Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brigandage in Iriga at the Fin de Siecle

Essentialism, which works much like arithmetical simplification by reducing numerals into their lowest common denominators, is an American psy-op strategy during the Fil-American War. The same war itself had been reduced as an "insurgency" by the Americans. So, the Bicolano Simeon Ola, the last Filipino general to have surrendered to the Americans during that war, is recorded only in their history books as an "insurrecto," and in some cases, a bandit. The simplification stems from the belief that the American occupation of the country was justified, both legally (remember the Treaty of Paris), and morally (remember too McKinley's supposed agony over what to do with the islands but when God told him it was America's moral duty to do so, he went to a deep and contented sleep). We know better than that of course. America's Pacific expansionism and rise as an imperial power made Admiral Dewey's appearance in Manila Bay much like the young Hulk Hogan snatching a lollipop from Manny Pacquiao.

Nevertheless, there are available records on brigandage in the country, like in the Bicol region, which existed even until the first decade of the nineteenth century, that is, during the American regime. Greg Bankoff, in his book, Crime, Society, and the State in the Nineteenth-century Philippines, disproving a claim of a governor of Camarines Sur in 1807 that there was no bandits in the province, wrote: "Whatever the claims of its governor, however, banditry did exist in Camarines Sur. It may not have been prevalent among the settled lowland communities of the central valley, but it was definitely a problem in the eastern Bicol Cordillera." The center of their activity was Mt. Isarog and for which the Spaniards called them either as remontados, cimmarones or infieles. An underlying cause of this Isarog intransigence was the tobacco monopoly which effectively deprived the upland dwellers of their economic livelihood until even after its abolition.

In the Rinconada area, a major apparent cause was the disenfranchisement and dislocation of the natives because of the proliferation of abaca plantations in the area owned by rich families. "As non-Bikolanos, attracted by the profits in abaca, acquired land in the province, bandits such as the infamous Pancho singled out members of the principalia as targets," Bankoff noted. Pancho is notorious for having burned a house of a wealthy family in Buhi; and killing its seven occupants composed of women, elderly and children, in 1885.

The Agtas of Mt. Iriga were immediately the most affected by the conversion of the mountain into abaca plantations. As the War Department of the Bureau of Insular Affairs reported in 1902: "The most dissatisfied elements in the province has been the non-Christian tribe of Negritos of Mount Isarog and Iriga districts. A conference, however, has been brought with their headmen, and arrangements made whereby they have agreed to present themselves to the governor with a view to bettering their conditions. The chief of the tribe, Andong, lives on Mount Iriga, and will probably be made the first presidente of the new pueblo which it is contemplated giving to the Negritos. The chief has promised to cooperate with the authorities and to be responsible for the good behavior of his tribe. These Negritos were always considered outlaws by the Spanish authorities, who made repeated raids upon them, carrying away their children, etc. to serve as vassals."

Like Pancho's early version of the Buhi massacre, another gruesome crime which was recorded, was committed in Iriga on October 19, 1900 by Jose Avila and Paulino Casio, whom the Americans identified only as natives, thus ambiguous whether they were Negritos or lowlanders. On the self-same date, Avila and Casio, with 25 other companions armed with bolos, killed Juan Legazpi, Nicolas Pabon, Baldomero Imena, Aniseta Nueva de Imena, and Eugenia Imena; and seriously wounded Margarita Salanoba Legaspi, Mariano Nueva, Juana Ceron, and Ofrecina Imena at a ranch called Quisquisan, near San Isidro. In sentencing the pair to die by hanging in Nueva Caceres on July 26, 1901, Brigadier General Thomas H. Barry, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Volunteers, found that: "In the foregoing case it appears that these accused, Jose Avila and Paulino Casio, in a company with a band of outlaws, entered the house of Juan Legaspi, at the pueblo Iriga, in the nightime, actuated by no higher motive than robbery and degenerate cruelty and inhumanity, boloed to death five natives, including a child of 3 years of age and young girl 11; cut and wounded, and tortured three women, one small girl and one man, with intent to kill them."

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Iriga "Peace-Time" Architecture

"Peace-Time" refers to the years prior to World War II. Iriga, during the same period, with the presence of ALATCO, the country's first organized bus company, which former U.S. Quartermaster veteran Albert Louis Ammen started here in 1914 , and the presence of abaca plantations at the foot of Mt. Iriga, owned by the Basque Miguel Sarrato and Ramon Feced, their paisano Francisco Lamiel; and the Tagalog Manuel Abella; was a relatively progressive municipality. As reported in 1905 by Governor Juan Pimentel of Ambos Camarines, as the then combined provinces of the present Camarines Norte and Sur (ambos, being Spanish word for both) was known: "The condition of the districts of Daet and Lagonoy and the pueblo of Iriga is one of relative comfort for the reason that the principal product is hemp, of which 355,641 piculs were produced in the fiscal year, 5,483 hectares having been planted with this valuable textile plant." In the same report, and perhaps because of this relative progress of the town, Pimentel said an intermediate school was established in Iriga during the same year with 1,231 pupils. Apart from this, P2,652. was allocated for the construction of the .835- miles Iriga-Buhi road, and P2,897.45 for the construction of the bridge in Barangay Santiago which was burned by retreating rebel forces led by a certain Col. Pena. Another P192. was also allocated for the Nabua-Iriga road. In June 12, 1912, the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Public Works reported the inauguration, which coincided with the town fiesta, of the 150-foot steel span Balos Bridge which was contracted to Atlantic Gulf and Pacific for P3,100.

Indeed, it can be said that Iriga was enjoying a relative economic prosperity at the fin de siecle that it attracted several foreigners in the town. Among them were the Russian Eremes Kookooritchkin, father of actor Ronald Remy, who came in 1925 after the Bolshevik Revolution; the Polish father of the movie actor, Zaldy Zshronack whose mother was a Taduran; the father of Gilda Gales, the so-called Greta Garbo of the Philippines, who was born here, her father being a travelling agent of the Smith Bell Company, which was into abaca trade in the Bicol region at that time; and the American managers of ALATCO like William Leslie Bowler, and the Stanford University law graduate Lot Dean Lockwood who would also later serve as ALATCO president.

Remnants of this prosperity is evidenced by the presence and survival of at least two houses in Iriga which was built in the chalet-style of the period. A 1936 article about a chalet reprinted by Augusto Villalon in his Philippine Daily Inquirer describes the house as "constructed with a combination of different groups of lumber: ipil for posts, tanguili for flooring and walls, apitong for roof framing. The ground wall may be of adobe stones or bricks, the windows of frosted glass, and the roof corrugated galvanized iron sheets. Complete, this may cost P4,900 or thereabouts."
Villalon said that the chalet, a Swiss housing style, integrated tropical architectural practices much like its predecessor, the bahay-na-bato. He noted that while the old terra cotta roofs have been replaced by galvanized sheets, the "chalet roofs remain steep, wide overhangs still protect windows from sun and rain, windows, now made of glass instead of kapis still slide open to allow the entry of air, and to increase ventilation, the ventanilla (opening between floor and window sill)is still used." This made the chalet, he said, the "Filipino Modern" architecture of the day.
One of these houses is located in San Roque along the road leading to Buhi. As the picture here shows, the house seems to have already been abandoned by its owner to the elements. In more prosperous and heritage-conscious countries, houses like this are likely candidates for restoration. The other, is the Dilla residence in San Francisco, which according to the people living there when we took the photo here, was built sometime in the mid-20's.

(Photos by Frank G. Tanay)

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