Minority Report

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If you live in Dumaguete you’ve probably seen these faces a hundred times. But never this close up. These are the faces of statues- the nuns on the boulevard, part of the painted cement monument to the boatload of Sisters who landed on a beach here in 1904 to help found St. Paul’s University. They don’t look very happy to be here.

In 1900, Negros, including Dumaguete, was a quiet, remote colony of Spain, ruled over spiritually by the official Catholic church, and governed by a group of local “Hancienderos” with dubious claims to pure Spanish Blood.

But in 1904, Dumaguete was in turmoil. After losing a short war, Spain waved goodbye and walked away —leaving the Philippines, including Negros, in the hands of Americans– a strange group of people whom no one knew much about, except that they spoke English and were mostly Protestants — Heretics!

To make matters worse, a large tract of land in Dumaguete had been taken over by a group of these American Protestants, who established a school on it called Silliman, including- a Protestant chapel. This so enraged the local priests and bishops that they even threatened to excommunicate anyone attending the American school.

But to no avail. The Hacienderos, who were used to sending their children to college in Manila, were happy to send them now to Silliman instead- it was closer, it was cheaper — plus, it was American; and it never hurts to make friends with your rulers.

Having failed to frighten people away from Silliman, the church leaders decided to compete with it; to offer a “Proper Catholic Education”, as an alternative. So they enlisted a teaching order of Sisters in Cebu, found needed land, and founded St. Paul’s. -And it still thrives today, an excellent university in this University Town.

It has been more than a century since the Sisters landed on the beach in Dumaguete. From the way these statues represent them, they must have had a hard time getting here. There is little joy in these painted faces as they come to assume their new duties.

The young Sister above looks just faintly puzzled; the mother superior below looks actually seasick. Their hands are raised to the sky; to offer thanks — or only to test the wind? It’s hard to say. If they are really thankful, it’s probably because they will soon be off that boat.

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