header image


This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

Interested in What I Create?


Sunday, October 08, 2017

entry arrow1:24 PM | The Origins of ‘Gentle People’

Someone told historian T. Valentino Sitoy that the bit of Dumaguete being the “city of gentle people” is Rizalian lore, a local one—that it’s found, perhaps, on the historical marker on his statue at Quezon Park. Like any good scholar, the good Dr. Sitoy promptly inspected the site and the marker—and found absolutely nothing there about Jose Rizal extolling the virtues of Dumaguete as a place of people of profound gentility.

And yet this has become a famous anecdotal legend that everyone gives, especially tour guides.

No one knows where this bit of “history” comes from. We do know that Jose Rizal disembarked in Dumaguete for a Saturday’s excursion in 1896, after his exile in Dapitan, and he was reported to have noted how particularly engaging the people of the small town were. The word “gentle” is not found in his diary, of his brief chronicle of his Dumaguete stay. The closest thing to it is this observation he scribbled down: “I called at the house of Mrs. Rufina, a beautiful house, where after four years, I heard the piano expertly played. I observed that the people of Dumaguete are fond of decorating their houses with plants and flowers…”

Beautiful music, beautiful houses—beautiful people. And such gentility. Perhaps the aura of the description stuck.

Today, of course, Dumaguete bills itself, in some official capacity, as the City of Gentle People, and attributes it to Rizalian mythology, whether or not it can be proven by recorded history.

I resolved, however, to dig a little deeper, and found this bit from Father Roman Sagun’s translation and extended annotation on Father Mariano Bernad’s history of Dumaguete. Fr. Sagun is one of our underappreciated local historians, the bulk of his passion being local parish history—and he has done extensive work chronicling the Spanish settlement of Oriental Negros. About ten years ago, he embarked on a study of Fr. Bernad’s “Reseña Historia de Dumaguete (A History of Dumaguete in Retrospect)”—an important historical document, published in 1895, considering the fact that Fr. Bernad (1835-1915) was the last Spanish pastor of Dumaguete when the Americans came, had served the town with utmost devotion for most of his life, and was beloved by the locals. He had also expressed the need to tell the history of Dumaguete until 1895, although he had confessed a difficulty: “It is not an easy task to be able to investigate the exact facts and get the reliable information about the origin and beginnings of the town of Dumaguete, having interviewed so many but only finding faint traces about the past.”

Mariano Bernad Sanz

In “Reseña,” we catch a glimpse of a possible origin of Dumaguete as a “gentle” place, and attributes it to native culture nurtured by Spanish civility. Bernad, as translated by Sagun, writes: “The people of the Oriental Coast are most hard-working, perhaps because they were able to adopt the ways and attitudes of their parish priests, mostly Spaniards, like Father [Jose Manuel Fernandez de] Septien, who was so tenacious and enterprising… I was also able to observe that they distinguish themselves as gentle in manners and showing great admiration and respect for their priests. May they be able to keep it up as God wills it. This gentleness (cariño aprecio) and affectionate nature (afecto) must be traceable in the remote past, the people having been nurtured by so many Spanish parish priests, in as much as the town since antiquity was in constant contact with Cebu whose inhabitants used to achieve the fame of being gentle (cariñosos) of which I knew a long while… [Before the 1850s], generally speaking, the pace of life in these towns moved very slowly.”

Could this be the true historical source of the phrase “city of gentle people”? Dumaguete playwright and cultural worker—and now retired University of the Philippines professor—Ludendorffo Decenteceo, however, has another theory, and it points to more contemporary origins.

“The phrase ‘the city of gentle people’ was coined by Philidore Quingco of DYRM,” Lu wrote me. “Quingco also worked at DYSR at one time. DYSR started it all by having the tagline of Dumaguete as the ‘cultural center of the south,’ or words to that effect. The initial effect it had on people was, ‘Yuck!’ But it is the odd word that sticks out and sticks.”

So, was it Bernad? Or Rizal? Or Quingco?

No one can know for sure—but the proof of the puto maya may be in the people themselves, as we are now, gentle faces for a city that’s in constant flux.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich