|Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. July 7, 1864, Vigan, Ilocos SurIsabelo de los Reyes was born on July 7, 1864 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur to Elias de los Reyes and Leona Florentino, a well known poetess of the Philippines.
At the age six, the young Beluce (his nickname then) was committed by his father to the care of a rich relative, Don Mena Crisologo.
As a boy, he studied at the Vigan Seminary, where he began to hate the friars because of their maltreatment of the students that led them to strike. In June 1880, at 16, he went to Manila and enrolled as a self-supporting student at the San Juan de Letran College where he obtained the grades of sobresaliente in all subjects when he graduated with the Bachelor of Arts Degree. He later studied law in the University of Santo Tomas, and registered for courses in paleography, history and anthropology. He was flexing the universality of his interests.
He became a notary at the age of 22. As the legal age to practice law was 25, he turned his attention towards journalism.
His first article dealt with the “Invasion of Limahong”, which appeared in the Diario de Manila in November 1882. Then he founded the first vernacular paper, El Ilocano. He published the prize winning books, the Historia de Ilocos, Folklore Filipino and also Las Islas Visayas en la epoca de la Conquista: He edited books and leaflets, contributed articles to various Spanish periodicals, wrote articles criticizing the Spanish maladministration in the Philippines, and openly attacked the religious and Spanish writers.
On June 14, 1884, he married Josefa Sevilla, a Filipina beauty of Malabon. As he had a growing family to support, he engaged in business, but never prospered. He then returned to journalism and literature.
Because of his stirring and pungent articles against the friars, he was regarded as a dangerous enemy. Accused of complicity in the Revolution of 1896, he was arrested and jailed in the Bilibid Prison on February 13, 1897. While he was in prison, his wife died. He was permitted to attend his wife’s funeral and share the bereavement with his six children.
Inside the Bilibid Prison, he wrote his Sensecional Memoria and addressed it to the Governor pointing out that the friars were the ones who sowed the seeds of rebellion against colonial government in the Philippines. This document provoked discussion in the islands especially in Spain so much so that it caused his deportation to Spain, where he was incarcerated at the Montjuich Castle in Barcelona. In accordance with the terms of the Pact of Biak na Bato on December 14-15, 1897, he was released. As an indication of the high regard for him, he was appointed Consejo del Ministerio de Ultramar in the Spanish Cabinet in 1898-1901.
While working as consejero (counselor) he fell in love with Señorita Maria Angeles Lopez Montero and married her on Christmas Eve on 1898. His marriage to this Spanish girl and his having a good job in the Spanish government did not, however, diminish Don Belong’s love for his native land, so that in 1899 he published La Sensecional Memoria sobre la Revolucion Filipina in Madrid.
While abroad, he was commissioned by the Filipino Ecclesiastical Assembly to negotiate with the Pope to secularize the Filipino clergy. The rejection of the appeal compelled him to resume his anti-friar campaign. However, upon the proclamation of the Philippine Independence Church, Filipinos were consecrated bishops; for fear that they would affiliate with the Aglipayans.
During the Filipino-American War (1899-1902), he attacked the Americans for assaulting the first Philippine Republic in his new book Independencia y Revolucion. He founded and edited two nationalist periodicals in Madrid, El Defensor de Filipinas and Filipinas Ante Europa.
Upon Gen. Aguinaldo’s capture in March 1901, General Malvar appointed Don Belong, as he was now popularly called, while still in Spain as Secretary of State of the Revolutionary Cabinet. He was named President of the Republic of the Philippines by some of the revolutionary generals, a title he never received because at that time the Americans already occupied the Philippines.
He returned to Manila on July 1, 1901. On February 2, 1902, he organized the first labor union, Union Obrera Democratica Filipina. As its first President, he initiated the first Labor Day celebration on May 1 and published La Redencion de Obrero, the first labor newspaper.
In the meeting of the leaders of UOD held on August 3, 1902, he proclaimed the establishment of the Philippine Independent Church and nominated Fr. Gregorio Aglipay, vicar general of the Revolutionary Army, as its Supreme Bishop. Mons. Aglipay then named Isabelo as Honorary Bishop.
