Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Magalang's serial-killer priest

JUAN Severino Mallari, date and place of birth unknown but probably a native of Macabebe, was ordained priest in 1809 after completing his seminary studies at the University of Santo Tomas.

Not too many Kapampangans have heard of him but he has secured his place in history for three reasons: (1) he is the second Filipino calligraphic artist-priest, (2) he is the first Filipino priest executed by the Spanish colonial government, and (3) he is the celebrated serial killer of Magalang town.

The details of Juan Severino Mallari's life can be found in Dr. Luciano Santiago's book Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church 1592-2001, published by the Holy Angel University Center for Kapampangan Studies.

From the start, this gifted Kapampangan priest had had bouts with mental instability brought about by his artistic genius, his mother's strange illness and the string of stressful episodes that most likely aggravated his depression.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a number of Filipino artists specialized in engraving and painting religious subjects. Two Kapampangan priests, Fr. Mariano Hipolito of Bacolor and Fr. Juan Severino Mallari, did calligraphic drawings (which are preserved in the archives of the Archdiocese of Manila); hence, they are recognized as the first and the second Filipino calligraphic artist-priests, respectively.

Calligraphic drawing is a folk art in which the artist draws figures to decorate the edges of a manuscript. This art form antedated the establishment of the country's first art academy, and was probably inspired by the illuminated manuscripts from Europe, except that the sketches were in black-and-white. (It was only much later when calligraphic drawing became more elaborate when it took the form of letras y figuras.)

Fr. Hipolito and Fr. Mallari took to calligraphic drawing to decorate their usually drab parish annual reports called planes de almas. They had contrasting styles: Fr. Hipolito often drew Spaniards in various poses like hunting, walking their pet or writing at their desk, while Fr. Mallari's favorite subjects were flowery vines and naked boy angels perched on swirling clouds.

Right after ordination in 1809, Fr. Mallari became coadjutor, in quick succession, of Gapang, Lubao and Bacolor. He applied to be pastor (parish priest) of Orani, and failed; then Mariveles, failed again; and Lubao, failed once more. Lastly he applied to be sacristan (chaplain) of the Port of Cavite, was again rejected. In 1812, he was finally and thankfully appointed pastor of San Bartolome Parish in Magalang, Pampanga. However, it was also around this time that his mother was stricken with a strange illness (history does not record the nature of her illness, except to say that Fr. Mallari believed she "had been bewitched").

What happened next was the stuff of horror movies: over a period of 10 years, a series of unexplained murders took place in the bucolic town of Magalang.  Again, history does not record the details of the murders, just the number of victims -- a total of 57 murders!

Considering the size of the town, it was mind-blowing how the killer could have escaped arrest (or even identification) for such a long period. But it was even more mind-blowing that when the killer was finally arrested and identified, it was none other than the cura parroco (parish priest) himself, Fr. Juan Severino Mallari!

At the time of his arrest, Fr. Mallari had already fallen ill due to his psychosis.  And yet the Spanish authorities still hauled him off to Manila and imprisoned like a common criminal, instead of committing him to a mental institution.

According to historian Dr. Santiago, this was unusual and highly irregular, because Spain pioneered the humane treatment of mental patients, having founded one of the first psychiatric hospitals in Europe (named Hospital de Inocentes, to emphasize the innocence of mentally ill people, who were not supposed to be held responsible for their actions).

According to historian Dr. Santiago, who is also a psychiatrist, at the time of Fr. Mallari's arrest in 1826, the Hospicio de San Jose had already been operating for 15 years, so Fr. Mallari should have been taken there instead of the prison.

But the Spanish authorities were probably too outraged by his heinous crimes to be bothered by human rights issues. An account by Spanish chronicler Sinibaldo de Mas, recorded in Blair & Robertson's The Philippine Islands series, says that "The attorney on that case talked in pathetic terms of the indescribable and barbarous prodigality of blood shed by that monster." The account mentions Fr. Mallari's case as an example of the indios' natural tendency to believe all the ghost stories they were so fond of telling.  Fr. Mallari, the account goes, claimed in his defense that he had murdered 57 of his parishioners "because he believed that he could by this means save his mother who, he persuaded himself, had been bewitched."

In 1840, after languishing in jail for 14 years, Fr. Juan Severino Mallari was executed by hanging -- "clearly," Dr. Santiago writes, "a victim of injustice." His death earned him the title in history as the first Filipino priest executed by the Spanish colonial government, since the execution of the Gomburza (Fr. Gomez, Fr. Burgos, and Fr. Zamora) took place only 32 years later, in 1872.

More research needs to be done on this dark episode of Magalang history. Who were the victims? How were they killed? Do they have descendants still residing in Magalang today?

1 comment:

  1. wala na po bang other resources na mahahanap para sa research na to?

    ReplyDelete