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The Fall and Rise of Dumalagnons

At the Roxas City airport, a guy who just arrived from Manila, asks a lady vendor, “Manang, saan po nakatira itong si Mrs Jasmin Fuliga?”, showing her a piece of paper on which the name is written.  “Fuliga? Ay ti, taga Dumalag ina siya” (She’s from Dumalag) the lady answers spontaneously in her Capiznon dialect, without even looking at the piece of paper.  “Mangkot ka lang to sa munisipyo sang Dumalag pag-abot mo to.” (Just ask anyone in the town’s municipal office once you get there.)

The F Town

Dumalag is one of the 18 towns and municipalities in the province of Capiz in Panay Island. It lies 44 kilometers from Roxas City where the closest airport is, nestles against the backdrop of the Panginraon mountain which rises 431 meters above sea level in the southwest side of the province.  Dumalag lends a name to Dumalagnon in reference to its indigenous population which according to the 2015 census totaled 29,466, comprised of approximately 6,138 households.  It is subdivided into 19 barangays including the town proper Poblacion.  Strong Spanish influence named the barangays after their patron saints, except for four which were christened with Spanish royalties and also in honor of a priest who converted Dumalagnons into Catholicism in the 16th century.  The seventeen barangays excluding the Poblacion are Concepcion, Consolacion, Dolores, Duran, San Agustin, San Jose, San Martin, San Miguel, San Rafael, San Roque, Santa Carmen, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Santa Rita, Santa Teresa, Santo Angel, and Santo Niño.

Dumalag is one of the few municipalities that was subjected to a surname decree by the Spaniards where alphabetically arranged listings of surnames were given to specific towns.  The town of Dumalag was given the letter “F” as the starting letter for surnames, such as Faderugao, Faderon, Faeldonea, Falsis, Fullo, Fullon, Fullona, Fuliga, Flotildes, Fayo, Francisco, Fejid, Flandez, Fabila, Frondosa, Faemalim, Firmalino, Facinabao, Fabay, Farum, Faciolan, Fagtanan, Floro, Flares, Fadriga, Frial, etc., the list goes on.  Over the years, cross marriages and migration added an aberration to the mix, albeit in significantly small number. It is, therefore, no surprise that the lady vendor has surmised the town of origin of the person in question without a second thought.

Suhot Spring

Entrance gate to the Suhot Spring.

The town of Dumalag is the only town in Capiz that assumes sole possession as nature’s verdant background in Mt Panginraon which is also the source of pristine spring water oozing out of the popular Suhot Spring located right in its base.  The Suhot Spring is a popular summer retreat for both locals and tourists alike.  In the summertime, people seeking respite from the intense heat, troop down to Suhot Spring to dip themselves in a waist-deep cold water.  Recent development in the area includes the building of permanent structures where tourists can rent and stay comfortably in Suhot Spring Resort for a number of days.  Huts for rentals are also built along the bank of the spring and are booked to capacity for family picnic and outings during the hot season.  People who have no ice cooler for bottled water, soft drinks and other bottled beverage would use the cold Suhot spring water to chill their drinks by keeping them submerged in the water for a couple of hours.  The water in front of the cave flows through a subterranean labyrinth and empties through the creek down the Panay River.

The Suhot Cave and spring. Cold pristine water shoots out of the subterannean labyrinth.

The water passage has remained unexplored to date.  Suhot Spring has attracted some venturous spelunkers who were intrigued by the extent of caves but so far none has able to ascertain the exact length.

Dumalag is one of the beneficiaries of the longest river in Panay, where it originates from Jamindan and traverses through Dumalag and many other neighboring towns till it exits to the sea through the capital city in the east.  During the dry season when the water level sank to a manageable current, bamboo merchants from Tapaz and other barangays along the river, fused bamboos together by tying both ends securely with ropes in hundreds and rafted them all the way to the City for sale.  It would take bamboo merchants weeks to eventually reach their market but at that time it was the only viable way to transport bamboos in large volume free of cost.

Bamboo merchant rafting hundreds of bamboo along the river for sale.

Rich Religious Legacy

Dumalagnons are very religious people.  For centuries they keep the Spanish religious influences and practices intact and alive.  It has one of the oldest Catholic church in Capiz that was built between 1600 and 1720 named under the patron St. Martin of Tours.  Dumalag has produced a number of bishops, archbishop, priests, nuns, and deacons.  It is currently being represented by Archbishop Jose Fuerte Advincula DD who was ordained archbishop in 2011.  Prior to this, Dumalag has the late archbishop Antonio Floro Frondosa DD who was the Archbishop of Capiz from 1986 until his retirement.

