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Historical sleuthing in Bacolod

When Ateneo de Manila changed its academic calendar so that the first semester opens in June and the second in December, we lost the “Summer Term” and gained an “Inter-Session.” Unlike countries that have winter, spring, summer, and fall, we have no summer but only wet and dry seasons based on temperature and rainfall, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services (Pagasa). Wet season runs from June to November, and dry from December to May, further divided into a “cool dry season” from December to February and the “hot dry season” from March to May. Pagasa should also distinguish between rainy and “rainier” seasons, when monsoon rain and typhoons make their annual visits to the archipelago. Because we’re technically into the hot dry season, it was unusual to encounter torrential rain in Negros last Friday. Landing in Silay, we were greeted by a downpour that flooded sections of the highway into Bacolod. Nobody clears drainage during the dry season, so when it rains unexpectedly water gathers into a momentary flood.

After seafood lunch at Aboy’s, we sought shelter at the De La Salle Bacolod Museum until our evening flight home. Museum director Lyn Marie Mapa gave us a guided tour, and when my traveling companion took a rest, I did a second round of the museum and requested permission to pore over the two manuscripts on display: the Acts and Constitution of the Negros Cantonal Government of 1899 (cited as a historical basis for federalism), and church records from Siquijor dated 1765. Both manuscripts were donated by Eddieboy Ledesma, a La Salle alumnus who found the 1899 document in a cabinet acquired from an antiques dealer; the older documents were given to Ledesma by Lolita Consing, who had disposed of their original but unsightly vellum or pigskin cover.

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The hardbound “Actas” and Negros Constitution is wrapped in paper and addressed to “Sr. Don Venancio Concepcion c/o Dr. Clemente Puno. Guagua Pampanga.” Concepcion was a Filipino-American War general, and Dr. Puno was the father of Court of Appeals justice and Marcos-era justice minister Ricardo Puno, and grandfather of TV host and Estrada-era press secretary Ricardo “Dong” Puno and former Antipolo congressman Robbie Puno. Scribbled in a different hand under Dr. Puno’s name and address is: “Ovaltine, Milo, Leche en polvo—Nido.” Probably the beginnings of a grocery list!

The Siquijor document was open to a page of expenses that included the salary of a “cozinero” (cook) and staples like “puerco” (pork) and “zebollas” (onions). I advised the museum staff to correct the caption, because the manuscript is in Spanish, not Latin. After validating the 1675 date, I told them the manuscript is a collection of various financial reports from 1762 to 1861.

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“Limosna” were not lemons or kalamansi, but “alms” or donations. I pointed out characteristics of difficult 18th-century script, showing not just differences but also how much easier it is to read 19th-century writing. We went through a succession of parish priests with quaint names through the decades: Pedro de Santa Barbara, 1762-63; Nicolas de la Asuncion, 1764-66; and in the years to 1772—

Pedro de Santo Doming, Romulado del Pilar, and Joseph de Buenaventura. We found Santiago del Corazon de Jesus in 1779; Vicente de la Soledad in 1791; Alonso de Dolores in 1798; Juan de la Encarnacion in 1833; Miguel de Jesus and Pedro del la Encarnacion in 1835; Juan Felix de la Encarnacion in 1836; and finally Fr. Ramon Eraso in 1861. Under each signature was a rubric, a complicated flourish, that is both decorative and a foil to counterfeiting.

Since the Siquijor church was established in 1783 under secular priests before being turned over to the Augustinian Recollects in 1794, why did the documents begin in 1762? Fortunately, there was one “Carta de Capitulares” mixed with the financial records, and scattered place names suggesting that the manuscript was from Mambusao, Capiz, not Siquijor. This is more likely, since Mambusao was founded in 1607 and administered by the Recollects from 1758-1793. Checking the names listed against those in Recollect mission catalogues will definitely validate my hunches.

I like to think I left the museum staff with a sense of how I do my work, and the enthusiasm that drives me. Pending digitization of the manuscript, I have reason for a longer trip to Bacolod.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: “Summer Term”, Bacolod, Historical sleuthing, Negros Constitution
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