WHILE the Bicol region, or any of its province, may not have been included in the eight rays of the sun as depicted in the Philippine flag to represent the first provinces in the archipelago that started the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896, we are nonetheless proud to note that Bicolanos have always been an important part in the unfolding history of our nation’s continuing struggle for independence, freedom, and identity.
In the time of Rizal, there was Jose Maria Panganiban from Camarines Norte, dubbed as the ‘Avenger of Filipino Honor” whom historians esteemed as deeply patriotic and as brilliant as the national hero himself. In his sickbed in Spain where he died young, the great essayist and orator Panganiban wrote his fellow propagandist Jose Rizal: I regret I cannot be with you in your patriotic labor for the redemption of our fatherland… if only I have the strength I had before, I will work with you unto the very end.”
Guardia civiles Felix Plaza and Elias Angeles turned against the Spaniards in Nueva Caceres, forcing the Spanish Governor in Bicol to surrender in 1898 that finally ended the three centuries of Spanish rule in the region. As the Americans advanced in February 1900, Gen. Ludovico Arejola organized his resistance movement in five military zones in Camarines Sur. It took one year for the superior arms of the enemy to force Arejola to surrender in March 1901.
Fr. Jorge Alfonso Imperial Barlin of Baao, Camarines Sur, became the first Filipino bishop. He was instrumental in resisting the recruitment efforts of Iglesia Filipinia Independiente (Aglipayan Church) and winning a court battle that secured the properties of the Philippine Catholic Church during the American period.
Then came Wenceslao Q. Vinzons, the governor of Camarines Norte. He put up his own guerilla organization rather than cooperate with the advancing Japanese, as most governors then did. He and many members of his family, including his father, wife and children were tortured and murdered for refusing to betray their allies and pay allegiance to the flag of the conquering enemy.
Col. Juan Q. Miranda and his band of well-disciplined guerillas liberated Naga City and environs days before the American soldiers actually arrived to help drive away the retreating Japanese soldiers.
More Bicolanos figured in the critical chapters of our contemporary history. They either played, so to speak, the starring role, supporting role, or as the contravida aligning or finding themselves on the wrong side of history. In fact, there is always a prominent Bicolano actor or character in any of these important events that took place or are taking place in our recent memory. When there was dictator Marcos, there was Joker Arroyo, a fiery defender of democratic rights and civil liberties. There were also a host of student activists, martyrs, journalists and essayists like Conrado de Quiros (Naga City) and the late Eugenia Duran Apostol (Sorsogon) who founded the anti-dictator Mr. & Ms. Magazine and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The local student activists, many of whom sacrificed their future and their lives thought that a young student leader in Naga City by the name of Sal Panelo was of their kind until they found out later that the latter was actually working for the Marcos establishment. And don’t y
ou know that the wife of Jose Maria Sison is a De Lima, from Iriga City? And that the first woman senator Tecla San Andres Ziga was from Tabaco, Albay?
And there was Rebecca Quijano, dubbed as the “Crying Lady” who rode the same plane that Ninoy Aquino took on his way home to the Philippines. She was the lone eyewitness on how the fearless senator was shot dead by escorting soldiers while alighting the plane. Despite death threats and bribes, she did not recant her story that the soldiers, not Galman -- the supposed assassin -- shot Ninoy dead. In the heat of the emerging Power Revolution, a Bicolano colonel by the name of Gringo Honasan with his superiors Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos, severed ties with their commander-in-chief Marcos and joined the people in toppling the well-entrenched martial law dictatorship. Meanwhile, many Bicolano political leaders scrambled for lucrative positions in the newly-installed Cory government, although nothing has changed as far as the Bicol Region’s poor socio-economic landscape then and now is concerned.
In the impeachment of Pres. Erap Estrada, both Sens. Joker Arroyo and Raul Roco played brilliant roles in eventually ousting the president. Under the P-Noy administration, former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo became an icon of good governance following his untimely death in a plane crash while still in his office uniform as DILG secretary. And as it turned out, his widow, Atty. Leni Gerona Robredo, became congresswoman over a landslide victory and was eventually catapulted to the country’s second highest post opposite the well-oiled machinery of her closest VP rival, Bongbong Marcos, the son of the infamous dictator.
Meanwhile, there is this young, intrepid opposition senator who is uncompromisingly exposing and fighting off the abuses, lies, and shenanigans of the present holders of power. Will he also shine as the next presidential hopeful so that Bicol will finally have its own son as this country’s top leader? And will imprisoned Sen. Lilia de Lima be eventually vindicated when the right time comes? Interestingly, a fellow Bicolano, Justice Noel Tijam, whose family hails from Nabua, Camarines Sur (that adjoins De Lima’s Iriga City) and who spent his elementary and high school years at the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City, though he was born in Manila, was among those who voted against the petition of Sen. De Lima to dismiss the charges against her and, hence, should spend more time to rot in jail.
For the record, Tijam was first appointed by then Pres. Benigno Aquino III as CA Associate Justice before he was appointed to the Supreme Court by his San Beda College of Law classmate Rodrigo R. Duterte.