Facade of the St. Martin Academy, the only Catholic institution in Dumalag under the management of the Dominican Sisters of Molo, built in the 1950s.

The only Catholic primary and secondary institution in Dumalag, run by the Dominican Sisters of Molo, has, for many years, also cultivated religious vocations to the priesthood and religious sisterhood.  It is no wonder that the practice of Angelus is still alive and widely observed in the vicinity of the town proper or as far as the sound of the church bell can be heard.  The church bell tolls religiously at exactly 6:00 pm every day to bellow the onset of twilight and commence the prayer of devotion to Mary in the form of Angelus. Everyone who hears the bell sound stops in their track, prays the Angelus and greets everybody within reach a good evening.  Such was the practice for many years, although it has declined slightly these days as the generation of millennials has altered the religious legacy with less fervor.

The Demise of Sugar Industry In Dumalag

The venerable Asturias Sugar Central of Sto. Niño owned by the Ford family.

Dumalag’s local economy has drastically dwindled from Class 1 to 4 due to the demise of the sugar industry which for a good stretch of time Dumalagnons thought was immensely lasting, was the dynamo that powers the local economy.  The sugar industry was the number one source of income directly or indirectly affecting over 60% of Dumalagnons from the early 40’s to late 80’s.  The Asturias Sugar Central, a sugar mill located in the barangay of Sto. Niño, was one of the only two sugar mills in the province of Capiz (the other one is in the town of Lutod-Lutod).

Local locomotive running on steam, hauling sugar canes for milling.

During the heyday of the sugar business, farmers have converted vast arable rice lands into sugar plantations, valleys and mountains tilled and burrowed alike with sugar canes, sometimes interspersed with other crops like balinghoy (cassava tree).  Any parcels of land that is reachable by a 6×6 truck, no matter how distant and remote, were not spared from the sweeping trend.  Farmers eventually yielded to the lucrative proposition of growing sugar canes in lieu of rice.  That era, which spanned from the 50’s to late 80’s, saw the farming revolution that swept the local population with radiant optimism, where the hope of a better life is embraced and the prospect of families funding their children through high schools and colleges turned relatively and realistically easy.

A typical model of PNR train transporting people and goods between Iloilo and Capiz.

However, good times have ended. The sugar industry in the Philippines has suffered a tremendous decline due to mismanagement and monopoly alleged to have been committed by the cronies and allies of the Marcoses.  The ex-president and the late Ferdinand Marcos decreed and established Philsucom to regulate the sugar industry in the Philippines, and Nasutra in 1974 as the sugar industry trading body headed by his close associate, Roberto Benedicto.  The probe into the sugar industry anomalies reported losses of at least $1.15 billion from 1975 to 1984.  Sugar producers were consistently paid 2 cents a pound less than the prevailing price for their sugar exported to the refinery through the monopoly.  Investigators believed the funds extracted from the sugar industry through a variety of schemes alleged to have been channeled abroad by Marcos and associates.  According to investigators, the industry was also utilized as a source to finance political payoffs to a broad range of people whom Marcos wanted to reward, which includes politicians of his ruling party, military officers, Moslem insurgents who surrendered, as well as to his relatives and friends.

Economic Regress

The skeletal remains of the rainbow bridge of Philippine National Railway in Sto. Niño, totally defaced by locals where rails and wooden rail ties were stolen for home use and some were sold for cash.

The post sugar era has presented a bleak period for most Dumalagnons due to the loss of their top employment source as the sugar mill company, the Asturias Sugar Central in Barrio Sto. Niño, was mothballed and eventually cannibalized for cash by the locals.  The once-booming livelihoods like the weekly Sunday market in Buntog, convenience stores, groceries, bakeries, charcoal, dressmaking and tailoring shops whose growth have been ameliorated by and totally dependent on the sugar economy, have finally succumbed to their deaths following the closure of the Asturias Sugar Central.  Slowly the sugar planters abandoned sugar cane planting and returned to rice farming.  The dismissed employees of the sugar central left with their families and sought opportunities elsewhere, while younger generation took the road and ventured out to seek job opportunities they could no longer find locally.  The barangay of Sto. Niño was economically hard hit the most as it was the village where the sugar mill was based.  Sto. Niño eventually became the ghost barangay over time.

The defunct national railway in Panay showing unmaintained and deteriorated condition of both trains and tracks.