In the first labor strike of the Fabrica de Tabacos in Malabon, the supreme head of the labor union. Don Belong was charged of violating a law prohibiting an organization to force the increase of wages, and sentenced him to four months imprisonment.
After his release from prison, he left Manila in February 1903, for China and Japan. He was able to contact the self-exiled revolutionary General Artemio Ricarte in Yokohama and apprise him on the Philippine situation.
He returned to Manila, and later in 1905, he sailed for Spain, where he worked as a juror of the Spanish government. On April 3, 1909, he returned to Manila with his wife and children. His wife died later in a Tokyo hospital. Surviving here were eight children – Isabelo, Jr., Angeles, Elisa, Elvira, Isabel, Maria, Antonio and Luisa.
A widower at the age of 48, he re-married, this time, to Maria Lim, a Chinese mestiza of Tondo.
He was twice elected councilor of Manila. He appeared in the City Hall and challenged his colleagues daily with discussions, motions and resolutions all of which were the focus of attention of both American and the Filipino public. He was councilor from 1912-1919.
He was elected senator of the first senatorial district which comprised the Ilocos provinces from 1922 to 1928.
Senate President Manuel L. Quezon more than once made him preside over the sessions of the Senate to the satisfaction and amusement of the members and the public because of his peculiar mannerisms.
After his term as senator, he devoted his time to religion and writing. As an honorary bishop of the Aglipayan Church, he wrote many sermons and other religious tracts. He was the author of most of the Aglipayan literature such as the Biblia Filipina, the Aglipayan Calendar and the Divine Office.
Stricken with paralysis, Don Belong became bedridden until his death on October 10, 1938. The Isabelo de los Reyes Elementary School in Tondo, Manila was named after him.
Filipinos in History vol. II, National Historical Commission
Founder of the Unión Obrera Democrática
(Jose Cecilio J. Magadia, S.J., Ph.D. Excerpt from The Philippine Labor Movement and the Law)
On 2 February 1902, Katipunero Don Isabelo de los Reyes founded the Unión Obrera Democrática Filipina, or the UOD (the Filipino Democratic Workers’ Union) for the emancipation of the workers. A year later, or on 1 May 1903 – the first observance of the Labor Day in the Philippines, thousands of UOD affiliates came together for a demonstration in a maiden show of strength by this emerging sector, on the occasion of the first observance of Labor Day in the Philippines. Consequently, the labor movement has established itself as a major stakeholder in the Philippine socio-economic and political scene.
The different labor organizations have, through the years, championed the sector’s causes – from the fight for the recognition of workers’ rights to demands for increasing the minimum wage. They have also led in the moves to call attention to many of the country’s other social ills and political problems. In the build-up of activism that contributed in a major way to the unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s, labor unions provided vocal and numerical representation at many a street mobilization. During the Martial Law era, militant labor groups were among the few who visibly and courageously defied the repressive dictates of Ferdinand Marcos. In the 1980s, workers contributed in a significant way to the downfall of the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy.
History witnessed how organized labor did, and continues to, provide the necessary pressure for government to create space, both for the delivery of goods and services to workers and for labor’s interests to be articulated and heard. To its credit, the government did, and continues to, respond albeit in a largely reactionary fashion.
This article represents the labor movement-government dynamic as it has been played out specifically in labor relations. The first part presents a historical sketch of the growth of the labor sector and the corresponding development of laws in response to calls for reform. From this cursory overview, the major trends are identified in the interaction between the state and labor organizations. The second part focuses on recent developments in the area of what has been called ‘globalization,’ which might be more precisely labeled ‘trade liberalization.’ The third part looks into possible new responses in legislation, given the potential major changes in the contours of labor relations.
Great Filipino Mason
One of the great Filipinos who emerged out of the turmoil of three historic regimes, Spanish, Revolutionary and American – was Don Isabelo de los Reyes who was born in Vigan, Ilocos Sur on July 7, 1864 and died on October 12, 1938.
