POLITICAL partisans digging up dirt in time for the election season have made an unwitting victim out of UST’s venerable history.

It turns out the priest being claimed to have officiated in the purported wedding of opposition presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.’s late father, Allan Fernando Poe, and a certain Paulita Gomez, was formerly a top official the University.

A Thomasian is also being implicated in the alleged forgery – allegedly on orders of resigned National Archives director Ricardo Manapat – of the marriage contract indicating Allan Poe (known in showbusiness as Fernando Poe Sr.) and Paulita Gomez tied the knot on July 5, 1936 at the old Santo Domingo Church in Intramuros.

The document is now being used to disqualify Poe Jr., born to Elizabeth “Bessie” Kelley, an American citizen, on Aug. 20, 1939. A lawyer claims the movie actor is illegitimate, and under a decided case (US vs. Ong Tianse), should have inherited his mother’s US citizenship.

The discovery of the identity of the priest, Rev. Fr. Modesto Mata, O.P., cuts both ways.

It established that he was in Manila at the time the marriage supposedly took place, belying a report that appeared in the opposition newspaper, the Daily Tribune.

However, Mata was not cura or parish priest of pre-war Santo Domingo as stated in the marriage contract (it was not a parish at the time).

Proof are records at the UST Archives, custodian of important historical documents such as papal bulls, academic records, treatises, and others dating even before the University’s founding in 1611.

In 1936, Mata served as dean of the former UST College of Liberal Arts, which offered pre-med and pre-law courses before being merged in 1964 with the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters into what is now the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

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Mata was also head of the Chemistry department, having a master’s degree in science and a doctorate in pharmacy.

The book Misioneros Dominicos en el Extremo Oriente, by Fathers Eladio Neira, O.P., Hilario Ocio, O.P., and Gregorio Arnáiz, O.P. offers a brief biography.

Mata, born in 1896, was a native of Carrión de los Condes in Palencia, Spain. After ordination in 1922, his mission took him to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the University, where he earned his degrees.

In 1935, he was appointed Liberal Arts dean, a post he held until 1938 when he returned to Spain to teach at the Apostolic School of La Mejorada in Olmedo, Valladolid.

Mata was again assigned to UST in 1947, and was appointed to various posts—prefect of discipline, administrator of the UST Hospital, assistant dean of Liberal Arts.

In 1971, at a time when the University was undergoing a wave of Filipinization, Mata went home to Spain. He died in 1974 at the Convent of Santo Tomas de Avila.

In an interview, Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P., head of the UST Archives, said he knew Mata, who was his professor.

“He was here in ‘36. When I came here in ‘57 he was back here,” said the multi-awarded historian, author of the positio that argued for the canonization of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint.

Confirming this is the Arts and Letters regent, Fr. Lucio Gutierrez, O.P.

Villarroel, however, said it would be difficult to establish whether Mata knew Paulita Gomez, or Poe Sr. for that matter.

Gomez’s alleged complaint for bigamy said Mata was “amigo iñtimo de nuestra familia”, a close family friend.

“Whether they invited him to officiate there (Santo Domingo), I am not sure, that’s what I do not know,” Villarroel said.

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It was, however, possible for Mata to officiate in a marriage as long as he had the “delegation,” or permission of the parish priest as required by Canon Law, he explained.

“He had to go to Santo Domingo in Intramuros to do this. He had to get permission from the parish priest in the (Manila) Cathedral,” Villarroel said, referring to the Parish of La Imaculada Concepcion.

But Mata “was not in Intramuros. He was not in Santo Domingo. He was assigned to UST,” Villarroel said.

A Thomasian?

The Jan. 23 banner story of the Tribune, meanwhile, claimed that two former UST students recruited by Manapat to the National Archives last year helped fabricate the marriage contract by researching on Mata as well as the seal of the Santo Domingo Convent.

One of them, Arlene Ramos, secretary of the National Archives director, denied the accusations during a Senate investigation. She later told the media that she came from FEATI University, not UST.

National Archives employees, however, said that the other employee, Leizl Punongbayan, was a UST student. (The Varsitarian checked with the UST Registrar’s office and confirmed that Punongbayan graduated with a BSC in Business Administration degree in March 2001).

One of the several witnesses against Manapat, computer technician Vicelyn Tarin, said Punongbayan, who failed to attend the Senate inquiry despite a subpoena, had resigned.

Tarin could not confirm what role Punongbayan played in the alleged manufacture of the marriage contract.

What has been established so far is that Tarin, with two others, namely Remmel Talabis and Emman Llamera, were allegedly ordered by Manapat to scan and fill up a blank marriage contract — apparently a reproduction of the ones in use during the 1930s — through a computer.

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Llamera said he pasted the Dominican coat-of-arms on the document. It was Ramos who formed the words “Convento de Santo Domingo” around the seal, Llamera said.

Llamera also said he scanned Mata’s signature from a document supposedly provided by Manapat.

As for Paulita Gomez, the opposition has claimed the name was merely lifted from El Filibusterismo, the novel of Jose Rizal.

The finished marriage contract was then reduced, printed, and later on said to have been brought by Manapat himself to Florofoto in Quiapo for microfilming along with two bundles of old birth certificates and deeds of sale from the National Archives. But Rep. Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur) accused the opposition of forging documents. He said that the affidavit saying Manapat had employed the services of Florofoto on January 9 shows that it was notarized on January 2, or a week before the transactions purportedly happened.

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Education, which is conducting its own probe, has written to UST Rector Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O.P. asking for specimen signatures of Mata from the UST Archives.

The signatures are to be examined by handwriting experts.

Villaroel noted that the signature on the marriage contract seemed to be different from the specimens but hastened to add that he is not an expert in caligraphy.

The UST Archives head, meanwhile, said the Dominican coat-of-arms could have been taken from any liturgical book.

But Villarroel was not prepared to declare the document a forgery, in the clear absence of corroborating information.

“I don’t know. I cannot say. I am not sure if Father Mata was authorized by the parish priest or not,” he said. Dexter R. Matilla and Felipe F. Salvosa II

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