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MANUEL ABELLA

1828-1897)

 

 

          Don Manuel Abella was one of the Bikol martyrs executed by a firing squad in Bagumbayan shortly after the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution of 1896. His honesty, patriotism, and progressive ideas prevented any reconciliation with the colonial administration. He was known to be 69 years old when he was martyred. A shrine in Naga honors him and the other Bikol martyrs.

 

Abella was a native of Catanauan, Tayabas (now Quezon). He must have come from a financially stable family as his parents were able to send him and his brother Leocadio to study for the priesthood in Naga. The fact that the Abella brothers were sent there to study indicates that their family must have migrated to Bikol earlier. On or before 1875, obviously no longer a seminarian, Manuel Abella was appointed an "escribano" (clerk of court) in the same town he had been sent to study. He held this job until his retirement from the government service sometime before 1896. He then engaged in farmmg  of rice and abaca. It was during these years that he came to be acclaimed one of the richest men and one of the most generous philanthropists in the Bikol region.

 

          His son, Domingo, met the same fate he suffered. His other sons, however, had better luck. Ramon became a rich landlord and Mariano became governor of Ambos Camarines in 1898.

 

          When the Revolution broke out in 1896, most of those who Occupied respectable and influential social positions in the community were suspected to be members of the Katipunan. Don Manuel was one of those who fell under suspicion and arrest.

 

  Those apprehended in Camarines Sur were: Father Inocencio Herrera, parish priest of Naga Cathedral, Father Gabriel Prieto, parish priest of Malinao, Albay. Don Domingo Abella, wealthy proprietor and surveyor; Don Manuel Abella, father of Don Domingo; Camilo Jacob, a photographer; Tomas Prieto, a pharmacist; Macario Valentin, chief of the night guards in Naga; Corneio Mercado; Mariano Melgarejo, an employee of the Department of Public Works, and Mariano Ordenanza.

 

          They were arrested on September 16, 1896 and indicted for rebellion. It was alleged that Tomas Prieto had voluntarily affirmed the statement of the civil governorthat some fifty firearms had been landed in a boat from Bate some time in the middle of August, 1896 and that the shipment had been sent by Victoriano Luciano of Cavite and distributed accordingly: 10 to Don Manuel Abella; 20 to Don Florencio Lerma; 10 to Comelio Mercado and the rest to Father Severino Diaz, a priest of the Naga Cathedral. From there, the arms were supposed to have been turned over to Don Camilo Jacob who, in turn, was supposed to have delivered them to the insurgents based in Mount Isarog. Prieto's confession was allegedly made before Manuel Ayala in the presence of about half a dozen witnesses.

 

On September 20, 1896, Don Manuel and the other Bicol patriots  were shipped to Manila aboard the vessel Isarog and imprisoned in  Bilibid. The priests among them were held in the convent of San  Agustin.

 

On December 29, 1896, they were tried for rebellion by a military court presided over by Lt. Col. Moreno Estellez with Lt. Ramon Despujol acting as secretary. As a matter of formality, Don Manuel and the Bikol patriots were defended by Captain Diaz of the Engineer Corps and by Souza, Jose Taviel de Andrade, Salgado, Rivadulla and Lopez Blanco, all of them lieutenants of the artillery, infantry and  cavalry.

 

          All forms of deceit were reportedly employed by those who sat  as'Tudges." By torturing the accused, the military authorities succeed ed in making them confess against their will. From such forced confessions, Fiscal Vallespinosa concluded that Don Manuel and his comrades  committed rebellion. The fiscal asked for the maximum penalty under the  Spanish Penal Code - death by firing squad.

 

On January 4, 1897, the court order was carried out on the following Don Manuel Abella, Don Domingo Abella, Father Inocencio Herrera, Father Gabriel Prieto, Father Severino Diaz, Camilo Jacob Tomas Prieto, Florencio Lerma, Macario Valentin, CornelioMercado , and Mariano Melgarejo.

 

          The other Bikol indictees included Leon Hernandez (father of Jaime Hernandez, Secretary of Finance in President Quezon's cabinet) who died in October 1897 in a Naga prison. Others who were spared the death penalty were: Mariano Ordenanza, who was sentenced to 20 years and who died in Bilibid Prison; and Ramon Abella and Mariano Arena who died in exile in Fernando Po island, the Spanish penal colony on the western coast of Africa.

 

          In a newspaper expose on the death of the Bikol martyrs, Tomas Arejola wrote:

 

    ... the calumny which smears the name of anyone under certain    circumstances fell upon Father Herrera with such ill fortune inspite of his innocence, he was hot with others ... even the insistent petitions of his Bishop. (The Most Reverend and Most Illustrious Bishop Arsenio Campos-ERM) ... to overcome the perfidy of the calumniators who possessed all the means to which malignity had inspired them to consumate the horrible crime ...we do not hesitate to exhibit to public execration ... the names of the authors of the hetacomb of Nueva Caceres which was one of the causes which pulled down the Spanish rule in the Philippines.

 

  It came to be known later that Don Manuel and the other Bikol martyrs were innocent of the crime imputed to them. This was revealed in their last wills and testaments, written shortly before their execution. Their case was truly a miscarriage of justice.

 

 

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