PAST TO PRESENT: The first mayor

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/21 July) — There once was a street in old Cagayan named in memory of Lt. Col. Leopoldo Roldan. He was a popular Spanish military governor of  the Segundo Distrito de Mindanao, otherwise known as the Misamis Province, from 1877 to 1883, whose capital was Cagayan de Misamis (now Cagayan de Oro). It was during his administration that the town experienced the golden age of arts and literature.

Among the poets of that era was Toribio Chaves, popularly known as Capitan Bibo. He was born in 1842 to Vicente Chaves and Lina Roa. He must have achieved prominence as a poet because he was addressed to as “Capitan”  – a title given only to well respected persons in a community. A woman of equal distinction was called “Capitana.”

Only one short poem composed by Capitan Bibo in Gov. Roldan’s era survived to this day aside from his patriotic poem, ” Pinahanungod.” Thanks to eminent historian, Filomeno M. Bautista, who wrote down the poem in the 1930s at that time when many Kagay-anons could still recite it from memory:

                                                ” Aben Hamit, masayod ka,

                                                     Sa ako kanimo nga paghigugma

                                                  Sa langit dili ko mosulod

                                                     Kon sa langit didto wala ka.

This poem was translated to English by Bautista:

” Know thou Aben Hamit of my love for thee?

In heaven I shall not enter

If in heaven thou art not there.”

In 1898, the Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines was over. The First Philippine Republic was proclaimed with Emilio Aguinaldo as the president. The people of the Misamis Province chose to  politically align themselves with the Aguinaldo revolutionary government and for the first time in history, they elected their own local officials.

The poet, Toribio Chaves was elected as the first Municipal Presidente or Mayor of Cagayan de Misamis (now Cagayan de Oro). He was then 56 years of age at the time of his election.

On January 10, 1899, Cagayan de Misamis celebrated the inauguration of the new Philippine Republic with parade, music, speeches and cannonades.

The two daughters – in – law of Chaves who were both sisters, Agapita and Getulia Neri de Chaves and a cousin, Paz Roa de Neri, sewed the first Philippine flag in town. This was publicly hoisted for the first time in Cagayan during this historic occasion.

The parade that was the main part of this celebration started on the street beside the massive brick and stone house of Sia Ygua. That street was later named ‘Victoria” to commemorate this special event. Today, this street is known as the Msgr. J.T. Hayes St.

The main float in this parade was the ” La Libertad de Filipinas.”  The Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission has a photograph of this horse-drawn float where the town’s most beautiful woman, Isidra Yamomo is seen holding the new Philippine flag while standing on a broken chain that symbolized “Slavery.” Below her on the right, is a girl named Conchita Fernandez, holding a crown of laurel that signified Victory. The boy standing on the left is Jose Velez. and he is holding a bolo that represented Defense.

The float stopped in front of the Casa Real (the present site of the City Hall complex) and on the balcony, Pedro Akut, who came from a family of patriots, recited the poem that Toribio Chaves, the new Municipal Presidente specially composed for this event entitled, “Pinahanungod” or “Dedication.”

Written in Bisayan, this twenty-four stanza poem is a paean to the freedom that the Filipinos obtained after more than 300 years of being under the Spanish colonial rule.

Below are excerpts from ” Pinahanongod” by the poet-mayor:

” Hiniktan tiil, kamot ug hunahuna
Way kitay pamuot nga kaugalingon
Mga katarungan ta dili paga tagdon
Sa mga mapintaas nga mga Katsila.

Karon kita makahiplos na gayod
Sa hikot sa pagkaulipon
Wa nay libug sa lihok nga ugalingon
Aron maka angay sa ubang mga nasud.

Mga igsoon mao kini ang hinungdan,
Sa lungsay ta karong gikalipay,
Ang bandila sa hinandom kaugalingnan
Mikayab na gayod sa kalangitan.”

But the euphoria of living in freedom from foreign rule was short-lived. Fifteen months later, on the early morning of March 30, 1900, American battleships unloaded soldiers at the mouth of Cagayan River. In less than a day, American soldiers took full possession of Cagayan de Misamis.

The local leaders acted wisely by not resisting the invaders who came with superior arms. American officers went to Casa Real and relieved Provincial President Jose Roa y Casas and other local officials of their positions but Chaves was ordered to continue as the town’s Municipal Presidente.

A week later, on April 7, 1900, the local resistance army led by Gen. Nicolas Capistrano staged a surprise attack in all the big houses around the town plaza  (now Gaston Park and the City Tennis Courts) that were converted to American barracks. This is known in history as the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis.

After an hour of fighting, Capistrano called for a retreat. He and his men were chased up to the edge of town by the Americans. They left behind almost a hundred bodies of  men who were killed on the streets and inside the buildings in the poblacion.

One of the most courageous acts that Chaves did as head of  the American-occupied town was when he and several Kagay-anons openly gathered the dead and gave them a decent burial. This gentle poet was placed in a difficult public position in one of the most violent and painful periods in local history. But he was able to perform his duties well and never shifted his allegiance to the enemy.

On one side of the President Ramon Magsaysay monument in Divisoria, the name of Toribio Chaves is written along with the other illustrious heroes of the city. And there is also a street in the local commercial district that bears his name. These are tributes to a man who never fought with a sword or a gun. The grateful Kagay-anons remember the sheer courage and strength of this poet turned Mayor who served his town that was occupied by the enemy while most of his people waged a year long resistance war on the nearby hills.

Among the descendants of Municipal President Chaves are:
Hospicia Ch. Avancena, wife of historian Filomeno Bautista
Eloisa Nolasco de Fernan, widow of Sen. Marcelo Fernan
Maria Clara Suniel de Canoy, widow of Henry Canoy
Gov. Jose Ch. Alvarez of Palawan
Raul Ch. Rabe, former Philippine envoy to the United States

(MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaViews. Paulita Roa is a member of the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission and Deputy of the National Museum in Cagayan de Oro)