Aglipayanism and the Philippine Independence Church

[Full Text from Area Handbook for the Philippines, Chapter 8: Religions, published
by Foreign Area Studies, The American University, Washington, D.C., 1976]

At its zenith in 1904 the Philippine Independent Church was reliably estimated to have had a membership of between one-quarter and one-third of the Christian population. Since them, however, this proportion has declined markedly, although in 1970 the church remained the largest indigenous Christian group.

The movement's principal basis was the intense nationalism that accompanied the war for independence and the strong anti-Spanish and anti-friar sentiments directed against a church that was dominated by a foreign clergy. In the first decade of the twentieth century the movement received support from Masons in Spain and the United States and from a majority of Protestant missionaries from the United States.

In 1899, after the United States armed forces intervened against Spain and later against Aguinaldo's insurgent, Aglipay became the leader of a guerilla band that harassed the Americans until the band formally surrendered in 1900. In April 1901 two priest representing the dissenting Filipino clergy went to Rome to ask the Pope to agree to recognize the actions of Aguinaldo and Aglipay and to commit himself to appointing only Filipinos as bishops, except where appointment of a foreigner received the approval of a majority of Filipino priests.

This request was supported by a similar petition drawn up in Madrid by a Philippine committee headed by Isabelo de los Reyes, a Filipino newspaperman and pamphleteer who had been imprisoned for complicity in an anti-Spanish conspiracy and sent to Madrid, when he was released. In August 1902 de los Reyes launched the Aglipayan movement by proclaiming, in a Manila newspaper, the establishment of a new church under Aglipay. To head the executive committee of laymen he appointed Governor General Howard Taft, an American; General Aguinaldo; and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, a Filipino member of the governing commission under Taft. Pardo de Tavera, however, publicly denied having any connection with the movement, as did a majority of the priests mentioned by de los Reyes as leading the Philippine Independent Church.

After attempts at reconciliation failed, Aglipay broke with the Roman Catholic Church. On September 27, 1902, he informed both Governor General Taft and the church authorities of his demand that the cathedral of Manila be turned over to him as head of the Philippine Independent Church. Although rebuffed this gesture was the beginning of a five-year campaign that resulted in the acquisition of nearly one-half of the Roman Catholic Church's properties in he Philippines by Aglipay's followers. In many cases forces was used, and considerable bloodshed resulted. Many churches were burned,. and several priests were killed. At the height of the movement, in 1904, Aglipay asserted that half of the population of the islands belonged to his church. His claim, however, proved premature. In 1906 the conservative Philippine Supreme Court ruled that all the buildings of the Roman Catholic Church that had been occupied by Aglipay's followers had to be returned to the church. Forced to move to makeshift quarters the movement faced financial difficulties and a rapid decline in membership.

De los Reyes created a distinct doctrine, liturgy, and organization for the Philippine Independent Church. Although he was never a Mason, he drew concepts of theology and worship from the Masonic Code and much of his support and inspiration from Miguel Morayta, the grad master of the Spanish Orient Lodge of Freemasonry in Madrid. According to his doctrine, which was approved formally by Aglipay, their church was founded principally to worship the one true God and to liberate the human conscience from "all scientific error, exaggeration and scruple." The rejected the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the possibility of miracles, including those mentioned in the New Testament. A new version of the Gospel was produced based exclusively on that of Saint Mark; the other evangelists were considered apocryphal. In this version angels, devils, miracles, and other manifestations of the supernatural do not exist. Revelation and prophecy are denied.

The Aglipayan creed states that God is a universal and intelligent force, the principle of all live and movement. Satisfaction of human needs is achieved through work rather than prayer. All reward and punishment for virtuous or evil behavior occur in this life. The origin of the universe is explained. The origin of the universe is explained as development and not creation because matter has no beginning.

