(Part 1 of 2)
DON SALVADOR BENEDICTO, Negros Occidental, Philippines – “Onse (eleven),” was the most number of people killed in a single ambush in the 80s, Nehemiah Joe Dela Cruz says as he slathers liver sauce over a lean piece of lechon pork he was having with dinuguan or bllod stew for lunch.
“We knew all of those killed,” he says as he raised his right hand and counted off the names.
“No, the chief of police lived,” Cynthia, JR’s mother chimed in as she sat down beside this writer at the Stonehouse, the Dela Cruz family’s original house in Kumaliskis village.
“Ay huo gali (Oh, yes, indeed),” JR says as he paused eating to wait for his mother to sit down.
What followed was a back and forth between mother and son, a recollection of names, places, people and, sometimes, gory details of wounds, exposed bones and flesh.
Sometimes, Cynthia or Bebeng would heave a sigh when she remembers “sang una,” the recent past when bandits and rebels, and so-called “independent armed groups” roamed the then wilderness inside what is now a forest reserve.
Beside the bar, the whole pork lechon had been stripped of its skin as visitors continue to arrive to join the lunch hosted by another Dela Cruz, the sitting mayor Laurence Marxlen, and the rythmic thump of knife on chopping board continued as the lechon was being portioned off to diners.
“Namit (Delicious),” one of the dancers of a cheerdance group said as she took a bite.
Today, 1 February 2023, was a happy day in this mountain town of 27, 000 people as it turns 40, the youngest from among 32 localities in this province that is the sugar-producing capital of the Philippines.
Outside the Stonehouse, big SUVs lined up as a steady stream of guests were unloaded, many from Bacolod, the provincial capital, and other places in the province who have either made this town a regular hie away place.
Some who have the wherewithal have already made this a secondary prime address, proof of which are the resthouses dotting the Negros Eco-Tourism Highway that has become the major road spine cutting across town.
Forty years is roughly around two generations – the equivalent of those who were born and raised collectively in this town only about 50 kilometers away from Bacolod.
“It was once difficult to make guests come here,” Marxlen, more known among townsfolk as “Toto Mac,” tells DNX in a one on one interview in between greetings and goodbyes from arriving and departing guests.
While only about an hour and a half away from Bacolod, the way here was through unpaved roads that literally cut across forests – dusty in summer, muddy during the monsoon rains.
Travel to DSB required bravery. It was not a leisure destination then, it was more of a rite of passage – like circumcision for the Jews or eating a live, squirming octopi for Koreans.
(To be continued)