Sunday, February 15, 2015


Father Vilallonga is the only one in a black cassock (besides Bishop Oláiz), standing on left

In 1929, the Pope sent a Spanish Jesuit with an impressive resumé to inspect the mission of Guam. His name was Father Joaquín Vilallonga.

He arrived in late 1929 and after his visit with Bishop Oláiz and the Capuchin missionaries, all Spaniards like himself, he gave the Guam mission not merely a clean bill of health but high praise, calling it the "best organized mission in Oceania."

Here's what Vilallonga said himself in a letter to Bishop Oláiz of Guam :

"I can say with total sincerity that I have not found in all the Philippines a mission better organized than that which the Capuchin Fathers have in Guam under the prudent and wise direction of Your Excellency. I believe that the Chamorros can consider themselves very content and happy in having such zealous and selfless missionaries who give to all their faithful such good examples of virtue and holiness."

The very positive report on Guam filed in Rome by Vilallonga helped move the Vatican to send money to Bishop Oláiz so that he could build a two story concrete building to house many Catholic activities.

What were his credentials that allowed him to act as inspector for the Vatican?


Like many Jesuits, Vilallonga's dream was to work in the missions. After joining the Jesuits in Spain in 1885 at the age of 17, he was sent to Manila in 1892 to teach at the Ateneo de Manila. He taught philosophy, physics and mathematics. He was well-educated in the Latin classics, and could recite from memory long passages from Cicero and Virgil. He was good in the Greek classics, too.


Vilallonga lived in the same Jesuit residence in Intramuros, Manila where some of his Jesuit confreres lived; Jesuits who visited José Rizal in prison. They would come back to the house asking the Jesuit community to pray for their former student.

When Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Vilallonga was eyeing the American fleet from atop the Jesuit house in Intramuros.


He was sent to St. Louis, Missouri to finish his studies and there learned to speak English well. He also became friends with Teddy Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller. The story is that Vilallonga defended his thesis in front of a crowd that included Roosevelt, who was impressed enough to send him a written note of congratulations. Finishing his studies in the U.S., he returned to Manila and began a quick rise to positions of authority :

Rector of the Ateneo de Manila 1910
Superior of the Davao Mission 1917
Rector of the Vigan Seminary in 1920
Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines in 1921
Provincial Superior of the Jesuit Province of Aragon (Spain) in 1926

It was because of these extensive experiences in missionary life that Vilallonga was an excellent choice of Rome to conduct an official inspection of the Church in the Philippines and in Guam. He could deal with the many Spanish missionaries, and his command of English and acquaintance with American ways enabled him to relate well with the American civil and military authorities.

When that was done, he was back in the missions but this time in India, where he worked from 1930 to 1949. It was in 1949, at the age of 81, that Vilallonga made a surprising request of his superiors. It concerned his next assignment!


Fr. Vilallonga visits his people at the leprosarium in Culion.

At age 81, many priests look forward to a life of blessed retirement. Not Vilallonga. Having occupied very high offices in the past - in academic and religious governance - he wanted his "last stop" to be in a remote corner of the Philippines called the "Island of No Return" among those suffering from Hansen's Disease. There he would say Mass for them, hear their confessions, anoint them, listen to them, attend to their needs, be a father and friend to them.

In 1949, there were undoubtedly patients from Guam who had come there many years before. They must have jolted Vilallonga's memories of his short time on Guam. I am sure, when he conversed with Guam patients, he brought up the name of at least Bishop Oláiz and perhaps one or two friars.

Vilallonga wanted to die in Culion and be buried with the lepers, without a casket. His noble aspiration was not God's will, though. In 1962 his physical condition necessitated a move to Manila where he died the following year. He was buried in the cemetery of the Jesuit novitiate in Novaliches.


In 1959, Vilallonga won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. He was the second person to win this award since its inception in 1957. It was his work with the lepers of Culion that earned him this distinction.

Vilallonga receiving the Magsaysay Award. Cardinal Santos stands to the left.

Vilallonga with the dignitaries....

Claro M. Recto
Statesman, writer, jurist
and his former student

...and the needy.

Spiritual guidance with a patient in Culion


It is ironic that a man who left his home was honored by the people of his birthplace who hardly ever saw him. Even a nephew of his spoke about the great "absence" of his uncle in the family, since he spent the majority of his life overseas. The year after he died, his native town of Burriana, Valencia opened a school in his honor. In 2014, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary and unveiled a plaque in his honor.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Or, "How I got my slanted eyes."

Victoriano Joanino y Caboral


As a child, I became aware of the lack of male figures in my family. I had a Chamorro grandmother, but never a word about her husband. I heard about Mamá, my great grandmother, as she was called in the Spanish style of those days. But I never heard of a Papá.

By the time I was a teenager, I had put the pieces of the puzzle together somewhat.

Mamá had never married. But, she had six children, each with a different father, although it is debatable if two of the six shared the same father.

The story was that Mamá was an only child. This we can verify, since we have the 1897 Census and there it is. Pedro Torres y Rodríguez is married to Josefa Pérez y San Nicolás and they have but one child, a daughter, Maria Torres y Pérez, or Mamá.

As Mamá was an only child, her parents never allowed her to get married. For her to get married meant to leave mom and dad and be absorbed into the husband's family. Who would care for Pedro and Josefa in their old age?