As if misfortunes were not enough, the Philippine Railway Company, the only railway entity in the island of Panay that provided the principal means of rail transportation, shuttling passengers and goods between Iloilo City and Roxas City whose track traverses through the town of Dumalag which has two barrio stations of Buntog (Sto. Angel) and San Juan (Sto. Nino), declared bankruptcy, scaled down its services and eventually folded.  Hard times ensued, farming as the last resort of livelihood is not enough to make ends meet, the exodus from Sto. Niño and other neighboring barangays were inevitable.  And for those who remained to endure their fate, have done a good job holding the fort and keeping their legacies alive for the return of their children who have gone oceans and continents away in search of better opportunities.

The Dumalag town hall, showing recent progress in its economy.

Today, the generation of Dumalagnons who have successfully benefited from the sugar era and who are products of the post sugar-industry, have claimed a certain level of success, their lives embellished by hard work and determination, led to their impending ascent to another level in society in which education was the driver and enabler of their success.  What used to be the bakero (water buffalo herder) who rose up from bed in wee hours to tend to their carabaos for at least a couple of hours before he goes to grade school by daylight;  what used to be that pliant frame of a young girl whose underdeveloped body found itself in rice fields helping her parents plant rice all day long under the intense glare of the sun, at times dripping under the rain; in both cases they are now educated and successful in their chosen field, some based their families abroad or in one of the many congested metropolitans in the Philippines, away from the desolated barangay.

This juxtaposition paints a general picture of the village life where the majority of Dumalagnon households has farming as its main source of livelihood.  The Dumalag Poblacion or town center, however, is home to the majority of landlords whose assets include but not limited to sprawling arable land comprising of the majority of the town’s real estate.   For many years to date, same clans and families who have ensconced behind their powerful lineage, have reigned control over a few commercial ventures in the Poblacion and wielded enormous influence over the political landscape in the town of Dumalag.  The choice of mayoral candidates has just been shortlisted among the hands of three influential families in Dumalag and electorate has no other option outside of such political monopoly.  Dumalagnons have not seen a dynamic change in both its economic and political landscapes and it is being bypassed in many growth aspects by neighboring towns like Tapaz, Cuartero, and Dao.

The Rise of OFWs

Just as Dumalag is the base of the many natural endowments from which Panay river flows, it is also a home to many migrant workers who have been geographically dispersed to the many opportunity-laden countries, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, etc.  Overall, Dumalag has taken a tiny piece of the booming OFW market share.  In the local equation, OFW is a mammoth segment in Dumalag’s economic growth, which accounts for 19% of its workforce based on the household count, where it was surmised that there is 1 OFW in every 5 families, bringing the total number to approximately 1,200.  The growth and microcosm of the local economy have been largely influenced by the remittances coming from the much-touted modern heroes of the Philippines — the OFW.  Prosperity once again returned relatively to some families.  For those families whose lives have not been radically changed by the OFW economic phenomenon, they remained totally dependent on nature and its abundance through rice and vegetable farming and a small amount of harvest from coconut plantation.

Cherry Mae Genova

Cherry Mae Genova in happier time in Hong Kong.

Dumalagnon OFWs, however, have not been spared from maltreatment and abuses by their employers abroad.  Cherry Mae Genova, a bubbly 29 years old from Duran, Dumalag was an OFW working in Hong.  Cherry had been the subject of Philippine media in the early part of March 2012.  Cherry was reported by the HK police to have jumped off a 12-storey building to her death.  Filipinos in Hong Kong and across the world repudiated the story and rally behind the family of Cherry Mae to seek the truth and justice for her death. Corroborated by the autopsy report from the Western Visayas Police unit, it was determined that Cherry Mae has suffered bruises inconsistent with her fall, and details of her vaginal findings led the police to believe that she was raped prior to her death.

Cherry Mae’s story has wrung the heart of many Dumalagnons and Capizeños alike and the outpouring of sympathy for Cherry Mae has snowballed through the cyberspace. The middle of March witnessed the birth of a Facebook account symbolizing support, unity, and solidarity by Dumalagnons and Capizeños whose members spread like wildfire. In over two weeks of its existence, the site has claimed over 7,000 active members and its number continued to rise.  Led by the core of Dumalagnon professionals, sympathizers staged a coordinated rally in Quezon City on April 9th 2012, coincided with the interment of Cherry Mae in Dumalag.