De los Reyes’ Masonic affiliation is not clear. Records show that Jose A. Ramos, then Treasurer of Luz de Oriente Lodge, invited him to join Masonry and in 1896, a sixty year-old priest confessed that he was initiated into Masonry by de los Reyes
An uncompromising nationalist, labor leader, newspaperman, historian and founder of the Philippine folklore, de los Reyes acquired his early education in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, in the same seminary where Gregorio Aglipay would later enrol.
Shortly after the January 17, 1897 execution of the 13 Martyrs of Bagumbayan, de los Reyes was jailed in the Bilibid prison where he wrote Sensacional Memoria sobre la Revolucion Filipina, which became one of the valuable works of the Revolution. He was later deported to Spain and at the turn of the century when the Americans conquered the Philippines, he returned to the country and organized the first labor union in the Philippines called Union Democratica Filipina.
An acknowledged mastermind of the general strike, he later founded the Iglesia Filipina Indepediente and convinced Gregorio Aglipay to become its first Obispo Maximo. He was elected councilor for two terms in the city of Manila and in 1922 won as Senator.
Don Belong gave up politics after his term as Senator expired and devoted his remaining life to religion and his first love- writing where he authored most of the Aglipayan literature of his time.
Famous Filipino Masons
Prominent Son of Vigan
Along the well-trodden tourist path of Calle Crisologo of the Heritage Village of Vigan stands the ancestral home of Isabelo de los Reyes, one of Vigan’s most prominent sons. He was the prime mover of the Philippine labor movement, a prolific literary figure, politician and co-founder of the Philippine Independent Church.
In 1902, he formed the Union de Impresores de Filipinas and the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), which is the first labor federation in the country. De los Reyes and his followers celebrated the Philippine’s first organized demonstration on May 1 in Tondo, Manila’s Plaza Moriones.
UOD’s fight for the rights of Filipino workers landed De los Reyes in jail. He was marked as a subversive by the Americans. However, his sacrifices were not for naught as May 1’s Labor Day was legislated a national holiday in 1908.
Don Belong as he was fondly called also made his mark in literature, much like his mother, poetess Leona Florentino whose poems and satire gained for her international exposure in Madrid’s 1887 Exposición General de Filipinas and Paris’ 1889 Exposición Internationale. Due to her works, she was acknowledged in the 1889 Enciclopédie Internationale de Oeuvres des Femmes, which was edited by French writer Andiz Wolska.
Don Belong’s literary contributions included the creation of the El Folklore Filipinas, Historia de Ilocos, Independencia y Revolution, La Expedecion de Li-Mahong contra Filipinas en 1574, Las Islas Visayas en la Epoca de la Conquista, Los Holandeses en Filipinas, Prehistoria de Filipinas and Triuntos del Rosario. He was a journalist for the El Comersio, El Diario de Manila, La Oceania Espanol, La Opinion and La Revisita. To top that, he was also the founder of the country’s first newspaper in the local dialect, El Ilocano.
His life also included a foray in politics, winning a seat in the senate in 1922 and actually beating his town mate Elpidio Quirino, who later on became the country’s President.
His next endeavor after leaving politics was as significant as all the others he undertook. He turned his attention to the spiritual formation of the country founding the Aglipay Church or the Iglesia Filipina Independiente with Gregorio Aglipay. As honorary bishop he wrote the Aglipayan calendar, Biblia Filipina, catechism of the Aglipay Church, Mass book, prayers and the Scientific and Modern Genesis.
Every May 1, a wreath is placed at the foot of the marker placed in front of his ancestral home, the Leona Florentino House, near his mother’s statue in Plaza Florentino. Biguenos believe that a more fitting memorial should be erected in the future to ensure that Filipinos all over the country know and never forget his exemplary contributions.
Don Belong died on Oct. 10, 1938 at the ripe age of 74, leaving behind 15 of his children. Having been widowed many times, he was married thrice and had 27 children. His lived a full life indeed.
De los Reyes explains the Symbols of the Filipino Flag