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

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Friday, November 25, 2022

entry arrow8:09 PM | The Years That Molded Dumaguete

Last Thursday, November 24, we celebrated the 74th anniversary of the charter of Dumaguete as a city—and while it’s tempting to think only of those preceding 74 years as the period that has mattered most for the growth of the city, it’s not. Most people think ahistorically. It’s an inability to think beyond our own time, to comprehend in a significant way what came before. Which is forgivable, in a way: we only really have our own lifetimes to witness developments as they progress, which makes us think of our own present as the most concrete building block in the historical scheme of things. This is a kind of historical blindness that makes us forget that change takes time—over years, decades, centuries—and alas also makes us forget the very people and circumstances who and which have made those changes possible, their contributions reverberating down towards our own time in anonymity.

I think of this historical blindness sometimes when I find myself taking a walk around town, and taking note of things that I have come to take for granted—because they have always been there—and then forcing myself to reconsider them in the light of history. Like the Rizal Boulevard, for instance. Long considered Dumaguete’s picturesque “window to the world,” it has always been an object of local pride—but because it has always been “there,” we also do not really see how its existence, when it was first constructed, impacted the very make-up of the city. If you take note, most urban centers in the Philippines, especially those that are located right beside the sea, do not have this kind of relationship with their seafront—all you get, for the most part in heavily urbanized cities, is a seaport and an industrial enclave that feels gritty. Dumaguete and its seaside boulevard is a rarity, but this didn’t come about accidentally. It was more or less designed by city fathers we don’t even remember anymore.

Sr. Ramon Teves Pastor, the municipal presidente of Dumaguete from October 1912 to October 1916, oversaw many of the infrastructure projects that would largely shape Dumaguete to the place people love today. In the last year of his administration, in 1916, the Rizal Boulevard and the M.L. Quezon Park were built, on land donated by the Pastor and Patero families. [Fr. Roman Sagun, the eminent church historian, has a point of contention though: the land where Quezon Park stands now has always belonged to the town of Dumaguete, with deeds showing ownership as far back as 1906.] He also paved the way to the electrification of Dumaguete, entertaining the interest of La Electrica to put up a power plant in town [a project completed under the next presidente, Sr. Jacinto Catada]; and he also laid the foundation which led to the eventual building of the Dumaguete pier in 1919 [began under the administration of Sr. Alfredo Arrieta]. The building of that pier would connect Dumaguete in a very substantial way to the rest of the world—and it necessitated the connection of Calle Sta. Cecilia [now Silliman Avenue] to Calle Real, and further developed the seafront stretch which was later called the Marina [later renamed Rizal Avenue]. Many families of the local landed class also chose to build their houses—called the “sugar mansions”—along the Marina, further designating this stretch of promenade as something unique. All that would lead to the Rizal Boulevard that we have to love today.

But who remembers Sr. Pastor today? We only know him as the namesake of the local Science High—but when you Google him, all you get is information about the school and nothing else. His ancestral house still stands at the corner of V. Locsin Street and the part of Calle Real that has been renamed after him—always in danger of demolition by people who probably don’t know the significance of this house and its padre de familia to the history of the city.

𝟏𝟗𝟏𝟔 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝟏𝟗𝟏𝟗 are thus significant years in the molding of Dumaguete. That stretch of five years between them contains important infrastructure decisions by town fathers that set in stone not just the layout of the poblacion, but also invariably the kind of air we have come to identify as uniquely Dumaguetnon.

What are the other years that have shaped Dumaguete?

I’ll choose 𝟏𝟔𝟐𝟎 next. This was the year that Dumaguete became a pueblo [or a town] in the growing Spanish colony embracing most of the archipelago. So if we trace back how old Dumaguete is, officially speaking, it is 402 years old in 2022. Its becoming a pueblo only came about after the establishment of the corregimiento in Negros, which was a long process that began in 1608 and stretched until 1618—which the historian T. Valentino Sitoy surmised as having stemmed from the resistance by locals to be subjugated to Spanish rule.

The exact date is 15 March 1620, which is actually the establishment of the parish that came to control and provide spiritual guidance to the souls residing in settlements around the coastal area of southeastern Negros—which included sitios such as Bacong, Sibulan, Dauin, Siaton, all the way to Bayawan. In 1627, this parish also included Siquijor. All these would be “Dumaguete.” Eventually, many of these sitios would become towns of their own right in the ensuing years. The first curate was Fr. Juan de Roa y Herrera, serving the new parish in 1620-1623, borrowed from the Tanjay parish to help set up the new town, and then returning back after three years to serve Tanjay again for the next decade. We know nothing else about him, save for his name.

