Negros History

Negros History

By Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope, Dean, College of Education  

Buut and gahum in the Cebuano context connote “will” and “power”. In this sense, a closer look at the manifestations of these themes in the historical development of the island is vital in understanding its history.

“Buut og Gahum” is viewed in this essay as the “will to power”. Hence, the study attempts to identify the discourses whereby these concepts play vital roles in the historical development of Negros. The discussion tries to look into the various factors by which “buut og gahum”, as a motivating force, influenced the dynamics of power that brought changes in the island. I decided to include the events up to recent times in order to support the assumptions of how “buut og gahum” provided texts and subtexts in the events of the island. Basically the aim of this research is to provide specific historical highlights by which the manifestations of “buut og gahum” are clearly seen.


At the outset, the term “Negros” (black) already provides an eye opener into the background of how the concept of “will to power” was shaped. The coming of the Spaniards ushered in an event which, through simple labeling and sweeping generalization, gave a name to the fourth largest island in the archipelago.[i]  The term “Negros” came about as a result of an expedition ordered by Legaspi in search of food and new land. The men who made up the expedition included a captured Bornean pilot and a Negro who acted as interpreter.[ii]  From the diary of the chief frigate pilot, we learn that even before their arrival in the island, they already had information that the island was said to be full of black inhabitants. 

However, a closer look at the texts will prove that they never saw any black man, although they were told that there were many living in the hills. This first contact between Legaspi’s men and the lowland natives was friendly and accommodating, but the succeeding contacts with the natives as the Spanish soldiers reconnoitered the island became hostile. In fact, the Bornean pilot who acted as their guide was killed while he was drinking water from a spring.[iii]  Hence, the stigma of the island as being full of Negros, hostile, and wild was further strengthened with the early uprisings of the inhabitants. Clearly, the natives wanted power for their own…“buut og gahum”.


The establishment of the encomienda system[iv] created a profound impact on the inhabitants of Negros. The interplay of the “will to power” among the encomienderos as they scrambled for more territory and more tribute placed the natives in a situation which brought about changes in their concept of  “buut og gahum” and which was shown by their recorded uprisings in the western and southern part of the island as early as 1630.[v]

After appointing encomienderos in the island, Miguel de Legazpi placed Negros under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Oton in Panay. Since the encomienderos of Negros resided in either Cebu or Iloilo because of the island’s relative underdevelopment, tribute from the island went either to Cebu or Arevalo in Panay, depending on the proximity. Thus, the east side gave to Cebu and the west side to Panay.[vi]  The occidental side was administered from Panay and the oriental was administered from Cebu.

In 1734, Negros Island became a military district or a “Corregimiento and the town of Ilog became its first capital. The seat of government was later transferred to Himamaylan, and thereafter Bacolod became the capital in 1849.  With the rapid increase of population and the influx of migrants from neighboring islands who were motivated by the growing prosperity from the planting of sugarcane, Negros was raised to the category of a politico-military province in 1856.[vii]

The widespread cultivation of sugarcane and the opening of ports in Iloilo and Cebu to international trade and commerce ushered in a period of rapid economic expansion and the growth of the population especially on the north and western sides of Negros Island.  However, the eastern side remained undeveloped because of isolation and neglect by the officials of the province who were based in Bacolod.  Moreover, the absence of roads and bridges and the high mountain ranges hindered communication.

Further, weak and inadequate defenses fostered numerous devastating Moro raids in the coastal communities.  The stagnation, isolation, and neglect of the Oriental coast prompted thirteen priests from the different towns to petition for the division of the island in 1876.[viii]

On October 25, 1889, a royal decree established Negros Oriental as a separate political unit. In due time, Gov. Gen. Valeriano Weyler officially established Negros Oriental as a separate province, including the separation of Siquijor from Bohol to form part of the new province on January 1, 1890 with Dumaguete as its capital.[ix]

A thick description of this division however will show the underlying manifestation of ‘buut og gahum.’  A look at the map of Negros shows a somewhat strange boundary line used in the division of the island.  It would have seemed logical to draw a straight line from the north to south in the center of the island to give credence to the word eastern and western divisions.  An analysis of the boundaries reveals, however that using the mountain range in the center originating from Mt. Canlaon down to the south placed all the fertile flat lands in the Occidental side, and the mountainous rugged strips punctuated by narrow flat coastlines in the Oriental side of the island.

