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Diagnosing the "Bloodless" Myth of the Negros Revolution

Diagnosing the "Bloodless" Myth of the Negros Revolution
Sour truths made sweet by myths and bourgeois legends.

In the popular children’s film V for Vendetta, the eponymous V recites to a young Evey a modern rendition of a beloved rhyme. In the said version, V mouths:

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.”

The scene ends with lots of bang and boom as a string of fireworks set the sky alight, commemorating what would’ve been one of England’s most memorable moments: not the recent almost victory against Italy to win Euro 2021, but the failure of Catholic Conspiracists to blow up the Parliament with a generous amount of explosives.

In the Philippine island of Negros, people are also encouraged to remember an event on November the fifth which had a lot less poetry, a lot more aplomb, but zero to no bombs—for if there were explosives involved on that day, they would’ve likely been fake.

Cinco de Noviembre is a local holiday in the occidental side of Negros. It is the day when, in 1898, the local landlords and their men marched from the north and south to meet at Bacolod and expel the Spanish authorities with a display of force that involved makeshift cannons made of wood. These fake artillery are the symbols of the event, as it the sight of these that had supposedly scared the Spanish officials into surrendering. A few weeks after the Spanish capitulation, the Gobierno Republicano Federal del Canton de Ysla de Negros was inaugurated. And so it was through the ingenuity of the landed leaders of the revolution that Negros gained its independence from Spain and asserted its autonomy.

It is an uplifting origins story that follows many archetypal prompts. There’s the evil ruler in the form of the Spaniards. Against them, we have the enlightened local leaders who, using both brains and brawn, managed to win against the forces of evil and ushered a new era where locals were free from foreign oppression. How very sweet of them to do so. However, like all origin stories, the popularly accepted version of Cinco de Noviembre is also rife with myths and embellishments. The annual celebration of the event magnifies the popular account along with its many decorations, with towns and cities having their own reenactment plays and replica cannons, much like birthday cakes that get grander and grander each year. Birthday cakes are often glazed with colourful icing, elaborate designs, and other striking paraphernalia that belie the fact that it only signifies the addition of a year to one’s age: that is, the one celebrating is closer to imminent death. And as the years roll, Cinco de Noviembre becomes a lot more mythological than it is historical: recorded data dies at the hands of parroted fantasy. Sure, let people have their cakes, but historical facts, while they may taste bitter most of the time, are surely a lot less detrimental to health and intellect.

This widespread belief in the “bloodless” excision of Spanish rule by the local landlords extols the virtue not of the people of Negros in general, but of the hacendero aristocracy, for it was because of their cunning and leadership that the inhabitants of Negros were finally free of their colonial yoke. But the truth is far more complex and a lot less hortatory. For starters, there were recorded casualties after brief skirmishes (which we will get to later). And it was precisely because of violence before and during Cinco de Noviembre that the landlords were able to secure their rule of the island without having to engage the Spanish in heavy combat.


The 1800s was a watershed century for the island of Negros. The arrival of modern machinery made with iron and powered by steam, introduced by the British Vice-Consul Nicholas Loney,1 spurred the island into agricultural high spirits, particularly in sugarcane monocropping.2 The unfortunate turn of the textile industry in the island of Panay was also a fortunate development for Negros, for it tempted Ilonggo capitalists to dip their hands in the new agricultural frontiers of the island.3 And thus it was the combo of foreign technology and local capital entering Negros that sparked the economic impetus for its nascent sugar industry.4

Military events in the island may have assuaged some of their security concerns. The young Gobernador of the island, Col. Emilio Saravia, had effectively put a stop to the ongoing Moro raids in the island after a maritime victory against the invaders in 1857.5 However, his triumph at sea was marred by an earlier brutality against the Carolan tribe of the inner mountains of Negros. In 1856, he sent a battalion of 450 comisarios and sixty contingents from the police armed with rifles and two cannons to deal with the Carolans.6 The result was a total ethnocide. The Carolans fought bravely despite the obvious advantage the Spanish had with their firearms and artillery, but after their leader Manyabog was killed in battle, the remaining Carolans locked themselves up in three large houses then set the structures on fire. All of them died from asphyxiation, a costly price they were willing to pay to be eternally free from Spanish stranglehold.7 For his atrocities against the Carolans, Saravia was later exiled to an African jail.8 Saravia’s transgression undid years of evangelical work by the Recollects and other religious sects to peacefully convert the native population of the island to Catholicism.

