I was rummaging thru my collection of old newspapers and I saw this pile of yellowing, musty copies of a local paper very popular in Naga city way back in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.It was Balalong, a weekly founded by Juan F. TriviƱo in 1975.

Balalong was my favorite paper and I made concious effort to collect them for it had a soft spot for Bikol history and culture. I flipped over some pages of some issues. I was curious to know what articles then took their fancy to write. In the issue of April 1, 1977, I saw a very interesting item by Luis General, Jr. (now deceased) in his column “Yesterday In Today”.

This article of his struck me as an eye-opener of our situation even today. But he was making a doleful observation of something which happened over 30 years ago.

I quote him:

“Ten Bikolistas from 3 provinces attended their monthly meeting last Saturday. In a shelf in the conference room of the Archbishop’s residence where the meeting was held, they found some 300 copies of Dr. Domingo C. Abella’s Bikol Annals, as undisturbed as when they were deposited there 23 years ago soon after the book came out of the press. The late Msgr. Pedro P. Santos , then Archbishop of Caceres helped pay for the publication expenses, and Dr. Abella delivered to him a sizable part of the 1,000 copies printed.

“Archbishop Alberto last Saturday described the book in the Bikol equivalent of “unputdownable” – once you pick it up and start reading it, you would not like to put it down – but only if you are civilized enough to realize the value of history. That about one-fifth of the meager 1,000 copies printed are still lying unread in a shelf in the archbishops’s house 23 years after the publication date is damaging proof of the Bicolano’s historical illiteracy. In fact, this was the main reason why Idoy Abella never came to write the second column (he must mean the second volumeblogger) of Bikol Annals.”

It’s a pity the author was so discouraged he no longer attempted to put into book form the remaining archival material he had so painstakingly collected from primary sources. What happened to them? Perhaps they could still be retrieved and someone close to the family could still work on them to make them see the light of day.I am sure they would be of immense value, not only to the students of history but also to ordinary Filipinos.

And what is the Bikol Annals all about? It deals on Philippine ecclesiastical history with special bias for the Bikol see of Nueva Caceres. Altho it talks mainly of bishops, priests and church affairs, in the words of the author, it also perforce bring out “many interesting slants on the civil government, social life, and cultural development of Bikolandia through the centuries of its colonial history.”

Abella was waxing enthusiastic and almost declared he would come out with other volumes as he gave us an inkling of what to expect.

As he stated in the preface of Volume 1, “The latter volumes will consist of a collection of documents- papal bulls, briefs and apostolic letters, royal decrees, reports of bishops and governors general, and chronicles of missionaries- relating to topics and issues either directly or indirectly affecting the Bikol provinces. The purpose is to fashion a documentary arsenal for the ready reference and correct guidance of students of our regional history.”

Abella spent his personal fortunes to dig out these materials from the archives of Spain, Rome and Mexico. One could just imagine the frustration he felt due to the outcome of his first major work.

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