Still, human nature being what it is, Mamá had six children. The oldest of the six was my grandmother María, who became the pillar and rock foundation for the small clan of six children and Mamá, nicknamed the familian Kitå'an, after Mamá, whose name María was affectionately changed to Mariquita, and Kita for short. Kita's children were the Kitå'an.


I never knew Mamá, but I knew her daughter, my grandmother María. I was 18 when she passed away. A few years after my grandmother died, I started to pester her cousin, my grand aunt Carmen Pérez Cruz (married Guzmán), who knew all the family secrets.

One day she let me know. She said my great grandfather was a Filipino. "Eskribienten i Gobietno," she said. "Clerk of the Governor."

But what was his name?

All she could remember was something that sounded like HUA - NINO.

I was bewildered. Was that his first name? Juanino? Like Juanito?

Or was it his last name?

Or was it both names? Juan Nino? Juan Ino?


This is the signature of the land clerk on a land document, signed in Agaña, Guam in 1900. My grandmother was born in 1899.

The signature clearly says "Victoriano Joanino C."

In Spanish, the father's surname comes first. Then comes the materal name, which can be abbreviated, as it is here, as a C.

Using the American style, this man would have been Victoriano C. Joanino. Joanino! I found my great grandfather's name and signature!


Years passed and by the early 1990s, I went to Manila as a young priest buying things for my parish. While there, I decided to look up Joanino in the Manila phone book. All I can say is thanks be to God my great grandfather's name was not Cruz or Reyes or Santos. I'd still be in Manila today looking for my great grandfather if his name was one of those.

Instead, I found just six Joaninos in the phone book. Easy! I dialled the first one. "Hello, my name is Father Eric Forbes, a priest from Guam. I am looking for my relatives. Children of Victoriano Joanino."

The first Joanino house did not know of any Victoriano. Nor did the second. The third house may not have even answered. I don't remember!

But the third or fourth house did! The woman who answered the phone responded excitedly. "That is my Lolo! (Grandpa)"

Her name was Thelma and she said the family lived in the province of Nueva Ecija, though some of the family lived in Manila. At that very moment, she said, her dad was visiting her home in Manila. I went to see him a day or two later. I almost died. He was skin and bones, just like my grandmother, who would have been his half-sister.

This man confirmed that his father Victoriano had been exiled to Guam. "With Mabini," they said, but that wasn't true, as I was to find out later. But this is what families do. They add spice to the family legends, just like fishermen add pounds and inches to the fish they claim to catch!


Gramps in his younger days.

Victoriano was a rebel. A member of the Katipunan, or nationalist Filipinos fighting Spain. But he was an educated rebel; one who could understand, speak and write in Spanish.

He was originally from Tayug, Pangasinan. He was of Ilocano descent, his parents having moved to Pangasinan from Cava, La Union. The family confirmed that his maternal name was Caboral; the "C" in the Guam land document. We don't know where he got his education or how far he went in school, but the Joaninos in Tayug were part of the educated middle class that supplied minor civic servants.

Relatives in the Philippines told me the original name was Suanino and it was Chinese. In time it became Joanino; easier for the Spaniards to say, I suppose.

In the fall of 1896, the Philippine Revolution broke out. The Spaniards started to arrest numerous rebel leaders, big shots and less important ones, like Victoriano.

In Tayug, besides Victoriano, a certain Teodórico Vidal was also arrested. From then on, for some years, Victoriano and Teodórico shared the same fate; arrested at the same time, convicted at the same time and sentenced at the same time. Victoriano's court case files are missing, but Teodórico's are not. In his files, he is described as a Mason and an enemy of Spain. We can be sure Victoriano was charged with the same accusations.

In December of 1896, after having spent some time in the Bilibid prison, my great grandfather was deported, with his Tayug townmate Teodórico, to Guam. They arrived on Guam in February of 1897.

The Spanish Government document showing his arrival on Guam in 1897


As one can see from the land record above, Victoriano did not spend his life behind bars on Guam as a political prisoner. He was put to work as a government clerk, since he was educated enough to do that.

When the Americans came in 1899, he continued in this post. While still on Guam, Mabini and the other famous nationalist leaders against the Americans were deported to Guam in 1901. That's why Victoriano or his family claimed he was "with Mabini on Guam," but under different circumstances.

Besides all this, Victoriano fathered my grandmother María, born in 1899.

Victoriano Joanino named "escribano" or "scribe/clerk" in a court proceeding on Guam in 1901. The court record was still written in Spanish at the time.


Sometime in 1901 or 1902, he was free to return to the Philippines. When he returned to Tayug, he found out that his wife had re-married, thinking that he had died.

Disgusted with this, Victoriano moved not far from Tayug, but in the neighboring province of Nueva Ecija, to a town called Lupao where he found a second wife and raised a family. It wasn't a real town yet, and Victoriano was one of the civic leaders who lead the effort to elevate the community. In 1913, Lupao became an official town and Victoriano was credited with making that happen. He became the town's first Mayor (or President). To this day, the Joaninos are a well-known and politically active family in Lupao.


My great grandfather was a Mason and, in time, an Aglipayan, a church which broke off from the Roman Catholic Church to become an independent, "Filipino Catholic Church."

I wonder how he would feel knowing his great grandson is not only a Catholic priest, but also a friar - like the ones he fought against, believing that the friars were the villains responsible for the oppression of the Filipino people!

My grandmother, daughter of Victoriano