Sunday, November 29, 2009

Brief History of the Catholic Church in Ormoc

Ugmok was part of an encomienda given by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to one of his faithful soldiers Francisco de Quiros in 1577 when he declared possession of the island for the Spanish crown. Since the representatives of the king were customarily accompanied by priests, in his case five Augustinians led by Fr. Andres de Urdaneta, it would be safe to say that Ugmok was also visited by Augustinians, although they did not stay for long as they did in Leyte-Leyte, Carigara and Barugo.


It was the Jesuits who established Ugmok as one of its mission centers 20 years later in May 1597, with Frs. Alonso Rodriguez and Leonardo Scelsi assuming the task of planting the seeds of Christianity. Ugmok was the only settlement in the west coast of the island privileged to become such a center along with Carigara, Palo, Alangalang and Dulag in the east.

The surprised Jesuits found in Kaugmokanos willing converts. In fact during their arrival, they were welcomed by a local chief (datu) who at once made arrangements for his baptism. He had the prayers written down so that he might learn them. The other chiefs followed his example, copying the prayers on bamboo strips that they used as paper. Moreover they offered all their children, and the Jesuits built a school for them as they did in Dulag.

Despite the eagerness of the natives to be baptized, however, the Jesuits proceeded with caution and prudence, taking time to teach them catechism before giving them the sacrament of baptism. They noted that those who were baptized had known for many years matters of the Catholic faith judging by their knowledge of its mysteries. They highly valued the confessional, and when they became sick, they clamored at once for the missionary and found relief in making their confession.

It was here in Ogmuk that the Jesuits were able to develop the so-called ratio estudiorum or pedagogical code in the teaching of catechism to children, a practice that was later adopted in other missions. They divided the catechism course into several grades. Each grade had to learn part of the catechism, progressively more difficult, and pass an examination on it before going on to the next grade.

One major problem facing the missionaries however was the nature of the settlement here. The natives tended to live close to their farms and their hunting grounds, and the mission center would be populated only during Sundays when they came to hear mass and chant the catechism. But with the mass over, they dispersed at once to their microscopic settlements without the missionary’s being able to detain them for a few days’ instruction. To perform their mission, the Jesuits had to travel continually from one settlement to another. This became the greatest obstacle to their work.

This could also be one major reason why it took the Jesuits more than 30 years before the Ormoc parish and pueblo was formally established.

Changes in assignments

The shortage of missionaries compelled the Jesuit superior at that time, Fr. Diego Garcia, to reassign the missionaries in fewer houses, with some of their earlier missions being turned into “visitas” which they would regularly visit. This happened after their first conference in Palo in January 1600 attended by 26 priests. In that month-long conference, it was agreed to merge Palo and Dulag at the latter, while Alang-alang, Carigara and Ogmuk would have its center at Alangalang. But due to Ogmuk’s peculiar location, it was going to be administered by a priest and a brother in permanent residence, who were to be relieved from Alangalang every three or four months. That year, the priests in Ogmuk had baptized 646 natives out of a population of more than 4,000, covering two other neighboring pueblos.

Pirates from Mindanao

Barely eight years after the Jesuits started their evangelization program, in 1605, native warriors from at least three tribal groups from the island of Mindanao started to pillage the thriving Ogmuk settlement.

The Karagas proceeded to Ugmok after they were through with Baybay and other coastal towns which they left devastated. The Kaugmukanons were quick and that was to their great advantage. Still their efforts were useless to counteract the enemy's barbarism. The Karagas took 90 captives and they left the fields splattered with human flesh and cadavers.

The next attack came in 1608, this time, by the Sanguils. They came in ships like the Karagans, passing the strait of Panao island at a time when the sea current was favorable. The Sanguils first attacked the settlement of Ogmuk, plundering and destroying it

Finally, in 1634, the third group of marauders from Mindanao, the Maguindanaos. organized an expedition headed by a young sultan named Cachil Korralat, with 22 vessels and some 1,500 fighting men. They attacked Ogmuk on December 4, 1634, four years after it was formally established as a parish. The Jesuits here had started to fortify the town, but only a small stockade of wood near the church had been completed. While the townspeople fled, 50 warriors made a stand in this stockade and the adjoining church. With them was the resident missionary Fr. Juan del Carpio.

The Magindanaus took the church at their first onslaught, penned the defenders in the stockade, and set fire to it. Tormented by the heat and smoke, the gallant little garrison surrendered. The visitors immediately began to divide them up as prizes; but when they came to Fr. Carpio, Corralat ordered the Jesuit put to death. As soon as he heard his doom, Carpio knelt to pray, and praying thus received the blow of the kampilan.

