Dumangas: San Agustin and Other Stories

When I told them that I went around San Agustin Church and spent the whole morning there, my relatives exclaimed, “Ah ang simbahan sa cachila” (yes, my aunts pronounced it with the “che” sound!) Then I suddenly recalled that one of the founders of Aglipay here was a grandfather, in fact my mother was baptized as Aglipayan. This explains why they were a bit surprised (I later explained that I am Catholic and so is my Mother). There are still quite a few Aglipay in the family. These two religions are almost identical in all characteristics but separated by “political” ideology. And since the times has changed and the “fight” against the mother church no longer exist I wonder if there was ever a time when reunification has been discussed between these two.

San Agustin Church

San Agustin, the present one, in Dumangas is  the second stone church in the whole of Panay. The first stone church is still in Dumangas – its ruins can be found in Barrio Ermita, the first site of the town’s center before it was moved to its present location. Dumangas (formerly araut) was made a parish in 1569, yes, older than the capital and the colonial state. It truly is  a wellspring of Panayeño history.

The first missions here, composed of Agustinians and a handful of soldiers, was said to have been sent (by Legazpi) to forage for food. The Friars then decided to stay and form a community and the rest is history. For many Catholics in Dumangas, their town being the first to be christianized in the whole of Panay, gives them a sense of pride and uniqueness.

The church that we see today was built in 1887 by the masterful Agustinian builder Fernando Llorente. The Gothic Byzantine church is made of red bricks and quarried sea coral stones. Dubbed as the “most artful” in all of Panay, It was gutted by fire (initiated by retreating revolutionaries) during the revolution and survived numerous bombing raids during the pacific wars.

Recently, NHI made some restoration work together with the local government.  This deserves to be lauded for it involved meticulous planning and execution and it came out alright. It was declared a national landmark in 1983. Testament to its historical significance as not only the cradle of Christianity in Panay but also a noble monument of Dumangasanon perseverance.

In the book “History of Panay” it is mentioned that “well armed” Dumangasanon’s together with the Church and civil authorities warred with the Moro pirates in countless occasions. As part of defense, “the church was surrounded by stone walls, at four corners of which they erected watchtowers”. Outside these walls are “where many battles against the Muslims took place”.

The Agustinian mission were set back by the natives fear of forced labor (not understanding its purpose) and tributes. These are alien concepts to them. Fear and apprehension was promoted by the Babaylanes warning the Panayenos, “of great calamaties” brought by the missionaries. A notable uprising was that of the mundos (literally bananas, an essential part of their diet). Led by a certain Tapar, they were rallied to fight against the Spaniards for fear of having their lands “settled away”. The Augustinian’s successfully convinced these groups without incident to go back to their homes.

The increase in taxation in 1600’s can be attributed to the Dutch-Hispano-Filipino wars. The demand for labor and materials were high and so is the tax in Dumangas and the neighboring towns. What is referred to in history books as the Eighty Years’ War has had a tremendous effect on the colonial state. It was a war where we  played a key role. The Dutch were routed by the Spanish and Filipino forces in the years 1610, 1617 and 1624 in what is known today as Battle of Playa Honda. But the Battles of La Naval de Manila would had the greatest impact culturally (and economically during that period). It is commemorated as a victory not only for the Spaniards but for all the people who love their land and their religion.

My mother studied here for a year before heading back to Negros

Undoubtedly the greatest hero of Dumangas is Quintin Salas. One could see an old portrait of him hanging on Dumangas’ town hall. He is credited for leading the most successful battles during the revolution in the whole of Panay. He took Jaro from the Spaniards when it was at that time a Spanish center. He was consistent in his belief that the Filipinos must be free from all foreign powers – after the Spaniards left he fought the Americans. He was noted for his daring and cunning tactics.  Salas fought the Americans with more tenacity and determination but soon he realized that the conditions of the war was not going his way. He surrendered his forces fearing annihilation. His capture w made it to the broad sheets in the US. He retired a farmer.

Rumors of asuang was once popular in town. Perhaps, this can be attributed to its proximity with Duenas, the alleged home of the asuang character, Tenente Gimo. I wonder if the American’s had employed the use of asuang as a counter-insurgency method here like the one they did in Capiz. You only  need to imagine the scope of their operation back when the Huks were popular in the countryside. If they used the myth of the poor asuangs as means of deterring their enemies, it doesn’t take much to imagine what other propaganda they used to gain advantage. Lansdale, who wrote the book “In the midst of wars”, admitting that it was indeed used to counter the rebels, was also instrumental in installing Magsaysay in Malacanan.

Here an old house of a relative use to stand. This is where my mother spent her childhood days in Dumangas.

The Diazes has been residing in this part of Iloilo for centuries.  There’s still a sizable number of them left in Dumangas but slowly decreasing due to migration. According to some relatives, there was once an American man who dropped by claiming that his father was a Diaz from Dumangas and that he came to look for his relatives. But because the Diaz of Iloilo and Negros is a huge clan, old names are often lost in the family history tree. We often have to settle with the comfort of knowing that it was here, in this coastal town, that our ancestors started their wonderful journey to life.

The municipality has been developed in recent decades. Although I noticed there are still dirt roads around (especially the one headed to the port). The port of Dumangas has been buzzing with activity since its construction. The San Miguel beer that is being produced in Negros is shipped through the port. Supplying beer to the greater part of Iloilo and neighboring provinces  for the good times.

For more historical reading about Iloilo:

History of Panay, Iloilo: La Muy Noble Ciudad, Conquest and Pestilence: In the Early Spanish Philippines, Remnants of the Great Ilongo Nation

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