If there is one historical event we ought to clearly ponder upon for historical inspiration and as a guidepost for future political analysis, it is the historic Negros Revolution of 1898. Every year, Negrenses celebrate the Fifth of November as a regular holiday while commemorating history through reenactments, exhibits, and other relevant festivities.
Historical sources inform us that the Negros Revolution occurred during the same timeframe as the Philippine Revolution against the Spaniard occupiers, towards the latter end of the nineteenth century. This revolutionary movement was catalyzed and took its origin from the aspirations of enlightened Filipinos, called “Ilustrados”, who were educated mostly in Europe and exposed to liberal and democratic principles of nation-building while there.
In the early days of November on that fateful year of revolution, these same liberal and democratic principles, which included upholding the Negrenses’ rights to self-determination and autonomy in the context of a decentralized Philippine republic, impelled the organized revolutionary forces of General Aniceto Lacson in the North of the province and General Juan Araneta from the South, to march on the Spanish-held capital city of Bacolod in order to liberate Negros from occupation. Their combined forces, through clever ruses and deception, met little resistance and successfully liberated Bacolod, with the new revolutionary government and Spaniards signing the Act of Capitulation on the sixth of November.
The new Cantonal Republic of Negros was intended by its founders, as spelled out in its constitution and related political documents, to form a Swiss-style political subunit within a Federal Republic of the Philippines, which remains a proposal in line with hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s vision for the archipelago and its future form of territorial administration, as he wrote clearly in his work Filipinas dentro de cien anos (“The Philippines a century hence”). Both President Aguinaldo of the Malolos Republic and the revolutionaries of Panay were informed in writing of this young cantonal republic’s intentions and its establishment. Negros then appeared to be its own country.
Eventually, during the American colonial period and subsequent Philippine republics, Negros was incorporated as a province within a centralized state possessing a different language and culture from the inhabitants of Negros. The effects of this centralization of political power have come at the expense of the liberal and democratic ideals that underpinned the formation of the young cantonal republic, including the aspirations of the Negrense people.
In the present constitutional order, different ethnic groups are covered by the same form of territorial administration within a unitary form of government. The glaring disadvantages of this institutional design include, but are not limited to, a weak understanding of local affairs, gradual linguicide, the proliferation of corruption, the decay of local cultures, and the inertia of slow governmental action in addressing problems peculiar to differing places. To better capture the ideals of the fifth of November and to preserve the multicultural nations within a nation, there has to be a reform of the constitutional order.
It is said that constitutions must be written in the hearts and minds of the people if they are to prove effective and relevant to the times. In relation, there are occasions in a nation’s history which must be embedded in the consciousness of all its people, regardless of their ethnicity, language, and other distinguishing features. This sentiment becomes clearer in light of a given country’s geographical composition and ethnic differences, while also remaining in line with the fundamental essences of liberalism and democracy.
Democracy, in this instance, refers to empowering the people beyond the power of using the ballot box in creating the appropriate conditions for a broader cross-section of people to govern, shape, and modify the rules of society, as opposed to power resting in the hands of a few. A new and reformed structure of territorial administration may prove critical in fostering the right conditions for the meaningful realization of democracy.
Ultimately, one of the primary concerns of Negrense revolutionaries embraced the future role of Negros in the world, as the “scene of great enterprises” as one writer so eloquently put it. That concern continues to dwell in the minds of Filipinos and Negrenses who continually express their concerns for what kind of nation and county the Philippines should be, whether to embrace the meaning of democracy through autonomous territorial administration structures or to keep its status quo.
One hundred twenty-five years later, may the inspiration of Negrense revolutionaries guide us towards being illumined. Remember, remember, the fifth of November. Viva la Republica de Negros.