With the Moro threat ended and the indigenous populations in the interior pacified with the threat of extermination, capital influx and expansion in the island became a lot less risky. It also gave the newcomers a newfound confidence that expressed itself in abuse. These upstart hacenderos took advantage of the fact that many native planters had no legal papers, and so the latter were stripped of their lands with the force of law.9 But despite this volatile and growing gulf growing between them and the disenfranchised locals, the capitalists were comfortable in their station, cooperating at times with others of their own class—despite economic competition among themselves—to solidify their place in the island all for what Negrense researcher Violeta Lopez-Gonzaga calls their “common pursuit of profit.”10 Already from the outset we can see that violence was one of the precursors for the island’s agricultural development. It was lawful violence that allowed the hacenderos to uproot native tillers from their ancestral soil with the power of government bought land titles. For if we consult history without idealistic impressions, the rule of law is nothing but the enforcement of ruling interests over the subjects of the state, oftentimes with police and military intervention. And at the time, whose interests were better matched with the interests of the Negros government than that of the landed nouveau riche?

The flow of capital led to a prosperity never seen before in the island. Sugar production in the western province drastically increased from 300 piculs in 1845 to 575,000 piculs by 1875 (roughly around 34,775 metric tonnes).11 The enterprising many who took a gamble on the productive power of the island’s soil were now seeing massive returns to their pockets. This allowed them to intensify their production by purchasing more draft animals such as carabaos, buying machinery from abroad for those that could afford, and, of course, recruiting more workers to plough their ever increasing fields. Since the island of Negros was at the time rather late in development compared to its other Visayan neighbours, its population was quite sparse and scattered, so the hacenderos, to fill their need for more workers, recruited farmhands from other islands and provinces.12 Those that heeded their invitations were called sacadas.13 Most of the sacadas that arrived in Negros Occidental were from Panay and those that landed on the shores of Negros Oriental were mostly from Bohol and Cebu. This might explain why Bisaya is the dominant language on the eastern side of Negros, whereas Hiligaynon is widely spoken in the west.

But, eventually, as with all things, the sweet days of affluence turned sour. The Spanish state could not keep up with the rapid advances and increasing demands of the sugar industry; its industrial ineptitude disappointed the many landlords whose commercial momentum were severely curtailed. For example, Filomeno Aguilar writes that in the 1880s, “Spanish Manila would not approve a set of pro-planter regulations to ensure greater control over sharecroppers and other farm workers, even when those suggestions were strongly endorsed by the Spanish provincial governor.”14 Moreover, nationalist ethos emerged out of rebellious breasts, and various revolts sprang up in the archipelago. This dual concern shaped a complex mould of identity in the minds of the Negros hacenderos: on one side, they cultivated an intense agricultural pariochality deeply indebted to the local Spanish government for the protection offered by the Guardia Civil;15 and on the other, they felt the invisible tugs of a national connection with the other elite personalities of the archipelago who were already nurturing the infancy of independent nationhood. Would they have to sacrifice local luxury if they were to participate in nation-building?

The spirit of economic pragmatism won over lofty desires for national emancipation; securing the safety of their lands was far more important than waving the banner of a unified polity. They had a lot to lose if the nationalist project of the Tagalogs failed, which is why the Negrense elites chose the safer option of siding with Spain. When the Katipunan in Luzon began their offensives in August 1896, the provincial governments and citizens of western Visayas sent 500 troops recruited from Panay and Negros to fight alongside the Spanish against the Tagalog revolutionaries.16 However, they later realised that Spain’s hold of the Philippines was quickly deteriorating, and that a new force, in the form of the USA, had arrived as the new dominant entity in the Pacific. This served as the political backdrop for the quick volte-face of the Negros landlords that surprised not just the Spaniards, but also their fellow Visayan hacenderos.