Consequently, the Oriental side became increasingly culturally affiliated with the Cebuanos and the Occidental side with the Ilongos of Panay.


With the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, the Negrense leaders of the Occidental side joined the nationwide Katipunan Movement and overcame the Spanish garrisons in the province on the first week of November 1898.[x] Taking the cue from the Occidental side, Diego de La Viña, a cacique of Vallehermoso which is the border town of Negros Oriental and Occidental, rallied all the other leaders and their men from the different Oriental towns to liberate the province by marching southward to Dumaguete on November 17, 1892.  By November 24, 1898, Negros Oriental was liberated and de La Viña’s forces entered Dumaguete.[xi]

A mixture of reasons influenced the arrival of the Americans in the Island in May 1899. Foremost was the Negrense distrust of the Malolos Government in Luzon where both provinces were represented by representatives coming from Luzon. Moreover, the devastating bombing of Iloilo by the American Navy and the pragmatic reasons of some Negrense leaders to accept the new colonizers paved the way for the creation of the Federal Republic of Negros and its proposed constitution of a Cantonal Government.[xii] Intellectually though, the Negrense leaders showed their grasp and awareness of the political currents in Europe and North America as compared to their counter parts in Luzon.

Eventually, the proposed constitution of the Federal Republic of Negros was not implemented.  Instead, it was General Order No. 30[xiii] which functioned as the real constitution of Negros.  In the end, after the visit of the Second Philippine Commission and after a series of consultations and conferences, both Negros Oriental and Occidental became regular provinces under the national civil government on May 1, 1901.


When the Japanese occupied the island, the inhabitants’ misery greatly increased due to the manifestation of “buut og gahum”. In the confusion of war that ensued, the problem of command jurisdiction rocked the island. More problematic was Negros Oriental, which had three military commanders and three separate overlapping organizations.[xiv] Moreover, Col. Abcede of Negros Occidental wanted all the other commanders to be under him.

It was not surprising that Major Ausejo, one of the commanders in southern Negros, did not accede to Col. Abcede’s invitation to be under his command after the latter met with Col. Peralta in Panay. In a letter to Abcede dated January 11, 1943, Ausejo laid down the reasons why he could not accept the invitation of Peralta and Abcede to join the IV Philippines Corps under the 72nd Division. He claimed that:[xv]    

Geographically, the two provinces have their backs to each other and (sic) flow of communication, food, or reinforcements would be highly problematical. Administration now because of the very poor facilities of communications would be very difficult. Tactically, Negros Oriental operates with (sic) major enemy based at (sic) Cebu.  It takes 3 days to contact Mindanao, and one day to contact Cebu; your mails reach us in 3 weeks and fast couriers make the trip in at least 10 or 12 days.[xvi]  

The confusion and territorial disputes among the military leaders had no end.  Voluminous correspondence between the contending parties attest that nobody was willing to be under any and each had a letter or memorandum to prove his point. Thus, by May of 1943 the non-combatants were confused about too many commanders in the Island. Col. Abcede was in command over all of Negros Occidental; while Maj. Ausejo had for himself all of southern Negros Oriental as far north as Tanjay. In the remaining northern towns of Oriental, it was a tussle between Col. Gador and Captain Mercado.

Similar to the problem of being split over territorial jurisdiction and military commands, the island was also divided into four sectors with each jurisdiction having its own civilian authority.  Negros Occidental was not too problematic because all of the unoccupied areas recognized Alfredo Montelibano whom Col. Abcede had designated in December 1942 as Island Governor.  But in Negros Oriental, the contested zones of different commands also led to the presence of different civilian leaders.  The towns along the north remained loyal to Major Hermenegildo Mercado who appointed most of the mayors. Within this area was Col. Gador who appointed Alberto Furbeyre as Island Governor.  The military jurisdiction of Ausejo in the Southern towns considered Henry Roy Bell as their superior Civil Affair Officer whose position  had been  reconfirmed  by “General” Fertig in Mindanao.[xvii]


The “buut og gahum” manifested itself again after a few decades with a new twist but for the same reasons. The issue of merging the two provinces came up in the 1980s when some leaders from both sides worked for the merger of the two provinces into a one-island, one region unit. House Bill No. 1477 was filed in Congress, known as “An act merging the Province of Negros Occidental and Oriental into One-Island Region to be known as Region 6-A and For Other Purposes.” Some of the major bases for the proposal contained in the House Bill were the following:[xviii]

