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.

Alluring Antique and the Late Governor Evelio B. Javier

Alluring Antique

And the late Gov. Evelio B. Javier

By Apolinario Villalobos

Antique is invariably likened in shape to a seahorse and described by others as an oversized serrated hemline on the western border of the three-cornered, scarf-like land mass that is Panay. It is nestled between the bluish China Sea on the west and mountain ranges on the east. With a length of 155 kilometers and a width of 33 kilometers at its widest, Antique has a total land area of approximately 252,000 hectares. Long mountain ranges separate it from the rest of the provinces of Panay Island. It is bounded on the north and northeast by Aklan, on the east by Capiz, and on the southeast by Iloilo. On the west is the Cuyo East Pass of the Sulu Sea, part of the vast China Sea.

The province is rich in metallic, as well as, non-metallic minerals. Metallic reserves include copper, chromite, gold and silver, while the non-metallic include China clay, structural clay, pottery clay, phosphate, coal and marble. A yet, undetermined volume of manganese, nickel, gold and silver are believed to abound in the lowlands of Pandan and Libertad. Coal is found on Semirara Island.

Other than rich geologic resources, Antique is also endowed by nature with alluring attributes that are bound to enthrall visitors, making them wonder how it could have stayed unnoticed for a long time.

The Antiqueῆos, just like the rest of the inhabitants of Panay Island are charming and hospitable. They are ready with a smile that can make a stranger feel at home, the moment he steps on the province’s threshold. There is a mingling tint of races in their physical make up. While some show strong Malay features, the rest are of the Ati and Spanish strains. Their Visayan dialect, called Karay-a may not sound lilting due to its rolling accent, but the intonation is pleasant to the ear.

Antique’s own kind of January festival with a religious undertone, though, with strong historic feature is called “Binirayan Festival”. The “biray” refers to the sailboats used by the ten Bornean datu who landed at Malandag, when they escaped the tyrannical rule of their sultan, Makatunaw. Their landing site at Malandag is marked with an austere structure. The celebration has caught up with the rest of the festivals of provinces of Panay, such as Ati-Atihan of Kalibo (Aklan), Dinagyang of Iloilo, and Halaran of Roxas (Capiz).

A visitor will never be bored in Antique which is blessed by nature with mountains, waterfalls, profuse wildlife, beaches and coral gardens, not to mention the historic landmarks in practically, every town. At San Jose de Buenavista, the capital, snorkeling can be enjoyed at Comun, where clusters of colorful reefs can be found. It has also its share of beautiful beaches, such as the Madranga and Taringting, where visitors usually rest after a day’s revelry during the Binirayan Festival, held at its permanent site, the La Granja.

South of San Jose de Buenavista, a little more than an hour away from downtown, is Anini-y, with its medicinal sulphuric Sira-an hot spring, that gushes out of rocks, overlooking the Panay Gulf. The town’s Hispanic past is punctuated by its centuries-old church made of white corals. It also takes pride in its two islands, Nogas and Hurao-Hurao. The former is ringed by coral gardens, while the latter can be reached by wading in the water during low tide. There’s also the Cresta del Gallo which the locals call Punta Nasog, so appropriately named because the cliffs look like a cock’s comb, especially, when they are silhouetted against the darkening horizon late in the afternoon.

A quarter of an hour’s drive from San Jose is Hamtic, the site of the first Malay settlement in Panay. The site is particularly located at Malandag, a progressive district where an austere structure serves as the marker of the historic spot.

Going northeast on a forty-five minutes of commute on a jeepney, one will reach San Remegio, a beautiful hillside town, frequented by weekenders for its two scenic waterfalls, as well as, Bato Cueva, a cave situated on a hill. From this perch, one can have a sweeping view of the plains traversed by a river down below, and cloud-capped jade mountains.

At Culasi, one will surely be impressed by the mountain ranges that serve as the boundary between the neighboring provinces of Capiz and Aklan, with Mt. Madia-as as the highest peak. Approaching the mountain from town, its awe-inspiring “hundred waterfalls” can make one gasp in admiration.

Seen from the shores of Culasi is Mararison Island which could be reached on a pumpboat in thirty minutes. During the ‘80s, we had a rare opportunity to pitch tent on it shore after our memorable climb of Mt. Madia-as. While approaching the island, we were impressed by the coral gardens below the calm waters, so that, as soon as we have pitched our tents, we raced to them. Practically, the whole island is ringed by the coral colonies with varying depths. A surprise was the freshwater spring whose gushes can only be enjoyed during the low tide, as it gets submerged during high tide. Not far from Mararison Island is Batbatan islet with its equally inviting coral reefs.

Culasi, particularly, Lipata point is historically significant, for having been made as a temporary port for the submarines of the Allied Forces during the WWII.

Practically, the whole length of the province’s coast from Anini-y to Libertad is dotted with beaches and historical landmarks, such as the watch towers at Bugasong and Libertad, and beaches, foremost of which are those of Taguimtim, Cadiao, Hatay-Hatay, Manglamon, and Barbaza, Piῆa.

The sturdy churches built by the Spanish friars in major towns of the province have survived years of natural calamities and still are the center of the people’s activities. Virtually, every major town has one.

Other inland attractions are the Pula waterfalls and Lake Danao of San Remigio which is already known for its Bato Cueva; Macalbag waterfalls of Barbaza; Bugang River of Pandan; Tiguis cave of Tibiao which also boasts of a swift river ideal for kayaking; Sebaste’s waterfalls; and, guano-filled Maanghit Cave of Libertad. A less explored group of islands are those that compose the municipality of Caluya, which aside from the island town, are Bogtongan and Semirara, known for their white beaches, and with the latter enjoying a protection as bird sanctuary.

Near the Aklan boundary in the north is Pandan, a town famous for its Malumpati Beach and Hot Springs. It is much nearer Kalibo, though, as the travel time on a pumpboat is a little more than an hour. The late governor Evelio Javier brought me to this place for a pumpboat ride to Boracay when this internationally-renowned island was just in its virginal state. He guided me around the famous island, whose powdery white beaches at the time were just dotted with quaint fishermen’s lean-to cottages. During his lifetime, the brisk development of the island was perhaps far from his mind, because of its almost inaccessibility. He was an advocate of ecology and what I will never forget while we were tracing our steps back to the waiting pumpboat, was when he told me, “I hope this island will not be damaged by the tourism industry…” He was proud of Boracay, as though, it was within the scope of Antique, for geographically and politically, the island is part of the neighboring Aklan province. By God’s design, perhaps, he did not live long to be saddened at how Boracay looks like now. He was mercilessly assassinated on February 11, 1986. To commemorate his staunch leadership as a young governor of the province, the EBJ Freedom Park was built in his name.

While in Antique, one can always find something to do, as it is replete with varying natural endowments – from nature tripping to culture research, and religious exploration. It is this variation that made its youthful governor, the late, Evelio B. Javier advocate ecology-based tourism so that both the man-made and natural legacies can be preserved and shared by the Antiqueῆos with the world – in their unspoiled state. He must have felt the fear for the onslaught of the uncontrolled tourism industry to happen years beyond his lifetime, hence, his heartfelt advocacy. Unfortunately, his fear has become a reality….

Today, every time Antique is mentioned, what comes to my mind is the face of the late “manong Belio”, as how I called him then. He was the first governor I met who did not have any single bodyguard when moving around. He always had time to be with his people, even driving to as far as Valderrama, an inland town, to play basketball with the young farmers. Most especially, he was proud of his culture, and his Karay-a dialect that he uses without qualm, every time he had an opportunity. I just hope that his spirit will guide the Antiqueῆos so that his advocacy will live on.