Our colonizers observed that Filipino natives were a credulous lot, ready to fall on their knees before anyone with wondrous cures for their ills. “In this way”, an American reports, “ were formed the numerous bands of outlaws that for the next few years infested Tagalog provinces….the result was that there appeared several alleged sons of Gods, Virgin Mary, at least 2 Popes and a black Jesus..”.
In 1886, for instance, Julian Baltasar, a Pangasinense-Ilocano also known as Apo Laki, predicted a global deluge, retreating to Sta. Ana island with his hundreds of believers. In 1901, fanatics in Cavite Viejo went wild over a Laguna faith healer who had stones reputed to be stained with the blood of Christ. “Espiritistas”, then and now, often shared similar mystical experiences, with reported heavenly visitations, inner locutions and paranormal visions, before heeding their calling. A result of these oracular moments is the power of healing.
Such was the case of Pampanga’s very own Pedro Danganan (originally Danan) of Sapang Bato, who achieved national fame as Apo Iro, ang “manggagamot ng Pampanga.” Pedro’s parents, Alejandro Danan and Eusebia Samonte, were from Angeles and Guagua respectively. It was, however, in Barrio Pamalatan, Lubao that Pedro was born on 15 February 1917. A month later, his father would die, leaving Pedro mired in poverty and poor health.
It was for the latter reason that Pedro’s mother took her frail son on a pilgrimage to the Antipolo shrine of the Virgen de la Paz y de Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage). While pilgrims crowded the shrine to pray to the Blessed Virgin, the unattended Pedro squeezed through the throng and forced his way up the altar where he tightly clung to the sacred image of Antipolo! While this act shocked some pilgrims, others proclaimed it a miracle, moreso when the child finally descended from the altar looking hale and healthy.
Thus began Pedro’s extraordinary transformation from a playful kid to a quiet child wont to introspection. Returning to Pampanga with health restored, he also left everyone in awe with his practice of gazing heavenward, muttering words, as if he were conversing with some deity. While playing street games, he started having visions of an ancient man with a flowing white beard, who pronounced him “blessed” and encouraged him to go on healing missions. To the amazement of many, he successfully tried his new-found gift on his mother, ridding her of her paralysis. Dropping out of school, the 12 year old Pedro, now reverently known as “Apo Iro”, embarked on a new career that would make him Pampanga’s and the country’s most celebrated healer of the pre-war years.
Active from the late 20s to the mid 1930s, his magic touch continued all the way to adulthood, healing thousands of people from as far as Ilocos and Bicol. From relieving throat pains caused by lodged fishbones to curing more serious afflictions, he healed people by the thousands – “gumagamot ng walang gamot, walang bayad” -- as one postcard caption proclaims. People would seek him before even going to doctors, unnerving medical practitioners who feared for lost business. As a result, they would often file complaints against him with the health department! One such case was filed by a known cirujano, eye doctor Carlos Simpao, resulting in Apo Iro’s imprisonment. Shortly after, Dr. Simpao started losing his eyesight which he regained only after a visit to Apo Iro, a “miracle” that fully vindicated the healer.
Apo Iro also advised the sick to strengthen their faith by lighting candles in honor of the Antipolo virgin, the icon that started it all. He was assisted in his healing ministry by his ayudante, Apo Loton. He achieved such fame that postcard images of him were sold like “estampitas” in front of churches like the Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles. The postcards show a long-haired Apo Iro, on the chubby side, with distinct feminine features, shades of the La Union visionary, Judiel Nava. He obviously enjoyed posing before the camera as seen from these staged scenes--one, in serene repose holding a cross and dressed in a knees-exposing pair of shorts and velvet cape; and the other, a composite picture of the “milagroso” on his knees before a painted Virgin Mary, much unlike contemporary Holy Communion pictures.
Enterprising neighbors cashed in on the influx of pilgrims by putting up shops that sold snacks, holy cards, candles and other Apo Iro-related souvenirs. There was even a booklet printed about his extraordinary life entitled “Buhay at Kasaysayan ni Apo Iro at ng Kanyang Mga Milagro”. Many remember the supernatural powers Apo wielded. He had the gift of foretelling the coming of rain. In one such instance, rain poured down inexplicably only on both sides of his house, leaving his neighbors wet while his yard remained totally dry. People not only waited in long queues to receive his blessings, but they also hid under the batalan while the Apo took his regular shower, hoping to catch the used bath water which they believed possessed curative powers. Apo Iro also caused religious santos like the Nazareno to animate and move; and it was also whispered about that he can make himself invisible to some.
It was said that Apo Iro’s magic touch came to an abrupt end when he succumbed to the temptation of the flesh and got married to Eufemia Camaya , much to the consternation of his followers who wanted him to remain chaste and pure. He fathered five children: Mamerto, Florencio, Corazon, Librada and Simeona. But according to surviving daughter, Simeona, her father’s powers never waned in intensity; he continued healing people by the thousands even in his married state, all for free.
The fact was, Apo Iro, like all human beings, was simply in love. Probably a bit tired from all the attention and wishing to lead a normal life, the contemplative Apo Iro retreated with his family to his old hometown in Guagua after the war. There, in between healing sessions, he peddled vegetables, blankets and other goods. His family also subsisted on the kind donations of his loyal patients who left food and gifts—never money-- at his doorstep.
The seer, who never experienced any other illnesses since childhood, also foretold his death, one day muttering –“Malapit na nakung kunan at i-uli!”--someone was about to get him and bring him home soon. When he died peacefully on 15 September 1957, strange events attended his death. Three white men visited his wake, and proclaimed to people present that the man lying in state was not dead. Apo Iro, before his demise, also gave strict orders not to have his body embalmed. Days after however, an uninformed mortician injected him with embalming fluid and when he did so, fresh blood spurted from his body. His death was covered by newspapers and his funeral procession was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life—from VIPs, government officials to neighbors, paupers and waifs—bound by a common extraordinary experience, of having been once healed and touched by Pampanga’s most acclaimed miracle man.
(7 September 2002)