As the colonial state was holding on for dear life, the Negrense landlords started to foment and plan a course of action to finally dislodge the dying clutches of Spain from the island. They started to consider the earlier calls for revolutionary action. According to John Larkin, “[b]y August 1898, several towns in Negros Occidental had formed central and local revolutionary committees, and Generals Aniceto Lacson and Juan Araneta acted as regional commanders of the northern and southern sections respectively.”17 In Negros Oriental, similar preparations were also carried out. Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez writes that Pedro Baguio of Guihulngan and Diego de la Viña of Vallehermoso were reported to the local Spanish authorities for “providing a place for training men to handle rifles, and for constructing a house as a secret meeting place.”18 De la Viña would later become a prominent figure of the revolution in Negros Oriental.

To ensure the success of their revolt, the revolutionaries in Negros Occidental decided to pool their resources on the hands of their appointed treasurer-general Leandro Locsin. They had to do it secretly to avoid detection by the authorities, so they came up with a mode of collection that was hardly suspicious. Supporters and members of the cause would go to Locsin’s pharmacy in Silay and pretend to purchase drugs and other medicaments. Locsin would then log their donations with the use of pharmaceutical codes to hide their identities and contributions. Local historian Modesto Sa-Onoy provides us with an example: “Jose Ledesma was listed as ‘Jarabe de limon’ (lemon syrup) and opposite his name was the quantity of the medicine, ‘500 gramos.’ This means that Ledesma donated five hundred pesos.”19 Their frequent filings of legalese commercial declarations have inevitably taught them well how to rig documents to serve illegal purposes. Ironically, the Negrense landlords had no qualms with breaking the law just to protect their possessions despite the fact that it was also the law that provided many of them with the means to gain and expand their holdings.

The Visayan leaders held a secret meeting on 1 November 1898 to decide when to strike: and the date they chose was 5 November. The spirit of haste swept through them. Dispatches detailing the outlines of the agreed plan were immediately sent to the various municipal leaders in Negros on 3 November. These messages were sent with speed and secrecy, quickly but carefully circumventing Spanish surveillance. It was imperative that the plan be kept exclusive to the revolutionary cadre, for if revealed, it also jeopardised the schemes in Iloilo because the 5 November attack in Bacolod was designed to coincide with a similar offensive in Jaro.20 Then on the next day, 4 November, the revolutionaries cut off the telegram lines to Bacolod to block incoming news from reaching the town. In Manapla, the revolutionaries led by Custudio Duyungan and Luis Mosquera had already secured the Spanish garrison, perhaps a little bit too eager than the rest.21 Finally, on the fifth of November, the Silay revolutionaries started the sorties by marching toward the Silay wharf where the Spanish enforcer Lt. Maximiano Correa and his small band were garrisoned. After a brief exchange of gunfire, a parley was held with the intercession of a peninsulares named Juan Viplana. Lt. Correa agreed to surrender only if it be written on record that he was forced to do so after an intense battle that even led to hand-to-hand combat.22

The Talisay forces, led by Aniceto Lacson, marched on to Bacolod, but they faced a sizeable Spanish defence near Matab-ang river. A skirmish ensued where, contrary to the “bloodless” myth, a number of Spaniards were hit by bullets. And, as everybody knows, bullets easily penetrate human skin. Blood was indeed shed on that day, just not to the degree that some revolutions are known for. In the aftermath of the encounter, three Spanish soldiers were fatally hit—including Lt. Fransisco de Castro, the one in charge of the defence—and many more were injured.23

What about the counterfeit cannons that supposedly terrified the Spanish authorities into submission?

The fight between de Castro and Lacson up north would’ve allowed some of the Spaniards to scout the arms and numbers of the Talisay squadron. If they had brought some cannons but did not use them, perhaps that would’ve let the Spaniards know that these cannons were quite weak, or perhaps they were reserving it for later use in Bacolod. Nonetheless, the victory of the Negrenses in Matab-ang would’ve been enough to drive fear into the hearts of the remaining Spaniards. Cannons were only supplementary.

