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The province of Nueva Ecija lies on the north-eastern portion of Central Luzon, Region III, hemmed in by Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Vizcaya and Quezon provinces. It has mountain ranges on its upper stretches, with the Cordillera Mountains separating it from Nueva Vizcaya. On its eastern side the Sierra Madre Mountains separate it from portions of Quezon Province. It is the largest province in Region III and within the area of Central Luzon.

The land rises gradually from the swampy regions of the southwest and levels off as one moves towards the east and north. The plains break into rolling hills as one approaches the Caraballo Mountains and the Sierra Madre Mountains in the north and east. The parts of the province near Bulacan and Pampanga is swampy while those towns near Viscaya and Aurora are hills and mountainous.

Military Comandancia

In 1705, Governor General Fausto Cruzat, cognizant of the security and protection of the missions, established an advanced military outpost known as Comandancia named Nueva Ecija. The name of the province was taken from the place where the Governor General came from. He hailed from Ecija, province of Advincula. When he was in the Philippines, he probably envisioned to make Nueva Ecija as his second home, thus, naming it after his place.

Nueva Ecija as a Military Comandancia covered a huge territory in Luzon. It annexed a long strip of territory facing the Pacific Ocean in the east. These areas are now called Aurora Province, made up of the towns of Baler, Maria Aurora, San Lius, Casiguran, Dingalan, Dipaculao and others. In the north, it extends up to Palanan, now called Isabela del Norte. Infanta and Tayabas Quezon were also part of Nueva Ecija in the southern part of the Comandancia. During this time the capital of Nueva Ecija was Baler, located in the north east side of the province, facing the pacific ocean. Some time in 1775, they transferred it to Bongabon. In 1777 it was transferred to Cabanatuan until 1852.

Regular Province

In 1848, Nueva Ecija was declared as regular province. After the declaration, the towns of Gapan, San Antonio, Cabiao and Aliaga which were previously part of Pampanga were transferred to Nueva Ecija. After a terrible fire which razed the whole of Cabanatuan, the capital was transferred to San Isidro until it was transferred back to Cabanatuan 1912. Then, in June 19, 1965 by virtue of Republic Act No. 4475 Palayan was declared the new capital of Nueva Ecija. The offices of the Provincial Government remained in Cabanatuan City. Some time in the year 2000, they were transferred to Palayan City.

The formerly huge territory of the military comandancia which was turned into a regular province reduced the size of the land area due to the development and erection of other neighboring provinces. In 1853 the new military district of Tayabas was constituted comprising the settlements of Casiguran, Baler and adjacent villages. In 1856, Palanan was annexed to Isabela and in 1858, Binangonan and Polilio Islands were separated from Nueva Ecija to form part of Infanta. In 1901 Balungao, Rosales, San Quintin and Umingan were annexed to Pangasinan.

Revolution Against the Spaniards and Americans

Nueva Ecija was one of the first eight provinces that took up arms against the Spanish rule in 1896. During the Filipino-American War, General Emilio Aguinaldo retreated there and on May 9, 1899 made Cabanatuan the temporary seat of his government until this was moved to Bamban, Tarlac. On that same year, General Antonio Luna was assassinated almost in front of the present Cathedral Church of Cabanatuan. This was one of the most tragic events that happened in Nueva Ecija during the time of the revolution.

World War II

During World War II, Cabanatuan was the site of an infamous camp for American prisoners of war run by the Japanese Imperial Army. The Filipinos then, liberated the American Captives sometime in January 1945. During the Hukbalahap rebellion in the 1950's, Nueva Ecija became a base of operations for the rebels. This rebellion later turned into an agrarian movement, but government forces and members of Hukbalahap had often battled it out in the uplands of the province, scaring away farmers and their families from their only source of livelihood.

The History of the Church in Nueva Ecija

Christianity in Nueva Ecija was brought by the Spanish Missionaries. Their mission to convert pagan natives to become Catholics was connected with the establishment of the military comandancia and later to the province of Nueva Ecija. The political development of Nueva Ecija depended on the evangelization of the people.

