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CINCO DE NOVIEMBRE

04 July 2020

The 5th of November 1898 is a date that should be carved in the Occidental Negrenses’ memory, because on that date, we liberated ourselves from the yoke of Spanish domination. This event in Negros, together with the rest of the country’s War of Revolution, proved that we possess within us the seeds of greatness. Back in the era of colonialism, we Filipinos took up arms against our foreign occupiers. Fifty years later, when this time the Japanese invaded the country, we went to the hills and resisted them through a strong guerilla warfare. Then, in less than another 50 years, we again demonstrated our grit during the Miracle at EDSA.

Lest we forget that we have the mettle, every year we should celebrate Cinco de Noviembre. The story is one of drama, of dare, of cunning, and a great deal of luck!

On 26 August 1896, the “Cry of Balintawak” signaled the start of the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire. Headed by Andres Bonifacio, the members of the secret society Katipunan had their first clash against the guardia civil (civil guards). They tore their cédulas (tax certificates) in defiance, accompanied with shouts of “Viva la Independencia Filipina”.

At that time, people in Negros did not seem enthusiastic over the events transpiring in far-off Luzon. In fact, as the revolution increasingly loomed, battalions were organised in the towns of Bais, Valladolid, La Carlota, and Isabela supposedly to defend the island from the incursion of the rebels./1/ However, it was also alleged that other grassroot groups were being secretly formed in favour of the uprising. If so, this made for a province divided.

The Spanish civil and religious authorities felt relatively secure about the loyalty of the Negros elites. The clergy had not acquired vast tracts of land as their fellow churchmen had done in Luzon. Further, in the span of a few decades, Negros had grown rich and the sugar barons, as well as other local leaders, had shared in the privileges of the Spanish elites, and were thus seemingly content.

Why and how this changed is open to conjecture. Some question the motivation of the leaders of the Negros uprising—they were “opportunists” who, seeing the tides of war were turning, aligned themselves with the winning side./2/ Also criticised were their unwillingness to subject themselves under the national government led by General Aguinaldo, wanting Negros to go it alone, so to speak, with themselves as leaders of a fully independent state./3/ Whatever their motivations might have been, the events of the week unfolded with consensual clarity.

Already, as rumours spread about the coming of the insurrection, a number of Spanish clergymen evacuated themselves to Iloilo where the Voluntarios, composed mainly of Ilonggos loyal to the Spanish crown, were being armed by Governor General Diego de los Rios. This was happening even as Panay revolutionaries were marshalling themselves in the town of Molo.

By the 3rd of November, the plans for the Negros Revolution were set. A contingent from the north of Bacolod, headed by Aniceto Lacson from Talisay, to include Nicolas Golez, Leandro Locsin, and Melecio Severino congregated in Silay. Another contingent from the south of Bacolod headed by Juan Araneta from Bago and Rafael Ramos from Himamaylan gathered at Araneta’s sugar farm in Ma-ao. Planned for 5th November, they would march together to Bacolod and challenge in a pitched battle the Spanish authorities under Governor Colonel Isidro de Castro.

On the afternoon of the 4th of November, a woman from Kabankalan Norte (present day barrio of Eustaquio Lopez) warned the parish priest of Silay, Tomas Cornago, about the imminent revolt. Fr Cornago in turn asked his friend Cabeza de Barrio Doroteo Quillama, about the veracity of the report. When Quillama knew nothing, Fr Cornago assumed that this was yet another rumour.  Then, the guardia civil witnessed the march of armed men but were unable to report them to the authorities in Bacolod because the rebels had cut the telegraph wires.

Meantime, the rebel numbers had swollen, so that by the morning of 5th November, the spirit of rebellion had spread to other towns as far north as Cadiz. In Silay, the Spanish garrison was commanded by Lt. Maximo Correa. He had ten Spanish light infantry, and seven Filipino guardia civil, all entrenched in the municipal building. However, the rebels were supported by the townspeople who surrounded the building and threatened to burn it. Fearing that his forces could be trapped, Correa was finally persuaded by Eulogio Saez, Juan Viaplana, and Jose Ledesma to lay down the Spanish arms, but with the proviso that the official records show that Correa surrendered after a “bloody battle with the dead and wounded littered all over the field.”/4/ By the afternoon, the victorious townspeople had raised the Negros Revolutionary Flag embroidered by Olympia and Perpetua Severino and Eutropia Yorac.

Official flag of the Negros Revolution

Meanwhile, in Bacolod, the Spanish authorities saw the rebel groups encamped by the Matab-ang River. Governor Isidro de Castro sent a force of 41 men to engage the insurgents. After a brief skirmish with two of their members dead, the Spanish force withdrew.

The governor then decided to take his stand at the Bishops Palace, a rectory of the San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City. Why he did so is not clear, perhaps it was to protect the hundreds of Spanish families who had encamped in the Cathedral. It was a tense night that passed.

By the morning of the 6th, the forces of Lacson had crossed the Mandalagan River to meet with the forces of Araneta who also had crossed the Lupit River. The numbers of the belligerents on both sides are not known, but it is said that Araneta had a thousand bolo-wielding men who took their positions.

Severely lacking in weapons—notwithstanding some ten Mauser, seven Remington rifles and other light armaments confiscated from the Spaniards—the leaders executed a daring bluff. They lined their front with “cannons” constructed out of rolled amakan and bamboo--painted black--stacked with “cannon balls” made out of painted coconuts, and “rifles” carved out of painted wood. Perched at some distance in the Bishops Palace and armed with their binoculars, the Spanish authorities decided the Philippine forces were too strong and surrendered Bacolod without a fight.

The negotiation of surrender was mediated by Jose Ruiz de Luzuriaga deemed acceptable to both Spanish authorities and Filipino rebels. With the unconditional surrender, Spanish arms, communication, and all public funds were turned over to the rebels. Forty-seven eminent Negrenses then formulated and ratified a proposed constitution to create the Republic of Negros.

This was to last for approximately three months. On 2nd February 1899, the American forces marched into the island and took it un-opposed. The Republic of Negros was then annexed to the Philippine Islands on 30th April 1901.

The scholar Filomeno Aguilar claims that Cinco de Noviembre perpetuates the myth of the Negros sugar elite-led uprising.  The story, he writes, contains “mythical dimensions that helped solidify the dominance of the local sugar planter class,” and that continues to dominate Negros today./5/ The implication is that celebrating Cinco de Noviembre would lead to more and similar myth-making that would prove dysfunctional to the modernisation of Negros society.

Despite the considerations mentioned above, I would like to pose the question to the Negrenses: is Cinco de Noviembre worth a yearly province-wide commemoration? Perhaps even merry-making akin to the MassKara street festival?  Perhaps we need to regularly remind ourselves that nothwithstanding our problems, both within the province and beyond, we too can rise over them through sheer gumption? What if we move MassKara by a couple of weeks, from a date of now no significance to the start of November? 

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Notes:  /1/Dios Buhawi and Papa Isio cited at militarywikia.org;  /2//3/Earl Jude Cleope. "The Concept of Buut Og Gahum in the History of Negros".  College of Education, Silliman University; /4/Modesto Sa-onoy.  Negros Occidental History.  Bacolod City, Today Printers & Publishers, 1992; /5/Filomeno Aguilar. "Masonic Myths and Revolutionary Feats in Negros Occidental". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol 28 No 2.