Born in Graus (Huesca province) in Spain on 26 July 1762 to Joaquin Cera and Francisca Badia, Diego grew up on a regular dose of music and devout spirituality. Early on, he learned the art of making organs. In 1787, he became a Recoleto (Recollect), taking his vows in the convent of Barcelona, now the Parish of Sta. Monica. True to his calling as a member of the convent of Benabarre, he left Spain between November and December 1791 to do mission work in Cadiz and then Mexico.
The talented priest then sailed to the Philippines on 6 February 1792. He immediately displayed his skill and knowledge of music upon arrival by constructing a piano forte which was sent to the Queen of Spain as a gift on 31 October 1793. The Queen reciprocated this gesture by donating a caliz, gold vinajeras and a church bell.
Settling down in his new country, P. Diego Cera found himself assigned in Mabalacat on June 1794. It was said that P. Cera was an expert in multi-tasking, playing the role of a scientist, chemist, engineer (he built roads and bridges), artist, architect, musician, community leader , agriculturist (he encouraged the use of native raw materials for dyeing) and even an urban planner on some occasions. Surely, he must have put his talents to good use in Mabalacat, but no material evidence exists of his work.
On 5 November 1795, after a little over a year of service in Mabalacat, the Archbishop of Manila posted him in Las Piñas, a town of farmers and fisherfolks. The town flourished under his guidance. First, he initiated the building of a new stone church and upon nearing completion, started work on his masterpiece in 1816, the Bamboo Organ, which was finished with the installation of the reeds in 1824. The unique organ utilized 950 bamboo pipes, buried in the sand for 6 months to make them insect-resistant.
Recollect accounts show that he actually built 2 bamboo organs, the other being sent as a gift to the Queen of Spain; however, we do not know if this particular organ survived or if this was the piano forte mentioned earlier. For the church of his order in San Nicolas, Intramuros, he constructed a grand organ with 33 stops, including one made of bamboo. An old organ at the Cathedral of Manila is also attributed to him. But his Bamboo Organ is the most renowned, indeed, a national treasure, being the only organ of its kind in the world. Restored in 1972, it is presently housed at the St. Joseph Parish where it is still played.
P. Cera served Las Piñas until 15 May 1832, when failing health forced him to give up his priestly duties. He stayed in the Philippines for 40 years, returning to Spain in 1832. Two years later, on 24 June 1834, he died at the age of 72 in the convent of San Sebastian in Manila. The good padre was described as “having a perfect knowledge of machinery, being able to play well the organs that he built; that he worked hard for his parishes and was much beloved by his people”. Mabalacat is privileged to have been home to this padre who served his people with heart and harmony.
(14 September 2002)