I Recently Discovered My Datu Heritage

Article by: Rocky Andal Brito de Contreras

I did not always know that I was descended from the datus of Mindoro. It’s quite fascinating and at the same time, humbling, to read about some of my kin. Through my mother, I am a member of the Contreras-Andal cadet branch of the greater Contreras family of Bulalacao.

Don Gorgonio Contreras with wife, Dona Cleotilde. Don Gorgonio was born in 1885 and was a member of the ruling principalia family of Bulalacao, the Contreras clan.

On the Andal side, my grandfather, Abelardo Perucho Andal, was a soldier, professor and humanitarian lawyer who walked and survived the Bataan Death March. He also taught guerilla warfare for the Philippine Army and one his students was a young soldier who would become president of Indonesia: Suharto. Grandpa Abelardo’s brother, Rodolfo Perucho Andal, was a confidante to President Magsaysay; he was head of GSIS and was one of the leading proponents of “Filipino First” economic policies during the Magsaysay and Garcia administrations. Their nephew was the National Scientist for History, Teodoro Andal Agoncillo, who was related to Marcella Agoncillo, the seamstress of the Philippine flag and whose husband, Felipe Agoncillo, was the diplomat who represented the interests of the Philippines in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris of 1898.

Dona Felipa Contreras Aceron. Dona Felipa was married to Don Mariano Aceron, who himself, is related to WW2 Filipina heroine, freedom fighter and food pioneer, Maria Orosa.

As such, stories of patriotism and backstories not necessarily known in the public about important events and historical figures was something I heard as a child and have assumed that the Andals were also descended from the precolonial datus. However, my datu heritage which I know with certainty, derives from my lineage to the Contreras clan of Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro.

The Contreras clan holds a picnic at their estate, Hacienda Bulalacao, 1939.

It became known to me that my great-great grandfather, Don Potenciano Contreras, was Municipal Presidente during the early 1900s. Since this was just at the turn of the century and was the start of the American Commonwealth Period, I made an assumption that the family was also part of the local ruling circle during the Spanish Period, which ended just a few years prior. Some elders knew that Don Potenciano’s father was Don Gabriel Contreras who was Gobernadorcillo and Capitan Municipal of Bulalacao in the 19th century. I could not find any other information on Don Gabriel, for records about Bulalacao were sparse; Moro pirates raided Mindoro up to the mid-1800s and a fire burnt down the parish church where many records were stored.

View of Bulalacao

I became acquainted with Fr. Brillantes, a friend who is a descendant of several Principalia families of Iloilo (Madjaas): the Balderas-Baviera and Juanico Clans of Banate (Iloilo), as well as the Jalandoni-Hechanova and Jover Clans of Jaro (Iloilo City). His ancestors were the ruling Principales of Banate during the Spanish Period, and their recorded lineage goes back to the late 1700s.  His maternal family was the leading political family of La Paz and of Iloilo City during the first half of the 1900s. This friend has passion for studies in genealogy, history and heraldry. We became familiar through social media. By this time, I had already contacted researchers from the National Historical Commission and the National Archives. They have been assisting me in helping the Municipality of Bulalacao document the locality’s history so that it could be taught regionally.

After about a couple of months, the National Archives informed me that they found about 40 pages of Spanish Period documents relating to my town. With Fr. Brillantes’ assistance and knowledge of colonial documents, I found the signature of Don Gabriel Contreras, figuring prominently at the top.

Signatures of the Principalia of Bulalacao. Courtesy of the National Archives  of the Philippines. Don Gabriel was Gobernadorcillo of Bulalacao during the Spanish colonial period

This page contained the signatures of the principalia of Bulalacao. The principalia consisted of the Cabezas de Barangay who chose among themselves, a leader, to serve as Capitan Municipal or Gobernadorcillo. The document dates to 1850s, well before membership in the principalia could be acquired, which became possible by 1863. I then recollected a passage from “El Archeologico Filipino y Las Islas Marianas, Carolinas y Palaos” by Jose Montero y Vidal, which read,

“Los Cabezas de Barangay son jefes cincueta familias…..Esta institucion anterior de la conquista…forman la principalia.”

“The Cabezas de Barangay are chiefs of fifty families…this institution predates the conquest….they form the nobility”

The Cabezas de Barangay of the Spanish period were the descendants of the datus during precolonial times. They chose among themselves a leader to serve as “Punong Datu” or “Lakan”. During colonial times, this was the Gobernadorcillo or Capitan Municipal.

Closeup of signature of Don Gabriel Contreras

A plaque commemorating the administration of Don Potenciano Contreras as Municipal Presidente of Bulalacao

Jose Montero y Vidal was a Spanish colonial official and politician. He was a prolific writer and wrote extensively about the history and geography of the Philippines. The paragraph was my “Aha!” moment! It finally validated the nagging beliefs that for years dwelled in my thoughts and it proved the oral histories passed down in my family relating to our pre-colonial heritage.

I challenge every Filipino to seek out their roots: talk to your older family members, to old family friends, collaborate with others and make a side project out of it. It is not enough to not forget the past, but we must do more: we must strive to rediscover our precolonial past, for therein lies our true identity as Filipinos.

Heritage and culture are important characteristics of a society. They are the elements that define the very soul of a people, of a nation.  As we develop further into a modern country, we must hold on dearly to the culture and heritage that we inherited and we rediscover, for if we do not, it is not only we who stand to lose now, but also the future.

Tips on researching your principalia (datu) lineage: Contact your local LGU or parish church and inquire if they have colonial records! Look especially for election of the principalia!

To contact the National Historical Commission: records@­nhcp.gov.ph

To contact the National Archives: nationalarchives@­nationalarchives.gov.ph






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