The priest in question was Padre Gregorio Bueno de la Virgen del Rosario, born in Tarazona, in the province of Aragon, Spain. As a Recollect missionary, he was first assigned in Zambales, serving the towns of Iba and Masinloc, then was moved to the convent of the Recoletos in Manila. He was then appointed as the parish priest of Mabalacat, on November 30, 1875. Mabalacat by then, was a primary “mission viva” of Upper Pampanga, an active center of mission work from which the needs of nearby visitas in Tarlac where administered. By 1897, during Fr. Bueno’s tenure, Mabalacat had a population of around 9,705 souls, a substantial figure at that period, a further affirmation of the town’s primal role in converting heathens and spreading the word of God.
Fr. Bueno was the last Recollect to serve Mabalacat, and his term of 23 years was the longest. His controversial murder on July 10, 1898 triggered much speculations and unanswered questions to this day. Over the years too, the circumstance behind his death has taken on mythic proportions, resulting in fanciful versions that range from romantic to the improbable.
It is a known but a hush-hush knowledge that the family implicated in Fr. Bueno’s death were the Tiglaos. Recently, a direct descendant of the Tiglaos—Sigfried Ranada (or Isagani Ibarra)—currently Mabalacat’s head of culture and arts, shed some light on this tale of lust, mayhem and revenge.
The common version had these spicy details: a female member of the Tiglao family went to see the parish priest to have some religious articles blest. Instead, the priest supposedly made overtures unbecoming of his habit. Insulted, the woman fled home and reported the incident to patriarch Don Marcelo Tiglao, who exacted revenge by ordering his killing. Thus began the curse—that not only affected the town’s march to progress, but also the fortunes of the Tiglaos (not to mention the rained-out graduation rites of the town’s high schools!).
Mr. Ranada pointed out that his great grandfather Marcelo, who was a municipal presidente, could not have possibly perpetrated the crime because he was scheduled to meet with Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces at that same hour. Friends loyal to Marcelo Tiglao purportedly carried out the plot.
Over the years, the story took on several versions, one quite lurid, with enough characters to populate another Jose Rizal novel! This version had a beautiful Tiglao girl engaging in a “dangerous liaison” with the priest, a willing “dagis pisamban” (church rat) who eventually became pregnant. The girl’s family had the priest kidnapped by hoodlooms who beheaded him in nearby Capas, Tarlac. The girl supposedly delivered a baby girl who grew up into adulthood and was adopted by a local Chinese family. Still another account centered on the motive of the Tiglaos for the said murder. It was said that fr. Bueno kept a hoard of gold somewhere within the church premises which the patriarch was eyeing!
Even the curse of the padre underwent several romantic permutations. The curse uttered by the Fr. Bueno was not really meant for the town—but for the family who instigated his death. Versions had the priest cursing the patriarch either with death from an incurable disease (cancer) and/or loss of family fortune. To undo the curse, it was said, Mabalacat had to produce its own fourteen native priests!
Prof. Lino Dizon’s book, “East of Pinatubo”, includes an account of the Bueno murder, based on the historical writings of Fr. Licinio Ruiz, an Augustinian Recollect. It was reported that by 1897, the fervor of the Philippine revolution reached Pampanga and Tarlac, which resulted in the closing of some Recollect missions. Anti-Spanish sentiment was very strong at that time and even priests were not spared from reprisals: Fr. Baldomero Abadia, of nearby O’Donnell mission for one, was killed by revolutionaries.
When Filipino revolutionaries succeeded in taking Tarlac from the Spaniards, word reached Mabalacat about Spains’ surrender at the Makabulos Headquarters in San Miguel. A horde of angry, impassioned Mabalaqueño revolutionaries—incited by a prominent family of the town-- stormed the parish and dragged Fr. Bueno outside where he was humiliated in public before being charged with espionage and shot to death by a firing squad. At the time of his death, Fr. Bueno was almost 66 years old.
The late revolutionary Lt. Emilio Dominguez, a Mabalacat resident, claimed to have been given a gruesome account of Fr. Bueno’s final moments by an unnamed witness, recounted to historian Mr. Daniel Henson Dizon of Angeles. Through his window that was slightly ajar, this witness saw Fr. Bueno on a horse-drawn cart flanked by two guards. Hours later, word of his execution reached him. It was said that Fr. Bueno was forced to stand in a pit that was to be his grave, and, before being boloed to death, uttered his curse in Kapampangan.
Dramatic though the turn of events may have been, it is inconclusive if the padre’s curse has indeed come true. Mabalacat today is a designated special economic zone of Clark and there are unmistakable signs of progress: the vital linking of the town to the North Expressway via Sta. Ines, the booming of Dau, the burgeoning of prime real estate. But then again, there are horror stories to tell: the continuing plagues from Clark’s toxic waste, the devastation of the northern part of the town by Mount Pinatubo, and many more. Whether Mabalaqueños like it or not, the stigma of the curse will continue to be inextricably linked with its popular history.
( 6 September 2003)