Patriot and Martyr
Don Manuel Abella, together with his son Domingo, was one of the Bicol Martyrs executed by a firing squad in Bagumbayan on January 4, 1897. A shrine in Naga City honors him and the others who died for a cause.
Abella was a native of Catanuan, Tayabas (now Quezon). His wealthy parents sent him and his brother Leocadio to study for the priesthood in a seminary in Nueva Caceres (now Naga City). However, the priesthood was not the calling for Manuel. He left the seminary and eventually married and established his business. A businessman, he also worked in the government as escribano (clerk of court) of Naga, which he served until he retired sometime before 1896.
By the time the revolution broke out, Manuel was already a rich man. He succeeded in his rice and abaca business. He also engaged in the production of sugar and the first to install a sugar mill in the region.
When the revolution broke out, Manuel was among the wealthy residents in the community who were suspected as members of the Katipunan. He was arrested, including two of his sons, Domingo and Ramon. Others who were arrested include Filipino priests like Father Inocencio Herrera, parish priest of the Naga Cathedral, Father Gabriel Prieto, parish priest of Malinao, Albay, and Father Severino Diaz. The others who were implicated were: Camilo Jacob, a photographer; Tomas Prieto, a pharmacist; Macario Valentin, chief of the night guards in Naga; Cornelio Mercado; Mariano Melgarejo, and Mariano Ordenanza.
From the investigation, it was said that Tomas Prieto had voluntarily affirmed the statement of the civil governor that the rebels received some fifty firearms from a shipment of Victoriano Luciano of Cavite in mid-August of 1896. Ten went to Cornelio Mercado and the rest to Father Severino Diaz of the Naga Cathedral. From Father Diaz, Don Camilo Jacob would get the firearms for distribution to the rebels in Mount Isarog. Tomas Prieto to Manuel Ayala allegedly confessed this story before witnesses.
On September 20, 1896, Don Manuel and the other accused Bicolanos were shipped to Manila aboard the Isarog. They were jailed in Bilibid, tortured and forced to confess to the crime. The priests among them were held in the convent of San Agustin.
On December 29, 1896, the suspects were tried for rebellion by a military court presided over by Lt. Col. Moreno Estellez with Lt. Ramon Despujol acting as Secretary. As a matter of formality of the trial, the accused were given defense counsel led by Captain Diaz of the Engineer Corps, Lieutenants Souza, Jose Taviel de Andrade, Salgado, Rivadulla and Lopez Blanco. However, the Spanish judge, Fiscal Vallespinosa affirmed the evidence against the Bicolanos and sentenced them by firing squad, the maximum penalty in the Spanish Penal Code.
Thus, on January 4, 1897, Don Manuel Abella, his son Domingo, the three priests (Fathers Herrera, G. Prieto, and Diaz), Camilo Jacob, T. Prieto, Florencio Lerma, Macario Valentin, Cornelio Mercado and Mariano Melgarejo were killed by firing squad in Bagumbayan. The other suspects were given prison terms, the rest were exiled. Leon Hernandez (father of Jaime Hernandez who was Secretary of Finance of President Quezon) died in the Naga prison in October 1897. Mariano Ordenanza was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, Ramon Abella, another son of Manuel was later freed, and Mariano Arana died in exile in Fernando Po Island, a Spanish penal colony in the western coast of Africa.
In their last will and testaments, written by the Bicol martyrs before their execution, affirmed their innocence of the crime imputed on them. Their case was only one of the examples of injustices under the colonial masters. The case of the Bicol martyrs, Tomas Arejola wrote, “was one of the causes which pulled down the Spanish rule in the Philippines.”
Manuel, E. Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biography Volume 4. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publication 1995.
Eminent Filipinos. National Historical Commission. 1965.