This year’s Tercentenary celebration for Bicolandia’s most revered Patroness, Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, more popularly known as ‘Ina’, will not be totally complete without making mention of the two historic bells adorning the belfry of the centuries-old Our Lady of Peñafrancia Shrine in Naga City.
The antique and ancient bells were donated in 1863 and 1868 by Simon Li Tuanqui, a successful Chinese trader-philantropist converted to Catholic faith … and has since became a devotee of ‘Ina.’ The money for construction of the belfry itself was donated by him as recorded by the then Bishop of Nueva Caceres, Reverend Francisco Gainza, in his 1866 Bikol language account of the original and historical background of the Virgin of Peñafrancia.
A close scrutiny of the two man-sized Li Tuanqui bells by local historians showed one bearing the inscriptions: ‘PARA SA IGLESIA DE NTRA. SRA. DE PEÑAFRANCIA AÑO D. 1863 SIMON LI TUANQUI” while the other bore the inscription: “OBSEQUIO DE SIMON LI TUANQUI A NTRA. SRA. DE PEÑAFRANCIA AÑO 1868.”
Based on the same account of the scholarly Dominican Bishop Gainza, the name Simon given to Li Tuanqui was proof of his good standing with the Church hierarchy at that time. In fact, historians deduced that while others use the more common Hispanized variant, Simeon, his name was taken from Simon Vela, who before him dedicated his entire life in the service of the Blessed Virgin.
Simon Li Tuanqui wielded great influence among the local Chinese community whose most prominent contribution to the annual Marian celebration at that time was the preparation of the ‘Pagoda,’ a splendid vessel which carry the ‘Ina’ during the ‘Sakay’ or fluvial procession in honor of the Feast Day of the Virgin of Peñafrancia.
Li Tuanqui’s extraordinary devotion to ‘Ina’ was not only long remembered but also continued as a family tradition by his descendants. Married to a Bicolana, Maria Sarte of the prominent Sarte clan of Polangui, Albay, he begot three daughters and a son named Rufino Tuanqui who later served as the town mayor of Polangui, Albay, then as Provincial Board Member and finally as Governor of Albay Province in 1916.
In present times, one of his great grandsons, Marcial “Lito” E. Tuanqui, Jr., likewise well-known in the community as a civic leader, a former Board Member and Vice Governor of Albay and long-sitting President of the Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), among others, is spearheading the Li Tuanqui clan’s continued devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
This was again demonstrated in 1996 by their donation of a substantial amount which, together with the other devotees, was used to bankroll the renovation of the Peñafrancia Shrine belfry where the twin Li Tuanqui bells continue to toll calling the parishioners and devotees to the Blessed Virgin.
To date, according to Li Tuanqui, a big Filipino-Chinese community in Manila headed by Teresita Ang See, also known as a national anti-crime crusader, are making arrangements and bankrolling the production of exact replicas of the Li Tuanqui bells to be installed at the famous Kaisa Museum in Intramuros, Manila for their great religious and historical significance.
“The Li Tuanqui bells, both the originals adorning the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Shrine belfry and the replicas installed at the Kaisa Museum, do not only have tremendous religious, cultural and historical significance but also serve as a reminder as well as a motivation for the Bicolanos to heighten their faith and devotion to “Ina,” Lito Tuanqui said.