[Fr. Bernardo Toribio Blanco is a Spanish Claretian priest who came to the Philippines on February 25, 1977. Fr. Blanco was initially assigned to Basilan which is one of the northernmost islands of the Sulu Archipelago but lies in the southern coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula. We became friends after he got assigned to the Claretian Seminary located within the Sanville Subdivision in Tandang Sora, Quezon City (as the seminary is just a stone’s throw away from our residence in K-Ville); after he escaped from a 49-day captivity by his Abu Sayyaf captors. It was through my friendship with Fr. Blanco that I eventually had the chance to journey to Europe and to accidentally concelebrate mass (which is narrated in another of my BLOGS in this site) at the Claretian’s Provincial General’s chapel located in the Parioli District in Rome. Up to and until now, Fr. Blanco has served as my principal spiritual adviser.]
Father Bernardo Toribio Blanco (“Fr. Blanco”) is a Spanish Claretian priest who was assigned to the Philippines in February 1977 after a raucous stint in Equatorial New Guinea (“Equatorial”). His sudden assignment to the Philippines was an aftermath to his unfortunate deportation mandated by the then President Francisco Macias Nguema of the Equatorial government. This was because Fr. Blanco was advocating the new trend towards liberation theology during those times and the Equatorial government resented this seeming intrusion into Equatorial politics.
Fr. Blanco was born in Ceadea de Aliste in Zamora, Spain on November 20, 1927 and at age 12, he entered the seminary in Segovia, Spain. After his ordination as a priest in May of 1953, the following year, Fr. Blanco was assigned to Equatorial New Guinea which regained its independence from Spain in 1968. Drastic political development came about in Equatorial after the grant of independence and religious repression became the order of the day.
In March of 1993, Fr. Blanco hogged the headlines of our dailies as he was kidnapped by Muslim rebels allied with the Abu Sayyaf. He was held in captivity for 49 days by the Muslim rebels until he took that risky chance to escape and successfully, Fr. Blanco regained his freedom.
At that time when he was kidnapped in Basilan in Mindanao, Fr. Blanco was busy with his youth center building project. It was narrated that Fr. Blanco drove a jeep to the nearest port to haul construction materials for his project. On his return to Matarling in Basilan, he was accosted by armed Muslims and as he was being kidnapped, Fr. Blanco even engaged some of the rebels in a fisticuff. As they were many, and after the rebels rained blows on Fr. Blanco with their fists, their feet and the butts of their guns, Fr. Blanco was ultimately subdued and then and there brought to a rebels’ hideout in the fastness of the Basilan forest.
It was a miraculous escape as Fr. Blanco just needed to answer a call of nature. As has been the practice, every time he would emerge from the cramped fox hole underneath a nipa hut somewhere in Basilan, which Fr. Blanco called his home during the length of his captivity, he would usually be met by one of the rebels and would be accompanied until Fr. Blanco has urinated. As has been the nocturnal schedule, Fr. Blanco would knock on the wooden door from the inside of his foxhole, and then one of the Muslim rebels would latch the door open and would allow Fr. Blanco to urinate. That night however Fr. Blanco remembered that the rebels got engaged in some kind of a drinking spree, with all the singing and the clinking of beer bottles that Fr, Blanco heard And as Fr. Blanco knocked on the wooden door, no one seem to hear. Thus, Fr. Blanco tried to raise the door and discovered that it was not locked from the outside. He thus emerged and seeing the rebels all slumped on the ground over an improvised mat, he gingerly took his steps to freedom. It was midnight but the beam of the full moon gave Fr. Blanco ample illumination in the pitch black forest. It was his 49th day in captivity and what was left in a small plastic box which he meticulously kept with him, and which used to contain consecrated hosts, were mere crumbs of and just a piece of the holy wafer. That morning when he said mass inside the foxhole, Fr. Blanco was actually worried as to how he would go along with improvised hosts for his succeeding masses. Fr. Blanco attributes his successful escape to his being a Marian devotee.
In 1994, the Claretian congregation re-assigned Fr. Blanco at the Claretian seminary along Cenacle Drive in Tandang Sora, Quezon City which is just a stone’s-throw away from our K-Ville home. He eventually became our Sunday mass celebrant in the chapel which stands across the K-Ville community park. Since then, as I together with other officers of the homeowners’ association and Fr. Blanco, as our moving spirit, organized bible-reading sessions within K-Ville; I and Fr. Blanco became friends and I eventually adopted him as my spiritual adviser.
One happy moment which Fr. Blanco narrated after then Pres. Fidel V. Ramos saw him following Fr. Blanco’s successful escape, was Pres. FVR’s jesting remark: “Fr. Blanco, after your having survived 49 days in the fastnesses of the Basilan jungle, I want to recruit you to be a member of the Philippine Scout Rangers.”