1620 would be the year that Dumaguete would exist officially as a town—binding it to a very specific historical existence beyond haphazard mentions of the place as a settlement called “Dumaguet” or “Danaguet” in older Spanish records.

The next important year is 𝟏𝟕𝟔𝟎.

This was the year that truly made Dumaguete a progressive town—a distinction it had to make amidst the constant destruction of the regular Moro raids that began in 1599 and would go on to the 19th century. 1760 was the year Dumaguete ceased to be a target for marauders—and it was all because of a visionary parish priest named Fr. Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien. He was actually an exile, a noble banished to the islands by the King of Spain himself, and with no hope of returning back to his country, he settled in Cebu to pursue the priesthood—and was soon ordained and appointed the parish priest of Dumaguete in 1754.

Fr. Septien, taking note of his new assignment, quickly decided to bolster the defenses of the town by doing two things:

First, he convinced the Bishop of Cebu to allow him to gather all the people in coastal villages from Bacong to Siaton to settle for good in Dumaguete, bolstering the population of the town into at least 2,000 people, and giving him enough manpower to resist possible marauding incursions. The population was also augmented by refugees from Bohol who were escaping the repercussions of the Dagohoy rebellion in that island. All these factors made Dumaguete the most populous town in eastern Negros.

Second, Fr. Septien decided to build a fortification. He constructed a massive stone church, which still stands today [and is the oldest in the island of Negros], and a convento—both built of choice strong materials. According to the historical record written by Fr. Miguel Bernad [the last Spanish parish priest of Dumaguete before the coming of the Americans] and annotated by Fr. Roman Sagun, “it was fortified by a wall over two meters in height from the outside, forming a large square in the center of which the church and the convento were situated; there was also a large plaza where the inhabitants could take refuge in times of necessity. At the four corners of the fortress, there were four massive watchtowers made from stone and mortar, and each was mounted with cannons.” [These watchtowers no longer exist except as remnants: one of the corners became the foundation of the belfry built during the administration of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion, which we know today as the campanario or the Dumaguete belltower.] In addition, “there was a contravalla, another defense perimeter walling of a smaller size than the former.” Fr. Septien also built bulwarks, which were positioned in strategic places around the Dumaguete beachfront of. All these were made of stone and were well secured, and they were utilized to keep watch on the coast and prevent any surprise Moro attack.”

He was immediately tested in his first year in Dumaguete. In 1754, the marauders made the Visayas the brunt of their pillaging, and they stayed in Negros until 1760, using the cove in Si-it, Siaton as their base. All coastal towns in from Dumaguete to Bayawan were raided—but the assault on Dumaguete proved futile, all because of the defenses that Fr. Septien managed to set up. Sitoy writes: “Except for Dumaguete, all other towns and barrios all over Negros were sacked and stripped of all movable prized objects and burned, together with the churches and convents. The fields were torched, and domestic and work animals killed. As usual, the Moros took all the captives they could load on their vessels. In Tanjay, it was said that the dead and wounded during the period 1756-1760 exceeded two hundred.”

After 1760, Dumaguete was no longer threatened by the marauders—and this proved providential: it was the culmination of Dumaguete’s growth as a settlement, and it became the largest town in the Negrense east coast.

But Dumaguete was still largely under the shadow of its sister town to the west, Bacolod. It needed a decisive break. Which is why the next important year for Dumaguete’s development is 𝟏𝟗𝟎𝟏.

In Negros, a schism that originated as a military experiment in 1857 would later come to full fruition in 1898, dividing the island briefly into the two provinces of Oriental and Occidental, and eventually manifesting for real in 1901. It actually began in 1857, when an inspection of Negros by the Audiencia led one of the judges—Jose Manuel Aguirre—to propose to the Spanish Governor General in Manila “the convenience of creating a military command in the north” of the island, with Escalante as capital of the northern jurisdiction, which included the towns of Escalantre, Guijulngan [Guihulngan], Jinubaan, Jimalalud, Tayasan, and Ayunon in 1859, and then Arguelles and Calatrava in 1863. The experiment proved short-lived because administrative affairs were still being conducted from Bacolod, the capital of Negros. But it begat the idea of an ultimate, workable division. In August 1864, Brigadier General Remigio Molto proposed for the creation of an autonomous politico-military province to the east of the island, with Dumaguete as capital, with the territory encompassing the areas from the border of Guijulngan with Calatrava in the north, and including the island of Siquijor.