The Augustinian Missionaries

The Augustinians launched two stages of missionary activities in Nueva Ecija. The first stage was the evangelization of the lowland natives in the late 16th century. It was founded in Gapan in 1595. Due to limited man power and inaccessible terrain, the Augustinians were forced to discontinue their missions.

The second stage of bringing Christianity in Nueva Ecija was during the year 1700. This was a more powerful move of the Augustinian Friars to proclaim the Gospel within the reach of the mountain tribes. In 1701, they established the frontier missions in the northeastern part of Nueva Ecija at the foot of Caraballo and Sierra Madre Mountains. In this notable effort of the missionaries, they were able to reach the high lands of Pantabangan, Caranglan and Puncan.

Most of the inhabitants of these places were the people belonging to the tribes of Italon, and Abaca. Italons are the Ilongots dwelling in the Carabalo mountains of Nueva Ecija and Principe. They had a descent family structure in the sense that they were monogamous and that there were no children born out of wedlock. They seldom fought in public, but ambushes and assassinations occurred. Here are some of their characteristics before they were evangelized.

These people are kind, but very warlike and of courageous dispositions; they are quite ingenious, and are hospitable. They understand that there is a God, and that He is in heaven, caring for all whom He creates – to whom they offer sacrifices, only when they make agreements of peace – and that there is no other God than He. They say that He rewards the good and punishes the bad, but they do not know in what manner; and they admit that they have immortal souls. They make a contract of marriage with one wife only, which lasts until death; they do not allow concubinage; they do not marry their relatives. They observe the truth well; and, what is more, they desire to be Christians.

The members of the Abaca tribe are scattered in Pantabangan and Caranglan. Some of them have several wives. They lived on the headwaters of the Rio Grande and Rio Chico. They had tribal wars with the Italons due to isolated murders of their tribal members. Peace among these people was brought by the missionaries who baptized them and made them believers of Christ.

There were three prominent Augustinian missionaries who contributed so much to the evangelization of Nueva Ecija. These friars were the instruments of the Lord in converting the tribal people of Nueva Ecija. They must be given credit for bringing themselves to the mountains, for risking their own lives, for teaching catechism, for baptizing the people and building churches and organizing Christian communities in Nueva Ecija.

First was Fray Antolin de Arzaga. He was born in Valladolid. He arrived in the Philippines on 1699. He was chosen by the provincial superior Fray Francisco Zamora about the year 1702 to begin the mission in the mountains of Nueva Ecija. He was the first missionary who entered Pantabangan, Caranglan and Puncan to evangelize the tribes of the Italons and Abacas.

The second missionary was Fray Balthasar de Santa Maria Isisigana, an uncle of Fray Arzaga. He was born in Durango, Vizcaya in 1665. In 1699 he came to the Philippines and after three years was send to Caranglan. His missionary assignment in Nueva Ecija was requested by Fray Arzaga to Governor Zabalburu.

In 1704, the provincial superior of the Augustinians, Fray Juan Bautista de Olarte made reports and testimonies regarding the fruits of the labors of their missions. He reported the results of the missions in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Pampanga, Bataan, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. The following was his statement regarding the evangelization in Nueva Ecija through the missionary efforts of Fray Arzaga and Fray Isisigana.

I, Fray Juan Bautista de Olarte, pensioned lecturer in sacred theology, provincial of the province of Santissimo Nombre de Jesus of the hermits of our father St. Augustine, do certify that, from the eighth day of October, 1702 until the twentieth of May in this present year, the two missionary religious of the said order who were employed in the conversion of the natives in the Italon and Abaca tribes, who dwell in the mountains of Pantabanga and Caranglan, have founded five villages, to wit; Santo Tomas de Villanueva, which is composed of eighty families; Santo Christo de Burgos, one hundred families; San Agustin, one hundred and sixty; San Pablo, one hundred and forty; San Jose, seventy families. They all have accepted the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy sacrament of baptism has been administered to four hundred and seventy nine persons.

