports of Pulupandan on the west, Escalante on the north and San Carlos on the east. The northern and western portions of the province are characterized by vast plains. The rest are mountain ranges that vary in elevation. Sulphuric and medicinal springs are found in the province, but the most popular is Mambucal of Murcia. Rivers break the monotony of the coastal plain, with Silay, Ilog, Binalbagan, and Bago as the major ones.

The people of Negros Occidental, as those on the oriental side, may be called Negrenses, Negrosanon or Bisaya. A few of the Negritoes who were originally, the settlers of the island, can be found in the hinterlands. And, those who claim to be “natives”, are actually descendants of migrants from the nearby provinces of Cebu and Panay Island. The middle part of the Spanish era saw the peak of their influx and some had intermarried with these foreigners, a reason why some of the Negrenses are mestizos.

The Negrenses are characterized by their kindness and gregariousness. There’s always the presumption that those who come from Negros are rich, and this embarrases the real Negrense who is actually, humble. Very likeable, the Negrense easily trusts even strangers. Seldom can one find a suspicious Negrense. On the other hand, he will always find a way to help a stranger. A happy lot, they call each other and even strangers “migs”, a contraction of “amigo” or “amiga”, Spanish for “friend”. Eighty to ninety percent of the population speaks Hiligaynon, and the rest speaks Cebuano. Although, Filipino is taught in school, this is seldom used.

The 15,606 hectares of fertile land referred to by the natives as Bacolod is known before as “Buklod” or “Bakolod”, which means, “hump”. Governor General Narciso Claveria declard it as the fourth capital of the whole island in 1848. It was only later that the big portion of the land was planted to sugar cane, as during the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives were planting only palay, corn, and sweet potato in a settlement which was then called, “Daan-Banwa”.

The rich Hispanic heritage of the province is showcased in Castillian residences distributed throughout the province but with most, concentrated at Silay City, touted as the “Paris of Negros”. Foremost of these historic landmarks is “Balay Negrense”. Other remarkable landmarks are the Palacio Episcopal, San Sebastian Cathedra and the Capitol Building.
Serving as reminders about the rich past of the province during the heyday of sugar production, are the steam locomotives in some towns that used to carry sugar canes to azucareras.

Notable too, are the province’s nationally- recognized personas, such as Leandro Locsin for Architecture, and Conchita Gaston for music, the latter as an internationally- recognized mezzo-soprano. A unique Negrense art is well- expressed in the Victorias Milling Company chapel with a mural of the “angry” Christ as its centerpiece, a masterpiece of local artist, Alfonso Ossorio.

Negros Occidental’s enticement is not limited to its historic heritage, but also in its fiestas or carnivals. The most popular among these fiestas is the “Masskara” of Bacolod City which features colorful smiling masks worn by street dance performers. The rest of the festivals are “Pasalamat” of La Carlota, “Pintaflores” of San Carlos, and the “Bailes de Luces” of La Castellana. While the festivals have their own dates for celebration, they are showcased during the “Pana-ad sa Negros Festival” held every April in the vast 25 hectares Pana-ad Stadium. The so-called Festival of festivals, bring together all the 13 cities and 19 towns of the province in several days of collective activities that include tourist,trade,commercial and cultural fair. Exhibits, beauty and talent competitions, as well as, games are crammed in the limited days of the celebration.

For outdoor sports enthusiast, the province offers Mt. Kanlaon National Park that teems with different species of indigenous plants teeming birdlife. The mountain is the object of yearly summer climb of mountaineering groups and individuals, both local and foreign. Aside from the national park, other unspoiled natural charms of the province may be discovered, as one explores areas that are off-the-beaten trails…the non-traditional destinations, such as Cauayan, 133 kilometers away from Bacolod City. The town has its own white beach, the Punta Bulata, aside from its being the take-off point for Danjugan Marine Life Sanctuary which is a veritable dive and snorkeling spot, aside from the varied birdlife for the delight birdwatchers. The town’s picturesque Lina-on Bay offers a nice perch for a sweeping view of the Sulu Sea. It would also be nice to take a respite at the Punta Sojoton lighthouse for a view of the extent of the Cauayan coastline.

Other destinations that should not be missed because of their natural attractions are Sipalay with its forty-two identified dive sites, white beaches, and wrecks at Campomanes Bay; Hinoba-aan, the tuna capital of the province, also, with its white beaches, and Ubong Cave; Ma-ao with its Kipot Falls; and, Silay’s Patag Heights from where the breathtaking canyon of Mt. Marapara can be viewed.

The province can be accessed via flights from Manila, as well as, ports of Pulupandan, Escalante and San Carlos. For those who are interested to scale Mt. Kanlaon, arrangement should be made with the local government’s tourism office.

