Remembering Juan Diyong
May 1815 ought to be forever etched in the history of Sibonga, Naga and San Fernando, for exactly two hundred and two years ago this month, something happened that may have charted their future somewhat differently today.
Sometime that summer month of 1815, farmers from Sibonga, San Fernando and Naga marched to Cebu City to protest the illegal grazing of cows, carabaos and goats on their property by two prominent Chinese mestizos from Parian — Don Blas Crisistomo and Don Gavino Rosales. The march was led by Juan Diyong.
We owe it to two people that we can remember this mini-revolt of sorts: Don Vicente Rama in his weekly newspaper “Bag-ong Kusog,” and Dr. Michael Cullinane, historian and Cebuanist, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who presented a thick dossier about this incident during an international conference last year.
Writing in 1923, Rama was ably assisted by my great-grandfather Ciriaco Llanto, his party mate in the opposition Partido Democrata, then the presidente municipal (today’s mayor) of San Fernando.
(It was my great grandpa who caused the earlier-mentioned street to be named after him.)
Rama saw in Juan Diyong the opportunity to lambaste Chinese mestizos, the main culprit in this story, who by the 1920s was most visibly represented by his archenemy, the Chinese mestizo Don Sergio Osmeña, who also happened to be the largest landowner of the province at this time.
(I have written in previous columns about this rivalry and will no longer belabor you, dear reader, about it here).
Rama’s article, plus the “Sediciones” records kept at the National Archives entitled “Sublevacion el Pueblo de San Nicolas, Provincia de Cebu,” were two of Cullinane’s three sources.
The third one was a brief mention of the incident in an article on Fray Julian Bermejo, OSA, written in 1902 by his later successor as parish priest of Boljoon, Fray Fabian Rodriguez, OSA.
You might wonder why Bermejo of Boljoon, so far away from San Fernando, figures in this incident. As the story unfolds below, it will become clear.
Juan Diyong, a migrant from Tubigon, Bohol, was a farmer (mangyuyuta) in Sangat, San Fernando.
But during this event, he was reported to be a resident of Tinaan, Naga. Both Naga and San Fernando were, at this time, just mere visitas or barrios and jurisdictionally under the town of San Nicolas, which was an Augustinian parish at this time.
Earlier, it seems, the two Chinese mestizos had been given these vast tracts of land by order of the Spanish authorities to supply meat to the city.
Diyong and many farmers were incensed at the sudden encroachment of wealthy cityfolks on what they assumed was their property.
Armed only with bolos and bamboo or cane sticks — no guns — the marchers grew as they reached Cebu where they proceeded to see the bishop who unfortunately was not around.
They thus proceeded to the Casa de Gobierno, the provincial capitol across Plaza Independencia, where they soon learned that the Alcalde Mayor,
Juan Nepomuceno de Andrada, was also absent. Incensed at the failure to air their grievances to both authorities, the marchers proceed to Fort San Pedro where, after a brief tumult, they disarmed the guards and seized a cannon that they then turned to face the capitol but did not fire.
By this time, it was nearing dusk and so the marchers decided to go back home, carrying with them the cannon.
An incensed Andrada later ordered the Leon Santiago, gobernadorcillo (mayor) of San Nicolas, to organize a contingent to arrest Diyong and the protesters at their homes.
Unfortunately, the Sanicolasnons refused, feigning all kinds of reasons and so some were promptly arrested and brought to Fort San Pedro but were later released because it was clear that they were not the perpetrators.
(It appears that a second march happened in August that same year but it was less violent or tumultuous. The records show that in both incidents, no one died.)
Andrada also sent Mariano Rafols, a mestizo Spaniard, to investigate the matter in Tinaan.
There he met with Fray Julian Bermejo, OSA, at this time the parish priest of Boljoon, who had apparently come to the rescue of the protesters, assuring Rafols that peace and order had by then prevailed.
Why did Bermejo appear in this incident? Cullinane suspects, and I agree with him, that the protesters were most probably men who had been part of his so-called Christian army, defending the coastal settlements against the incessant Moro slave raiders, ready at moment’s notice to ride their “barangayan” boats to confront the dreaded enemy (read my previous columns).
In fact, after this incident, it appears that Juan Diyong became larger than life, and many stories about his bravery would often be told if not whispered around. If indeed true, Diyong must have been an important figure in the contingent that defeated the Moro chief Datu Goranding/Orandin in the famous March 1813 battle of Sumilon, just two years prior.
And he would have been part of the Bermejo contingent that finally defeated the tired and weary Dagohoy rebels in Bohol in 1828.
And then everyone forgot about Diyong and even Bermejo.
Well, maybe not my family. For as it happens, if this Don Gavino Rosales is the same one whose forebears later took on the Reynes name, then my mother’s ancestry has come full circle — having both protagonists and perhaps one of the antagonists in the story.
The earlier-mentioned Ciriaco “Acoy” Llanto was the grandfather of my mother, Edna. Fortuitously, his daughter, Epifania Llanto, my maternal grandmother, later married Feliciano Reynes (who took on the name Renes after some kind of protest!).
Now I wonder how Lolo Acoy reacted when he heard that someone from the Chinese mestizo Reynes family was knocking at the heart of his beloved daughter.
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