THE historic role of early missionaries as agents of spiritual and social change in Negros, according to historians, began in 1572 when the town of Binalbagan was made the first mission under the Agustinian Order. A similar mission was also created along the Bago River in 1575. As was typical, the missionaries first attracted the local leaders knowing that their authority would motivate the rest of the inhabitants. In some cases, the local privileges and the fear of Moro pirates made the natives cooperate with the missionaries.
In a report by historian Miguel de Loarca, Negros was described in 1582 as already engaged in commercial trading with nearby Panay Island and other areas as far as Luzon. The small population of natives was distributed mainly on the south east stretching from the settlement of Ilog in the south and Saravia in the north.
In 1734, Negros was made a military district with a Corregidor collecting tributes and other local government aspects. Due to the lack of missionaries, the few priests assigned moved from place to place and risked the various difficulties in the different areas.
The Spanish Jesuits were assigned to replace the Augustinians in 1622 to serve the settlements of Kabankalan, Ilog, Himamaylan, Cauayan, Sipalay and other areas reaching Negros Oriental. It was at this time when the Jesuits brought the popular cacao plant and disseminated it to the rest of the Visayas where it grew well and became a valuable crop for the natives.
When the Jesuits were replaced in 1767 from the Philippines by the Dominicans, they took over the Negros missions but within a few years turned over their parishes to the Secular priests who were credited with the encouragement of agriculture, especially of the new crop soon to be of great value, sugar which would distinguish the plantations in Negros.
Other crops introduced by the missionaries included abaca and tobacco which encouraged more agricultural activities as well as increase in population in the farming areas.
By the 1800s, roads and other improvements were introduced including boats for native volunteer’s coastal areas with watch tower and flags to signal the approach of pirates. Motivated by the challenges to do more for their missions, the Agustinian Recollects endeavored to mediate between the Spanish officials and the natives in bringing about social and technological changes.
The services of the Recollects included various activities such as helping farmers, acting as physicians, teachers and advisers of public officials as well as evangelists. They made dangerous trips to mountain areas to convert the natives and helped in the construction of roads and bridges and advised local farmers. Notably, the popular Fr. Fernando Cuenca introduced many assistance including the use of hydro-therapy to cure disease, set up hydraulics in farms near rivers for crops, helping build the road from Bacolod to northern Negros areas and attracted families of the Datus to help as Tenyentes del Barrio. In areas near La Carlota, Fr. Cuenca gained the good will of the Datu by curing his sick daughter. A tragic incident however took place when local leaders were misinformed and fought the local Negritoes despite the mediation of Fr. Cuenca.
The progress of Negros was strengthened in 1848 when the Provincial Capital was transferred from Himamaylan to Bacolod to serve more areas in northern Negros. With this transfer, it was hoped that agricultural products would be cultivated more effectively and attract more migrants from Cebu, Panay and Bohol to augment the labor force in sugar, rice, abaca and tobacco near the Mt. Kanlaon areas. Hispanization became more acceptable to the local leaders with more educational and other socio-economic opportunities.
Blessed Easter to everyone!