The third missionary was Fray Alexandro Cacho. He succeeded the first two missionaries due to their health problems. He hailed from Leon, Spain and came to the Philippines in 1690. He was first a missionary in the various tribes of upper Pampanga, which at present is the southern part of Nueva Ecija. He was sent to the Italon and Abaca tribes of Caranglan and Pantabangan in 1707. He accomplished more by converting and baptizing huge number of natives, studying the different varieties of flora and medicinal plants, he wrote a catechism in the native dialects of the tribes, and contributed in the governance of the villages which the Augustinian missionaries have founded.

The Franciscan Missionaries

In the 18th century, the founding missions of the Augustinians came to an end. King Carlos III of Spain issued a Royal Decree on September 1, 1759, transferring all Augustinian responsibilities in the settlements of Nueva Ecija to the Franciscan Friars. The Order of the Franciscans started their mission in Baler in the year 1609. However, they did not pursue their evangelization because of the scarcity of the friars. The mission was continued by the Recollects but after a little time this was also abandoned.

After sometime in the middle of the 18th century, the Franciscan missionaries resumed their labors in Baler. The order of the King in transferring the Augustinian missions in Nueva Ecija to the Franciscans was to unite their missionary endeavor to that of Baler area. The Franciscans thus undertook the second phase of development of the missions in the province: Bongabon (1760), San Antonio and San Isidro (1843), Talavera (1846), Penaranda (1846), Jaen (1853), Aliaga and Zaragoza (1849), and Sta. Rosa (1878).

The missions in Pantabangan were also transferred to the Franciscans, However, the Augustinians retained a portion numbering about sixty houses, Caranglan with eighty-two homes and Puncan with fifty-six families.

Nueva Ecija as part of the Archdiocese of Manila

The Diocese of Manila was established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1579. Fray Domingo Salazar a Dominican was appointed as its first bishop. The new diocese comprised the whole of the Philippines and was a suffragan to Mexico. The Diocese of Manila was elevated to an Archdiocese on August 15, 1595 by Pope Clement VIII. At the same time the Roman Pontiff created the suffragan dioceses of Manila: Nueva Caceres, Nueva Segovia and Cebu. With the creation of these new dioceses, the territory of the archdiocese was reduced to the City of Manila and the ten civil provinces near it: Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Bataan, Zambales and Mindoro. The mission areas and parishes of Nueva Ecija which were still under the pastoral care of the Augustinian and Franciscan missionaries were under the territorial jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Manila. The Archbishop of Manila was the local ordinary of the Catholics residing in Nueva Ecija.

The Creation of the Diocese of Lingayen

Pope Pius XI in 1928 created the Diocese of Lingayen from the territories of Manila and Nueva Segovia. The new diocese included the whole province of Pangasinan and the northern part of Nueva Ecija. In 1937, Most Reverend Cesar Maria Guerero, Bishop of Lingayen invited the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) to render pastoral care for the parishes of northern Nueva Ecija: San Jose, Lupao, Munoz, Guimba, Cuyapo, Nampicuan, Pantabangan and Carranglan. In 1954, because of the destruction wrought in Lingayen by World War II, the See was transferred to Dagupan, and the diocese is now known as the Diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. It was elevated to an Archdiocese on February 16, 1963.

The Creation of the Diocese of San Fernando, Pampanga

The Archdiocese of Manila was once again divided through the establishment of the Diocese of San Fernando, Pampanga on December 11, 1948. The Most Reverend Cesar Maria Guerero, who was then the bishop of Lingayen, was appointed by the Holy See as the first bishop of the Diocese of San Fernando. The then new diocese, comprised the provinces of Pampanga, Bataan, Zambales, a part of Tarlac and part of Nueva Ecija. The southern part of Nueva Ecija was then, part of the Diocese of San Fernando while the northern part was under the Diocese of Lingayen. On March 17, 1975 the Diocese of San Fernando, Pampanga was elevated to an archdiocese. The Most Reverend Emilio Cinense was appointed as the first archbishop.

