GREGORIO L. AGLIPAY, THE UNSUNG HERO
On August 23, 1996, the Filipino people will celebrate the Centennial of the 1896 Philippine Revolution, waged in search for justice and freedom from foreign domination. In moments like this, we always remember Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo for leading the political and social aspects of the revolution. However, our celebration will never be complete unless we give justice to another pillar of the revolution and unsung hero.
To students of history, he deserves to be placed side by side with Bonifacio and Aguinaldo. He must be counted, as Renato Constantino puts it, “not only as Batac’s single contribution to our pantheon of national hereos but as a shining example of relevance in the continuing nationalist struggle.” This man is nor other than Gregorio Aglipay y Labayan. He was a leader of another aspect of the revolution, the religious revolution in thePhilippines.
At this point, a short outline of Aglipay’s early life up to the time of his separation fromRomeis in order.
Aglipay was born of poor parents in the town of Batac, Ilocos Norte, on May 8, 1860. His mother died when he was just one year old. At the age of 16, he left forManilaafter he was arrested for failing to plant tobacco on time. Aglipay’s struggle for life with justice and freedom of the oppressed and deprived Filipino began with the joys and pains of growing up in Batac. InManila, he enrolled at San Juan de Letran as a working student but making excellent grades. He was later admitted into theUniversityofSanto Tomas, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. Afterwards, he thought of taking up law but changed his mind and entered the seminary in Vigan in 1883.
After ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Aglipay celebrated his first sung mass on New Year’s Day of 1890 at the Santa Cruz Church in Manila. He had several appointments as coadjutor priest between 1890 and 1898. His assignments included the following: Indang, Cavite; San Antonio, Nueva Ecija; Bocaue, Bulacan; San Pablo, Laguna and Victoria, Tarlac. It was in Victoria, Tarlac, where Aglipay had the opportunities of coming into contact with Aguinaldo and the revolutionaries, and became an active part of the Katipunan movement. From being a military chaplain (the first appointee to this position), he was promoted military vicar general (vicario general castrense) by General Aguinaldo on October 20, 1998.
Aglipay was a contemporary and friend of Jose Rizal. However, unlike Rizal, he participated in the revolutionary struggle for independence. He was a Catholic Church priest who fought not only against frailocracy but also Spanish colonialism and American imperialism later. He was the only priest at the Malolos Congress.
Gregorio Aglipay did not only work in religious field as a priest. As a Filipino, he continued the battles of Fr. Pedro Pelaez who bluntly protested the Royal Decree of the Queen of Spain forbidding the assignments Filipino clergy as parish priests. He continued the unfinished revolution of Frs. Burgos, Gomez and Zamora in demanding equality with foreign priests.
The full commitment of Fr. Aglipay to Philippine Independence made him resist American aggression. In a circular dated February 16, 1899, he ashed the Filipino priests to support the war against theUnited Statesand deplored “the barbarous atrocities being committed by the infamous American nation against our beloved land.”
Aglipay, according to Gabriel F. Fabella of the University of thePhilippines, is one of the great leaders that the country has produced. It was just a misfortune on the part of Aglipay that he courted prejudice and disdain from predominantly catholic groups that underrated his patriotism and denied him his rightful place in history. Thus, his story was not truly told and his song was not beautifully sung.
Justice must be done to the heroism of Aglipay not only for the sake of the members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente which he first headed as Obispo Maximo, but also for the rest of the Filipino people who until now struggle for life in and or with abundance, joy, justice and peace. His story must be fully told. He must be told of as a priest of God not only in the four comers of the church and convent but as father, pastor and prophet of the Filipino communities. His song must be beautifully sung according to its beautiful song. He must be sung with militant lyrics and well-turned notes being one of the liberators of the Filipino people from the bondage of foreign oppression and exploitation. Why?
This is so because Fr. Aglipay’s political life is still relevant in today’s struggle. His religious and political sides cannot be separated. He himself was a controversial figure, and his political actions reveal many seeming contradictions. However, his struggle for Filipinization was a strong indication of his fervent nationalism.
Furthermore, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente which was officially proclaimed on August 3, 1902, by the Union Obrera Democratica, a confederation of 10 labor organizations, headed by Don Isabelo delos Reyes, and which Bishop Gregorio Aglipay later finally accepted to lead, brought reformation to the Roman Catholic Church in thePhilippines. The long-cherished vision of Filipinization of the clergy was finally realized not only in the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Filipino priests were not only given parishes to administer but that she started to consecrate Filipino priests to the episcopacy and to appoint his eminence Rufino Santos as cardinal.
Yes! Gregorio Aglipay deserves to be a sung hero. The Filipino people as a nation must recognize his patriotic and nationalistic leadership, and not relegate him into the altar of oblivion. Let us bear in mind that his declaration of independence and separation from the Church of Rome was a clear indication of a struggle to be free from foreign asphyxiating control.
An essay written by Bishop Tomas A. Millamena for the 94th birth anniversary national celebrations of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente on August 1-3, 1996 hosted by Southern Tagalog dioceses held atCaviteCity. It was partly published by Ms. Domini Torevillas in the Philippine Star on August 1, 1996.