  1. Commonality of the two provinces. The proponents argue that the two Negros provinces nestle in one common island; have common fowls and beasts in the forest; share the same soil in our plains and mountains; benefit and suffer together from the rivers that snake through our land; and that our ancestors roamed the same length and breadth without complications of political, social, economic, religious and lingual obstacles.
  2. Because we are not contiguous with other provinces in the political region where we belong, we do not benefit from the share of the other provinces regional funds. Projects that have been started by both provinces would be enhanced should more funds for the projected region be allocated.
  3. We will proportionately share in the employment opportunities in the event that our island becomes a region.
  4. Socio-economic development will be focused on the island and there will be a balance of trade between Occidental and Oriental.

A cursory look at this development suggests that leaders from both islands were wary of their share of allotment for regional developmental projects. Moreover, they were also questioning the facts that although they are in one island, they belong to different regions whose centers are not located in their respective areas.

Nevertheless, not all favor the idea. Opposing views claim that the two provinces have different cultural heritages and speak different languages.  Again, the fear of being dominated by the Occidental leaders if ever a merger will happen is still part of the Oriental Negrense’s psycho-history. Moreover, some voice out that a merger is going to be expensive and development projects will not be fairly distributed. Finally, others claim that it is easier and faster to travel to Cebu from Dumaguete than to Bacolod in the sense that it only takes almost three hours by fast ferry or via V-Hire from Lilo-an to Cebu, compared to about six hours by bus going to Bacolod.

Finally, a recent development came about with the changing of the name of the province of Negros Oriental to Oriental Negros spearheaded by then Gov. George Arnaiz. In a sense, the move was designed to really make the province stand out as another entity and not as second fiddle to the more prosperous and popular Negros Occidental. Indeed, the manifestation for “buut og gahum” moves on….!



In this paper the phrase buut og gahum is based on its literal textual Cebuano connotation of “will to power,” This is analogous to the “need for power” or the “lust for power.” Thus the historical survey highlighted the manifestations of buut og gahum in the history of the island.

Indeed, the dynamics that paved the way for the textualities of the phrase and the discourse that it manifested affirms the universal need of people to dominate. As Michel Foucault puts it: “Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violence in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination.” [xix] Hence, the endless, and repeated play of the phrase in the history of Negros.

Changes that occurred in the island in the 16th to the 17th century paved the way for succeeding events but still the concept of buut og gahum continued to be a force to be reckoned with. One disturbing note, for example, is how the capital city of the Oriental side got its name as coming from the word “dagit” or “kidnapped,” suggesting that the inhabitants of Dumaguete allowed themselves to be kidnapped without a fight, and just running to the hills. However in the context of periodization, this naming of Dumaguete could have happened during the arrival of the Spaniards. If one looks closer at the relationship between the islands and visitors prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, an opposite picture of their nature comes out. This is supported by the fact that the cordial welcome depicted in the traditional “sandurot” festival commemorating the acceptance accorded by the early inhabitants of traders and visitors is still being practiced and has its origins prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.

Henceforth, the inclusion of the island within the ambit of world economics ushered in more concepts that were influential in the molding of buut og gahum among the inhabitants. The millenarian movements that rocked the island prior to the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution manifest this.[xx]

Clearly, the “will to power” is again seen in the context of the decision of the Negros leaders to take the side of the Americans despite the existence of the Malolos Republic which they originally supported. Thus the Federal and Cantonal Republic of Negros was born…note the use of the word Cantonal and Federal which clearly were representations of the concept of buut og gahum.

Subsequently, the power structure of domination and subordination that is characterized in any given society was again evident during the Japanese occupation. In the fracas that followed, there were so many commanders giving orders and so many civilian leaders getting orders from conflicting commanders.

Since then, the manifestations of buut og gahum continue in the local politics of the Island where party squabbles, turncoatism, and the like further enrich the kaleidoscope of the political drama in the island. In recent times, the signification of the phrase is once again unleashed in the one island one region issue.