The Creation of the Diocese of Cabanatuan

The Diocese of Cabanatuan was created on February 16, 1963 out of territories taken from the Diocese of San Fernando, Pampanga and Diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. It was also on that day that the Diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan was elevated to an archdiocese. The new diocese was inaugurated on June 4, 1963. It was the Most Reverend Mariano Gaviola who was appointed by the Holy See as first bishop of the diocese. The Diocese of Cabanatuan comprises the whole province of Nueva Ecija which includes the northern part under the pastoral care of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC).

The Creation of The New Diocese

The late Holy Father Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija by virtue of the papal bull Saepe Catholicorum Utilitas on February 16, 1984. The province of Nueva Ecija had now two dioceses. The Diocese of Cabanatuan retains the southern part of Nueva Ecija while the new Diocese of San Jose comprises the Northern part of the province. The new Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija is composed of fourteen municipalities with sixteen parishes.

There were only eight diocesan priests and twelve religious priests from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Based on the 1980 census there were a total population of four hundred twenty five thousand six hundred eighty eight. Out of these number, there were 336, 487 Catholics.

When the Diocese of San Jose was created there was no bishop yet who would serve as its pastor. It was on May 24, 1984 after three months of its creation that the Holy See announced the election of its first bishop. Pope John Paull II elected to the episcopacy Reverend Monsignor Florentino Ferrer Cinence who was then the Vicar General of the Diocese of Cabanatuan and the Parish Priest of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Sta. Rosa, and appointed him as the first Diocesan Bishop of San Jose.

A significant history occurred in the province of Nueva Ecija, on July 14, 1984. Three important liturgical events happened at the same time during the Solemn Celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the New St. Joseph Cathedral. First was the Proclamation of the Canonical Erection of the New Diocese of San Jose through the reading of the Papal Bull Saepe Catholicorum Utilitas. Then, the Episcopal Ordination of the Most Reverend Florentino Cinence took place. The Apostolic Nuncio Most Reverend Bruno Torpigliani served as the principal consecrator with the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Most Reverend Federico Limon and the Bishop of Cabanatuan Most Reverend Ciceron Tumbocon as the co-consecrating bishops. The ordination was immediately followed by the Liturgical Installation and Canonical Possession of the New Diocese of San Jose by its first Diocesan Bishop.

The Appointment of the Second Bishop

Bishop Florentino Cinence served the diocese for only two years. He was transferred to the Diocese of Tarlac on 1986. While the Diocese of San Jose was waiting for the new diocesan bishop, Bishop Florentino Cinence was still its Apostolic Administrator. In 1987, the Roman Pontiff appointed the Most Reverend Leo M. Drona as the second bishop of San Jose. He was then, the rector of the National Shrine of the Mary Help of Christians in Paranaque. He was the first Filipino Salesian priest and the first Filipino Salesian bishop.

He began to introduce the process of creating a pastoral program of the diocese by initiating ongoing formation for the members of the clergy. The topics given to the priests during those times were about pastoral management of resources and pastoral leadership in parishes. He also initiated the baseline study on the situation of the faithful of the diocese. He invited the Socio-Pastoral Institute, an arm of the Prelature of Infanta, to conduct a survey regarding the present situation of the faithful in the diocese.

The First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly

The First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly was held on March 31 – April 3, 1996 at St. Joseph School, San Jose City. There were around 300 participants from the clergy, religious, lay leaders and observers. The theme of the event was “Paglilinang ng Lupa Tungo sa Simbahan ng Maralita” (Cultivation of the Land Towards the Church of the Poor). The land symbolizes one’s self which is in need of cultivation in order to receive the seed which symbolizes the Word of God. A cultivated land will bear much fruit for the Church of the Poor which is the model presented by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.

The output of the First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly is the formulation of the Vision-Mission Statement of the diocese. The statement is called the “Declaration ng Ating Buklod Diwa” (The Declaration of Our Common Dreams and Perspectives).

