Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



 By The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

 On August 3, 1902 the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was proclaimed by labor leader and “father of unionism in the Philippines,“ Don ­­­Isabelo Delos Reyes, Sr. at Centro De Bellas Artes in Manila. The labor movement chose Fr. Gregorio Aglipay to head the new church independent from Rome. In an instant, more than 1/3rd of the Filipino Catholic population (3 million out of 8 million) affiliated to this church as they saw as “the tangible result of the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898.” 

What gave rise to this religious reform movement? What were its trials and triumphs? What made it survive against all odds? What accounts for its staying power? What makes for its renewal?

In over 300 years, the Roman Catholization and subjugation of the Philippines was carried out by Spain through the Cross and the Sword. The Spanish colonial government and the various Catholic religious orders worked together to establish structures that made the Philippines both a vassal of Spain as well as show window of Catholicism in Asia. They also were the structures of oppression for the Filipino masses. Like the typical Western civilization, they appeared both as “guns and ointment,” wounding and healing to a subjugated people.

The Filipinos under the Spanish Era were divided into two camps. On the one hand are Filipinos who received the strangers with open hearts and outstretched arms. From Rajah Humabon who welcomed Ferdinand Magellan with a blood compact to Jose Rizal who advocated peaceful reforms within the context of Filipino representation to the Spanish Cortes, they are gifted with high level of tolerance and long-suffering. Pliant like the bamboo, they humbled themselves before the superiority of foreign powers and swayed with the winds of change.

On the other hand are Filipinos who have a revulsion to foreign tyranny and suspicious of any foreign influence. From Lapulapu who killed Magellan to Andres Bonifacio who led the bloody revolution in 1896, these Filipinos see the Islands in their pristine form and would reject any form of colonial control. 

Because of this contrasting Filipino response of accommodation and prophetism, Philippine society under Spanish colonization was in one sense, only “partly Hispanized and partly Filipinized.”
The Spanish State and Spanish Catholic Church implemented a structure that was designed to politically subjugate the Filipino spirit and exploit their natural resources. Instead of healing divisions among the islanders, they perpetuated class divisions by teaching Spanish to the aristocrats and limiting or denying to the poor access to government resources. 

The typical “divide et impera” (divide and rule) seemed to naturally fit into the typography and customs of the Philippine Islands. The Spanish colonizers instituted a crippling tax system, force labor, slavish galleon trade, monopolies of agricultural products and unfair trade policies.

But while military, political and religious power subjugated the Filipino psyche, the educational establishment introduced by Spain and its religious orders also opened the consciousness for nationalism. The schools and universities established during the Spanish era educated many Filipinos and introduced them to the progressive development of societies in their “Motherland Spain.” Jose Rizal and many illustrados had the opportunity to travel to Spain and Europe where they imbibed the learnings and developed a vision of a fairer and progressive Filipino Nation. 

The unjust social structure and the patronage system keep the Filipinos from united resistance against Spanish control. There were many sporadic revolts against both Spanish Church and Society but they never prospered. Some of these were:

(1)   The Tamblot Revolt of a babaylan (witch doctor) who rallied Boholanos to abandon Catholicism and return to animism. He was summarily defeated by Spanish soldiers and Filipino Catholics;

(2)   The Bankaw Revolt by a disillusioned Catholic convert in Leyte who was likewise defeated by Spanish guardia civil and Christians from Cebu;

(3)   The Dagohoy Rebellion by over 20,000 Filipinos and lasted for 85 years. The cause of rebellion was the refusal of the Jesuit priest to give Catholic burial to Chief Dagohoy’s brother;

(4)   The Sumuroy Revolt which was caused by Governor Fajardo’s order to have polistas in the shipyards in Cavite.

(5)   The Pampanga-Pangasinan-Ilokos Uprising which was an economic revolt against government monopolies of agricultural products; 

(6)   The Palaris Revolt which demanded the abolition of tribute and force labor in Pangasinan;

(7)   The Revolt of Diego and Gabriela Silang in Luzon against the excesses of Spanish governors and anomalies in collection of tributes.

There were many other smaller revolts that happened in various parts of the Philippines which were readily quelled. But the most notable resistance came from the Muslims in the South (Mindanao) and from the Igorots (animists) from the Mountain Province of Luzon. 

In the South, the Muslims of Mindanao vehemently opposed Catholicism and resisted all military, political and missionary efforts of the Spaniards. Among the Igorots in the Mountain Province, the “head hunting” tribes also proved formidable in battle and jungle warfare that the Spaniards simply did not make any more efforts.


Nationalism is defined as a “devotion to national unity and independence” and considered to be the most important ingredient in forging national consciousness. It is a patriotic fervor that develops among people living in a contiguous area forged by common history, cultures, customs and traditions. 

In the history of colonized peoples, no struggle for liberation and independence ever succeeded without the development of national consciousness.

 In Philippine history, the intermittent revolts and uprisings finally came to a united front and the catalyst for national revolution was the martyrdom of the three priests, Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora. The charges against the three Filipino priests for alleged complicity in a mutiny of the soldiers in Cavite highlighted the abuses of the Spanish military and religious authorities and galvanized the Filipino Propaganda Movement. It became a turning point in the development of nationalism. Their martyrdom would inspire Jose Rizal to dedicate his novel, El Filibusterismo and would result in the flowering of revolutionary forces all over the country.
In August 26, 1896, Andres Bonifacio led the Katipunan Movement in a “Cry of Pugadlawin” and ignited a nationalist revolution. Jose Rizal, despite his avowed espousal of peaceful change was accused of complicity in the Revolution by the Spanish government. 

Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan (now Luneta) on December 30, 1896.  The Revolution spread throughout the land. Even when Bonifacio died in May 10, 1897 as a result of power struggle within the Katipunan among the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions, the revolution continued.

General Emilio Aguinaldo took over and led the Katipuneros into victory. On June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine Independence from Spain and inaugurated the first Philippine Republic.


As the Philippine Revolution was going on, the emerging American Empire ventured into war with Spain in April 25, 1898. This war ended in less than a year on December 10, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Under this Treaty, the declining Spanish Empire, ceded its territories in Cuba, Puerto Rico, parts of West Indies, Guam—and the Philippines---to the robust North American empire. Without the knowledge of the Filipino revolutionaries, Spain surrendered to the United States. 

Like a transfer of ownership, the United States paid $20 million to Spain over the control of the Philippine Islands. Overnight the colonization of the Filipinos changed hands. After having been freed from 300 years of Spanish colonization, the Filipino would be under American imperialism. In another way of speaking, as one writer puts it, the people which had been under Spanish convent for 300 years would now be promised Hollywood for the next 50 years.

With the advent of American Occupation, the Filipino political revolution would be lost; the religious revolution would take over. (To be continued)

Don Isabelo Delos Reyes, Sr. proclaimed the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. He declared "Enough of Rome! Let us now form an independent Filipino Church..."
Father Gregorio Aglipay who served as Military Vicar General of Emilio Aguinaldo was chosen to lead the fledgling Iglesia Filipina Independiente as "Obispo Maximo"
Andres Bonifacio, the revolutionary head of the Katipunan who lead the "Cry of Pugadlawin."
Jose Rizal, the reformer and national hero of the Philippines. There are some who argued that Bonifacio, who led the Revolution, may have been the more appropriate national hero.
General Emilio Aguinaldo, who succeeded Andres Bonifacio declared independence from Spain and proclaimed the short-lived Philippine Republic in Kawit, Cavite in June 12, 1898.

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