On a 425-square-meter lot in Barangay San Francisco in the town of Anao stands a chapel of the Philippine Independent Church, which, according to historian William Henry Scott, is the “only living and tangible result of the (Philippine) Revolution (against Spain).” It is believed to be the “true site” of the historic Paniqui Assembly and birthplace of the Philippine Independent Church.
On October 23, 1899, Father Gregorio Aglipay, then General Emilio Aguinaldo’s military vicar general, called for a conference of Filipino priests in a bid to persuade the Vatican to allow native clergymen to hold parishes, among many other reasons.
The meeting resulted two days later in the signing of a document titled Constituciones Provisionales de la Iglesia Filipina. Signed by 26 Filipino priests from Manila and the provinces of Northern Luzon, it contained ordinances in nine canons which “place(d) Philippine Church affairs in the hands of a Council composed of delegates from each diocese named by deputy military vicars …”
In his essay “Aglipay Before Aglipayanism,” the late William Henry Scott said that although the Constituciones was supposed to have been “signed and dated ‘in the parish house of Paniqui’ … old folks in barrio San Francisco (then a part of Paniqui) insist that the meeting was actually held in their chapel, a humble structure they lovingly preserved for 70 years.”
As proof, Scott offered “the fact that the Paniqui parish priest … was not among the signatories of the Constituciones.”
In 1999, journalists, historians, government officials and PIC priests and members from dioceses in the provinces of Tarlac, Pampanga, Cavite, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Ilocos Norte trooped to the church’s chapel in Barangay San Francisco as part of the centennial celebration of the Paniqui Assembly.
Here, they reenacted the signing of the Consituciones, which, according to Father Mario Quince, a PIC parish priest in Tarlac City, was an unmistakable sign that the Aglipayan Church had come to accept the San Francisco chapel as its birthplace.
But “the government has yet to recognize the worth of this humble chapel in the history of this country,” said dentist Rey Quindara, a PIC lay leader.
In fact, he said, “there is no historical marker in the building to identify it as a national treasure.”
He said “history books should be rewritten to include the simple truth that the San Francisco chapel played a major role in the Filipinos’ fight for freedom against Spain and the United States.”
As a starting point in their bid for the recognition of the San Francisco chapel as a historical landmark, PIC members began a campaign that included taking photographs of the chapel and the old items kept in it.
They inventoried extant documents related to the Paniqui Assembly and tried to persuade history teachers in the province to include the chapel’s history in their lessons.
Aglipay was born to a family of poor farmers in 1860 in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
At 16, he had shown a fierce sense of freedom when he defied Ilocano custom and refused to marry a girl his father betrothed to him without his knowledge.
Scott said Aglipay’s “refusal to marry might better be explained by the desire to pursue an education rather than to settle down to a farmer’s life.”
This penchant for defying tradition and the status quo led Aglipay first to the revolutionary cause and later to a schism with the Roman Catholic Church.
In Manila, he became a prize-winning graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, Scott said.
After being ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 21, 1889, Aglipay was assigned as parish coadjutor in Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Laguna and Tarlac.
Three months after he was transferred to a parish in Victoria, Tarlac, in December 1896, Aglipay organized the Liwanag chapter of the Katipunan, a secret revolutionary society headed by Andres Bonifacio.
To attend Katipunan meetings, Scott said the rebel priest had to “sneak out of the convento at night – to attend dances.”
“Due to the energy exerted by the members, the number joining increased daily and the town was converted into a Katipunan with truly extraordinary speed,” Scott said.
Preparations by the Liwanag Katipuneros for the planned revolution, however, were stopped when Aguinaldo signed the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.
In October 1898, the same month he was excommunicated, Aglipay convened the Paniqui Assembly, his first official act as military vicar general of the Aguinaldo government.
At first reluctant to leave the fold of the Catholic Church, Aglipay was left with no choice but to head the Filipino Church when it was formed in 1902, because of the Vatican’s inaction on the “secularization” issue.
Scott said the “myths” surrounding Aglipay are “regrettable, not so much because they caricature the man as either a hero or a villain, but because they obscure his role in Philippine history as a patriot priest of courage and conviction in a time of national crisis.”
“A popular error, for example, assumes he was the head of a schismatic church during the Revolution, though in fact (the PIC) was not founded until 1902,” Scott said.
Local historian Lino L. Dizon of the Tarlac State University’s Center for Tarlaqueño Studies said the Paniqui Assembly was held “simply to raise before the Vatican the issues of installing Filipino priests in Philippine parishes as well as Aglipay’s excommunication.”
“It was not meant to establish a church apart from the Catholic Church,” he said.
All the Truth, All the Time
(February 8, 2011 By Russell Arador)