Ang Buhay sa Lansangan

Ang Buhay sa Lansangan
Ni Apolinario Villalobos

Kung pagmasdan silang pinagkaitan ng rangya
Di maiwasang may maramdaman tayong awa
Nakapaa at nagtutulak ng kariton kung minsan
Basang sisiw naman sila, kapag inabutan ng ulan.

Abala palagi sa pangangalakal o sa pamamasura
Wala sa isip nila ang sumilong upang magpahinga
Habol ay makarami ng mga mapupulot at maiipon
Hindi alintana pagbabadya ng masamang panahon.

Sa mga nadadampot na styrophor galing sa Jollibee
Bigay ay saya dahil may matitikmang tirang ispageti
Kahit iilang hibla lamang na may kulapol pang ketsap
Sa maingat na pagsubo, dama’y abot-langit na sarap.

Gula-gulanit ang suot na kamiseta, at nanggigitata pa
Kung damit naman, kung di masikip, ay maluwag siya
Kung pantalon naman, walang zipper, at butas –butas
Subali’t hindi alintana, may maisuot lang, kahi’t kupas.

Kapos sa mga ginhawang may dulot ay materyal na pera
Puso namang may nakakasilaw na busilak ay meron sila
Walang hiling kundi matiwasay na umaga sa paggising –
Kahi’t mahapdi ang tiyan dahil sa gutom, di dumadaing.

May mga bagay, dapat nating mapulot sa mga ugali nila
Pampitik sa atin upang gumising at magbubukas ng mata
Gaya ng hindi maging sakim at mapag-imbot sa kapwa
Bagkus, maghintay at magpasalamat sa bigay na biyaya!

May Pag-asa Pa Kayang Makabawi ang Pilipinas sa West Philippine Sea?

May Pag-asa Pa Kayang Makabawi
ang Pilipinas sa West Philippine Sea?
Ni Apolinario Villalobos

Masakit sabihing parang wala nang pag-asang magkaroon pa ng katuturan ang mga paghihirap ng Pilipinas sa pagsampa ng mga kaso sa international court laban sa Tsina tungkol sa usapin sa West Philippine Sea. Hayagang sinabi ng Tsina na hindi nila rerespetuhin ano man ang kalalabasan ng imbestigasyon. Ibig sabihin, hindi nila pinaniniwalaan ang poder ng korte.

Ang ASEAN naman na inaasahang magbubuklod laban sa Tsina ay halatang wala ring magawa bilang isang organisasyon. Ang Amerika na halos panikluhuran ng administrasyon upang masandalan sa harap ng banta ng Tsina, ay pinaiigting ang joint exercises at ng sinasabing kasunduan sa pagkakaroon ng animo ay pansamantalang “kampo” at mga daungan sa Pilipinas, mga bagay na hinahadlangan naman ng iba’t ibang makabayang grupo. Sa isang banda ay tama ang mga grupong ito dahil parang ang gusto lang ng Amerika sa Pilipinas ay gamitin nila itong harang sa anumang hindi kanais-nais na kilos ng Tsina sa mga susunod na panahon. Kaya, magkabombahan man, Pilipinas ang unang tatamaan! Sa madaling salita, ginawang sangkalan ang Pilipinas.

Subali’t habang nagpapakita ng pakikipagtulungan ang Amerika sa Pilipinas, pinapalakas naman nito ang ugnayan sa mga Tsino. Ibig sabihin, parang pinaglalaruan lang ng Amerika ang Pilipinas. Malaki daw ang utang ng Amerika sa Tsina.

Nagkaroon kamakaylan lamang ng isang exhibit ng old maps na nagpapakita na noon pa mang unang panahon, ay talagang wala namang ginawang pag-aangkin ang Tsina sa kahit na anong bahagi ng mga karagatan sa paligid ng Pilipinas. Ang mga Tsino noon ay “dumadayo” lamang sa mga isla ng Pilipinas upang makipagkalakalan, hanggang sa magkaroon sila ng sariling distrito sa Maynila na tinawag na “parian” noong panahon ng Kastila, na ngayon ay ang maunlad na Chinatown. Sa exhibition ng mga lumang mapa, wala ni isa sa mga ito ang maski may kapirasong pagtukoy ng pag-angkin ng anumang bahura ng Pilipinas, lalo na sa pinag-aagawang West Philippine Sea.

Ang bagong henerasyon ng mga lider ng Tsina ang malinaw na may pakana sa pangangamkam ng mga bahura sa bahagi ng kanlurang karagatan ng Pilipinas, kaya pati ang mga karatig- bansa ay nadamay na rin, dahil pati ang dati na nilang kinikilalang mga bahura ay inaangkin na rin ng Tsina.

