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SPECIAL REPORT: Peninsulares vs local elite socio-economic conflict led to 15 Bicol martyrs

By Juan Escandor Jr. NAGA CITY---Peering through the socio-economic and socio-political context of the late 19th century Camarines from accounts and records in that period in the archives in Spanish, a Bicol historian dissected the prevailing situation that led to the arrest of 15 members of the local elites as a result of their clash with the peninsulares (ruling Spaniards) at the time when the colonial government was crumbling. Prof. Danilo Gerona, PhD, Bicol historian specializing in the study of the Spanish colonial period in Bicol, said the 15 Bicol martyrs, 11 of them were shot by firing squad at the Luneta on Jan. 4, 1897, on charges of complicity to the revolution were not even associated nor connected with the underground revolutionary movement that was not existent in Camarines Sur then. “The web of insurrection was perceived by the Spaniards through linkages within the local elites. With the revolt in Manila, the Spaniards justify to arrest their economic competitors,” Gerona said. He said the obvious intention of the peninsulares to target the local elites was clear because the leading figures of Free Masons in Camarines Sur, the group suspected of connections with the Katipunan, were not even arrested. “My main thesis is wealth as subversion. By being prominent or somebody in a colonial context that by itself is a form of subversion because the main argument of the colonialists was that the colonized people must never be at par nor above them,” Gerona said. “The 15 Bicolano martyrs were a threat to their colonial masters,” he added. Three of the martyrs, all deemed ilustrados of their time, were priests–Gabriel Prieto, Severino Diaz and Innocencio Herrera. The others were businessmen and persons who held positions in Spanish colonial society: Ramon Abella, Manuel Abella, Domingo Abella, Leon Hernandez, Tomas Prieto, Cornelio Mercado, Mariano Ordenanza, Macario Valentin, Mariano Melgarejo, Mariano Arana, Florencio Lerma and Camilo Jacob. Four of the 15 Bicol martyrs were not given the death penalty. Ramon Abella–son of Manuel Abella and elder brother of Domingo Abella, and Arana were ordered exiled to the Isle of Fernando Po in West Africa, which was once a colony of Spain. Hernandez and Ordenanza were ordered imprisoned at the Bilibid. Gerona said the accounts in the documents at the Archivo Nacional in Spain showed that the preceding events before the arrest of the 15 Bicolano martyrs had been the polarization between the local elites in Naga (Nueva Caceres) led by Manuel Abella and the peninsulares in Camarines province led by Pablo Feced. He said Manuel Abella, whose network in the local elites were all arrested and became the 15 Bicol martyrs, was a very wealthy Bicolano based on an extensive dossier of him at the Archivo Nacional. He said Manuel Abella’s dossier included information from the time he transferred to Naga in 1864 to the time he was executed at the Luneta, his being a big trader of abaca, his partnership with the Zobel de Ayala in shipping business, his ownership of the biggest ranch in the Philippines with 10,000 heads of cattle as well as ownership of vast tracks of land and numerous houses. Pablo Feced, Gerona said, was a prominent writer defending the colonial government and the friars with the pen name Quioquiap and a wealthy Spaniard who owned the biggest distillery and perfumery in Bula, Camarines Sur. Feced and Abella were both considered socio-economic giants in the province at that time which established them as the rallying points of the polarized local elites in Naga and peninsulares in Camarines Sur over economic dominance. He said Abella was able to get an alliance with the Spanish civil governor Manuel Uria in the province, who was accused by his fellow Spaniards to favor the indios when the Philippine Revolution started. “I found in the documents at the Archivo Nacional the complaint of peninsulares in Camarines Sur that Abella has obtained political leverage because of his connection with the governor,” Gerona said. He said Abella’s connection with the governor also made him influential to the local elites. Based on an article on March 10, 1900 published in the Filipinas Ante Europa written by Tomas Arejola, a contemporary of Dr. Jose Rizal in Madrid, Feced was named as the primary person who caused the arrest of the 15 Bicol martyrs. “Tomas Arejola was not the only one who put the blame on Feced. Other Filipino patriots shared in the belief of Tomas Arejola that the arrest of these Bikolanos was the main handiwork of Feced,” Gerona said. Citing an article of Felipe Calderon, the “Father of the Malolos Constitution”, he said Pablo Feced was blamed for the misfortune of the Abellas. Gerona cited Calderon’s article which claimed: “He (Feced) is the same person who, in order to wrest away from the wealthy Abellas, father and son from Camarines, the position they have earned by their industry, their thrift and intelligence as almost exclusive traders of abaca in the region, took steps and succeeded in having them accused and shot in the field of Bagumbayan; later on, this same person waited in vain for the fruit of his criminal aspiration because the natives, aware of his corrupt practices, constantly refused to deliver to him the product of their harvests and their labors.” Aside from Feced, Tomas Arejola identified Vicente Olbes who was the Procurador in the Court of First Instance; and Jose Maria Feijoo who was a Sindico in the Ayuntamiento of Nueva Caceres (Naga City) as the ones who tipped off civil governor Ricardo Lacosta to issue arrest warrants to the 15 Bicol martyrs. Aside from his employment, Olbes was also an enterprising bureaucrat, owning a rice mill run by steam and a string of stores in Minalabac, Magarao and Baao, Gerona said. “It would not be illogical, therefore, to suspect that a more personal reason, among others, was involved in their arrest. This could be motivated by envy, either because of their profession or economic status as intimated by Calderon. A socio-economic mapping of these prisoners seemed to suggest these. One of the volunteers who was actively involved in the arrests was Antonio Pardo, owner of a candy shop located along the street of Fernando El Catolico selling variety of sweets and pasta,” he said. He said the persons identified, from the ringleaders down to the least important members, except for a few, belonged to the highly respected and influential members of the native and mestizo elite. “Indeed, these influential natives must have been regarded by Spaniards, who had the main responsibility of fomenting this rumor, as their foremost rival or competitors in business, politics, profession or employment, and even in ecclesiastical prerogatives. For the Spaniards, the outbreak of the revolution or the rumors of revolution provided them an opportunity to unleash their fury under the guise of a legitimate patriotic defense of the colonial interest of Spain,” Gerona concluded.

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