WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
Yesterday was the 124th year of the issuance of a Royal Decree that divided Negros into two provinces but on January 27, the island would be 160 years old as a politico-military province. It was elevated to this status by a Royal Decree of 1854.
Just three years after it became a province, the Spanish government already found that the island is too big for administration and cited this as among the reasons for its slow progress.
However, although the idea was acceptable the two ministries in Spain – Ministry of the Overseas Territories and the Ministry of War – could not agree. These two ministries have conflicts on jurisdiction. The Ministry of War went ahead and issued on February 12, 1859 a Royal Decree creating a military command with station in Escalante.
The unilateral action of the Ministry of War increased friction between the two. The dispute ended when a new government was installed and the Ministry of the Overseas (Ministro de Ultramar) was stripped of its powers. The Ministry of War enforced its decree creating the politico-military district of Escalante. This district comprised the towns from Sagay to Ayungon while the rest remained with the politico-military province of Negros.
Had this division of the island persisted, the present geographical configuration of Negros would be different.
In December of 1863, however, General Remigio Molto, the Intendant General of the Visayas visited Negros and found that the Escalante district could not support itself and aside from its campaign against lawlessness, it was useless. It was dependent still on Bacolod.
Molto recommended its abolition and proposed a new autonomous politico-military district comprising the towns of the east coast of the island. He recommended that Dumaguete be the seat of this district.
He also proposed that the western side of the island be reconstituted and that the capital of the province be transferred to Pulupandan, a barrio of Valladolid. He reasoned that Pulupandan would be more central to the northern and southern towns and accessible to Iloilo by sea. Boats plied the Pulupandan–Guimaras-Iloilo route but not from Bacolod.
Molto’s recommendation was junked by the Ministro de Ultramar that regained control of authority over Spanish colonies.
The idea did not die there. Fourteen years later, on September 2, 1877, the parish priests of the eastern side sent a petition asking for the implementation of the Molto plan.
Among the reasons they cited were the difficulty of travelling from the east to the west coast along the mountains where there abounded bandits and remontados aside from the abundance of malarial mosquitoes.
Because of this difficulty officials of the province who resided in Bacolod seldom visited the eastern side and thus decisions of importance were delayed.
They mentioned that people accused of crimes could not be arraigned because it took months for troop escorts from Bacolod to arrive in Dumaguete to bring the accused to the court in Bacolod. There were many instances where these escorts were ambushed and the prisoners freed and swelled the ranks of remontados and outlaws.
Collection of personal tax was also difficult because authorities could not verify claims by people in the area that they were from Panay.
For whatever reasons the Recollects had in making the petition, the civil authorities were not prepared to listen until a new Governor General of the Philippines Valeriano Weyler arrived in June 1888 and studied the Molto proposal as well as those of several petitions from Dumaguete.
Weyler visited Bacolod in December to find out whether the conditions cited by Molto were still valid. Although he had endorsed to Madrid the Molto proposal earlier he did not wait after seeing the progress of Negros that was booming with sugarcane, population doubling and over 20 new towns and mission fields founded by the Recollect Fathers.
The new governor general did not wait for word from Madrid. He issued a Royal Decree on January 4, 1899, abolished the Escalante military district and established a new military district in Tanjay to comprise all the eastern towns. Like Escalante it was to assist Bacolod in the administration of its assigned towns.
On October 25, 1899, the Madrid decreed the creation of two autonomous provinces, Occidental Negros and Oriental Negros and appropriated funds for the two provinces in the 1890 budget. Dumaguete was designated the seat of the new province.
On December 21, Weyler defined the boundaries of the two provinces with the mountain range of Kanlaon as its geographic dividing line.
After the Negros revolution of 1898 the two provinces reunited under on Negros Republic only to be divided again in 1901 under American rule.*
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