Ang Pangarap ng Diyosesis ng San Jose, Nueva Ecija ay maging sambayanan ng mananampalataya na sumasaksi sa katotohanan, pagkakaisa, at pagtutulungang nakabatay sa katarungan at pagmamahal, sa loob ng isang malayang kalipunan, kung saan lahat ay magkakapatid kahit na magkaiba ang relihiyon, kultura, lahi, gawain at kalagayan. Ang pangarap nating ito ay magkakatototo sa ating pagiging Simbahan ng Maralita kung saan lahat ay pantay-pantay sa pagkatao at bilang anak ng Diyos, may pananagutan sa isa’t-isa at sa kabuuan, iginagalang ang buhay at karapatang pantao ng lahat, lalo na ng mga maralitang magsasaka at kapuspalad, mga katutubo, mga kababaihan at mga kabataan; alinsunod sa matibay na pagpapahalaga sa Diyos, sa bayan, sa pamilya at sa kalikasan.

The Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly

The Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly was held in Baguio City on February 12-14, 1997. There were about 100 delegates, composed of the members of the clergy, religious, selected lay leaders and invited observers. As the continuation of the First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly, it aimed to set the plan of action based on the formulated vision mission statement. The plan of action would lead the diocese towards the concrete goals, strategies, organizations and mechanisms which would bring to the realization of the formulated vision and mission. The theme chosen was “Paglilinang ng Lupa ng Simbahan ng Maralita tungo sa Pagiging Kalipunan ng mga Disipulo” (Cultivation of land of the Church of the Poor Towards Becoming a Community of Disciples).

During the Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly, the faithful were able to identify the five priority thrust of the diocese. First is the Formation Program for Core Leaders. With this first priority the diocese will create the Commission on Integral Formation. This commission will be responsible for the formation program of all parish lay leaders of the diocese.

The second thrust is Lay Empowerment. The diocese decided to have two major tasks to realize this thrust. First is the creation of the Formation Program Modules for Core Leaders in all levels. The objective of this task is to promote the integral formation of the laity so as to realize their vocation, capability and ministries towards the realization of Damayang Kristiyano. During the Pastoral Assembly, the ten modular programs were also formulated. They are the following:

        1. Mula sa Paglilinang ng Lupa tungo sa Pagbubuklod Diwa
        2. Parish Renewal Experience (PREX)
        3. Ang Tatlong Misyon ni Kristo sa Simbahan ng Maralita
        4. Pagbubuo at Pagtataguyod ng Damayang Kristiyano
        5. Deklarasyon ng Pananampalataya ng Diyos sa Ating Buhay
        6. Introduksyon sa Buhay na Salita ng Diyos
        7. Ang Sining ng Pangangasiwa sa Kapwa Kamanggagawa
        8. Isang Oryentasyon Tungo sa Isang Pastoral na Pagkalinga at Pagpaplano
        9. Ang Sining Mala-Komunidad na Pagsusuri sa Damayang Kristiyano
        10. Ang Abang Pamumuno: Ang Diwa ng Pagmamahal sa Simbahan ng Maralita

The organization of the Vocation Promotion Desk is another task under lay empowerment. The objective is to deepen the awareness of the faithful towards the need for priestly and religious vocations.

The third priority thrust and also a third task is the creation of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) in the parishes. The diocese believed that the realization of becoming Church of the Poor is through the organization of BEC. This will give more opportunities for the faithful especially the poor to be involved in the activities of the Church. The formation of BEC will be based on the needs of the people and in line with the vision of the diocese.

Stewardship of Human and Material Resources is the fourth thrust. The diocese envisioned the clergy to be equipped with Pastoral Management of Resources and each parish should have a Systematic Finance Committee. This will foster better management of resources, transparency, accountability and sustenance for the promotion of the programs and activities of the Church.

The last priority thrust of the diocese is the Intensification of the Social Action Apostolate. The diocese was tasked to form the faithful regarding a Critical Awareness of the Economic, Socio-Political, Cultural, Ecological Issues in Relation to Faith and Life. This will strengthen the Church of the Poor, which is very much in touch with the present situation of humanity.

