The encompassing “Identification, Classification, and Recognition of Historic Sites and Structures” by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) underscores that select places or edifices can be marked “historical” only after the acid tests of field evaluation, scholarly research, and reliable local interviews plus supporting documents. This is encouraging enough. But in cases when local history is at the mercy of very scarce chronographic journalism, the opinion is to redirect the writing to more practical matters.
Consider this exposition. Circa 1865, a Spanish missionary was slain with a spear by a certain Cateras, a magahat, in what is now Sitio Omod. The crime happened during the priest’s act of elevating the host and chalice at consecration. Thus the word gibayawan– meaning “was elevated”– became the root word of Bayawan. Today, the Omod Shrine, a towering cross overshadowing a colossal statue of Christ in white, evokes what the good Bayawanons have kept as history so significant. But by far, no legitimate writing has merited NCHP’s attention or provoked the Commission’s curiosity. Meanwhile, the ethnic magahats still thrive in south-western Negros where they hunt and practice swidden agriculture. On its own, short of archival evidence, the shrine stands as another monument bereft of NHCP’s official nod.
Be that as it may, if a community’s triumphant spirit is the sine qua non to history, then Bayawan’s blessed past is a treasure-trove—shrine or not. Frankly, our narrative does not depend on stone markers. The dissertations of Silliman University’s renowned Rolando V. Mascuňana, Timoteo S. Oracion, and Bayawan’s own Enrique G. Oracion and Palanca’s Ian Rosales Casocot are thoughtful references for these assertions. Tourists can gaze for hours at dotted scarecrows fronting the expanses of our farms and imagine the jubilant migrations of farmhands from Ilo-ilo, Bohol, or Mindanao. Even this exodus of early settlers from other islands deserves its own separate historical inquiry.
But Bayawan carries on with tour de force, and the city is grateful to the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) for its awakening. ISA has brought to light a new breed of victory-driven Bayawanons constantly raising the bar in maximizing the city’s strategic location in Negros’ southern end. From here, the game plan is to become an investment-friendly Island of Good Governance (IGG; the gold standard for governance) by building itself into the preferred farm-tourism city in the Philippines by 2020.
This is no easy conquest, but it will showcase us at our finest and doing what we love to do, and that is farming. Agriculture is our city’s Silk Road, the soul of Bayawan. It is the reason why we have taken courageous leaps in streamlining business processes, and fully outfitted all working departments, agencies, and investment offices to further assist our farmers in tested technologies, capitalization, and marketing via community cooperatives. In fact, this year we have allocated 35 million for livestock and crops,6 million for organic initiatives and high value crops, and some 94 million for corresponding infrastructure as barangay roads, agricenters and demo farms. A whooping 80 million will be distributed in 2017 to 28 barangays to mitigate primary concerns including agriculture.
Fired up by the city’s journey with ISA, Bayawan has now gone out to meet a level playing field in terms of governance and commerce. While the city is a work-in-progress, what we have become is a fertile eco zone that is now about to rewrite its history from the 1960’s sugar boom and logged-over homesteads to accredited organic farms, consumer products, fishery, livestock, and rehabilitated forestry. Bayawan is gearing up to establish a 10-hectare horse park, an 18 million solar-powered eco park with team-building obstacle courses, a 16 million green revamp of our cool Lourdes Falls, and other reframed, family-themed projects. This year’s LGU scholarship program includes full tuition and allowances for poor but deserving college students majoring in agriculture to further equalize opportunities.
The case of Omod Shrine continues to haunt our creative consciousness. We cannot afford to look away. But we are not done yet; in fact, we are just getting started. This is how Bayawan City would like to be identified, classified, and recognized in history. This is our 5-year acid test, our redirection to more practical matters under the guidance of our City Mayor Pryde Henry Teves and the diligence of our local government.
For all the things that we can do and must do as citizens—Bayawan is the right place, now is the right time, and we are the right ones for the job.
Nick Elemia is the author of the book ‘Light Bearers’ and the Community Affairs Officer of the City Government of Bayawan, a partner local government unit of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA). Learn more about their joint pursuit of governance reform and their efforts to build our Dream Philippines through isacenter.org.