Tuesday, July 5, 2011

*257. FELIPE SALVADOR: A Rebel Messiah Comes to Pampanga

SALVADOR DEL MUNDO. Felipe Salvador, "Apo Ipe", the Supremo of Santa Iglesia, a religious/revolutionary cult group which had its base at the foothills of Mt. Arayat and which wielded influence over the Central Luzon area. From El Renacimiento Filipino.

During the years of the Philippine Revolution, a man who spent much of his time communing with God in the slopes of mystical Mount Arayat, organized a controversial religious movement that led armed campaigns against Spaniards and the succeeding colonial masters, the Americans, but remained alienated from the Katipunan. Dismissed as a dangerous ‘bandolero’ by Americans, Felipe Salvador, founder of the cult group Sta. Iglesia, would eventually be executed for his perpetrations in Pampanga, Bulacan, Nujeva Ecija and Tarlac.

Felipe Salvador (“Apo Ipe”) was born on 26 May 1870 in Baliwag, Bulacan, the child of a well-off family. His father, Prudencio had been an official in the Spanish government. The Salvadors had many relatives in nearby Pampanga province and it is even possible that Felipe was born there as his name is not recorded in the canonical books of Baliwag.

Even as a profoundly religious young man, he had a rebellious streak, defying the parish priest by dissuading a group of vendors from paying dues to the Church. Felipe soon became the head of a cofradia (confraternity) called “Gabinistas”, originally founded by Gabino Cortes of Apalit. Cortes was said to possess supernatural powers, conjuring food, money and male guards to appear using a magic ball. Gabinista members were mostly Kapampangans from Apalit, San Luis, San Simon, Santa Ana, Candaba, Macabebe and Santo Tomas.

Upon reorganizing the cofradia and renaming it as Sta. Iglesia in 1894, the self-proclaimed Pope joined the armed struggle by raiding garrisons and joining skirmishes against Spain. In one battle in San Luis, Salvador was wounded and fled to Biak-na-Bato where he consolidated his forces with Aguinaldo’s.

Social squabbles between the two factions, however, caused Salvador’s fall from grace. Elitist Kapampangan officers, for instance, did not want an outsider like him to command Kapampangan forces. Gen. Maximino Hizon even ordered the execution of 5 Sta. Iglesia members without proper trial. Two of Salvador’s soldiers also suffered by being falsely accused of committing ‘abuses’; they were later found shot and floating in the river. Meanwhile, in Floridablanca, Sta. Iglesia members were harassed by being forcibly ejected from their lands.

Despite these setbacks, Salvador continued his warfare, this time, against the Americans from his command post at Barrio Kamias. Refusing calls to surrender, he was captured in 1900 and dumped in prison. But after swearing allegiance to the United States, Salvador rejoined the resistance and was branded as an outlaw. Captured in Nueva Ecija by the police in 1902, he was charged with sedition. But while being transferred to the Bilibid Prison in Manila, Salvador eluded his guards and escaped to Mount Arayat.

There, Salvador revitalized his ‘diocese’ and found wide sympathy from the central Luzon peasantry. He became a sort of a demigod, subsisting on his brotherly relationships with certain people he met on his journey, like Vicente Francia, Epifanio de la Cruz, a certain Juan and Damaso. They not only helped him find sustenance, but also provided security as he worked his way around the area. Ipe was warmly welcomed by people in the community who offered generous gifts, and he used these opportunities to recruit members and generate funds.

His modus operandi was simple: he would enter a town with some 20 chosen disciples, plant a cross and exhort people to donate money and join his brotherhood while projecting an image that is at once poor, pitiful and prayerful. As membership grew, so did the number of fanatical attacks launched against the American-run government—with the biggest ones waged in Malolos, San Rafael and Hagonoy in the summer of 1906, led by Capitan Tui.

On 17 April 1910, Salvador did the unthinkable—he and his group of about 20 “Salvadoristas” strode to the center of Arayat town to purchase supplies and provisions, knowing full well that they were under tight surveillance. Yet, the police officials and the rest of the populace were too stunned to do anything—with some even spontaneously giving their donations. To cap their visit, Salvador and his group knelt in prayer in front of the church, leaving the residents in complete awe.

Shortly after this remarkable event, he was captured just as he prophesied on 24 July 1910—a Sunday. An informer, Eusebio Clarin, motivated by the 5,000 peso reward on the Supremo’s head, led policemen to his lair in Barrio Kamias of San Luis, as he was in prayer with his family members. He was convicted and sentenced to die by hanging on 15 April 1912. Still, his faithful followers were confident that he would work a miracle and escape once more. But this was not to be. Salvador faced death calmly , “in high spirits , without a frown on his forehead”, as Taliba reported.

Even in death, his devotees believed he would rise again—after all, he seemed like “he was only asleep, happy, his complexion not darkening as is usually expected of him who has died of unnatural causes”. But his passion has clearly –and finally ended. Apo Ipe—sinner or saint, villain or hero, fanatic or patriot--was laid to rest the next day at the cemetery at Paang Bundok.

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