Immigrant beginnings

In the mid 19th century, Spanish interest in developing the Philippine economy was in full swing.

With the once lucrative Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade in irreversible decline, Spain was hard pressed to find other means to defray the costs of her farthest colony.  The situation was equally dire on the political front as her Latin American colonies severed ties and declared independence from mother Spain. These events thrust the Philippine islands, originally one of the smallest Spanish colonies, into one of its largest colonial possessions.

One of the initiatives of the Spanish Crown was to transform the Philippines into an export-oriented economy through the cultivation of cash crops. To make full use of lands and reach highest efficiency, authorities initiated a regional specialization plan for agriculture. Tobacco was to be planted in Ilocos and Cagayan, Abaca in Bicol, Coffee in Batangas and Sugar in Pampanga, Tarlac and Negros.

Mapa de las Islas Filipinas

Mapa de las Islas Filipinas

It was then that the frontier of Negros island was swung open to trade via the Queen City of the South, Iloilo. Over the years, Iloilo had grown rich because of its textile industry and lucrative trade through its fine port reached through the wide and deep Iloilo river.

Landing at the Iloilo Port

Landing at the Iloilo Port

Iloilo’s merchants and mestizos were the first to buy parcels of land on Negros and when the textile market was sent into decline by international forces beyond their control, they had all but jumped onto the boat to Negros that was slowly being cultivated into “Sugarland.” Sugar had given them a second wind and like all great fronteirs the island of Negros was to be the immigrant’s land of promise.

So begins most of the family histories and genealogies of the clans of Negros.

The Gatuslao clan of Himamaylan is no exception. Based on the first letter of their surname – “G” – it is said that the Gatuslaos and other families whose names start with “G” were originally from the town of Guimbal in southern Iloilo.

Guimbal church, one of the oldest in the Visayas

Guimbal church

Visayan Daily Star columnist and history buff Primo Esleyer writes, “Hamletting was the reason why people in Iloilo have their family names start with the first letter of the town.  Those from San Joaquin have their family names start with letter “S,” those in Miagao, “M,” in Guimbal “G,” Tigbauan “T,” up to the northern towns, “J” in Jaro, “D” in Dumangas, “B” in Barotac, and so forth.”

It was through this process of hamletting or reduccionthat the Spaniards were able to administer the towns more effectively and controlled the movement of natives from town to town.

In fact, there are still Gatuslaos residing in Guimbal and stories have it that the Gatuslaos settled in Himamaylan because currents would take sailboats from Guimbal straight to the beaches of Sara-et or Talaban.

So it could be said the Gatuslaos of Himamaylan, just like other old families of Negros, were of immigrant stock who found their way to Sugarland amidst the burgeoning sugar industry. Don Serafin, patriarch of the Gatuslao political dynasty, however, took on a slightly different route and his story is anything but ordinary.


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