The Third Diocesan Pastoral Assembly

The Third Diocesan Pastoral Assembly was held in San Sebastian School, Muñoz, Nueva Ecija on February 16-18, 2000. There were about two hundred participants coming from all parishes of the diocese. The theme chosen was “Damayang Kristiyano ng Diyosesis ng San Jose, Sama-Samang Naglalakbay kasama ni Maria sa Diwa ng Banal na Santatlo” (Damayang Kristiyano of the Diocese of San Jose, Journeying together with Mary in the Blessed Trinity).

This pastoral assembly evaluated the planning of the pastoral program of the diocese and its initial implementation. Father Nestor Romano, the Director of the Commission on Integral Formation, summarized the output of the Third Diocesan Pastoral Assembly in his Article entitled; Ang Panglalakbay ng Diyosesis ng San Jose at ang mga Diocesan Pastoral Assemblies (DPA). Father Romano wrote the following:

        1. Sa Limang taon na paglalakbay naging malinaw sa atin ang ating patutunguhan (1995-2000).
        2. Ang naitalagang Commission on Integral Formation (CIF) ay naging kaagapay sa organisasyon at sa paunti-unting pagsulong ng programa sa ating Diyosesis.
        3. Ang Kapansin-pansin na pakikilahok at pagtatalaga ng sarili ng mga lider layko ay nagpapakita ng isang mataas na antas ng lay empowerment.
        4. Ang pagpapakita ng interes o pagpapahalaga at magandang ugnayan sa bikarya sa paggawa ng pangunahing plano ay naging kapansin-pansin.
The Fourth Diocesan Pastoral Assembly

This is the last pastoral assembly that had occurred in the Diocese of San Jose. It was held in the Knights of Columbus Club House, San Jose City. The duration was from July 18-19, 2002. The Theme was “Patuloy na Paglalakbay Tungo sa Damayang Kristiyano” (Continuous Journey Towards the Realization of Damayang Kristiyano).

The vicar general of the diocese, Monsigñor Rolando Mabutol gave a conclusion to the Fourth Diocesan Pastoral Assembly. His speech was done on behalf of the whole clergy of the diocese as their pledge of support and obedience to the Bishop of San Jose. The vicar general said as follows:

Sa ngalan po ng kaparian ng Diyosesis ng San Jose, kami po ay masisikap na gawin ang mga sumusunod:

        1. Simulan at gawing prioridad sa programa ng aming parokya ang pagtatalaga at pagbubuo ng mga Damayang Kristiyano.
        2. Humanap at magtalaga ng mga Damayang Kristiyano workers at volunteers na maaaring magmula sa mga organisasyon at leader layko sa aming parokya. Sumama sa mga Damayang Kristiyano workers at volunteers sa immersion o pagbabad sa mga barangay lalo na sa simula ng programa.
        3. Maglaan ng pondo para sa pagpapatupad ng Damayang Kristiyano sa aming parokya.
        4. Makipag-ugnayan at maki-isa sa obispo at sa Comission on Integral Formation sa implementasyon ng Damayang Kristiyano.
        5. At higit sa lahat, kaming mga pari ay magsisikap na maging huwaran o modelo ng Damayang Kristiyano sa ating Diyosesis ng San Jose.
The Appointment of the Third Bishop of San Jose, Nueva Ecija

The Most Reverend Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, D.D. was appointed by the Holy See on February 12, 2005 as the third bishop the Diocese of San Jose. Prior to his appointment he served as the Parish Priest of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in the University of the Philippines, Quezon City. He was also the Episcopal Vicar for the clergy of the Diocese of Cubao. He was consecrated bishop in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao on April 30, 2005, with the Most Reverend Gaudencio Rosales D.D., as the principal consecrator. He was installed in the Diocese of San Jose on May 14, 2005 by the Most Reverend Antonio Franco D.D., the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines.

Author: Rev. Fr. Getty Ferrer, JCD (candidate)

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