Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, August 7, 2015


(Part 2 of a 3-Part Series)

 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 2/3rd of the Filipino Catholic population (3 million out of 8 million) affiliated to this church as they saw as the “the tangible result of the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898.” What gave rise to this religious reform movement? What are its trials and triumphs? What made it survive against all odds and what accounts for its renewal?

As the Philippine Revolution of 1896 against 300 years of Spanish colonization was raging, the emerging American Empire ventured into war with Spain on April 25, 1898. 

On June 12, 1898 General Emilio proclaimed the Philippine Republic in Kawit, Cavite. The Philippine national flag, made in Hong Kong by Marcela Agoncillo was hoisted. The Philippines national march, composed by Julian Felipe was played. The Philippines’ Declaration of Independence was ninety-eight leaders.
The “first Philippine Republic” proved to be short-lived because instead of surrendering to the “victorious” Filipino revolutionaries, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States to the tune of 20 million pesos! Sealed by the Treaty of Paris, the agreement practically transferred ownership of the Philippines to the American government. 

The coming of the Americans, instead of assisting the Filipino masses to achieve their aspirations for an “independent nation enrolled in the family of free nations” wrested control over the country and aborted its desire for self-actualization. U.S. President William McKinley issued his so-called “benevolent assimilation” order on December 21, 1898 instructing his military commanders to extend American sovereignty over the Philippines “even by force.”

While most Americans agreed with McKinley at that time that the Philippine scheme was part of the "manifest destiny," at least one noted writer, Mark Twain wrote: " I have read carefully the Treaty Paris and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist.I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."  (New York Herald, Oct. 5,1900)

How did the Philippine revolutionaries react to the advent of American rule? Feeling betrayed and humiliated, Aguinaldo and his men waged war against the Americans which lasted for three years. It was a lopsided war between revolution-weary Filipino combatants with inferior arms against a superior and well-trained U.S. Army. 

The Philippine-American War saw barbarity on both sides as the Filipinos fought a fanatical battle of frustration and anger. Americans on the other hand, also showed no mercy at taking revenge. Like the Spaniards before them, they resorted to extreme measures hoping to soften the Filipinos’ will to fight. Murder of civilians and tortures of prisoners were employed. In Samar, General James Smith retaliated to a Filipino ambush by burning villages and shooting every Filipino, soldier or civilian, man or woman, adult or child, in sight transforming Balangiga village to a “howling wilderness.” 

The inhuman barbarity with which General Smith subdued the people of Samar touched the conscience of the American people who called for his  court-martial and removal from service. 

The three-year War finally ended with the capture of General Emilio Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela on March 23, 1901, ending his short-lived presidency. The cost of the war: Loss of over 4,200 American soldiers; loss of over 20,000 Filipino combatants; and loss of over 200,000 Filipino civilians from violence, famine, and disease. 

On April 19, 1901, Aguinaldo took an oath of allegiance to the United States formally ending the first Philippine Republic and recognizing the sovereignty of the United States over the Philippines. 

With the advent of American Occupation, the Filipino political revolution would be lost; the religious revolution would take over in the founding of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

The Philippine Revolution against Spain had a double-aim: political and religious freedom. With the coming of the American neo-colonizers, the political aim was lost but the religious aim continued. Like a bamboo that was cut in the bud, the revolutionary movement emerged with a new shoot. This time, it succeeded.

The religious aims of the Philippine Revolutionaries included the following demands:
  1. Recognition of the rights of the Filipino clergy.
  2. Freedom from the racism and abuses of the Spanish friars.
  3. Establishment of a Filipino religious order similar to Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc. (who were then all foreigners)
  4. Filipinization of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines.

The advent of Americanization and its policy of the separation of the Church and State, ironically helped the Filipino Clergy in agitating for reforms. For a long time, they had suffered from the maltreatment of the friars who considered the “Indios” as inferior and the Filipino clergy unfit for the episcopacy or higher holy orders. Where during the Spanish Era, both the Roman Church and the Spanish colonial government were in collusion to stamp out dissent, now the American Era provided relative freedom of association and assembly.

The agitation for Filipinization of the Roman Catholic Church therefore moved in stages:

Stage 1: On October 23, 1899 in Paniqui, Tarlac, a group of Filipino priests led by the Reverend Gregorio Aglipay proposed a “provisional constitution” of the Filipino Church. Historian Juan Rivera wrote: “To all intents and purposes, a national Filipino Church was established at the Paniqui Convention. Independence from the control of Spanish prelates was declared…the machinery was organized and power to negotiate with Rome was boldly assumed.”

Stage 2: On May 8, 1902 in Kullabeng (Pinili), Ilocos Sur, the Ilocano priests gathered in an assembly and resumed the plans towards Filipinization. This new assembly arrived at a consensus “to secede from Rome if Vatican continues to ignore  the rights of the Filipino clergy.” Their specific clamor was for the recognition of the rights of the Filipino priests to be eligible for appointment to higher holy orders as bishops and archbishops.
Catholic historians Achutegui and Bernad believed the Kullabeng Assembly was the one that finally gave shape to the Philippine Independent Church.  Achutegui and Bernad wrote: “In Paniqui, the cry was ‘Not with the (Spanish) Bishops (who are in the Philippines) but with Rome.’ The essential thing was to appeal to Rome for redress, with an explicit declaration of adherence to Roman authority and doctrine. At Kullabeng, the cry was ‘Not with Rome!’ It was a declaration of independence from Roman authority, and the beginning of the abandonment of Roman doctrine.”

Stage 3: On August 3, 1902, at the Centro De Bellas Artes (Center of Fine Arts), the first meeting of Union Obrero Democratico was convened by the “father of Philippine Unionism,”, Don Isabelo Delos Reyes, Sr.. Prior to this assembly, Delos Reyes wrote in his newspaper, Filipinas Ante Europa, the following declaration:
“Enough of Rome! Let us now form without vacillation our own congregation, a Filipino Church, conserving all that is good in the Roman Church and eliminating all the deceptions which the diabolical astuteness of the cunning Romanists had introduced to corrupt the moral purity and sacredness of the doctrines of Christ.”
A fiery orator, prolific writer and radical propagandist, Delos Reyes campaigned relentlessly and used his power in the labor movement to drum up support to Filipinization movement. In that rally of the union, he lambasted the friars and called even the new American Apostolic nuncio, Monsenor Placido Chapelle as “pro-friar and enemy of Filipinization.” 
In others words, Delos Reyes believed that even in the new era of Americanization, there was no hope for the recognition of the rights of the Filipino clergy, and they had no other recourse but to secede from Rome and declare a schism. He proceeded to announce in public, without Aglipay’ s  knowledge or consent,  that Father Gregorio Aglipay was chosen to be the “supreme head” of this independent Church. 
With the proclamation by Delos Reyes, the die has been cast. The clamor for religious reform has moved to a religious revolution. There was no turning back for the movement to Filipinize the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. (To be continued)
Cry of Pugadlawin signaled the Philippine Revolution Against Spain
General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the first Philippine Republic in Kawit, Cavite
Philippine American War (1899-1902): American guns
Philippine American War: Filipino combatants
Above: President William McKinley inaugurated American imperialism in the Philippines in the form of "benevolent assimilation"
Mark Twain,"I am an anti-imperialist; I am opposed to having the eagle put  its talons on any other land."

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