Sa mga bansa na may kinalaman sa problemang angkinan, bukod tanging Pilipinas ang mukhang kawawa. Ang nag-iisang barkong kinulapulan na ng kalawang at talaba, na ginawang headquarters ng mga bantay-dagat ay nagmumukhang yagit kung ihambing sa mga dambuhalang barko ng Tsina, at maski ng Vietnam. Maaaring kung hindi pa nabahura ay hindi pa ginawang headquarters at malamang naiwang nakatiwangwang ang bahurang inaangkin ng Pilipinas. Malamang pa rin na, natayuan na rin ng headquarter ng Tsina tulad ng ginawa nila sa ibang bahura. Ngayon, may isa pang bahura silang pinatatayuan din mga estruktura, at pasok na pasok din ito sa teritoryo ng Pilipinas. Sa kabila nito, walang magawa ang Pilipinas kundi manood!

Paano pang matatanggal ang mga estruktura ng Tsina sa mga bahurang pinag-aagawan, kung yong iba ay kung ilang dekada nang nakatayo at ang isa pa ay patapos na?

Malaki ang tiwala ng Tsina sa kakayahan nito ngayon pagdating sa mga bagay na may kinalaman sa kaunlaran – pang-ekonomiya man o pandigma. At dahil dito, hindi basta-basta yuyuko ito sa anumang ipag-uutos ng maski isang international Court. Nakikita ng Tsina na humihina ang United Nations bilang organisasyon ng mga bansa. Wala itong nagawa sa mga nangyayaring kaguluhan sa Middle East at Yuropa. Nakikita at nararamdaman ng Tsina ang kahinaan ng Amerika na dinadaan na lang sa verbal bluff ang mga babala. Napahiya si Obama nang may ilang bansa sa Middle East na hindi lubos na nagbigay sa kanya ng supurta upang “mapulbos” ang Islamic State (IS). Kaya ano pa ang magagawa nito sa Southeast Asia na ang ekonomiya nga lang ay nakagapos na sa Tsina? …. kahit nga toothpick at cotton buds ng mga bansang miyembro ng ASEAN ay galing Tsina!

Malamang sa malamang, kompromiso ang mangyayari sa West Philippine Sea kung saan hahayaan na lang na pangasiwaan ng Tsina ang mga bahurang napatayuan na nito ng mga estruktura, dahil wala naman talagang kakayahang bumangga ang Pilipinas dito. Maaaring naghihintay lamang ang Tsina ng isang provocative na kilos ng Pilipinas upang gumawa ito ng nakakabahalang aksiyon…na sana ay hindi mangyari. Kaya, kung sa tanong na may magagawa pa ang Pilipinas, sa kabila ng mga inihain nitong reklamo sa international court…para sa akin, ang sagot ay isang malungkot na…wala.

Aklan (Visayas Region, Philippines)

By Apolinario Villalobos

Aklan, which was known before as “Akean” could be considered as both the youngest and the oldest province of the Philippines. Together with what is now Capiz, it was established as the “Minuro it Akean” by settlers from Borneo in 1213. The location of the capital of Aklan was changed several times. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the capital was moved to the present site of Batan which was captured by a group of Chinese adventurers led by Datu Kalantiaw in 1399 from Datu Dinagandan. Kalantiaw’s son, Kalantiaw III, set down in 1433, a written moral code which has come to be known as Code of Kalantiaw. The short-lived Kalantiaw Dynasty ended when Kalantiaw III was slain in a duel with Datu Manduyog, a legitimate successor to Datu Dinagandan. The new leader moved the capital to Bakan (Banga) in 1437. Several datus succeeded Manduyog, and when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi landed in Batan in 1565, Datu Kabanyag was ruling Aklan from what is now Barrio Guadalupe in Libacao.

During the time of Legazpi, Aklan was divided into five “enconmiendas” which were distributed among his followers. Settlements along the Aklan river were administered by Antonio Flores; those in the area of Mambusao, by Gaspar Ruiz de Morales; those in the present- day Ibajay, by Pedro Sarmiento; those in the area of Batan by Francisco de Rivera; and those in the area of Panay, by Pedro Gullen de Lievena.

Along with political changes, the Spaniards introduced Christianity that resulted to the conversion of thousands of Aklanons, and who, were baptized by Father Andres de Aguirre. Towns were laid out following the Spanish system -each organized around a plaza surrounded by the church, municipal building and the school. Roads were also carved from forests to connect the principal towns to each other. In 1716, the area of the old Aklan was administered together with Capiz, as one province, but with the central government based at the latter.

