At the heart of the old central business district of Naga City stands Plaza Quince Martires. A monument once described by historian Ambeth Ocampo as an “elaborate wedding cake”, immortalized the 15 Bicolano martyrs who fought the oppressive colonial government during the 1896 Revolution. Built in 1926, it was designed by Crispolo Zamora and sculpted by Jose Barcena.
The outbreak of the revolution in Tagalog provinces in August 1896 fueled fears among the Spanish authorities that it might spread to other parts of the country particularly the Bicol region. And it did. To counter, Spaniards instituted reign of terror which resulted in the mass arrests of Filipinos suspected of asserting separatist views. On suspicion of abetting a projected rebellion, 11 of the 15 were executed at Bagumbayan, in Manila:
- REV. INOCENCIO HERRERA – a native of Pateros, Rizal grew up in the Bicol region and enrolled in the seminary of Nueva Caceres (now Naga City). A brilliant young man who was always on top of his class. Gifted with a good voice, he became the choir master of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Nueva Caceres. He we only 30 years when Spaniards executed him.
- REV. GABRIEL PRIETO – a consistent scholar at the seminary of Nueva Caceres. After his ordination was appointed as confidential secretary and adviser of Msgr. Herrera. He was denounced by Spanish friars for his liberal and independent ideas.
- REV. SEVERINO DIAZ – born in Bulan, Sorsogon of poor but hardworking parents. He was a model student at the seminary and later as parish priest of Nueva Caceres. He attended to his flock with extraordinary zeal and remembered by the people who improved the Naga Cathedral, which drew envy and ire of Spanish friars especially when he became the first Filipino Cura Paroco of Nueva Caceres. He was only 45 years old when executed at Bagumbayan.
- MANUEL ABELLA – a native of Catanaun, Quezon, known for his philantrophic activities among the poor and underprivileged. He was 60 years old when he faced the firing squad.
- DOMINGO ABELLA – the son of Manuel Abella. Outspoken, with conviction he decried the abuses and arrogance of Spaniards. He was only 25 when he died.
- CAMILO JACOB – a commercial photographer and native of Polangui, Albay. Like Domingo Abella, he was open-hearted and suspected of collaborating with the revolutionists.
- TOMAS PRIETO – a brother of Gabriel Prieto, a pharmacist. He was popular for his progressive and liberal ideas. Executed at the age of 30.
- FLORENDO LERMA – a theatre owner and playwright from Quiapo, Manila. He went to Bicol and established the first movie house in Naga.
- MACARIO VALENTIN – he was chief of the night patrol at the Obras Publicas (Public Works) of the colonial government. He took advantage of his position by conniving with the revolutionists, whom he supplied with valuable information about the activities of the Spanish militia.
- MARIANO MELGAREJO – a native son of Naga, who wrote in his diary “I look forward to the day when Filipinas takes her place among the free nations of the world.”
- CORNELIO MERCADO – an employee in the public works department of Nueva Caceres.
The four Bicolano freedom fighters who were either exiled or died in prison were:
- LEON HERNANDEZ – a resident of Libmanan, Camarines Sur, of highly influential and well-to-do family. He was thrown into municipal jail in Nueva Caceres where he was tortured to death for being suspected participation in the revolutionary movement.
- MARIANO ARANA – a government surveyor who died in exile to the isle of Fernando Po in West Africa, which was once a colony of Spain.
- MARIANO ORDENANZA – a clerk in Public Works who died in Bilibid Prison in Manila shortly after he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by Spanish Council of War.
- RAMON ABELLA – also a son of Manuel Abella, a strong advocate of the progressive and independent aspiration of his father was exiled in Fernando Po.
Arrested on September 19, 1896, the 15 were brought to Manila aboard a steamer named “Isarog” to be incarcerated at the Bilibid where they were starved and tortured until December 29, 1896. They faced a military court jammed with Spanish spectators calling for their blood. However, the prosecution had no significant evidence against them. Prosecutors just claimed, by openly professing to see the Philippines emancipated from the oppression of Spaniards was tantamount to their being guilty of sedition and treason.
On January 4, 1897, the Bagumbayan field which had already earned its notoriety as the place for execution was once again filled with the crowd. Probably the same crowd who witnessed Rizal’s execution five days earlier. Although the crowd gathered was far thicker than the previous executions. Among those present were the family members of the condemned.
The gunfire rent the air amid the lusty cheers of Spanish spectators as their so-called “eleven traitors from Bicol” were executed. Depriving the families of their moment to grieve, they were ordered to immediately bury their dead within the day to prevent any outpouring of sympathy from the public.
Once more, the killing field of Bagumbayan was drenched with the blood of Filipino martyrs, “the martyrs of patriotism who gave their lives for a cause – freedom”…
When shedding light on the unseen and lending a voice to the unheard
A gallant stand..a badge they proudly wears which they earned in the pursuit of freedom..a picture of gloom..the spirit even after centuries remained closely interwined with religion..discovery of our rich Filipino heritage..whose legacy is so significant, have remained unknown and obscure?..it is commendable and heroic effort to propagate Phil culture especially among the youth and the rest of us who need to know and appreciate the rich legacy to which we are heirs..belated as this knowledge may be, our heroes makes us stsand tall and proud to be Filipino..a glimpse of the way they live..take a cue from..you really have to have a passion for it there’s no in between..those are the things you gloss over..