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Bikol honors its 15 martyrs of the 1896 revolution

On the 115th yearly commemoration of the 15 Martyrs of Bicol, Naga City’s chief executive and a top commander of the Philippine Army division in the region led the wreath laying rites at the Plaza Quince Martires in this city’s downtown district early morning of January 4, 2012.

This year’s commemoration once more saw the participation of personnel from the Army division, providing the ritual taps and 21-gun-salute during the ceremonies led by Naga Mayor John Bongat and Army Brig. Gen. Pedro Sinajon, Assistant Division Commander of the 9th Infantry Division.

Naga City councilors led by Naga Vice-Mayor Gabriel Bordado  together with some descendants of the martyrs hung garlands on the bust-relief of each of the martyrs at the Quince Martires monument.

The Plaza Quince Martires was erected at the center of then Nueva Caceres (now Naga City) in 1926.

The 115th commemoration was themed: “Looking Back, Looking Forward.”  Tito G. Valiente, executive director of the Institute of Bicol History and Culture of the Ateneo de Naga University, and guest speaker at the rites, urged the current generation to continue the commemoration of the Bicol martyrs whom fellow Bikolanos look up to as heroes.

Valiente also spoke on the significance of the martyrs in relation to the present generation in his talk on “Question of Heroes: Responses of Generations.” A descendant of one of the Bicol Martyrs, Byronjose Barrameda of the Camarines Sur Bankers Association, made a presentation of the accounts of other unsung heroes of the revolution in Camarines Sur, following the execution of the 15 Bicol martyrs in 1897.

Based on historical records, 11 of the 15 martyrs who are now immortalized at the Plaza Quince Martires monument were  executed at Bagumbayan (now Luneta Park) in Jan. 4,1897 — in the same hallowed ground the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was shot five days earlier. They were (1)Rev. Fr. Gabriel Prieto, from Magarao, Camarines Sur, parish priest of Malinao, Albay and brother of Tomas Prieto, another one of the 15 martyrs; (2) Rev. P. Severino Diaz, from Bulan, Sorsogon, parish priest of the Naga Cathedral; (3) Rev. P. Inocencio Herrera, from Pateros, Rizal, music teacher at the Naga Cathedral; (4) Manuel P. Abella, from Catanawan, Tayabas, a rich landowner who resided in Naga, and, according to historian Jose Barrameda, Jr. was also known as MANUEL RODESCADO Y SANTA ROSA; (5) Domingo I. Abella, son of Manuel Abella, a famous surveyor in Naga; (6) Camilo Jacob, from Polangui, Albay a photographer who was well known in the provinces of Albay and Camarines; (7) Tomas Prieto, from Naga, a pharmacist who graduated at the University of Sto. Tomas and father of Hon. Gabriel Prieto; (8) Florencio Lerma, from Quiapo, Manila, writer of dramas and comedies and owner of Naga Theatre; (9) Macario Valentin, from Naga; (10) Cornelio Mercado, from Atimonan, Tayabas, a public works employee; (11) Mariano Melgarejo, from Santa Cruz, Manila, also a public works employee.

These eleven martyrs were sent to Manila for trial by the Provincial Junta of Camarines Sur headed by then Governor Julian Ocampo after being arrested as suspects for supporting the rebels who were holed up in Mount Isarog.

Three other martyrs died while in exile and a fourth one died inside the Spanish prison in Nueva Caceres. The execution of the martyrs started a series of arrests and incarcerations of other Bicolanos suspected by Spanish colonial authorities to be involved in the revolution.

Four martyrs were spared from the firing squad but nonetheless died while held prisoners by the Spaniards: (12) Leon Hernandez, a rich man from Libmanan, Camarines Sur (father of Don Jaime Hernandez, founder of the University of Nueva Caceres) who died while being tortured at the convent of the San Francisco church; (13) Ramon Abella, eldest son of Manuel Abella, who died in exile in Fernando Poo, an island near Africa; (14) Mariano Ordenanza, from Naga, a public works employee, who died in a prison in Spain; (15) Mariano Arana, from Magarao,  Camarines Sur, who also died while in exile in Fernando Poo.

Before their deaths, the martyrs suffered public humiliation, confiscation of properties,  and extreme torture while in detention. The recent discovery of the tomb of one of the Bicol martyrs, Fr. Inocencio L. Herrera, created excitement among local historians. An ex-seminarian and resident of Sariaya, Doroteo Danilo de Luna, discovered the tomb marker of Fr. Herrera at the Church of  St. Francis in Sariaya, Quezon, prompting Mayor Bongat to send local historian Jose V. Barrameda Jr. to Sariaya to further investigate the discovery. Barrameda confirmed the existence of Herrera’s tomb last Dec.17, 2011.

According to Barrameda, with the discovery of Fr. Herrera’s tomb, three burial sites of the Bicol martyrs are now on record — added to those of Fr. Gabriel Prieto and Fr. Severino Diaz, whose tombs were discovered inside the Naga Cathedral in the 1950s. The burial grounds of all other martyrs remain unknown.

Mrs. Rowena Masilang, wife of Sariaya Mayor Rosauro Masilang and head of the Sariaya Tourism Council together with some town officials, attended the Bicol Martyrs commemoration rites.  She said the rediscovery of Herrera’s tomb has opened a historical linkage between the town of Sariaya and Naga City, which both belonged to the Diocese of Caceres during the Spanish times.

Until 1910 when the Diocese of Lipa was established, the Diocese of Caceres created by Pope Clement VII by virtue of a papal bull in August 14,1595, included the then province of Tayabas and the Samar island.

Mrs. Masilang said historians now need to trace how Fr. Herrera’s remains found its way to a burial site in Sariaya Church after the priest’s execution in Bagumbayan in 1897.

with report from Sonny Sales