Tuesday, May 5, 2009


In the waning decades of the 19th century, a young man trading his dried and salted fish for rice and other goods made his way to the rice-growing town of Tago in the northern part of what is present day Surigao del Sur. He was also a skilled fisherman, like his father who was said to have come from the Visayan province of Bohol. He was born and raised in Hinatuan, a town on the southern tip of the Surigao provinces where his father had met and married a local girl.

In the course of his trading visits to Tago, he met and fell in love with Ignacia Morse Pacheco of the local Pacheco clan. They eventually got married around 1880. Ignacia prevailed upon Manuel to make Awasan, a small village near Tago, his home and the couple soon became the nucleus of a growing family. They would have a total of 9 children, 5 sons and 4 daughters.

The couple, by dint of hard work and a sound business sense, soon prospered in their new home. Manuel, in recognition of his growing status in his community, was appointed cabeza de barangay or village head and was said to have traveled often farther north to Surigao, the capital of the then undivided Surigao province, to deliver to the provincial governor sums of money collected as tribute to the then Spanish colonial government.

To provide for his expanding family, Manuel together with a few other hardy pioneers moved to the south of Tago to a coastal area then locally known as Punta Langbay and founded a new village which became known as Sitio Bayabas. The term "bayabas" is the local name for the guava tree, a large and stout specimen of which was said to have stood near the Murillo house.

Manuel soon cleared and began cultivating more than 40 hectares of wilderness which he and his family planted with rice, coconuts, sugarcane, abaca and fruit trees. As the Murillo family's fortunes grew so did the tiny settlement Manuel had helped found. Bayabas became officially a barrio in 1920 and a town in 1961.

Manuel died at the ripe old age of 86 in 1937 as the patriarch of a growing Murillo clan. His wife, Ignacia, followed him in 1943. In his memory, his descendants formed the Murillo Family Congress in 1952 which hosted periodic grand clan reunions in the decades that followed.

In many ways, the story of the origins and growth of the Murillo clan in Surigao del Sur would parallel much of the stories of the many other family clans founded by the many Visayan immigrants who found new opportunities in the then wilderness areas of Mindanao in the early part of the 20th century. But in the case of Manuel Murillo's descendants, the fate and fortunes of the clan changed when one of his grandsons tried his hand at the volatile and colorful world of politics.

Nicholas, Manuel's 4th child, grew up a farmer, fisherman and trader like his father. In his 30's he married Praxedes Pondoc, a young lass of Boholano descent and with her started a family of his own. Six of their children grew to adulthood but it was his only surviving son, Gregorio, who would determine much of the course of the clan's fortunes up to the present day.

Gregorio was born in the late 1920's and became a physician who spent much of his early professional life looking after the health needs of the local rural communities. He founded the first private hospital in the 1950's in Lianga and then in the 1960's capitalized on his popularity among the rural folk by entering politics. The political neophyte won a stunning upset over the then existing dominant political families in Surigao del Sur by winning the then lone seat in the Philippine Congress for the province.

He further cemented his political career when he was elected provincial governor in the late 1960's and continued to hold that office until the 1980's and through the turmoil of the Marcos martial law years, thus becoming the province's longest serving chief executive. He was still a sitting governor when his political career was, however, tragically cut short by an assassin's bullet in 1983.

His eldest son, Primo, who became a doctor like his father, followed in his father's footsteps and, like his father defied the odds and the established political forces in the province by getting himself elected provincial governor for an unprecedented three consecutive terms. Another son, Gregorio Jr., also served as mayor of the municipality of Tago for three terms.

The political successes of Gregorio and his sons carried the Murillo clan to new heights and many local observers began to see the emergence of a new political force to reckon with in Surigao del Sur politics. Many other clan members began carving political careers of their own.

The late 1990's, however, saw the decline in the clan's political fortunes as both Murillo brothers failed to hold on to political office. The political pendulum had swung the other way and the political alliance between the powerful Pimentel-Ty and the Pichay families began to dominate local provincial politics.

The clan's entry into politics also caused rifts and fissures to appear on the once solid ties and bonds that united the different Murillo familial branches. The 4th and 5th family reunions held in the 1990's were poorly attended affairs as the political divisions and petty differences between some Murillo families festered and suppurated. It was only with the dawn of the new century with the passing of the old guard and the emerging leadership of the 4th and 5th generations of the clan descendants when much of the ill will of the past was largely and finally put to rest.

The Murillo name remains, admittedly, still a formidable factor to reckon with in the politics of Surigao del Sur and as the nation prepares for next year's local and national elections, there are many political observers here who still are still of the opinion that a candidacy by either or both of the Murillo brothers for provincial positions or congressional seats can still threaten the supremacy of the current political leadership of the province.

In was in this context that last April 18 that the lineal descendants of Manuel Murillo gathered in Bayabas for the 7th Murillo Family Congress and Reunion. Over four hundred representatives spanning 7 generations of the more than one thousand registered members of the clan attended the two day clan reunion.

Much was said during the gathering about the virtues of honesty, hard work, family unity and devotion to God that Manuel, as the founder of the clan, was said to have set a lodestones for his eventual descendants to follow as guideposts to success and prosperity. A lot was also said about maintaining family and clan unity amidst the challenges and obstacles of present day life.

But less was said of the fact and the truth that Manuel Malinao Murillo's descendants today constitute a clan heavily shaped and influenced by the glorious victories and ignominious defeats that are part of its long and rich political history in the province. It is a clan in search of new leadership and a new direction, fueled and motivated by a deep yearning for a chance to relive the glories of the not so distant past.

As a direct descendant of Manuel and his son Nicholas, I was there that 18th of April, sweating freely in the sweltering heat and humidity inside the Bayabas municipal gymnasium. I watched the proceedings and wondered like the many others who were there that day whether there was really something to hope for and really celebrate beneath the panoply of ceremonies and events.

If there were things to celebrate about they were largely intangible and incidental to the reunion. There was great comfort and joy in seeing the old familiar faces, to hug old and long lost relatives and to excitedly chat nonsense with them and catch up on all the clan news. There was the surprise and added bonus of meeting new and previously unknown relations from all over the country and the quiet pleasure of seeing how the newer generations of Murillo descendants have emerged from the sidelines and have grown up to take their place in leading the clan.

Perhaps it is these small things, these intangibles, that are what are really important. The politics aside, the Murillo clan like all family clans remain a collection of families and individuals linked not only by consanguinity and affinity but by a shared history and common collective memory. The opportunity to be reminded of, to remember and relive the positive events of the collective past can only serve strengthen and reinforce the bonds that ties the clan members together.

Reunions are as much about the past as they are about the present and the future. For the descendants of Manuel Malinao Murillo, the future is certainly unclear and has yet to be made. The present remains a contentious one faced by numerous challenges and pressures. It is from the bittersweet lessons and glorious memories of the past that they must draw their strength and inspiration.

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