By Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
This essay is dedicated to the Most Rev Godofredo P. Pedernal, DD, a saintly bishop
(The original text of the talk delivered by the author in Samarenyo [or Binisaya] language to the delegates to the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Diocese of Borongan at the Borongan Cathedral on October 22, 2010, 8:30 AM)
THOUGH the Estehanons’ first recorded encounter with Christianity occurred on March 16, 1521 when Magellan’s expedition reached Homonhon island, the historical beginnings of the Diocese of Borongan may be traced to as far back as 1585 when Augustinians set foot on Eastern Samar, but especially 1595 when Jesuits from Dagami, Leyte, systematically preached the gospel to the natives of the southern part of the island. The people in the eastern littorals, on the other hand, were evangelized by Jesuits from Catubig and, later, Palapag as early as 1601. In spreading the Christian religion, the missionaries initiated the reduccion of the population and founded towns, educated the inhabitants in the faith, raised stone churches, taught agriculture, and protected the faithful from Muslim raids. The major bungtos at that time were Bacod (now part of Dolores river bed), Jubasan (now Giboangan, Can-avid), Sulat, Libas, Borongan, Guiuan and Balangiga. On the whole, there was no stiff opposition to the reception of Catholic faith. After half a century, however, the mission suffered a major setback in the Sumuroy rebellion in 1649.
When the Jesuits moved out in 1768, the Franciscans took over the parishes that the former had created save for Guiuan and Balangiga which were briefly administered by Augustinians. The major problems that they faced were largely the same: population dispersion, Muslim raids and cholera epidemics. They founded the parishes of Lanang (1851), Balangiga (1854), Sudao (1862), Oras (1863), Libas (1863), Nag-as (1864), Paric (1878), and Quinapondan (1894). These parishes, together with those founded by the Jesuits, all twelve of them, constituted the Vicariate of the Eastern Coast of Samar, under the Diocese of Cebu. In terms of orthodoxy, however, they found a big challenge in the influential but heretical teachings of Don Gaspar de Guerrero. It may be remarked that during this period, some Samareño priests already held parishes as pastors. However, the Spanish-American war in 1899 shook the Franciscan ministry and the local Church on Samar as a whole, what with the anticlericalism and Aglipayanism of Gen Vicente Lukban who had presented himself as Aguinaldo’s appointed Governor of Samar. In fact, the Spanish friars resigned from their posts. But at the same time, many people, including a number of Filipino priests, suffered from American ill-treatment. Bucolic life was disrupted; hundreds of Samareños were killed. Though Lukban was captured in 1902, peace never reigned; in the fierce war of the Philippine scouts with the local freedom-fighters, the Pulajanes, the latter practically controlled the island until 1905, leaving much suffering in its wake. As a consequence, there was dearth of priests, between 1899 to 1905, to serve the needs of Samareños.
On April 10, 1910, the Estehanons became part of the Diocese of Calbayog, when the island of Samar was separated from the Diocese of Cebu. Protestantism, American education system, and American culture became a challenge. Several Franciscans returned to work in the parishes. Partly to counteract the spread of Protestantism, a Catholic school was established in Guiuan in 1927, as was done in other towns of the island. Other schools followed eventually placed under the management of or established by the RVM sisters (Assumption College of Samar, 1940; St Joseph’s College, 1946; Holy Cross Institute, 1947; Our Lady of Fatima Academy 1949; and St Anthony’s Academy, 1949; Loyola Academy 1958 reverted to Msgr Desoloc). During World War II, which displaced, decimated and impoverished the Estehanons, some priests aided Filipino guerillas. After the war, the following parishes on the eastern part of the island were created, now all under Filipino priests: San Ramon (1955), Giporlos (1955), Maydolong (1956), Can-avid (1956), Sulangan (1957), Pambujan (1958), Matarinao-Burac (1959) and San Policarpo (1959). Catechesis in elementary school was engaged in by almost all parishes. In 1957, A lone Italian missionary (FdCC) started working in the parish of Jipapad.
On October 22, 1960, Pope John XIII issued the apostolic bull, Quod sacri, creating the Diocese of Borongan (Dioecesis Boronganensis), which originally included the aforementioned parishes as well as the parishes of Gamay, Basey, Calbiga, Pinabacdao, Villareal, Osmeña, Talolora and Sta Rita. Bp Vicente P Reyes, DD, was the first bishop, installed on April 11, 1961. The minor seminary, Seminario de Jesus Nazareno, was formally inaugurated in 1965. Partly to halt the inroads of Protestantism in parishes, and in compliance with the First Plenary Council of the Philippines, diocesan schools, managed by diocesan priests, were also established: Jesus Nazareno Academy (Maydolong) 1962; Divine Child Academy (Lawaan) 1962; Borongan Cathedral School 1965, and Guimbaolibot Memorial School 1965. Apart from Lapinig in Northern Samar, erected were the parishes of San Buenaventura/Balangkayan (1961), Lawaan (1961), Mercedes (1964) and Lalawigan (1964). The faith was sustained among others by the strengthening of the Catholic organizations/cofradias (San Antonio, Lourdes, COM, Apostolados, San Jose, Holy Name, etc.) under the umbrella of Catholic Action, the best known being the Catholic Women’s League (CWL), Knights of Columbus (KC) and the Legion of Mary which had 12 Curiae and 105 Praesidia. Cooperatives and credit unions in parishes were organized.
With the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the Diocese moved toward the implementation of some conciliar decrees. In 1962, the Cursillo de Cristianidad became popular in the renewal of Christian faith and life, but the movement that penetrated the common people both in the poblaciones and the barrios was the Barangay han Birhen. To involve the laity, pastoral councils were organized in several parishes as early as 1961. It was in the 1970s until the early 80s that the faithful in the Diocese, including the clergy, were confronted with the problems spawned by Martial Law: deterioration of peace and order, human rights abuses, displacement and evacuation of inhabitants, among others. People were caught up in the crossfire between the Philippine Army (PA) and the New People’s Army (NPA), with many untold and unhappy consequences. In the 80s, population declined. The clergy tried to respond concretely to these problems. The diocesan thrust, following the response of the Philippine Church, was development and liberation. Developmental projects were pursued, especially for farmers and fisher folk. On December 5, 1974, the Diocese became confined to the civil province of Eastern Samar, when some of its parishes were ceded to the new diocese of Catarman. Only one parish was added in the 70s: Homonhon (1979).
Late Martial Law period (1980s) and onward saw the rise and growth of movements that sustain and deepen the Catholic faith—Charismatic under various brands, Neo-Catechumenate, Marriage Encounter (ME), Oasis of Love, El Shaddai, Light of Jesus, Chrisma, Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) and the Couples for Christ family (CFC), the last one having branched out to all the parishes and large barangays. They appeared to have put a break to the spread of Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. Lay ministries were introduced. In 1991, DYVW, the only Catholic radio station in the province, started a new media ministry. New parishes were born: Maslog (Quasi-Parish, 1982), Buenavista (1999), Sapao (2004), Maypangdan (2005), Hinolaso (Quasi-Parish, 2006), Buabua (Quasi-Parish, 2006) and Sabang, Borongan (in process). Several religious congregations, each with its own apostolate, enriched the pastoral ministry: Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSH) in 1987, Sister Servants of the Visitation (SSV) in 1988, Society of Don Bosco (SDB) in 1991, Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart (SFSC) in 1995 in Dolores, Daughters of Charity (DC) in 1995-2005, Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFMConv) in 1997, Oikos Ptochos Theou (OPT) in 1998, Sisters of the Presentation of Mary (PM) in 2010 and the Living the Gospel Community (LGC) also in 2010. The Nativity of Our Lady College Seminary was established (1996) to form seminarians in the local context. Partners in formation in the faith are 2 colleges (St Mary’s College of Borongan and Mater Divinae Gratiae in Dolores) and 9 high schools, mostly run by religious sisters, a good number of pre-schools, and 1 technical school. One has yet to see, however, how the recently aired (2010) diocesan channel, Borongan Catholic TV, Channel 13, will contribute to faith formation.
In keeping with the recommendations of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), the Borongan Diocese, after a two-year preparation, held its greatest ecclesial event: the First Diocesan Synod (1997), defining its life and mission in the present and coming years, and providing basis for its pastoral plan. Its diocesan pastoral plan was formulated in 2004, almost decade after the synod, supposedly to culminate in the golden anniversary of the diocese, but it has yet to see its implementation phase. Although the Diocese had several social programs to help the poor, like the now defunct Emergency Livelihood and Assistance Program (ELAP) in 1991, and those handled by the Social Action Center, like Small Enterprises and Kapital Assistance Program (SEKAP) in 1995, Community Health Base Program (CHBP), involvement in the election process, anti-mining advocacies, not to mention other services (orphanage, home for the aged, clinics, home for children of the poor), its pastoral thrust, as enshrined in the first synod and in the pastoral plan, was the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The Daughters of Charity (DC) handled the program for 10 years (1995-2005), and several other communities sprouted in various parishes after they left. On the other hand, as a service to its ordained workers, the Diocese has its own medicare program (1984), pension program for the elderly priests (2007), and priests’ home (2010).
