BRIDGING THE GAP
Fr. Agustin De la Peña: The religious patriot
During the Revolution against Spain, one native clergy in Iloilo province that stood up and responded to the call for support of the struggle was Fr. Agustin de la Peña, parish priest of Dumangas. Although he did not directly participate in the battleground, yet he helped keep the fight going by raising funds for the Iloilo revolutionary government.
Father Agustin was born of an educated and landed family in Dumangas. Typical of any other child in the Philippines during the Spanish period, the young Agustin received his first lesson from his mother. Later, he matriculated in the escuela publica in his home town. After finishing his studies in Dumangas, he was sent to the Seminario de Jaro for religious education. It was in school and through his association with fellow ilustrado students that he learned the prevalent liberal ideas of the time. Some of his contemporaries also became prominent Ilonggo leaders, such as Quintin Salas, Praxedes Magalona and Silvestre Apura (Bernal, n.d.).
Agustin passed the rigid training at the seminario and was, subsequently, ordained as priest. It cannot be ascertained as to what places he was assigned to serve after this. What has been established is that, prior to his homecoming in Dumangas, he served as coadjutor to Fr. Jose de los Reyes in Nabas, Aklan from 1893-1894. It was in 1895 that he was transferred to Dumangas to assist Fr. Rafael Murillo, the Spanish Augustinian parish priest. When the Revolution in Iloilo broke out in October 1898, Father Agustin was still serving as assistant parish priest of Dumangas (Fernandez, 1965).
According to the study of De la Vega and Cadiz (1998), the native clergy and the local revolutionary leaders were in close contact during the Revolution. This was due to the fact that most native priests and the revolutionary leaders were classmates or contemporaries in the seminario. Again, Archutegue and Bernad (1971) pointed out that the Panay revolutionaries worked independently from the Malolos-created government and were closely assisted by clerical advisers and chaplains.
By November 1898, the Spanish friars in Panay had fled or been captured, and the native coadjutors had succeeded to their vacated posts. Meanwhile, in Dumangas, Father Murillo sought protection from Col. Quintin Salas, the local revolutionary leader. This eventually led to the ascension of Father de la Peña to become the parish priest of the town. All throughout Panay, the native clergy took over the parishes to oversee the spiritual needs of the people during the revolutionary period.
Because the revolutionary troops had closed in on Jaro, the Spanish bishop, Fr. Andres Ferrero, fled to Manila, leaving the diocese vacant. Father de la Peña, seeing the opportunity to get hold of the vacated bishopric, wrote Bishop Ferrero expressing his interest to take over the responsibility with a promise not to break any church law. Convinced of the sincerity and allegiance to his vows, Father de la Peña got the delegation as administrator of the diocese (Taylor, 1971).
Father de la Peña, thereupon, seeing the immediate need to help his fellow Ilonggos, assumed the risk of putting the clergy into the service of the Revolutionary government and the army. The major function of the priests assigned by Father de la Peña was to act as collectors of funds and supplies to sustain the revolutionary operations. Aside from instructing native priests under his supervision to collect funds, Father de la Peña was always in contact with Gen Martin Delgado, the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary troops, to decide on matters with religious bearing.
Unfortunately, in December 1900, Father de la Peña was arrested by the American soldiers. They took him out from his convent in Molo and was brought to the town of Banate. There the Americans subjected him to water cure to reveal the whereabouts of the revolutionaries who transformed themselves into guerillas. He refused to talk and so he was subjected to continuous torture for days which caused him his death. In effect, Father de la Peña died a martyr for the Revolution and for his people.