The plot was not as riveting and complicated as the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, but when the image of the Virgin of Penafrancia (Ina) aka Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia vanished on August 16, 1981, the Filipinos were devastated.
There was revulsion among the people when unnamed burglar(s) barged into the Penafrancia Church and snatched the centuries-old Ina, the most popular sacred object of Marian veneration of Bicolanos. The antique image went missing for about three weeks fueling speculations and causing the death of a Naga city policemen. The Virgin’s image was returned before the annual September fiesta in her honor.
Countless devotees went on penitential processions praying for the recovery of Ina’s image. On September 5, 1981, Typhoon Ruping swept the land. Msgr. Florencio Yllana, the former chaplain of the Penafrancia Church, went to Manila to receive the 6-part statue of the Virgin when it reappeared.
A thanksgiving mass was offered in the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral after the wooden image was brought back to Naga. The city buzzed with rumors, but church and government officials were tight-lipped on who was behind the theft. At the time when Pres. Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda were in power, no one dared to ask. The Catholic clergy cryptically said, “it’s enough that Ina is back!”
No it isn’t enough. For the sake of history, accountability, and justice for Patrolman Reynaldo Neola (the policeman who died looking for the missing Virgin,) the public to this day deserves to know. It’s time that those who are privy to the circumstances of the theft must speak up to unravel the truth before time buries an ignominious footnote in Penafrancia’s past. (Photo Credit: JerryLimLee)
The Loss and Return
of Our Lady of Penafrancia
& the Colgante Bridge Disaster
(Parts I & Part II)
by Totie Mesia and Mariso Ocampo
“Thirty-six years after the Colgante bridge collapse and 27 years after Ina vanished and returned, Bikol keeps a blurry recall and record of the events.”