The Dispossession of the Cimarrones

by Fernando Jose P. Obias 
From the book " INA ON THE RECORD"


When the Cimarrones of Mount Isarog approached Caceres Bishop Gonzales to ask for a chapel suited to their spiritual needs, far from their thoughts was the idea that someday their tribal devotion would become regional.


The Cimarrnones had accepted the doctrine of Christianity – but not the government the conquistadores brought with them.  The Cimarrones would not have any of the tax system and the titling of lands by the Castila.  With better weapons and military training, the Spaniards had their way in almost everything, in pushing their weight around but not extensively enough, else they would be spreading their strength so thinly they would be very vulnerable to any attack at any point along their spread.  The farther away they are from their municipio, the weaker is their defense.


The Cimarrones had taken notice of this.  Thus, the petition of the Cimarrones for a chapel was so calculated that they suggested the site from where they could easily take a refuge, if pursued, to the forest of Isarog, but not so near  the municipio where the guardias had a concentration of forces.  The most suitable site for the chapel would be somewhere near the banks of the Naga River, some two kilometers away from the ciudad de Caceres.


According to the request, the bishop relayed the matter to Rev. Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias who was then thinking on how he could comply with a vow he had made while studying grammar, Latin, philosophy and theology in Universidad de Santo Tomas in Manila.


Miguel Covarrubias was a very sickly lad. His parents, natives of San Martin de Castañar gave him a picture of the Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia, a copy of the image Simon Vela had found in the town’s mountain called the “Pena de Francia.” Whenever the young Covarrubias felt pain he would have recourse to the picture, touching with it the part of his body which suffered the most pain. In going through  the act, he would experience relief, and this prompted him to make a vow that he would set up a chapel near the banks of the Pasig River as his way of being grateful for the relief he experienced which he attributed to the holy picture.


But as fate would have it, Bishop Gonzales summoned Miguel to the see of Caceres after he finished his study in Theology, ordained him priest, and appointed him vicar general for the diocese.


The change of assignment – from Manila to Bikol – posed a problem to Fr. Covarrubias since his vow could no longer be fulfilled.. He then had his vow commuted and resolved to find a way to set up a chapel at the banks of the Naga River.


The petition of the Cimarrones could be said to be the heavenly answer and confirmation that the vow of Fr. Covarrubias could take substance after all.


Had Fr. Covarrubias not been summoned to Caceres there would not be any of the regional September festivity in this part of the country.


The Cimarrones would not have any idea at all about the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.. For the Cimarrones, one saint for a patron would be the same as another – and as long as they would have their spiritual needs attended to on Sunday and on holidays of obligation, the popularity of any saint would not make a difference.


But the confluence of events seems to point to something greater.


The role of Fr. Covarrubias seemed to have stopped with having the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia carved in wood, copied from the picture he had in his possession while he was still student studying for the priesthood, and with the installation of her shrine by the banks of the Naga river.


Being of weak physique, he most likely engaged in less strenuous activity in the shrine, stirred from time to time by stories of “miracles attributed to the icon of the Cimarrones”


The icon itself was a manifestation of simplicity, crudeness, and meekness. The icon had no jewels. It had no crown. It had no richly embroidered robe. No perfume enveloped it.  But the Cimarrones called her their Ina.  The icon was a mother with her son on her left lap, whose hand is extended as if to give a blessing to anyone who seeks her help. And to add native color, the icon was bathed in blood from a dog slain at the banks of the Naga river.


This was the Ina of the Cimarrones.


It took a couple of hundred years before the devotees to the Lady of Peña de Francia grew by the thousands and the devotion assumed regional proportion.


Quick to the development of the religious fervor around the Nuestra Señora de Peña de Francia, the fiars and the regulars slowly took possession of the supervision of the chapel, making the growth in the devotion a reason for erecting a sturdier and more spacious shrine made of mortar and stone.  The secular hand in the devotion represented by Fr. Covarrubias had to give way to those of the friars and the regulars.


Slowly, the rich and the famous and the mestizo inched their way into the shrine, crept into the care of the icon and into the manner she should be presented to the devotees.


The icon had to be covered with padding and plates of silver, hiding the entire body of both mother and child, except their faces, from the devotees.  The icon had to be made to wear a crown, her cape be studded with jewels, her body bathed in perfumes imported from Spain.  And from a sitting position she was made to appear as standing, set up as she was on a silver pedestal.


That was how the rich and the influential expressed their faith, a far cry from that of the Cimarrones, who, without realizing it, had been dispossessed of their own icon.


Even in recent years, several attempts have been made to do away with the boisterous, unruly, crass, sweating mob of the bogadores, or voyadores – the last of the fragments that still remain to remind one and all that the icon was initially the “Ina” of the Cimarrones.


With the advent of technology and science, unruly behavior during procession has become something intolerable.  For human beings, faith should be expressed not by unruly behavior but by the heart, it is said.


That might be true – but truer is to say that what makes the traslacion and the sakay in September truly Bikolano and undoubtedly exciting is the voyadores who have become an endangered species.