Negros Occidental

Just imagine how John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ inspired the creation of Negros’ frontier town

Erwin Delilan

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Just imagine how John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ inspired the creation of Negros’ frontier town

The Pine Tree Road in Don Salvador Benedicto.

The beginning of everything for Don Salvador Benedicto town in Negros Occidental was beyond imagination, according to Cynthia Jagurin-dela Cruz

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Unknown to people, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” was vital in the creation of Negros Occidental’s youngest town of Don Salvador Benedicto – or DSB to many – 41 years ago.

This is a hush-hush truth only revealed recently by philanthropist 71-year-old Cynthia Jagurin-de la Cruz, also a former activist and politician, during the seventh death anniversary of her late husband, former political prisoner and politician Nehemias “Nene” de la Cruz on March 26.

The couple was known as founders of the frontier situated in the midst of North Negros Natural Park (NNNP), 49.8 kilometers east of the capital, Bacolod City.

DSB, formerly, dubbed as the “Land of Chaos” or “Mindanao of Negros” had a turnaround transformation into a “Summer Capital” of Negros Island.

Situated 2,346 feet above sea level and spanning 170.50-square kilometers, DSB now is the land of posh upland resorts, majestic and enchanted falls, cool weather, pineapple and pine tree plantations hence hailed by the Department of Tourism in Western Visayas as the No. 1 tourist destination in Negros.

But how and why did it become a frontier town of Negros Occidental.

Rappler was privileged to talk to Madam Cynthia during the death anniversary of her husband and, for the first time, in a no-holds-barred interview, she detailed “bits and pieces” of DSB history then and now with them as founders.

Everybody knows Nene and Cynthia were former student activists in one of the universities in Bacolod who, later, went underground, fought against the government, became lovers and later husband-and-wife while in the movement.

But when Nene was captured and put in jail, things gradually changed.

Being a political prisoner, Cynthia said, her husband got a dream of creating a town out of the “cradle of insurgency/rebellion” in Negros.

It was an “infamous” dream, she said, that no one believed, worse, called Nene as a “rootless dreamer.”

It “pained” Cynthia who, at that time, was pregnant with their first child, Laurence Marxlen, now the incumbent mayor of DSB.

Syempre, bilang asawa, suportahan ko gid ang akon bana, (Of course, as a wife, I need to support my husband)” Cynthia said

Nature, Outdoors, Scenery
SUNSET. Members of the Orange and in their latest trip in Don Salvador Benedicto, hanging out in one the best view decks offered by Stone Haven Cafe. Photo from Don Salvador Benedicto Facebook Page

After Nene’s back-and-forth journey in jail (for three times), he met Colonel Mike Coronel, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) director in Negros Occidental and later as regional director in Western Visayas that time.

Nene and Coronel became friends, and so he was privileged to state his dream of creating a town right there and then in the “nest of insurgents.”

From 1976 to 1984, the struggles (literally and figuratively), said Cynthia, were immense.

Cynthia and Nene became the “father-and-mother” figure for the poor, oppressed, and even insurgents from the  seven villages of DSB now that formerly belonged to the towns of Murcia and Calatrava and San Carlos City before.

“Every time, there were encounters, we hauled the dead from the mountains to funeral parlors, the wounded to the hospital and we paid everything. We looked for money just to shoulder everything and everything,” she told Rappler.

We also fought against almost all kinds of criminal like robbers, murderers, among others that hid in the secluded areas in DSB, she said.

But fed up with this scenario, Cynthia said Nene thought of something that could entice mountain people to abandon underground movement, go back to the fold of government and live peacefully.

What a timing then that Nene, a music lover himself and was fascinated with the 1971 John Lennon song “Imagine.”

The lyrics, said Cynthia, were so relevant and meaningful for Nene’s “unreachable dream.”

She even sang the stanza of the song: “Imagine there’s no heaven…” which, she said, more than inspired Nene to follow his dream of creating a town.

Nene then let “Imagine” be heard by everyone in the mountains, but in order to be understood by the natives, he and Cynthia made efforts to translate the English lyrics to Hiligaynon.

And it bore goodness until they realized their dream when then-president Ferdinand E. Marcos declared DSB as a town on February 9, 1983 pursuant to Batas Pambansa (BP) Bilang 336.

But why DSB, Cynthia said, because it’s an honor for Don Salvador Benedicto, one of the pillars of the revolutionary government in Negros who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army that invaded Negros during the World War II .

And the center of this revolutionary government was in the mountain barangay of Igmaya-an, formerly in Murcia but now, the capital of DSB.

In 1984, when DSB was given an internal revenue allotment IRA of only P7,000.

Nene, the first appointed mayor, worked harder to  further realize all his “wishes” for DSB, which he called as their “second baby” next to their eldest – Laurence Marxlen – the incumbent DSB mayor. They founded DSB before their next two children were born.

As fate would have it, in 1984, the Oscar-winning movie “The Killing Fields” had Lennon’s song for its theme.

Cynthia said the movie further inspired Nene.

So, he used this as a material via film showing in every of the seven barangays in DSB, furthering his quest to let people understand that peace is really valuable in living their dream to have a progressive community soonest.

And so, Nene’s dream through “Imagine” didn’t go to waste.

Rather, Cynthia, stresses, no one imagined that DSB would reach its peak now just because of the song “Imagine.”

Thus, as she marked her husband’s seventh death anniversary on March 26 with a memorial Mass at the grave of Nene, she could not help but imagine her lover, her “rock” that once became an “alipin” of his “unreacheable dream.”

But, Cynthia said, thanks to “Imagine” – the beginning of everything for DSB’s history was fulfilled truly beyond imagination. –

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