The Perpetual Seal of Shame

When Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan launched the revolt against Spain at the outskirts of Manila on 30 August 1896, wrote Fr. Policarpo Hernandez, the Ilonggo elite was caught by surprise. They immediately responded with protestations of outrage and affirmed their loyalty to Mother Spain.

In his book, “Iloilo, the Most Noble City: History and Development 1566-1898”, Fr. Hernandez underscored that during the first two years of the revolutionary period, the Ilongos were in fact united in their support of Spain, nipping in the bud local separatist movements and eventually battling the troops of General Emilio Aguinaldo.

It is interesting to note that based from the information gathered by Fr. Hernandez in his research, a few days after the Cry of Balintawak, the Jaro Ayuntamiento or then considered as the Jaro Council comprised entirely of native Ilongos, convened in a special session on September 1 and condemned the Manila uprising calling it as an unpatriotic act “that finds no echo in the hearts of the Jareńos, who do not forget the immense gratitude they owe Spain who, from nothing, raised us to a life of civilization and progress…”

The members pledged unconditional love and loyalty to Mother Country (Spain) by issuing a compelling resolution which they submitted to the office of the governor-general.

The resolution issued by the Jaro Ayuntamiento reads: The acts of rebellion undertaken in the Capital of the Archipelago by ungrateful Filipinos, without awareness of their duties nor any idea of their dignity, giving a day of mourning to the Mother Country, have deeply wounded the undeniable patriotism, never put into question, of this town, which has, as its only and most glorious symbol, the irrevocable adherence, love, and proven loyalty to its sovereigns.

In the same resolution, the Jaro Ayuntamiento expounded that the uprising is no less “deeds of sedition” and which they find it a “criminal act under the circumstances that afflict our common Fatherland”. It likewise asserted that the acts it highlighted “merited nothing else than indignation and unanimous protest of these loyal inhabitants, in whose conscience lies the unshakable conviction that only under the shadow of the glorious and invincible national Spanish flag could man be free and dignified; and, as we were born Spaniards, we want to live and die as Spaniards – with honor.”

The same sentiment was expressed by the Iloilo Ayuntamiento and the Filipino parish priests of Jaro, Molo, Mandurriao and Arevalo.

The action by the Ilongo elite against the Filipinos waging revolution against Spain did not just end with a resolution vowing love and loyalty to Spain. The Ilongo elite assembled native troops and organized them as volunteers to quell the Tagalog rebellion.

As reported in Diario de Manila, Fr. Hernandez wrote, “the Ilongo Volunteers embarked on the ship Brutus as folk heroes”. They were cheered by a multitude of people who sent them off after an elaborate parade-and-review at Plaza Libertad (Plaza Alfonzo XII).

So the Ilonggos were sent off to fight the Filipino revolutionaries in Luzon. It is also interesting that based from historical account they were bankrolled by the elite families from both Iloilo and Jaro with leading contributors by the name of Felix de la Rama and Eugenio Lopez. Aren’t these family names familiar until today?

All of these manifestation of loyalty to Spain were not dismissed by the Spanish Crown and instead it was heralded by Queen Maria Cristina in a special royal decree issued March 10, 1898 which tagged “Iloilo City the perpetual title La Muy Noble Ciudad.” This perpetual title finds itself in Iloilo City’s website and institutionalized in an annual celebration of Iloilo City Charter Day.

This piece of history sends chills whenever I hear the city’s chief executive shout out La Muy Noble Ciudad in his speeches. In spite of the Philippines eventual liberation from Spain, the royal decree continue to resonate 117 years after it was issued and its enduring legacy is tightly guarded even by those who claim as progressives in the local government.

In fact, in many instances, we have found ourselves subjected to similar maneuvers from the members of the Iloilo City Council when they issued resolutions upholding the interest of the Spanish Ilongo elite and the neo-elite that dominate the business sector against the majority of the Ilongos.

One needs to lean back and refresh memory how then the Treńas administration over-rewarded the Cacho’s who own the Panay Electric Co. (PECO) in spite of their blatant abuses against the Ilongo people. Treńas who served as the Cacho’s mouthpiece in government was rewarded by a congressional seat in an election.

The same inaction regarding the abuses and inefficiencies of PECO is dominant in the Mabilog administration. Despite the isolated roots of the current chief executive in the city’s local elite, he has likewise mirrored the attitude of those Ilongos in history that vowed to Spain by nipping in the bud any signs of protestations regarding abuse and corruption raised against his leadership.

La Muy Noble Ciudad has found its way in the city’s coat of arms. It has not been rejected or corrected and only proving history’s correctness and claim to prevailing culture and attitudes especially among politicians. Yet for many, the tag is unjust and bring Ilongos in a perpetual seal of shame.

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