THE early missionaries in Negros who came from 1565 to 1750 found that the natives tended to move out of their villages and into the forest or the mountains rather than live under the Spanish Crown and its “civilization”. Although practically all Filipinos today have been Christianized or have adopted some values, culture and traditions of the foreigners, they still have practices that harp back into those early years of Spanish colonization. Among these is the belief that freedom is better than being tied down on something or somebody to order around.
Of course, we learned the concept of freedom from the colonizers, although their policies and actions deny this principle that they taught in school and in speeches. The formal schools that opened the doors to Filipinos by the middle of the 19th century spoke of heroes and saints, and leaders and activists that preached, promoted and waged wars or rebellion in the name of freedom. The leaders of the Philippine revolution in various provinces were schooled in the concept of freedom. Some leaders did not only learn from formal schooling but also from their travels and readings about the American and French Revolution. Today, people leave their country and risk the unknown to be free.
But long before our national uprising, there was already a native sense of freedom, not political but an inner belief that a person must be free and not shackled by another. The almost one hundred Filipino revolts prior to 1898 were based mainly in this natural instinct and they found expression in resistance against religious compulsion or, ironically from violation of religious belief and practices, simply by leaving the lowlands.
Let’s take a look at our ancestors as narrated by the Catholic missionaries. They lived in the barangay of at least a hundred people. They were divided into three classes – principales, freemen and “slaves”. The missionaries used the term “slaves” because they had no equivalent word for this rank of people. The principales were actually the datu and his family who “held political and social power, domestically and internally, and in time of war as well as in time of peace” held sway.
The freemen were known as “timaguas” (timawa) and worked independently on the land, with the right to transfer from one barangay to another but still bound to his datu to assist him when needed, including contributing to the datu’s banquets.
The Europeans distinguished their slaves with those of the Philippines. Some writer prefer to call our kind of slaves as “tenants” or “dependents”. Citing, Karl Pelzer (Hispanization of the Philippines, 1959), Fr. Angel Martinez Cuesta (Historia de Negros, 1980), wrote:
“Among the Visayans no one was made a slave as a punishment for a crime because their penal laws only provided for fines whatever the crime might have been. Only when the family were unable to pay did they become dependents. Therefore, in a society without money and without resources, the greater number of defendants wound up as slaves or dependents of the offended parties.”
The dependents work as payment and thus freed after completing the days or years meted to him. They might be living in the household of the offended party or in their own house. They continued to own the property and happily, the offender could be free if he got married. The point here of the early writers disproves the claim that the alleged Code of Kalantiao imposed death for certain crimes.
No wonder the Visayans especially are freedom lovers. While they owed allegiance to their datu or provider, love for freedom dominates.
The earliest drawback in the evangelization of Negros was the preference of the natives to leave the communities where the cultivation of crops for food insured the the people would not go hungry. But the natives refused to be curtailed in their movements so they left the villages to live in the forest where they could secure food from plants and trees and where they could worship their ancestors freely. They were called monteses or bukidnones. As colonization spread inland, so did they move farther until there was nowhere else to go. The natives explained, “freedom is better than food.” As the song goes, “ibon man ay layang lumipad, kulungin mo ay umiiyak”.