The story of the Bicol martys began with the discovery of the Katipunan secret society. And the message sent by then Manila-based Governor-General Blanco to all civil governors precipitated mass arrests throughout the country.
All over the Bicol region Spanish authorities arrested persons suspected of having connections with the Katipunan and its aims. From September 6 to October 10, 1896 the people were terrorized by summary arrest of Bicolanos suspected of being rebels. At the same time, death penalties were arbitrarily handed down by the Spanish military courts.
Of the hundreds of patriots apprehended, tortured and killed, fifteen became known as the Fifteen Bicol Martyrs. They were: Manuel Abella, a wealthy philanthropic landowner; Domingo Abella, one of the sons of Manuel Abella; Fr. Inocencio Herrera, native of Pateros, Rizal, he grew up in the Bicol region and studied for priesthood, later became choir master of the Cathedral of Nueva Caceres;
Fr. Severino Diaz, a parish priest of the Cathedral of Nueva Caceres; Fr. Gabriel Prieto, parish priest of Malinao, Albay; Camilo Jacob had a photography studio in Nueva Caceres; Cornelio Mercado and Mariano Melgarejo, employees of the department of public works in Camarines Sur; Florencio Lerma, a successful essayist, playwright, theater owner and musician;
Tomas Prieto, known to be a man of intellect; Macario Valentin, chief of the night patrol; Leon Hernandez, a school teacher of Libmanan; Ramon Abella; Mariano Arana, a man of compassion and advocate of a native (national language) tongue for Filipinos; and Mariano Ordenanza, employee of the finance administration of Camarines Sur.
Four of the fifteen did not make it to the firing squad. Hernandez died in the provincial jail as the result of tortures suffered, while Ordenanza was believed to have died in a prison in Spain. Ramon Abella and Mariano Arana were banished to Fernando Poo island in Africa. Arana perished in the island due to malaria while Abella was granted pardon but later died in Cartagena, Spain.
Don Mariano Ponce, writing in 1912 on the events he personally witnessed on the execution of the eleven, recounted: “The sentences which followed the recommendation of the prosecution was carried out on the morning of January 4, 1897, in the historic field of Bagumbayan in Manila were five days before our national hero fell before a firing squad…”
After the execution a newspaper praised the gallant martyrs: “They died bravely. They died like those who are sustained by a sacred ideal.”
Today, a fitting memorial dedicated to the memory of the Fifteen Bicol Martyrs stand in the sun-baked Plaza Quince Martires in Naga city. It was formally unveiled on November 30, 1923, twenty six years after their martyrdom.
While Bicol Martyrs Day used to be commemorated with spirit and color before World War II, observance has waned in fervor since war’s end and it is likely that the Fifteen Bicol Martyrs Day passed just like any ordinary day henceforward, although January 4 of every year was finally declared a special public holiday here in Naga city in 1972 by the president.
(This is a snippet from our article “Notes on the Bicol Activists of 1896” published by a national magazine. It is of interest, though, to this writer why only fifteen were and are being honored and built a monument while there should have been more. An error by ommission or by commission? Will discuss this in a future post.)
This is my post for This is My World. Many thanks to Klaus, Sandy, Wren, Fishing Guy, Louise & Sylvia, for hosting this wonderful meme: My World – Tuesday.