Isabelo De Los Reyes, Sr.

Isabelo De Los Reyes, Sr.

Isabelo de los Reyes (b. July 7, 1864 – d. October 10, 1938), also known as the “Father of Philippine Labor” was a prominent Filipino writer, politician, labor activist, and founder of the Aglipayan Church or the “Iglesia Filipina Independiente”.

Born to Elias de los Reyes and poetess Leona Florentino in ViganIlocos Sur, he attended schools in Vigan and Manila. He followed his mother’s footsteps by initially turning to writing as a career, becoming a journalist, editor, and publisher in Manila.

Early years

De Los Reyes was entrusted to a rich relative when he was six years old due to the troubled relationship of his parents. Meno Crisologo, later enrolled him in a grammar school under a local seminary run by Augustinians.

In 1880, he escaped to Manila where he eventually finished a Bachelor of Arts degree at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He then studied law, history, and paleography at the PontificalUniversity of Santo Tomas. He became a notary public at the age of 22.


In 1887, De Los Reyes won a silver medal at the Exposición Filipina in Madrid for a Spanish-language manuscript he called, El folk-lore filipino. As a teenager, he was inspired to write about the foundation of a “new science” concerned about el saber popular or folklore. He based this idea on an appeal he read in Manila’s Spanish newspaper, La Oceania Española(founded 1877) asking readers to contribute articles to develop the science of el folk-lore. The appeal was accompanied by a simple sketch of how this could be done.

Two months later De Los Reyes set to work not merely on the folklore of Ilocos, but also that of MalabonZambales, and in general terms, what he called el folk-lore filipino. It became one of the greatest passions of his life. By 1886, just as the French were starting to pursue a national effort to apply the study of folklore on their native tradition, De Los Reyes was already producing a manuscript on folkloric studies for publishing.

 As a journalist

After his father died, De Los Reyes was obliged to support himself – did so while pursuing his passion for writing – by contributing articles to most of Manila‘s newspapers. In 1889, he founded the first vernacular newspaper in the country, El Ilocano, said to be the first newspaper written solely in a Philippine vernacular. He continued to write and research extensively on Philippine history and culture.

As a journalist, De Los Reyes almost faced the firing squad for highlighting the abuses of the church and government. He turned his writings against the Americans when they took over in1898. De Los Reyes took advantage of rapidly changing sentiments of the Spanish intelligentsia as they saw the United States taking over the remnants of the Spanish overseas empire. In Madrid, he published the fortnightly, Filipinas ante Europa with the editorial slogan: “Contra Norte-America, no; contra el imperialismo, sí, hasta la muerte!” (“Against the Americans, NO; against Imperialism, YES, till death!”) It ran for 36 issues between October 25, 1899 and June 10, 1901. After closing (probably due to trouble with the authorities), it briefly reappeared as “El Defensor de Filipinas” which ran monthly from July 1 to October 1, 1901.

 Labor activist

De Los Reyes was later jailed when he returned to the Philippines for inciting labor strikes against American business firms. He spearheaded the first labor union, the Union de Litograficos y Impresores de Filipinas in 1901. Influenced by European socialism, he organized the first labor federation in the country in 1902, the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina (UOD). This was his reaction against what he perceived as the impending exploitation of Filipino labor by American capitalist institutions. Members of the UOD include printers, lithographers, cigar maker tailors, mechanics, and others in various trades and occupation.

After serving the government for four years as Counselor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and his subsequent imprisonment in Spain for anti-Spanish activities,he returned to the Philippines inspired by socialist writings of anarchists such as Proudhon, Bakunin and Malatesta.

The first general strike was staged on August 1902 when UOD called for wage increase which led to the imprisonment of De Los Reyes. Later, he became a member of the Philippine Assembly, a Councilor of Manila from 1912-1919 and a Senator of Manila’s First District from 1922-1928.

 Co-founder of Aglipayan Church

In 1902, he founded the Philippine Independent Church in response against the Vatican-led Roman Catholic Church and chose his fellow Ilocano compatriot, Gregorio Aglipay, as its first bishop.

De Los Reyes dedicated the remainder of his life to religious writings for the Aglipayan Church in his capacity as honorary bishop. He still pursued his passion for writing through his sermons and other Christian literature. He made a translation of the Bible into his native Ilocano language.

 Political stint

De Los Reyes also served as councilor of Manila for two years. In 1923, he won as Senator against Elpidio Quirino and represented the Ilocos region for six-years.

De los Reyes was married and widowed three times and had 27 children.


  • Quirino, Carlos. Who’s Who in Philippine History. Manila: Tahanan Books, 1995.

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