By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy
I wrote last week that after the Negros leaders won their revolt against Spain, they decided to carve their own destiny, rejecting the invitation of the government of Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite. They also did not remain with the Estado Federal de Visayas with whom they had an earlier relation.
Boasting of their quick victory, the Negros leaders sent telegrams to all foreign embassies in Manila informing them of their new status. There is no record, however, that any of the embassies replied even with congratulations. Clearly Negros wanted to be an independent country and in consonance with that objective, they created a government, a Chamber of Deputies patterned after that of European countries and several ministers as a cabinet.
Their moves are understandable because the Aguinaldo government was not national in scope and Negros had not been represented in any decision of Aguinaldo, except by proxy which was an unknown to the Negrosanon.
While the Negros leaders were focused on the political matters and international relations, a decision by Juan Araneta placed a black mark in an otherwise peaceful transition from Spanish rule to the natives. He ordered the arrest of all priests and incarcerate them in Puerto San Juan in Bacolod, a prison.
Some arrests were done peacefully as the priests, Spanish Augustinian Recollects, went with their captors without resistance. They did not leave their parishes and chaplaincies when the Spaniards left the island.
This was ironic because while the Spanish civil guards and casadores were freed, the priests were imprisoned. The order of Araneta contravened the instructions from Aguinaldo that men and women of the cloth should not be harmed. They should be left alone to continue with their ministries that served mainly the Filipinos. But then the newly commissioned general did not bother with his President.
Only three priests were left unmolested: Fr. Mauricio Ferrero of Bacolod for his role in the negotiation to convince Colonel Isidro de Castro to avoid bloodshed, Fr. Miguel Alvarez of Murcia who was at an advanced age and sickly and Fr. Fernando Cuenca of Talisay who was also already old.
But the attempt to arrest Fr. Cuenca has drama in it. When the revolutionary guards came to his convent to take him into custody, the popular priest told the arresting soldiers: I will go and if I do I will take off my sandals and shake off the dust of Minuluan (the name Talisay was not in use at the time).
The soldiers understood what it meant – they knew their Bible from the sermons of Fr. Cuenca. They must have recalled the words of Jesus that if a place did not want the apostles there, they should shake off the dust of the place from their sandals, and woe to that place. In effect, the warning was a curse. The soldiers backed off and Fr. Cuenca was left alone until he died in his parish in 1902.
The treatment of Fr. Mariano Lasa of Isabela was the worst that the revolutionary government inflicted on the priests. He was in Binalbagan when the order for the mass arrest was issued. He was arrested there, tied behind a horse and forced to walk to Isabela. The following day, he was again forced to walk to Odiong (now Magallon) 17 kilometers away. When he arrived there, his compatriot, Fr. Manuel Garcia was also arrested. The guards allowed Fr. Mariano to rest for the night, but he remained bound. Were they afraid he would run away?
The next day they walked again to La Castellana (at the time called Borja) where the church bells rang. It is clear what those people felt. It was a repique which meant a happy welcome. Here the guards allowed him to receive visitors. The following day the two priests left the town for Bacolod on a cart.
In January 1899, the priests were forced to walk from Bacolod to La Granja Agricultural Research center, in La Carlota. Here they were forced to work in the fields and on the road, fed mainly by the generosity of the village folks. Their plight reached the Vatican and the Pope asked Germany to intercede with the Americans who were already in control of Manila, for their release.
But for this maltreatment of the priests, the Negros revolt was a great accomplishment.