Jesuit Expulsion

The vaunted success of the Jesuits in the conversion of natives to Catholicism did not in any way deter the Spanish crown from expelling them from the Spanish colonies. Ever since they started speaking against the abuses of the Spanish authorities and the encomenderos, the Jesuits were marked. They were charged that they preached against the government and that the Jesuit Provincial had maintained illicit communication with the English general during their occupation of Manila.

On the morning of May 19, 1768, after 187 years, Jesuit missionary work in the Philippine Islands was finished.

A few months after the expulsion orders were signed, a commander of the royal navy, Don Pablo Verdote, took charge of rounding up the Jesuits in Leyte. The first residencia to be closed was that of Ugmok. In his report, he said he had with him the Reverend Father Fray Francisco Martinez of the Order of St. Agustin. The turnover ceremonies were witnessed by the local officials and principalia. He then made an inventory of the gold and silver vessels and the arms belonging to the church. Fr. Luis Secanell, the last Jesuit parish priest here, left with the boat.

The Agustinians in Ogmuk

The settlement had not changed much during the 171 years under Jesuit tutelage. True, many Kaugmokanos had embraced Catholicism and its practices, and a lot of them had become devotees of the faith. But there was little change in their way of life. They were still aversed to living in the town.

One problem the Augustinians faced had to do with the communities that they were supposed to preach to. The Jesuits' sudden departure had doubtless aroused the natives' suspicion, forcing many of them to pack up their meager belongings and leave the pueblos for the familiar forests nearby. Unlike the Jesuits who were welcomed by the natives, the newcomers seemed to be unwelcome.

One other major cause for worry to the newcomers were the Moro raids that had caused a lot of trouble for the early missions more than 150 years before. Apparently, the Moro depredations had persisted even up to 1770s. The Augustinian superior Fr. Victoria noted that in the recent years, that province alone counted two thousand captives from the year of 68 [1768].

Despite their problems, however, the Augustinians had roads and schools built. Here in Ogmuk, they built four rural schools. In agriculture, they introduced work animals for plowing and the use of the plow.

Unfortunately, there were simply not enough Augustinians to adequately replace the Jesuits. Fourteen were assigned for the entire Leyte island, but only three took care of the pueblos in the west and the south. .

On record, only three Augustinians were assigned to Ogmuk: Frs. Francisco Martinez, Agustin Maria de Castro and Francisco Rodriguez. Martinez replaced the Jesuit Fr. Luis Secanell, but on the same year de Castro took over after his stint at Boljoon, Cebu. The third Augustinian, Fr. Rodriguez, was assigned to the parishes of Hilongos, Ogmuk and Palompon during the years 1774-78. He was transferred to Dulag in 1779.

The lack of priests would explain why Ogmuk reverted to the status of a “visita” attached to the parish of Palompon sometime between the years 1778 and 1839. The secular priests would take over only in 1839. From then on, the succession was unbroken.

Re-establishment of the Parish

The modern day towns became possible only because the early missionaries assigned to preach in native settlements exerted utmost efforts to gather them into the center of the town, with the church as the focal point. This is why the origins of pueblos are always intertwined with the origins of parishes. This is especially true in Ogmuk which became a parish as early as 1630 when the Jesuits were still preaching here.

When the natives started to put up their residence in the town center, it became necessary to have some sort of a governing body, with the local chiefs under it. At the start, the encomenderos served as petty governors. Later, they were replaced by local chiefs or principalia, and called as gobernadores, capitanes municipal or gobernadorcillos. Even in the absence of a priest, Ogmuk continued to be governed by them.

But a pueblo without its own priest could not have been complete because to church authorities, it was just a visita, which would be administered only at the whims of the priest of the mother parish. For all intents and purposes, a priest played a very important role in the lives of the people not just in the administration of sacraments. But even in civil matters, priests were often consulted. For instance, in the election of town officials, the presence of the parish priest was often required.

Thus, the petition of Ormoc residents on October 20, 1839 to be a parish independent of its matrix Palompon seemed to have been long overdue. Signed by the gobernadorcillo Juan Simon, eight members of the principalia, 22 cabezas de barangay and five tinientes nombrados (incumbent barangay heads) and two testigos (witnesses), the petition was addressed to the incumbent alcalde mayor (the modern day equivalent of governor) in Tacloban Victoriano Lopez Llanoses.