The proposal made by Molto did not progress, but by 1888, with the arrival of Gen. Valeriano Weyler in Manila, the separation of the island would take a decisive step towards eventuality. Weyler inspected the territory in January 1889 and observed that because of the distance of Bacolod from most of the eastern towns—compounded by geographical and linguistic challenges [the central mountain ranges virtually separated the island into two, and both spoke different languages, with Binisaya to the east, and Hiligaynon to the west]—proper administration of these places proved difficult. The Madrid government eventually moved to divide the island into two provinces in October 1889, and issued a royal decree to install in Dumaguete a politico-military government, a court of first instance, and a treasury of the third category. By December of that year, the boundaries were set, even if nebulous for a few more decades: to the south, between Tolong and Sipalay, and to the north, between Guijulngan and Calatrava.

Nine years later, in November 1898, the two provinces would be reunited once more under the cantonal government proclaimed by Negrense revolutionaries, which lasted until the fall of Bacolod into American hands in February 1899. On 20 March 1901, William Howard Taft together with members of the Second Philippine Commission, visited Negros to present the political plan for the island to the Negrenses: either to retain Negros as one province, or divide it once more into two. On 21 March 1901, delegates from all over the island converged in Bacolod to decide on its fate—which put to rest of the hopes of many of the Negrense elites to transform the island into a federal state. On 9 April 1901, a follow-up meeting held in Dumaguete 1decided unanimously for the creation of the two separate provinces. By May, the island was once more divided.

1901 then is a landmark year because of the full independence of Negros Oriental as a political entity, separate from Bacolod. This is the first significance. The second one is cultural: also in 1901, Silliman Institute was founded by American missionaries in Dumaguete, and this paved the way to the formative period of contemporary culture in Negros Oriental, with Dumaguete and Silliman leading the way.

The last year I would consider important is 𝟏𝟗𝟒𝟖.

World War II just ended, and the Philippines was granted independence from the United States. In those early years after the War, a bright kind of optimism engulfed much of Dumaguete town—and many of the cultural developments that happened in these years would actually bear greater significance in the coming decades. It was during these years that locals started influencing not just national politics, but also the national culture. Local statesmen such as Jose Romero, Lorenzo Teves, and Serafin Teves would occupy the high echelons of governance, and local artists such as Eddie Romero, Edith Tiempo, Edilberto Tiempo, Ricaredo Demetillo, and Cesar Jalandoni Amigo would soon make waves in the national cultural consciousness. Dumaguete was a town bursting at the seams—it needed to seek higher reckoning. It needed to become a city.

Not that it wanted for challenges. The post-war reconstruction was a headache, a task that then municipal presidente Mariano Perdices took to heartily—he had plans to put up a waterworks system in the locality—but politics took its toll, and he was virtually forced out of office by then Philippine President Manuel Roxas who wanted to appoint his own party man into the office of local executive. [The position of presidente was appointive in those years.] Perdices was able to revive the public school system, which was completely ravaged by the war, but his planned waterworks system did not materialize because he was replaced in 1946 with Narciso Infante [briefly, from May to June], and then finally by Deogracias Pinili, who would become Dumaguete’s last presidente and first city mayor during his tenure in 1946-1952. It was Pinili then who would head the town when it became a city in 1948, and who would see the establishment of Foundation College [now University] in 1949, and then the first airing of DYSR in 1950.

In 5 June 1948, Congressman Lorenzo Teves set to motion the charter of Dumaguete town into a full-fledge city, with the filing of House Bill No. 1922 to the First Congress of the Republic. It led to Republic Act No. 327, creating the City of Dumaguete. And then, on October 11, President Elpidio Quirino signed Proclamation No. 93, fixing the date of effectivity of RA No. 327 on the 24th day of November, 1948. The fiesta that year was an awesome, if rainy, affair—and hopes were running high. Until 1953, when a fire broke out on the Christmas Eve of 1953, which swept over the main business district of the city and burned down the public market, parts of the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, and the buildings of Saint Paul’s College right beside the Cathedral. That fire would remake Dumaguete in considerable ways.

Happy 74th Charter Anniversary, Dumaguete!

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