Poon Bato is famous for a legend or folk story, which tells of the aboriginal Negrito Aeta hunter, Djadig, who discovers a statue on the banks of the Pastac river. They called the statue, “Apo Apang,” the Little Queen.

It has been said that Antonio Pigafetta refers to the statue as the oldest image of the Virgin Mary in Asia, and unauthenticated stories of miracles have surrounded the statue. It is also called the Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, and the “Ina Poon Bato” — Mother of the Sacred Stone or Lady of the Rock.

According to Christopher Domulot, an Aeta who blogs about the history and culture of his tribe at Toogbulites the Aetas: “In 1607, the Recoletos arrived in Zambales. Shortly after their arrival, they heard stories of the miraculous Lady of the Aetas.

“The priests then transferred the image to the church where She stayed until the Philippine revolution when the rebels executed the parish priest, Fr. Julian Jimenez, then took the image to their newly established church – the Philippine Independent Church.”

Now if you examine the statue, it is hard to believe that this is over 400 years old. According to Christopher Domulot: “In 1976, a Columban priest, Rev. Fr. Patrick Duggam ordered a replica of Ina PoonBato from the famous sculptor of religious images, Maximo Vicente.

“In 1981, listening to an inner prompting, Mother Therese Vicente borrowed the image and brought it to Mrs. Rosellyn E. Magsaysay for her to promote Her devotion. The late Bishop Henry Burne gave this mission his approval.

“Since then, Ina PoonBato has visited nearly all Dioceses in the Philippines, [and] has been to different states in U.S.A. Msgr. Josefino Ramirez has also visited some European countries, Communists, and also countries in Asia. In Rome, the image accompanied by Bishop Aniceto was blessed by Pope John Paul II.”

We therefore can conclude that the statue at Poon Bato’s Independent Church is not the original. It is believed to be at an Aglipayan Church: “The Aglipayans took the image in the early 20th century when the break-off from the Catholic church took place. Supposedly, according to history, the rebels killed the Spanish priest, took the image and put it in their church. It wasn’t until the 70’s that the Catholics decided to make their own image. … the hands of the Catholic image are not at all the same like the original, but still reported to be miraculous.”Ina Poon Bato on Flickr.

And so the priest-keeper of the statue is murdered and the statue stolen; then borrowed and unreturned; copied and the copy venerated, with miracles attributed to the replica; and passed on from one hand to another.

Whoever has the statue seems to feel no sense of moral obligation, no sense of decency nor responsibility to return the statue to the people to whom it rightly belongs. How totally shameful and lamentable.

The whereabouts of the original statue is not commonly known. Local hearsay (according to someone I know who used to live in the adjacent municipality of Cabangan), is that the 400 year-old statue has disappeared.

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