Friday, August 28, 2009

The Inside Story Behind Iloilo City's Honorific Title "La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad"

I have always wondered why Iloilo City is called "La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad" which translated means "the Most Loyal and Noble City." Iloilo City is perhaps the only LGU I know today (aside from Manila which owns the title "La Insigne y Siempre Leal Ciudad" or "Distinguished and Ever Loyal City") which still uses and proudly displays the Spanish honorific in its official seal, flag and other city paraphernalia. As a boy I was taught that the title "La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad" was bestowed upon Iloilo City by Queen Maria Crisitina for its extraordinary services to the Spanish Crown and I have always assumed that the people of Iloilo got the title for fighting off the Moros which constantly marauded its shores or maybe repelling the Dutch which periodically invaded Panay during the Spanish period or even for its natives' singular devotion to the Catholic Faith (as evidenced by the countless magnificent stone churches in the city).

So I was quite shocked to read the book written by the Augustinian Father Policarpio Hernandez titled "ILOILO, The Most Noble City: History and Development 1566-1898." The book completely overhauled my long-held assumptions about how Iloilo City merited its title. I will let Father Hernandez narrate the circumstances of how Iloilo City won for itself the accolade "Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad:"

"When Andres Bonifacio's Katipunan launched the revolt against Spain at the outskirts of Manila on 30 August 1896, the Ilongo elite was caught by surprise. They immediately responded with protestations of outrage and affirmed their loyalty to Mother Spain. The Ilongos themselves were united in their support of Spain during the first two years of the revolutionary period, nipping in the bud local separatist movements and eventually battling the troops of General Emilio Aguinaldo.

A few days after the Cry of Balintawak, the Jaro Ayuntamiento, comprised entirely of native Ilongos, convened in a special session on 1 September. It condemned the Manila uprising as an unpatriotic act 'that finds no echo in the hearts of the Jarenos.' Iloilo towns also condemned the Manila uprising, and the neighboring provinces of Capiz, Antique and the Negros Island followed suit. Emboldened by this outpouring of love and loyalty toward Spain, the Ilongo elite, with the backing of the Spanish and foreign communities of Iloilo, initiated the organization of loyal volunteers in the region to be sent to quell the Tagalog rebellion. Five hundred native troops volunteered and an Ilongo Volunteer Battalion was formed under the cadre of mostly Spanish officers.

With enthusiasm compensating for their poor military training, the Ilongo Volunteers gathered at Plaza Alfonso XII (present-day Plaza Libertad) for blessings prior to their departure to Manila. A massive overflow of pro-Spanish patriotism marked the occasion that was attended, in full force, by local Spanish authorities and the Iloilo Ayuntamiento.

As per report of the Diario de Manila, the Ilongo Volunteers embarked on the ship Brutus as folk heroes, cheered by the people who sent them off en masse. Bishop Leandro Arrue and the city officials, led by Governor Ricardo Monet, joined the multitude that wished the Ilongo volunteers luck in their fight for the Mother Country.

Divided into two companies, the Volunteer Battalion arrived in Manila on 16 January 1897. It easily became one of the largest native contingent to serve the government forces against the insurgent soldiers of General Emilio Aguinaldo in the battlegrounds of Cavite province. Regular financial contributions, mainly from the families of the Ilongo elite, supported the Ilongo Volunteers throughout their years of service. The first fund raising campaign in March 1897 generated some 1,615 pesos. Among the leading contributors were Felix de la Rama and Eugenio Lopez, as well as other urban elite families from both Iloilo and Jaro. Before this, as per the report of Diario de Manila, some 40,000 pesos had already been collected when the Ilongo Battalion embarked for Manila, 'an amount at the time that would last them for four months.....'

As expected, the Ilongo Volunteers established for themselves a distinguished combat record in the battles of Cavite against Aguinaldo's revolutionary forces. Once the pact of Biak-na-Bato was signed, the Battalion returned to Iloilo on April 1898. Just like their departure, their homecoming galvanized the people into more public outpourings and manifestations of pro-Spanish loyalty and patriotism.

The Spanish Crown did not let the effort of the Ilongos go unheralded. Queen Maria Cristina issued a special royal decree, dated 10 March 1898, which awarded Iloilo City the perpetual title La Muy Noble Ciudad for its exemplary conduct, its laudable actions during the Tagalog insurrection, and for being the first in organizing, arming and supporting the Ilongo Volunteers.

Such filial devotion of the Ilongos to the Mother Country was understandable. Their allegiance to Spanish rule was a form of loyalty at once comprehensible. Allowed a more liberal degree of local autonomy by the Maura administration reforms of 1893, the leaders of Iloilo, Jaro and the other towns of Panay and Negros thought the uprising and revolt against Spanish rule were preposterous. Involved as they were in the development of Iloilo and Negros, enjoying the prosperity of the sugar boom during the past decades, the Ilongos had always considered themselves part of Spain, their grievances against the Mother Country nil."

In other words, the Spanish honorific "La Muy Leal y Noble Ciudad" which has fostered a certain distinction and a sense of "home-town" pride among Iloilo City natives is in fact really an award given by Spain for their act of betrayal against the fight for Philippine nationhood. I am now wondering whether it would be better for the city government to erase the title from its official seal given the context of its acquisition.