Dumaguete is the capital city of the Province of Negros Oriental in the Central Visayas Region. According to Catholic priest and Church historian, Fr. Roman T. Sagun Jr., Dumaguete was created as a parish on March 15, 1620 by Cebu Bishop Pedro de Arce, OSA(1612-1645) and included “the districts of Siaton, Marabago, Maralongon and others of that coast”. Being almost 400 years old as a parish, it is no wonder then that images representing the city often include the iconic Belfry of the Dumaguete Cathedral.
The first and second levels of the belfry were constructed around the 1750s under the guidance of parish priest Fr. José Manuel Fernández de Septién, as one of four watch towers along a high wall surrounding the church and its environs. That wall and three of the towers no longer exist but the area they circumscribed is now roughly delineated by three streets, Colon St. (South), Perdices St. (East), and Bishop Surban St. (North), and by the city’s Public Market (West).
The reason for the fortifications was the slaving runs of Muslim raiders from Mindanao. Fr. Sagun came upon two accounts of such attacks, one in December 1722 on the towns of Dumaguete, Budiong, Dauin, and Siaton; and another one in May-June of 1754 when more than 600 people were abducted from Dumaguete and only three people in Siaton were reported as having escaped. From 1755 to 1760, while the rest of the island continued to suffer such attacks, Dumaguete remained unscathed.
Eventually, the raids were stopped by the advance of technology on the Spanish side, and the fortification was no longer needed. While most of it was torn down, one watch tower was transformed into a taller belfry by the addition of third and fourth levels. These were added in the 1870s by Fray Juan Félix de la Encarnación. The belfry has four bells, three dedicated in the 1930s, and one made in 1818 but possibly dedicated only in 1852, or before the addition of the upper floors.
Dumaguete became the capital town of Negros Oriental when the province was created on October 25, 1889 through a Spanish Royal Decree. This new political unit was validated on January 1, 1890 by Governor General Valeriano Weyler and inaugurated with the arrival of its first governor, Joaquin Tavera, in May 1890. Even then, Dumaguete was recognized as “the most important town“ on the eastern side of the island.
A few years later, after the Philippine-American War, the Americans established a civil government in Negros Oriental and Dumaguete. This lasted from its establishment in May 1, 1901 until World War II reached the shores of Negros Island. On May 26, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Forces occupied Dumaguete relatively unchallenged since most of the local population had beaten a strategic retreat into the mountains where they formed guerilla units. The twin actions of the Filipino guerrilla forces and the US Army liberated Dumaguete on April 26, 1945.
According to Silliman University professor and historian Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope, three years later President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act 327, creating the City of Dumaguete. The bill had been introduced by Hon. Lorenzo Teves, Representative of the First District of Negros Oriental to the First Congress of the Philippine Republic. President Quirino himself and other national officials attended the official inauguration on November 24, 1948. This charter was revised on June 21, 1969 by Republic Act 5797, or the Revised Charter of Dumaguete City.