In that petition, the residents argued that Ormoc already had enough tributos (tax payers) to be able to support a parish. It had 1,907 tax payers, much bigger than Palompon’s 626. Moreover, its distance from Palompon was about six to seven leagues by sea (equivalent to 18 to 21 miles), which made travel difficult for the priest.

But the petitioners’ main arguments centered on the attitudes of the priest themselves, Don Mateo Samson and his coadjutor Don Florentino Antonio, whom they obviously disliked.

Nothing was heard of the petition until 11 years later. On October 18, 1850, Bishop Romualdo wrote to the governor general, making his final recommendation to separate Ormoc from Palompon parish. The bishop also conformed to the request of Fr. Luciano to be assigned to Ormoc “by right of his being parish priest of Palompon.”


 The altar of Sts. Peter & Paul Parish before its renovation in 2007. 


Finally, the Superior Gobierno y Capitania General de Pilipinas, the official governing body in Manila, in a resolution dated November 13, 1850 declared Ormoc to be an independent parish. The parish was formally installed on December 21, 1850, evidently with much pomp and celebration.

By then the church was already an imposing building of stone 240 yards long, 85 yards wide and 45 yards tall, and with a roof made of nipa. It had a parochial house made of wood, connected to the church, 150 yards wide and 75 yards from its foundation. The parish was under the Vicaria de la Costa Occidental de Leyte under the Diocese of Cebu.
A harvest of vocations

The reestablishment of the parish could have prodded prominent families here to send their sons to the Seminario de San Carlos in Cebu for their priestly education. By the 1870s till 1904, Ormoc was blessed with producing at least eight native priests, one of whom would figure out as a founder of a pioneer Catholic School in the entire region in the person of Fr. Ismael Cataag who founded the St. Peter’s Academy of Ormoc in 1914. The list does not include the ones who finished in other seminaries, particularly, in Manila.

Note the names of the priests and the years that they were ordained.
Prospero Esmero September 28, 1873
Enrique Carillo August 13, 1876
Gregorio Ortiz June 3, 1882
Juan Miroy December 21, 1889
Flaviano Daffon December 17, 1897
Pelagio Aviles November 1, 1898
Ismael Cataag August 13, 1899
Sergio Eamiguel June 5, 1904

Succession

The list of secular parish priests ministering Ormoc is shown below as derived from two sources.

D. Juan Nepomuceno Tecson (1839-1840); D. Mateo Samson (1840-1844); D. Juan Nepomuceno Tecson (1844-1847); D. Bibiano Rosario Luciano (1848-1864); D. Catalino Cabada (1864-1867); D. Ceferino Montecillo (1867-1875); D. Juan Seno (1875-1884); D. Lino Codilla (1884-1886); D. Juan Seno (1886-1890); D. Lino Codilla (1890-1910); Ismael Cataag (1910-1944); Zenon Ocampo (1945-1947); Msgr. Felix Sabenecio (1947-1954); Federico Copuaco (1954-1959); Msgr. Francisco Santiago (1959-1971); Msgr. Felimon Quianzon (1971-1981); Msgr. Pastor Cotiangco (1981-1989); Msgr. Jaime Villanueva (1989-1997); Msgr. Benjamin Sabillo (1997-2001); Msgr. Benjamin Bacierra (2001-2004); Bp. Isabelo Abarquez (2004-2005); Msgr. Bernardo Pantin (2005- to date).

From 1850 onwards, the parish was never vacant of priests ministering to the needs of the laity. There were in fact periods in Ormoc’s history when priests officiated in the election of gobernadorcillos. Thus, the hand of Padre Lino Codilla was evident as he presided over the 1891 elections that installed Fernando Ybañez as gobernadorcillo and the 1893 elections with Leon Aviles as gobernadorcillo. By then, the church that was started by the Jesuits underwent improvements during the succeeding clergy, although it retained its massive functional look that was typical of Jesuit-built churches.

The present-day Parish Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

Those who have seen the church before the second world war described it as one made of stone blocks whose floor area followed the shape of a cross, with the top of the cross being the part that had the altar and sacristy. The middle section had a dome for a ceiling, painted with religious figures and icons, but the roof had a square base. Under the roof was catwalk that was accessible to whoever was brave enough to explore the area.

The frontage was sparse in its ornamentation, and its door was made of unadorned thick hard wood that had an iron bolt. But on each side was a gargoyle-like figure that guarded the entrance, carved from stone. Above the door just below the roof were three stone cherubs. To the left side of the entrance was the belfry. The windows had stained glass of different colors. Church benches were donated by Ormocanon families, in diverse designs, their names carved into each bench.