In 1896, an Aklanon member of Bonifacio’s Katipunan arrived in Batan to organize the local struggle for freedom. The battles fought are commemorated today by numerous municipal holidays, with New Washington’s “Pacto de Sangre” as one. Having developed an identity of their own, including a distinct dialect, the people of Aklan did not feel it right that they should be governed from Capiz whose inhabitants spoke a different dialect.

When the Spaniards ceded the Philippines to the Americans, the Aklanons petitioned for their separation from Capiz. In 1901, upon the arrival of the Taft Commission in Capiz for the inauguration of the new civil government under the Americans, the Aklan delegation, headed by Natalio B. Acevedo, presented a formal request for the separation. The request was not denied outright, nor was it acted upon immediately. As a compromise, however, the Americans promised to set up a separate Court of First Instance for Aklan at Batan, and appointed Simeon Mobo Reyes as the first Provincial Secretary.

The struggle for separation became more intense, with the sentiment expressed in the “Akeanon”, a publication which initially saw print in 1914. Aklanons in Congress filed numerous bills, such as the Urquiola-Alba Bill in 1920, the Laserna-Suner Bills in 1925 and 1930, and the Tumbokon Bill in 1934.

Aklan, finally became an independent province when the late President Ramon Magsaysay signed into law on April 25, 1956, the RA 1414, separating it from Capiz. This law was authored by then Congressman Godofredo P. Ramos who, together with Augusto B. Legaspi, were chosen as delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention later on. The province was officially inaugurated on November 8, 1956, with Jose Raz Menez appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay, as the first Governor, and who, served until December 30, 1959. In 1960, Godofredo P. Ramos became the first elected governor, but upon his resignation due to his intention to run for Congress, he was succeeded by the vice-governor, Virgilio S. Patricio.

The Aklanons speak a distinct “karay-a” dialect much different from those spoken in other parts of Panay Island, and the accent is likewise unique. Most noticeable is the pronunciation of letter “l” as “y”. Just like the rest of Visayans, they however, are noted for their hospitality, kindness and charm. As for culture, theirs is also of a diverse blend of the Hispanic, American, and Malay.

Being a coastal province, Aklan is never without delightful beaches to boast, with those located at Numancia and Mabilo as the most proximate to the capital town of Kalibo. For spelunkers, there’s Tigayon Cave to explore.

Around seven kilometers from Kalibo is Banga with its Manduyog hill which was once used as a lookout against the marauding pirates. It is now the site of the Aklan Agricultural College. The hill also features life-size images depicting the twelve stations of the Cross, distributed along the winding trail cut from the side of the hill. From the crest, one can have a commanding view of the plains below, as well as, the Sibuyan Sea.

The province’s past is preserved at a shrine in Batan that serves as repository or museum of historical mementos attesting to its rich past. Batan was the seat of government of Datu Kalantiaw III, author of the famous moral code named after him. At Songkolan, four kilometers from the poblacion, is Ob-ob Hill where one can have a view of the Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea).

At Tangalan, an hour’s drive from Kalibo is Jawili Falls, a beautiful seven-tiered falls, set in a picturesque lush surrounding of trees and palms. Going farther northwest, one can reach the elevated town of Ibajay. And, several kilometers from it is Campo Verde, the pine-covered reforestation project of the province.

The twenty-kilometer Tulingan Cave is found at Nabas which stretches from Barrio Libertad of the town to Barrio Patris of Pandan town in the neighboring province of Antique. It features clear pools and guano deposits.

Passing through Buruanga, an historically significant town, being the temporary settlement of the early settlers during the Glacial Period, once can reach Caticlan, a barrio of Malay, and where pumpboats can be taken for Boracay, a world-renown island, for its powder- white sandy beaches. Due to the significant influx of tourists to the island, Caticlan has now an airport that can accommodate flights from Manila and other major cities.

Aside from Boracay, Aklan is also noted for its Ati-Atihan Festival celebrated at Kalibo every January, although it is alleged by some locals that the original festival was held at Ibajay. During the three-day celebration, the air reverberates with the shouts of “Hala Bira!” and “Viva, Sr. Santo Niῆo”. The feeling, as one is carried by the current of swaying and dancing devotees, is just ecstatic. No word is enough to describe the contaminating emotion amidst the deafening shouts, shrill sounds of whistles and ever increasing crescendo of beaten drums. One day is reserved for street dancing competition among “tribes”, during which the different local groups and some from other provinces show their dancing prowess and colorful costumes.

Kalibo, the capital town is served by different domestic airlines, shipping lines and ferries. Buses and aircon vans for Caticlan are available for those who would like to make a side trip to Boracay. The capital town was actually, the traditional jump-off point in going to Caticlan, until the latter’s airport was finally constructed to accommodate direct flights from Manila and other major cities.