What Went Before: A history of splits and mergers
SINCE the Spanish colonial times, Negros Island and its two provinces had undergone splits and mergers.
Miguel de Legazpi placed Negros under the jurisdiction of the governor of Oton in Panay. Since the “encomenderos” of Negros resided in either Cebu or Iloilo because of the island’s relative underdevelopment, tribute from the island went either to Cebu or Panay, depending on proximity.
Thus the east side was given to Cebu and the west side to Panay. The Occidental side was administered from Panay and the Oriental was administered from Cebu.
By 1734, Negros Island became a military district and later Bacolod became its capital (1849). With the rapid increase of population and the influx of migrants from neighboring islands who were motivated by the growing prosperity from the planting of sugarcane, Negros was raised to the category of a politico-military province in 1856.
The widespread cultivation of sugarcane and the opening of ports in Iloilo and Cebu to international trade and commerce ushered in a period of rapid economic expansion and the growth of the population especially on the north and western sides of the island.
But the eastern side remained undeveloped because of isolation and neglect by the officials of the province based in Bacolod. Also, the absence of roads/bridges and the high mountain ranges hindered communication.
Further, weak and inadequate defenses fostered numerous devastating Moro raids in the coastal communities. The stagnation, isolation and neglect of the Oriental coast prompted 13 priests from the different towns to petition for the division of the island in 1877, as well as earlier proposals from judicial, military and political leaders.
On Oct. 25, 1889, a royal decree established Negros Oriental as a separate political unit and on Jan. 1, 1890, Negros Oriental was established as a separate province. Siquijor Island was separated from Bohol to form part of the new province.
The issue of merging the two provinces came up in the 1980s when some leaders from both provinces proposed a one-island, one-region unit. This led to to the filing of House Bill No. 1477, or An Act Merging the Province of Negros Occidental and Oriental into One-Island Region.”
They argued that the two provinces “nestle in one common island; have common fowls and beasts in the forest; share the same soil in our plains and mountains; benefit and suffer together from the rivers that snake through our land; and our ancestors roamed the same length and breadth without complications of political, social, economic, religious and lingual obstacles.”
They also thought the merger would bring in more funds, enhance employment and boost socioeconomic development.
In 1990, Gov. Daniel “Bitay” Lacson Jr. of Occidental and Emilio “Dodo” Macias II of Oriental continued talks for reunification, with the encouragement of President Fidel V. Ramos.
The two governors submitted to the Office of the President the Negros Island Development Plan on Feb. 15, 1996. This was pursued by their successors, Rafael Coscolluela of Occidental and George Arnaiz of Oriental.
But the National Economic and Development Authority shot down the proposal because the government had no money to effect the merger.
(Excerpts from “One Negros Island Region: A Psychohistory” by Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope, Silliman University, 2014)
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