Things were quite different for the incoming southern forces. According to popular account, Col. Isidro de Castro went up the belfry of San Sebastian Cathedral and with the use of his telescope spotted Juan Araneta’s forces near Lupit river. Col. de Castro supposedly saw a staggering amount of artillery that it prompted him to surrender immediately, unbeknown to him that the cannons were only made of amakan. But this runs counter to the fact that de Castro’s capitulation was penned and signed the day after, in the afternoon of 6 November. If he was indeed scared, why did de Castro hold out until the 6th to formally surrender? The time of Araneta’s arrival in Bacolod needs to be taken into account. Araneta’s march started in Ma-ao, then to the square of Bago, afterwards they took the long march to Bacolod. It was already near evening when they reached Lupit bridge. Without electrical lights and modern telescopes, it would’ve been extremely difficult for Col. de Castro to peruse Araneta’s forces and arms from afar.

So to say that the revolution was “bloodless” and that the Spanish were completely duped is rather incorrect. One other factor, seldom mentioned in popular retelling, puts the whole “bloodless” myth to rest.


Perhaps the biggest reason why the revolutionaries found it easy to enter and break through the defensive ranks in Bacolod was that the island’s Spanish forces were simultaneously dealing with an inland uprising led by a babaylan named Dionisio Magbuela, famously known as Papa Isio. While the Negrense landlords were busy drafting able men to help the Spaniards against the Katipunan in 1896, Papa Isio was also busy organising disgruntled peasants who had escaped the brutal treatments of their hacenderos. His group set up base in the slopes of Mt. Canlaon and soon spread out in the interior stretches of the island. By 1897, Papa Isio’s forces ballooned to 1,500 fighters and could successfully repel the Guardia Civil in every encounter.24 To prevent more workers from joining Papa Isio’s band, the local government dispatched the Guardia Civil to various key junctions and roads, effectively scattering its military regiment away from the provincial base in Bacolod.

And so it was the violence in the countryside that facilitated the “peaceful” takeover in the capital.

Jubilation and rejoicing erupted in the recently freed parts of the island. The Spanish surrender finally put an end to the harsh working conditions set by the government, leading to a new period of peaceful prosperity, or so is believed nowadays. Unfortunately for the many, it was the landlords that had won and took control of the island, the very same people that were quite happy dealing harsh punishments to complaining workers and enlisted the help of the Guardia Civil to round up any escapees from their lands.25 Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The future of the sugar industry was the primary concern of the new authorities, finding new business partners and patrons was key to securing its stability. It is no wonder, then, that only six days after the Spaniards abdicated the new authorities declared their allegiance to the Americans, offering the island as a “protectorate of the United States.”26 By February 1899, the American flag had already been hoisted in Bacolod and was feted with “a volley of twenty-one cannon shots, although not a single American was present.”27

This, of course, upset many people, including their comrades in Iloilo28 and in Negros Oriental who they did not consult whatsoever in their rash decision.29 But despite the frustrations of their peers, peace reigned in the minds of the landlords as having American backing promised better commercial prospects. But it was not for long, because Papa Isio went back to the mountains with his forces and launched a new revolt, this time against the landlord class. Papa Isio’s continued struggle proved to be such a problem for the new government that they collaborated with the Americans for his capture and detainment.30

Papa Isio’s downfall at the behest of the American-sponsored, landlord-led government was and still is a major tragedy in Negros silenced by the fanfare surrounding the bourgeois version of history. Although by no means perfect, his continued resistance, first against the Spaniards and then against the landlords,31 is more representative of the daily tribulations of the common Negrense: the peasants and labourers who actually tilled the soil, harvested sugarcane, then repeated the whole process again and again all to the benefit of their landlords. Underneath the imagined “bloodless” and “peaceful” success of Cinco de Noviembre are the episodes of violence the poor labourers experienced at the hands of the landlords, the Guardia Civil, and the Americans. The soil that enriched the landlords with sweet bounty was made fertile by the blood and sweat of the toiling farmhands.

