Sunday, November 27, 2011

*272. FR. JUAN HERRERO OAR: In the Crossfire of a Revolution

RECOLETO IN THE REVOLUTION. Fr. Juan Herrero OAR, a former assistant parish priest of Mabalacat, was a tragic figure in the Revolution, killed defending the Spanish flag along with 9 other fellow priests in Imus, Cavite. Picture from the Recoleto digital archives.

One tragic figure of the Revolution of 1896 was a distinguished priest of the Orden de Agustinos Recoletos, who once ministered in Mabalacat: Fr. Juan Herrero. The Recoletos were the last missionaries to arrive in the Islands, arriving only in 1606, years after the Augustinians, Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans have chose prime mission fields. The “Barefoot Augustinians” (to differentiate them from the shod Augustinians) created the Provincia de San Nicolas de Tolentino from what remained of the unclaimed territories which were often remote and populated with hostile tribes.

Mabalacat was one of the “final frontiers’ where the Recoletos labored to win souls for God, along with southern Tarlac, Zambales, Bataan and Cavite. Slowly, but surely, the hardy Recoletos not only succeeded in their missionary work but also managed to amass large tracts of land through generous donation which were transformed into prosperous haciendas. The Hacienda San Juan in Imus was by far, the most progressive, which included built infrastructures like bridges and canals, as parts of its assets.

The Recoletos were already firmly established in Pampanga and Tarlac when Fr. Juan Herrero OAR was called on to help the thriving mission center in Mabalacat from where Recoletos fanned out to neighboring places to evangelize. Fr. Herrero had been previously assigned in Dagami, Leyte where the conditions there had prepared him for the arduous task ahead in this northernmost Pampanga town. In 1885, he was named as a compaƱero or assistant priest to Fr. Gregorio Bueno de la Virgen del Rosario, who had been serving the town for quite awhile. Fr. Herrero stayed for just 5 months—from July 11 to December 10, but long enough to be facile with the Kapampangan language, a talent which earned him an amount of respect among the natives.

A major assignment awaited him on 30 April 1891 when he was named as the Prior-Administrator of the order’s hacienda in Imus, a job that he performed with exemplary zeal and efficiency. But the looming revolution would change the course of history and of the good father’s life, as Cavite started to feel more intensely the stirrings of unrest.

Anxious about their properties, the Recoletos decided to put their haciendas for sale in October 1893, an almost impossible venture in such unsettling times. The Comisario General of the Recollects in Madrid formed a dummy company called “El Fomento de la Agricultura en Filipinas”, instituted on 24 February 1894 with Fr. Juan Herrero as manager of the said company. To this fictitious company, the hacienda was ‘sold’ for 4 million pesetas.

When the flames of the Revolution reached Cavite in 1896, violent attacks against Spaniards were waged with varying degrees of success in many towns, Imus included. In the last days of September 1896, the Recoletoshacienda in Imus became the scene of a bloody siege, in which advancing Cavite revolucionarios managed to corner Spaniards— soldiers and Recoleto priests led by Fr. Juan Herrero who bravely rallied around their country’s flag.

Holed up in the hacienda without any hope of escape, Fr. Juan Herrero and 9 other Recoletos were killed in the crossfire by passionate revolutionary forces. In an eerie twist of fate, a similar drama would unfold two years later in the same Pampanga town that he once served and involving the parish priest that he once assisted. Fr. Gregorio Bueno would die in the hands of Mabalacat revolutionists upon the order of the municipal presidente, a murder that would spawn the tale of the town’s infamous curse.

No comments: