A Torture Chamber, A Safe-house For Travelers, A Street Named After A Bishop…Some Of Naga City’s Notable Landmarks

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Jose V. Barrameda, Jr.’s interesting account on some memorable landmarks in Naga City published in Bicol Mail this week (07/24/08, Barrameda, J.V.Jr.,) includes Penafrancia Avenue, the genteel paved road from Plaza Quince Martires at the city proper to the old Penafrancia Church. Though he didn’t describe much of what is in the stretch of the famed avenue, he gave us a glimpse of the old buildings that dotted the city in the past. Their historical significance proved very enlightening.

The Naga Police Station in Barlin Street served as an infamous torture chamber where brave Bicolano heroes and martyrs met their unjustified deaths during the Spanish time. Barrameda wrote:

During the mass arrests in September 1896, Florencio Lerma (who was also held in the Casino Español); Cornelio Mercado; Don Tomas Prieto, alcalde of Nueva Caceres; and Macatio Valentin were brought to and tortured in the cuartel by Civil Guards under the direction of Captain Francisco Andreu, chief of the Guardia Civil in Ambos Camarines, and Don Ricardo Lacosta, Spanish civil governor of the province. The horrific torture wrenched the first of two legally infirm confessions from the frail pharmacist Prieto which the authorities used as basis for the arrest, torture and prosecution of scores of Filipinos in the province, some of whom were also subsequently forced to sign fabricated confessions under extreme duress.”

The author then clearly described Casa Tribunal along Elias Angeles Street, an edifice of brick and wood where the municipal council (ayuntamiento) similar to that in Spain, transacted government business in Naga in the last quarter of the 1800’s. The building also provided free accommodations to travelers who came to the city. After the Spanish and American occupations, the Casa Tribunal served a different purpose:

“Destroyed by American bombs in World War II… it was eventually rebuilt as a smaller wooden building that became the city police headquarters. After the century-old Spanish cuartel being used by the PC-INP burned down in 1978, the city government constructed a new building at the cuartel site which housed the Naga City Police Department. The former police headquarter building on this site became the Naga City Library until the latter’s transfer to its new, modern building in the City Hall complex.”

On the other hand, the Casa Espanol of Arana Street which was a social and recreational center of people of Spanish descent in Naga and neighboring towns had disturbing incidents when the Katipunan was discovered in Manila:

Civil Governor Ricardo Lacosta ordered to mass arrest all over Camarines starting in September 1896. The Casino Español became one of several holding areas for harsh interrogation and violent torture. Among those taken to the Casino were Antonio Arejola, Camilo Jacob (from the infirmary of the San Francisco Church), Florencio Lerma (who was subsequently transferred to the nearby Cuartel General of the Guardia Civil), Macario Melgarejo, Mariano Ordenanza and Manuel Pastor, and from Daet, Roman Cabesudo, Ponciano Caminar, Diego Liñan, Valentin Lipana, Gregorio Luyon, Adriano Pajarillo, and Pedro Zenarosa. Many arrests were made on mere denunciation by Spaniards in meetings in the Casino.

Two years after, in 1898, enraged Nagueños violently trashed the clubhouse during the bloody uprising led by Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo.”

Today, our young generation of Bicolanos may never know of Casa Real in General Luna Street where as early as 1588, the place, facing Naga River, served as the residence of the alcalde mayor of Nueva Caceres who had jurisdiction over the entire Bicol peninsula and Catanduanes. Unfortunately, like the buildings Barrameda described, the Casa Real had been razed, torn down, and largely forgotten.

Penafrancia Avenue was once called Calle Via Gainza, a famous city street memorializing Francisco Gainza, the illustrious Bishop of Nueva Caceres credited for establishing Colegio de Sta Isabel (Universidad de Sta Isabel) in 1868, the nation’s first normal school for girls. The great bishop also made curriculum improvements for the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary which became then, Bicol region’s top study hub for priests, religious, and lay citizens. As a pope delegate, Gainza was with the Bishop of Manila in opposing the stripping of the religious affiliations of rebel priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (Goburza) as sought by the Spanish government in Manila.

What was unclear though was why Calle Via Gainza which aptly pays tribute to the bishop’s admirable contributions to Naga City was renamed as Penafrancia Avenue. The reason for the change was unclear.

In our minds, street names like Calle Via Gainza could have been better left alone. In a way, they are sentinels of a period in history gone by. Retaining old street names helps preserve our cultural linkage with the past. In simple practical terms, the postman’s job of delivering letters is made easy when old street names are retained. Unless there’s an imperative to make changes, old names better stay as they are. As invaluable remnants of the old, they make us remember the richness of our past; they make us feel the meaning of history. =0=

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