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Location: Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines

I'm Walter Balane. I am a journalist based in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Philippines. I initiated the group called Atong Press ( for press freedom and responsibility and media education in Bukidnon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rewind: Commentary: Trying to revisit Malaybalay's past

By Walter I. Balane / MindaNews / 16 June 2004

MALAYBALAY CITY — On the 15th of June, 127 years ago, Malaybalay was established by the Spanish conquerors as a town or “pueblo.” After years of resistance, local inhabitants, led by Datu Mampaalong, bowed to the Castillan army led by 1Lt. Don Felipe Martinez.

Mampaalong, now the name of a lonely street in the city’s poblacion, was among the respected leaders of Malaybalay’s earlier residents. Malaybalay’s inhabitants, according to accounts, allegedly came from the “seashores of Northern Mindanao”. According to a copy of the deed of the pueblo’s creation, which MindaNews found at the city library, Mampaalong and 30 other datus “submitted themselves to the sovereignty of the Nation (Spanish crown)” on June 15, 1877.

As recorded, some of the datus named in the deed in Spanish were Datto Manpalon (Mampaalong) who was baptized as Mariano Melendez; Sugola; Mindaguin; Apang; and Bansag. They allegedly took their oath to the Spanish crown on behalf of the estimated population of 453 then. (Malaybalay’s population in 2004 is estimated at 137,579).

For lack of additional records on the oath-taking, one cannot tell if the datus fought first before paying allegiance to the conquerors. Or could they have given their oaths “freely?” If the existing records of Malaybalay’s history are to be the basis, the datus and their ancestors resisted Spanish conquest.

In fact, according to another “brief history” of Malaybalay at the city library, the “last recorded resistance by the inhabitants against the conquering Castillan army” was “sometime in 1850.” The inhabitants resisted foreign aggression, that’s certain. According to a city history reader, at the height of the Spanish conquest of the hinterlands of Mindanao, the Spaniards burned the entire village of what is now known as Kalasungay, now at the northwest part of the city.

All adult male residents in the settlement, it said, were killed while the women and children were taken hostage. At the time, Bukidnon only had five settlements namely, Malaybalay, Sumilao, Linabo (now in Malaybalay), Mailag (now in Valencia) and Silae (Malaybalay). There were no details written about the exploits of the survivors other than the information that those who survived and fled to Silae (a very remote barangay now) slowly returned a few years later and settled near Sacub river (now the site of the Plaza Rizal) under the protection of Datu Mampaalong. Sacub river is now known as Sawaga river.

On the day Mampaalong and the 30 datus took their oath of allegiance to the Spanish, they accordingly embraced Christianity. Since then, June 15, 1877 has been referred to as the foundation day of Malaybalay. But it is interesting to note this entry of Malaybalay’s very limited “written” history. In fact, it was probably taken from pages of Spanish chronicles about their “God, gold and glory” conquest.

The deed I quoted above was from a government document written in Spanish translated by a local government clerk in the 1970s. Now, the document is just a sheet of bond paper fastened together with the “brief history” of Bukidnon’s other localities. If indeed true, the accounts were from the point of view of a conqueror vanquishing his enemies. In fact, so much of 19th century Malaybalay is taken from accounts based on Spanish chronicles.

If there is any written history from other sources, they are not found in Bukidnon’s public libraries and therefore not made available for the public to appreciate. I have yet to see a history of Malaybalay written from the point of view of the Lumads. If today’s generation of Malaybalay residents do not have a clear view of Malaybalay’s history, then it won’t appear significant if June 15 is being celebrated as the town’s foundation day, never mind if it was not a day worth celebrating for their ancestors. But one significant fact remains: unlike in other Spanish settlements around Mindanao, despite the pueblo’s being named as “Oroquieta del Interior,” the name Malaybalay, accordingly a Castillan slip in the pronounciation of “walaybalay,” is still the name of Bukidnon’s capital. The celebration of Malaybalay’s foundation day is actually a celebration of the inhabitants “submission” to the Spanish crown; the creation of the “pueblo” being just a “consuelo de bobo”.

The deed goes: “…His excellency the Governor General, Don Domingo Moriones Y Murillo, who actually represents His Majesty in these Islands; he was accepting the submission tendered by the above named magnates (31 datus) for themselves and in the form and under the conditions offered; promising them [the inhabitants] to the protection and assistance necessary against their enemies, such as the maintenance of peace and order, as long as they remain loyal and faithful to their oath, and to commemorate their oath of allegiance, he is declaring the establishment of the town under the name Oroquita, to which the subject[sic] agrees.

The use of the words “submission” and “subject” indicate the conditions of the datus at that time. . Apparently, the use of June 15 to celebrate Malaybalay’s foundation day is a big mockery of its indigenous ancestry; showing submission rather than courage and zealousness. Although I can imagine the datus celebrating with the Spaniards after the creation of the pueblo, I can guess they would have wanted something better if only they had the choice. Certainly, the day wasn’t really a day of jubilation. I could only guess it was a day of defeat. Marking the foundation day on June 15, 1877 would only give credit to the Spanish conquest more than the resistance. No one can change the past.

But of course, understanding the past could very well be a good guide to understanding the present and charting the future. My argument does not intend to look down on Datu ampaalong and the other tribal leaders for their submission to the Spaniards. Certainly, there were merits in the “submission” owing to the organization of the “pueblo.” But what
I am trying to point out is, which part of their struggle, if any for a concept of “a people,” is being “honored” in the celebration? Is it the part when they stood against aggression or when they surrendered to aggression? Adding salt to injury, the city held a joint celebration of Philippine Independence Day and 127th Foundation Day on June 12 at the city’s Freedom Park.

According to reliable sources at the city government, the coincidence was unintentional for it has been a tradition for Malaybalay to mark its foundation day on the nearest Saturday to June 15. But there lies the irony in this year’s joint “celebration.”

Independence Day celebrated together with the commemoration of the day the local datus “submitted” and subjected themselves to the Spaniards? If Malaybalay’s youth had been taught about their history, they would probably have been confused.

Watching the joint “celebration” at Freedom Park last Saturday, I heard local officials calling on the people to be thankful for not only the big blessings but also for the small ones. In times when the “people are at the mercy of societal problems, we should be thankful that we are free,” Mayor Florencio Flores told the crowd composed mostly of government officials and employees.

For sure, the people of Malaybalay are better off without a foundation day celebration that’s founded on defeat. But, they would never know. Malaybalay’s history is not even well stocked in its libraries.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Walter I. Balane reports on Bukidnon for MindaNews).


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