By Susana C. Obejera The year 1948 is a very remarkable year in the town of Pozorrubio because it marked the foundation of a private catholic high school – St. Philomena’s Academy. A co-educational institution which was named after St. Philomena, a virgin and martyr of the Roman era whose feast used to be celebrated every 11th day of August until February 14, 1961 when it was dropped from the Church Calendar. The former parish priest of this town, the late Rev. Fr. Emilio A. Cinense – the founder and first director of SPA who later became a Bishop and Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, saw the need pf putting up a private catholic high school in answer to the educational challenges during that time and also to provide the youth with a well-rounded secondary education based on the principles and practices of the Catholic Religion. Hence, St. Philomena’s Academy was born in June, 1948 at the heart of the town of Pozorrubio..During the first school year 1948 – 1949, the school started with barely 29 freshmen and 9 sophomores with three lay teachers, Mr. Nicanor Generao, Mr. Teofilo Ancheta and Mrs. Julia Mariñas. The old convent was converted into temporary classroom and the school was then operating under a temporary permit until 1952. at first the noble aims of the school were not properly understood by the people, so that the following school year didn’t show a good enrolment. However, the founder and the teachers were not discouraged with this situation instead they doubled their efforts to motivate the people. By the school year 1950 – 1951, new hope was seen. The enrolment and even doubled graduates. The next school year further showed a better enrolment and even doubled the number of graduates. The people are now slowly realizing the aims of the founder.
The school year 1952 – 1953 called for the transfer of Fr. Cinense to Urdaneta, so the late Rev. Fr. Domingo Frias succeeded as Director with the late Mr. Francisco Aldana as Principal due to the increasing population, an annex a room has been built. Fr. Frias barely stayed as a director for a little less then two school years.
By January 1954, the late Fr. Alfredo Cayabyab took over as a Director with Rev. Fr. Geronimo Marcelino, Rev. Fr. Eugenio Z. De Vera and the late Mr. Pedro S. Itliong as his assistants in succession for sometime. It was during his term that the government recognition was granted to SPA. In early 1961, it was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission after which its Articles of Incorporation were approved and adopte4d for implementation on January 26, 1961. For Fr. Cayabyab, this was the greatest accomplishment during his incumbency. At last, he was able to see the fruits of his efforts and the dream of the founder was brought to reality. All the more he has exerted greater efforts in improving the school. He initiated the purchase of a house and lot from the Tabacelera Company for purposes of expansion in order to meet the growing population of the school. Additional classrooms them were built and 5-sitter connected type benches with heavy weight legs were constructed. Fr. Cayabyab’s 13 years of service (1954 – 1967) was gratifying and enhanced the image of the school to the public.
In May, 1967 Rev. Fr. Amado C. Lopez took over as the new director until 1972 with Rev. Fr. Aniceto Malanum and Rev. Fr. Dimas Jacinto as assistants in succession and the late Mr. Celestino Desamito as principal until 1971. Fr. Lopez completed the two parallel buildings with the stage. His administration was undeniably impressive. Like the previous administration, he has his own little way of improving the school through fund raising drive like popularity contest. Enrolment continuously increased.
School year 1972 – 1973 ushered in the young Rev. Fr. Ernesto F. Fernandez as a full time school director with the late Mr. Candelario C. Quinto as Principal (1971 – 1974). Fr. Fernandez worked wonders for the school despite his short stay. To protect the school from intruders the school has been fenced this giving way also to the improvement on the discipline of students.
Rev. Fr. Felipe Matias succeeded Fr. Fernandez as full time director from 1974 – 1977. He did his best to manage the school. He being a sportsman encouraged sports development.
After Fr. Matias came Rev. Fr. Luis A. Ungson, the director from 1977 – 1982. He then appointed Mr. Simplicio U. Sansano as OIC in 1977 and Miss Avilla N. Lucero, acting Principal. The school has kept a progressive chart of success during the incumbency of this director as indicated in its yearly increase of enrolment. In 1978 Mr. Sansano became the Principal and still the principal up to the present. It was during the term of Fr. Ungson that the idea of putting up a Pre-School/Elem. Dept. started. In 1981, a one-room Pre school building has been constructed. Like the previous directors he also had his own way of improving the school both the physical and personnel aspects.
The general reshuffle of Parish Priests in 1981 brought the late Rev. Fr. Aureliano B. Ruiz to SPA and became the next director. It was during this school year that a temporary permit has been granted to the school for the opening and operation of a Pre-School department. The school started with 45 kinder pupils. These pupils were the pioneer graduates of the Pre-School Department who again were the initial enrollees of the Elementary Department the following school year (1983 – 1984). The old building has been renovated making two-classrooms at the second floor out of the proceeds of the popularity contest. In 1986, Msgr. Ruiz was transferred and Rev. Fr. Adolfo T. Paroni, Jr. took over as OIC from 1986 to 1987.
The current Parish Priest rev. Fr. Eugenio Z. De era took over as director from 1987 to 1992. Fr. Ening worked wonders for the school. After the devastating 1990 killer quake hit the school, destroying most of the classrooms, repairs were done fast with the help of the Parent-Teacher’s Association and the SPA Alumni Association. Enrolment was still tolerable despite the nationalization of the public high schools. Through all those years Fr. De Vera was assisted by Sis. Carmen Anselmo and Mrs. Rufina R. Casabar in succession.
Then came another reshuffle in 1992. Rev. Fr. Primo A Garcia is the next director. Fr. Garcia and Mr. Sansano’s teamwork was undoubte4d great. Due to urgent need of the Parish of Immaculate Conception of Urdaneta for Fr. Primo he served the school for only one school year. However, his short stay was as fruitful as others. The once-dripping classroom roofings have been replaced to make classrooms more conductive to learning.
The next school year 1993 – 1994 welcomed Rev. Fr. Arturo F. Aquino as the new director. A young priest whose ideas on school management are exceptionally impressive. The Aquino – Sansano tandem has visibly done wonders for the school (visit the school and see it for yourself). A complete facelifting of the school has been done as well as personnel’s moral boosting. Each one of them contributed his expertise and abilities in school management considering their experiences in school. Fr. Aquino being a former member of the teaching staff o f Mary Help Christian Seminary in Binmaley and Mr. Sansano a long-time teacher/principal of this school.
To date, the one-time one-classroom school which was compared to a grain of mustard seed has grown into a big tree. It maintains a Pre-School Department (Kindergarten I & II), a complete Elementary Department (Grade I-VI one section each) and a 12-classroom High School, Department (3 sections per year level). Despite the growing number of public elementary and high school, SPA has a current enrollment of 948 students, 51 Pre-schoolers, 227 Elementary pupils and 670 high school students with 31 academic personnel (inclusive of the Director and Principal) and 5 non-academic personnel. It is now one of the best Diocesan Schools in the Diocesan Schools in the Diocese of Urdaneta.
Now the school turns 50 years old. Fifty years is long enough to test the strength of any institution. It has survived despite storms and obstacle with its own resources and without any foreign aid. More so to say that, it has produced six thousand five hundred eighty eight men and women (inclusive of this year’s graduates) spread all over the world. A proof that St. Philomena’s Academy is still great and strong and forever great and strong. Mabuhay St. Philomena’s Academy! More Power!!!