Tuesday, January 1, 2008


MABALACAT’S OTHER MARTYR: Fr. Victor Baltanas OAR (1869-1909), was briefly assigned to Mabalacat, assisting Fr. Bueno in his ministerial duties before he met his untimely death in Escalante, Negros. Another compañero, Fr. Juan Herrero, was earlier killed in Cavite. Source: Boletin de la Provincia de San Nicolas & The Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines, by Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos.

There has been so much focus on the gruesome murder of Fr. Gregorio Bueno, and his infamous curse on Mabalacat town that it all but overshadowed the cases of two other Mabalacat frailes who died in almost the same violent and controversial fashion. By strange coincidence, both priests served as assistants to the more well-known Fr. Bueno.

Fr. Juan Herrero was Fr. Bueno’s compañero for just a period of 5 months in 1885. From Mabalacat, he was sent off to Cavite where he became the manager of “Compania Fomento de La Agricultura”. He, together with 9 other Recollect friars, were holed up in Imus, Cavite where they were shot to death by passionate Revolutionists.

The other unfortunate victim was Fr. Victor Baltanas de la Virgen del Rosario . Fr. Baltanas was born on 17 November 1869 in Berceo, La Rioja Spain. After becoming a Recoleto on 24 October 1886, he left on board the steamer Isla de Panay, and sailed to Barcelona. He continued his journey to the Philippines, arriving in Manila on 21 October 1891. No sooner had he unpacked when he was assigned to Mabalacat in late October 1891.

He was sent to Mabalacat as a young deacon to learn, strangely enough, Tagalog basics. Indeed, an examination of extant canonical books confirmed his presence in the town, assisting Fr. Bueno in his daily ministerial grind —from administering holy oils and chrisms to performing sacramental rites. His assignment was not permanent though, and he was shuffled from Mabalacat to Manila (where he received the Holy Order of presbyterate in 1892), Palawan (1894-1895), San Nicolas priory in Intramuros (1899-1902), back to Taytay, Palawan and then finally to Valencia, Negros Oriental where he served as assistant priest to Fr. Eusebio Valderrama. Finally, in October 1907, he became the parish curate of the Roman Catholic Church of Escalante town.

It was here in Escalante town that he was hacked to death in the head by an Aglipayan assassin, Mauricio Gamao, on the night of 15 May 1909, succumbing to his wounds the next day. The murder, motivated by the schism between Aglipayans and the Roman Catholic Church involving church property, was planned in connivance with the town head, Gil Gamao—Mauricio’s relative, who was subsequently convicted by Albert E. McCabe, an American judge of the Court of the First Instance, after a 3-month trial in Bacolod. Mauricio Gamao, as well as his cohort Gil Gamao, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Fr. Baltanas died a martyr of the faith. Fr. Francisco E. Echanojauregui, parish priest of San Carlos who immediately attended to his dead fellow Recoleto in Escalante, described him in a 1909 letter to the vicar provincial: “Americans, Spaniards and Filipinos all assure me that he was an authentic priest, a zealous curate with unblemished repute…Everyone attests to me that Fr. Victor was incapable of raising his voice, not even to his boy-servant...his life was well ordered like that of a convent..This is to say he was an excellent person, as an individual, as a parish priest and as a friar”.

The martyr of Escalante was interred in San Carlos, but his bones were exhumed in 1995 due to acts of vandalism and robbery in the cemetery. These were then kept at the Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos.

Two Mabalacat frailes—Fr. Juan Herrero and Fr. Victor Baltanas thus shared the same sad fate as their superior, Fr. Gregorio Bueno, meeting their hapless deaths in the hands of Filipinos in an uncanny parallel manner-- all happening in the heat of the Revolution and a religious schism, and with influential families involved.
(13 September 2003)

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