In its 50-year history, the Diocese of Borongan was governed by nine Ordinaries: (1) Bp Vicente Reyes, DD, 1st bishop of Borongan (1960-1967), his Vicars General being Msgr Simeon Desoloc (1961-1966) and Msgr Angel Hobayan (1966-1967); (2) Msgr Hobayan, JCD, Vicar Capitular (1967-1968), (3) Bp Godofredo Pedernal, DD, 2nd bishop (1968-1976), his Vicars General being Msgr Angel Hobayan (1968-1969), Msgr Conrado Balagapo (1969-1971); Msgr Desoloc (1971-1973), Msgr Hobayan (1973-1974); Msgr Desoloc (1974-1976) with Fr Exequiel Singzon as Pro-Vicar General (1974-1976); (4) Bp Ricardo Tancinco, DD, Apostolic Administrator (1976-1977), (5) Bp Sincero Lucero, DD, 3rd bishop (1977-1980), his Vicars General being Msgr Emiliano Balein (1977-1978); (6) Bp Nestor Carino, DD, 4th bishop (1980-1987), his Vicar Generals being Msgr Conrado Balagapo (1980-1985) and Msgr Alfredo Amistoso (1985-1987); (7) Bp Leonardo Medroso, DD, 5th bishop (1987-2006), his Vicars General being Msgr Crescente Japzon (1987-2001) and Msgr Lope Robredillo (2001-2006); (8) Msgr Robredillo, SThD, Diocesan Administrator (2006-2007), and (9) Bp Crispin Varquez, DD, 6th bishop (2007-to date), with Msgr Robredillo as Vicar General (2007-to date).
As of 2010, out of the around 400,000 inhabitants of the province, the Diocese has about 385,000 Catholics, who populate the 34 parishes/quasi-parishes. Compared with other dioceses, Borongan may be categorized as economically poor. In terms of personnel who co-work with the Ordinary in serving the People of God, the diocese has 89 priests. Of the 58 working in it, 5 are religious, and 54 were ordained for the diocese. Of the 29 who are outside the diocese, 10 are in Manila and suburbs, 16 are in the US, 1 in Canada, 1 in Australia, and 1 in Italy. Professionally, the diocese has 9 priests who earned doctorate degrees: 1 doctor in biblical studies, 1 in dogma, 1 in moral theology, 1 in spiritual theology, 1 in philosophy, 1 in mass media and communications, and 3 in canon law. In addition, it has 14 clerics who finished licentiate or masteral degrees in various ecclesiastical sciences.
Currently (2010) shepherding Christ’s faithful in Eastern Samar is Bp Crispin Varquez, DD, the Ordinary of the Diocese. His Vicar General or deputy is Msgr Lope Robredillo, who also serves as Chancellor, assisted by Rev Neil Tenefrancia, the Vice-Chancellor. In charge of the financial affairs is Fr Inocentes Abuda, the Financial Administrator. For administrative purposes, the Diocese is divided into three regions, Northern Region, with Fr Dan Gañas as Episcopal Vicar, Central Region, with Fr Leroy Geli, and Southern Region, with Fr Joberto Picardal. Each region has two vicariates, each headed by a Vicar Forane: the north has Msgr Alfredo Amistoso and Fr Romeo Solidon; the central Fr Eutiquio Belizar and Fr Marlon Gacho, and the south Msgr Crescente Japzon and Fr Nemesio Quiloña. In the diocesan tribunal, the Judicial Vicar is Fr Antonio Alconaba, Auditor Fr Geli, and Defender of the Bond, Fr Abuda.
To implement its various programs, the Diocese has a Pastoral Secretariat, which is directed by Fr Geli, the Executive Secretary. Corresponding to the various aspects of its pastoral life and work are the following commissions along with their respective chairs: Doctrine of the Faith, Fr Belizar; Catechesis, Fr Joseph Orsal, Mass Media and Communication, Msgr Pedro Quitorio III; Liturgy: Msgr Robredillo; Clergy: Fr Marlon Gacho; Vocation: Fr Jan Michael Gadicho; Biblical Apostolate: Fr Dan Gañas; Family and Life: Jonas Rebamontan; Youth: Fr Edgar Abucejo; Mission, Fr Philip Campomanes; Social Action, Fr Juderick Paul Calumpiano; Basic Ecclesial Communities, Fr Roderick Rodeles; Religious Associations, Fr Joberto Picardal; Cemeteries: Fr Joberto Picardal; Custody of Church Properties, Fr Edwin Juaban, and Cultural Heritage of the Church: Msgr Robredillo. These commissions, however, have yet to move on in terms of concrete pastoral plans and program of action.*