If popular imagination cannot forego its need for myths, then let the spectre of Papa Isio haunt the Negros countryside because the economic conditions of peasants and workers that he bewailed have hardly changed. Unless we do something to reverse the miserable existence of the island’s poor, inherited from the days of Spanish colonialism and further exacerbated once the Americans arrived, then explosions might be inevitable in the foreseeable future. After all, Negros was once described as a social volcano. And no cannon, either genuine or made of amakan, can come close to the strength of a volcanic eruption.

Picture of a street in Bacolod in 1909. Taken from Violeta Lopez-Gonzaga’s Land of Hope, Land of Want

Picture of a street in Bacolod in 1909. Taken from Violeta Lopez-Gonzaga’s Land of Hope, Land of Want

  1. Willem Wolters, “Sugar Production in Java and in the Philippines During the Nineteenth Century,” Philippine Studies 40, no. 4 (1992): 419. ↩︎

  2. John Larkin, Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 53. ↩︎

  3. Filomeno V. Aguilar, “Colonial Sugar Production in the Spanish Philippines: Calamba and Negros Compared,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 48, no. 2 (2017): 253. ↩︎

  4. Violeta Lopez-Gonzaga, The Negrense: A Social History of an Elite Class, ed. Raymundo Pandan (Bacolod: Institute for Research and Development, University of St. La Salle, 1991), 11. ↩︎

  5. Robustiano Echauz, Apuntes de La Isla de Negros (Manila: Tipo-Litografia de Chofré y Comp, 1894), 16. ↩︎

  6. Ibid., 99. ↩︎

  7. Ibid., 100. ↩︎

  8. Violeta Lopez-Gonzaga, Land of Hope, Land of Want: A Socio-Economic History of Negros (1571-1985), ed. Raymundo Pandan (Quezon City: Echanis Press, 1994), 102. ↩︎

  9. Ibid., 125. ↩︎

  10. Lopez-Gonzaga, The Negrense, 11. ↩︎

  11. Larkin, Sugar, 61. ↩︎

  12. Aguilar, “Colonial Sugar,” 2017, 253. ↩︎

  13. Henry Funtecha, “The Making of a ‘Queen City of the South’: The Case of Iloilo 1890s-1930s,” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 20, no. 2-3 (1992): 115. ↩︎

  14. Filomeno V. Aguilar, “The Republic of Negros,” Philippine Studies 48, no. 1 (2000): 32. ↩︎

  15. Alfred McCoy, “Sugar Barons: Formation Ofa Native Planter Class in the Colonial Philippines,” The Journal of Peasant Studies 19, no. 3-4 (1992): 119. ↩︎

  16. Ibid., 120. ↩︎

  17. Larkin, Sugar, 118. ↩︎

  18. Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez, “Don Diego de La Viña and the Philippine Revolution in Negros Oriental,” Philippine Studies 34, no. 1 (1986): 61. ↩︎

  19. Modesto Sa-Onoy, History of Occidental Negros, 2nd ed. (Bacolod: TODAY Printers and Publishers, 2003), 140–41. ↩︎

  20. Ibid., 143. ↩︎

  21. Ibid., 144. ↩︎

  22. Ibid. ↩︎

  23. Ibid., 145. ↩︎

  24. Alfred McCoy, “A Queen City Dies: The Rise and Decline of Iloilo City,” in Philippine Social History: Global Trade and Local Transformations, ed. Alfred McCoy and Ed de Jesus, Southeast Asia Publications Series 7 (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1982), 324. ↩︎

  25. Ibid., 323. ↩︎

  26. Aguilar, “Republic,” 2000, 39. ↩︎

  27. Aldecoa-Rodriguez, “Don Diego,” 71. ↩︎

  28. Aguilar, “Republic,” 2000, 31. ↩︎

  29. Aldecoa-Rodriguez, “Don Diego,” 71. ↩︎

  30. McCoy, “Sugar Barons: Formation Ofa Native Planter Class in the Colonial Philippines,” 1992, 122. ↩︎

  31. McCoy, “Queen City,” 1982, 325. ↩︎

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