For the first time, Dumalagnons rallied together in such overwhelming number to seek redress for the suspicious death of Cherry.  Like many verbal and physical abuse cases reportedly suffered by Filipino migrant workers abroad, the resolution has always remained a moving target.  In the case of Cherry Mae, her fate remained unsolved to date.  It was, however, consoling to know that Dumalagnons have risen collectively to condemn with an indignant voice the alleged murder of Cherry Mae Genova and exposed widely the inadequate support and lack of political will by the administration to probe further and unlid the truth.  Cherry’s friend’s testimonies weeks before her death described her as totally of sound mind and spirited as ever.  She goes to church with friends on her days off and prays with such regularity.  Her friends described Cherry as overly positive and enthusiastic about life and about her plans for her future.  Suicide was definitely not in Cherry’s mind as she recounted optimistically to friends her many dreams to build a good future for herself and for her family.  Like every OFWs who sacrificed themselves on behalf of their families, Cherry’s vision was to someday improve the lot her family back in Duran, Dumalag and raise them from the bottommost of poverty that they have been mired in ever since.

Cherry’s death was one too many sad realities for every OFW.  Whatever lesson may have been learned from such misadventure in the land of plenty, Cherry’s case will go down in a book as a case of human tragedy where her basic rights as a human being were trampled and grossly violated.  Her untimely demise has exposed the Philippine government’s forlorn attempt to engage a legal proceeding in pursuit of justice outside the country’s judicial system.  And the sad reality is, in an offshore judicial arena, Filipinos have been fighting an uphill battle without a track record of success.

According to Philippine Statistic Authority, today, there are approximately 2.4 million OFWs all over the world.  Women outnumbered men at 51.1% over 48.9% of their male counterpart.  The majority of OFWs work in Saudi Arabia where 1 of every 4 workers preferred the Kingdom over other opportunity-laden countries.  As the OFW trend continues, there may be more cases of abuse in the future as our migrant workers are made exposed to dire circumstances, especially women who are an easy target of domestic abuse in the hands of cruel and less compassionate employers.

The lack of viable and sustainable employment opportunity in the Philippines will continue to drive employment seekers out of the country.  Reported abuses and maltreatment of some unfortunate OFWs will not deter the outflux of Filipino workers to countries of opportunity.  While bodily or sexual abuse may be considered isolated when you brought to the equation a large number of OFW working abroad, everyone deserves fair treatment wherever they are and whatever circumstances they are in.

New Light Shines Behind Mt. Panginraon

The OFW economic phenomenon put smiles on people’s faces as common Dumalagnons began to show their enterprising capability.

Dumalag has lost one of her daughters in a condemnable fashion and saw the collapse of its economic prowess when sugar anomalies blew a lethal death to its only sugar mill in 1988.  If there is any vindication from this adversity, it is comforting that Dumalagnons showed no weakness in being dragged into a snag.  Together they rise with a strong resolve to leap forward and transform their lives through hard work and more determination.  For the F town, tribulations and adversities have made them stronger and united them in ways never before was seen.  For the hard-working sons and daughters of the post-sugar era who are armed with education and inspired by their newfound dream, overseas employment is the panacea of hard work and sacrifice.  With plenty of optimism and sacrifice, Dumalagnon OFWs, like every other, will fuel their dream for a better life and eventually elevate their economic status to some level of prosperity.

Ted Fullona

“Fray Ted” entered the Dominican seminary in 1973 at Peñafort Hall in Aquinas University of Legaspi (now UST-Aquinas). After completing the novitiate at Villa Lizares in Jaro, Iloilo, Ted majored in English at Letran (and cross-enrolled for journalism in Lyceum), where he served as reporter for The Lance, vice-president of the Letran Chorale, and president of the Humanities Literary Circle, up to the time of his departure from College and the seminary in 1978. Ted briefly worked for a stock brokerage firm in Manila before joining Saudi Aramco in 1981. While there, he managed the publication of the weekly Oasis Times. He married Mayette in 1982 and two years later was blessed with an unico hijo, Thomas John. The family immigrated to Canada in 1988 where he landed a job at Cadbury. The computer knowledge he acquired from Aramco made Ted indispensable as Technical Support Coordinator. In 1990, he augmented his credentials in the field of Computer Systems at Sheridan College. In 1993 he founded Cadbury’s in-house graphics department where he catalyzed and transformed several in-house graphics systems. As graphics manager, he led his team in developing and designing advertising and marketing collateral for a variety of Cadbury iconic brands. Ted’s tenure with Cadbury, and later became Mondelez Canada Inc., was capped at 27 years when he took advantage of an early retirement offer in 2017. Not wanting to be sidelined, he attended George Brown College for a Copywriting course. Ted is now managing his own design company, Artyoom Inc., contracting product catalogs design projects and writing brand style books for a number of brands.

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