In the final analysis, the interplay and manifestation of buut og gahum created the dynamism and development of what the island is today. Clearly, culture is constituted by distinctive sets of signifying systems that involve modes of textualities in history. In the end, the concept of buut og gahum will continue to manifest itself in different ways in the discourse of the island’s history. From the simple folks to the leaders – everything is done for the acquisition of power, and history happens because of this. What is interesting is that as this process unfolds there are “unintended consequences of intended actions” as Karl Popper puts it.  Nevertheless, it should also be noted that this concept of  “will to power” is indeed a force in studying the psychohistory of the island. Consequently, as buut og gahum continues to manifest itself in the textualities of time … it is a challenge to empower and enlightened the way buut og gahum as well.


[i] The original name of the island was “Buglas” and in some sources “Pinglas”.

[ii] Rodriguez, Esteban,  Relacion muycircunstanciada de la navegacion que hizo el Armada de S.M. a cargo del General Miguel Lopez de Legaspe desde21 nogiembre de 1564…hasta su llegada a la isla de Zebu, ed. De Manuel Valdemoro. Madrid 1947 as cited in Cuesta, Angel Martinez, History of Negros, Manila, 1980, p.27

[iii] Cuesta, p.28.

[iv] Encomienderos were in charge of the Encomiendas, which were territorries temporarilu assigned to deserving Spanish soldier primarily for the collection of tribute…There were fifteen encomienderos in 1571. See Catalogo de los Documentos Relativos a las Islas Filipinad Existente en el Archivo de Indias de Sevilla ( precidido de una Historica General de Filipinas: Pedro Torres, Tomo 2, Barcelona 1968, p. xvi.

[v] Cuesta cited this from Mateos, F. La Collection Pastells de documentos sobre America y Felipinas, in Revisita Indios, VIII (Madrid 1947) p. 7-52.

[vi] Joaquin Martinez de Zuniga, Estadismo de las Islas Filipinas ( Tomo II, Madrid: 1898) p.88. ( Unauthorized translation by Juan Mesquida)

[viii] The reason for recommending the division as well as the justification by the authority cited by Romero, 40-42 and Rodriguez, 22-31 is found in Experdientes de Negros.  Bundle I, Legajo no.4 and Ereccion de Pueblo. Isla de Negros Leg.109, No. 38 of the National Archives in Manila.

[ix] Rodriguez, 23 citing Memorias de Negros Oriental, 1892, p395b.

[x] This seems to be too late as the Revolution against Spain ended in the Mock battle of Manila in August of 1898.

[xi] A vivid description of the March is found in Rodriguez, 88-95.

[xii] Initially, the Oriental leaders objected to the plan and stressed their loyalty to the Malolos Republic but the persuasive power of Gen. Araneta and the other practical reasons led the Oriental leaders to accede to the plan by sending representatives to the Congress of Deputies and the raising of the American Flag.  See Romero, 134-160 and  Rodriguez; 135-161.

[xiii] Gen. Order no. 30 was issued on July 22, 1899.  This Order negated and disabled the powers of the Cantonal Government and stressed that an appointed American Military Governor has the absolute veto powers and would co-exist with a publicly elected Native Civil Governor and an advisory council.  See Romero, 152-153 and Marion Wilcox, (ed.) Harper’s History of the war in the Philippines (New York: 1900) pp.232-233.

[xiv] These were the unified forces of Abcede and Mata, Gen, Wendel Fertig’s Mindanao Visayas Force through Col. Placedo Ausejo, and Col. Gabriel Gador’s Negros Island Force.

[xv] Victoria, Virgilio de la. A History of the Resistance Movement Against the Japanese Imperial Forces in Negros Island 1942 – 1945.” (Unpublished Thesis, University of San Carlos, Cebu City, 1971) 180. Also cited by Rodriguez, 83.

[xvi] Emphasis mine.

[xvii] Silliman, Robert, Pocket of resistance. (Manila: Cesar J. Amigo, 1980) p. 200

[xviii] From a paper entitled “One Region One Island” submitted by Don Paolo Teves based on his interview on former Vice Governor of Negros Oriental Edgar Teves as a requirement of the course History 79.

[xix] Michel Foucault. “Nietzche, Genealogy, History.” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Trans by. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977)  151.

[xx] Earl Jude Cleope. “The Negros Millenarian Movements.” Silliman Journal vol. 42 no. 2, (Silliman University, 2002)