To the right of the entrance was the rectory that housed the priests. It was made of wood and roofed with nipa at the turn of the 20th century until the outbreak of the war. A circular stone structure served as the kitchen. This is now where the grotto stands. At its side was a well that provided safe drinking water. It also served as the starting point to measure distance as Km “0”.

The present rectory used to be a convent of the German Benedictine sisters in the early 1930 before they were able to build their own residence at the present SPC site. When Fr. Ismael Cataag became parish priest, he donated his family’s property for the sisters to build their convent and to continue to administer the parish school which Fr. Cataag himself founded in 1914.

All of these structures were surrounded by a stone wall designed to protect the church and rectory from moro depredations.

But the second world was shattered all that. In November 1944, the Americans rained bombs on the city, hitting the church and surrounding structures, apparently mistaking it for the Japanese hospital. What remained of the beautiful stone church was the frontwere the altar was located. Precious church documents that detailed the births, marriages and deaths of Ormocanons likewise perished.


 The present church retablo was blessed on October 31, 2007.


The priests assigned here after the war took it upon themselves to rebuild the church and the rectory, year after year, initiating fund raising activities locally and soliciting from other external sources. Since then, the church always seemed to be a work in progress as each new parish priest introduced improvements.

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Footnotes




[1] Blair and Robertson, Assignment of Encomiendas, The Philippine Islands, Vol. 34, p. 308
[2]  Ibid,  p. 291. De la Costa also mentions this in his book on p. 161.
[3]  Ibid,  Chapter XXXXV,  p. 54
[4] Op cit., de la Costa, p. 162
[5] Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J, The Jesuits in the Philippines 1581-1768,  p. 184
[6] Ibid, p. 184, 187
[7] Op cit, Artigas y Cuerva,  pp. 321-325; Spanish translation is mine, cjk. 
[8] [Note: that great portion of Alzina has been destroyed regretably and is not available, cjk] ). “Denominacion generica de los pobladores infieles que habitaban parte de la peninsula comprendida entre los senos de Sarangani y de Davao. En la actualidad, los Sanguiles ocupan una pequena zona del litoral Sur de Mindanao, entre la ensnada de Tuna y el citado seno de Sarangani’ [Ibid. cols. 780-781].
[9] Op cit., de la Costa, p. 324
[10] Op cit., de la Costa,  p. 324
[11] Op cit., de la Costa,  p. 592. Fr. Luis Secanell was also at the same time the parish priest of Baybay when he turned over the parish to the Agustinians. Op cit., de la Costa,  p. 606.  Fr. Vicente Braganza, Story of Leyte, unpublished manuscript found in the DWU Museum, Tacloban City
[12] Ibid, p. 71
[13] Ibid
[14] Op cit, Borrinaga, p 71
[15] Rev. Elviro J. Perez, Catalogo Bio-bibliografico de los Religiosos Agustinos de la Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de las Islas Pilipinas, Manila, 1901, p. 374
[16] R.P. Fr. Elviro J. Perez, Catalogo Bio-Bibliografico de los Religiosos Agustinos de la Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de las Islas Pilipinas, Manila, 1901, p. 374
The author lists down the towns that were founded by the Agustinians noting at the same time the towns founded by the Jesuits which later on came to be administered by the Agustinians. Beginning 1804 the towns of Leyte and Samar were ceded  to the secular clergy of Cebu and to the Franciscan fathers. Dagami was the last parish in Leyte that was handed over by the Agustinians to the Franciscans in September 1847.
[17] Archival documents source: Erecciones de los Pueblos, 2-2-B/0119 – Leyte, 1823-1896
[18] Felipe Redondo y Sendino, Breve Reseña – Diocesis de Cebu en las Islas Pilipinas, Manila, 1886, p. 209
[19] Seminario de San Carlos Yearbook, undated; from the collection of the late Asisclo Fiel.
[20] It is to be noted also that while indeed there were communications in 1839 from the gobernadorcillo of Ormoc to the Governor general of the Philippine Islands requesting Ormoc to be erected as a parish, other sources state that beginning 1839, priests were already assigned to Ormoc.  These priests belonged to the secular clergy of the diocese of Cebu. It could be that indeed, the need was truly seen to have Ormoc its own priest that the bishop of Cebu did not wait for the official canonical erection (which took  a long time  since the process then was tedious and complicated). Thus it took 61 years before a priest permanently resided in Ormoc.   In the book Curas de Almas, (Vol 3,  compiled by Regalado Trota Jose, UST Publishing House 2008, page 45) is a list of the parish priests who served Ormoc since 1839.


Emil Justimbaste
June 2009





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