At the time of the break with Rome in 1902 Aglipay had claimed that the doctrine and ritual of his church was identical to those of Roman Catholicism. Although new doctrine and ritual were proclaimed officially, for several decades most Aglipay priests continued to teach Roman Catholic doctrine and to follow Roman Catholic ritual. They continued to say Mass, venerate the saints, and perform all customary acts of devotions, even thought he acts were opposed to official doctrine. As a result of doctrinal disintegration a schism developed even before the death of Aglipay in 1940. In the meantime de los Reyes had reverted to Roman Catholicism.

Early official books, while denying Trinity, recognized the divinity of Christ, but by 1919 the revised plan for studies contained instructions of "discarding...what is said about Christ's divinity, a doctrine which we accepted in the beginning only out of compulsion." Christ is said to have taught the more grave errors. There is an emphasis on science as the source for all religious truths, Morality is highly relativistic. The Ten Commandments are said to be pure myth.

The closer Aglipay brought this church toward unitarian teachings the greater the tension within it became. Many of his ministers complained that they had to continue the traditional practices and rituals at the risk of losing their income and most of their followers. During the 1920s two of Aglipay's ministers formed their own splinter groups. Angel Flor Mata called his branch the Philippine Reformed Church (Iglesia Filipina Reformada), and in 1924 Ciriaco de las Llagas founded the Independent Philippine Evangelical Church (Iglesia Filipina Evangélica Independiente).

In 1928 an open battle erupted within the Philippine Independent Church over the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and other traditional dogma, which was to result a decade later in a major split in the movement. Severando Castro, the Aglipayan bishop of Ilocos, and five other founding members of the Aglipayan movement publicly protested the unitarian doctrine that de los Reyes and Aglipay had introduced, without the approval of the Supreme Council of Bishops. They asserted that the rank-and-file Aglipayans held to the traditional teachings, that immutability is a characteristic quality of religious truths, and further that the new doctrines were contrary to the faith that the leaders of the Aglipayan church publicly swore to preserve.

In April 1938 a group known as the Trinitarian faction, under the leadership of Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr., broke away. After the death of Aglipay both the Unitarian and Trinitarian groups maintained that they were the true Philippine Independent Church. Finally in 1955 the courts awarded the right to the name and possession of Aglipayan church property to the Trinitarian faction. The unitarian faction continued to insist that it represented the true form of Aglipayanism. Since 1948 the dominant Trinitarian faction has been associated with the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United Church, which consecrated three of its bishops. In turn these bishops consecrated the other bishops of the Philippine Independent Church. In 1961 this faction, having a total membership of just over 200,000, entered into a Concordant of Full Communion with the Philippine Episcopal Church of the United States.

[Full Text from Area Handbook for the Philippines, Chapter 8: Religions, published
by Foreign Area Studies, The American University, Washington, D.C., 1976]

Islam was originally introduced into the Philippine Islands nearly 200 years before Christianity. Arab traders and adventurers and Malayan and Indonesian missionaries came to the Sulu Archipelago during the middle of the fourteenth century. From there Islam spread to the southern coast of Mindanao. A century latter firmly established Muslim conversion of the natives of the island. Along with their religion, the Muslims introduced a superior alphabet and more developed forms of art and science.

The arrival of the Spaniards ended the intermittent warfare among the major Muslim groups and united them in jihad against Spanish intruders that was to last almost 300 years. It was not until 1879 that the Sultan of Sulu signed a peace treaty with the Spaniards and agreed to become a subject of Spain. Under the terms of this treaty the religion and customs of the Sulu Muslims were to be respected, but Christian missionaries were to be allowed freedom to spread the Gospel. The muslims on Mindanao, however, remained hostile to the government in Manila until they were finally subdued by the United States Army by around 1915.  In a like manner they did not make peace until they promised that they would be undisturbed in the practice of their religion.

Unlike Muslims in most of the rest of the world, those in the Philippines knew very little about their religion. They were devoted to Islam to the point of fanaticism because they considered it the focal point of their identity and the source of their way of life. The degree of orthodoxy varied among ethnic groups; generally, however, except for the religious advisers to local sultans, Filipino Muslims were unfamiliar with the Koran and observed very few of the rituals and prohibitions it prescribed.
The recital of the prescribed prayers five times a day and the pilgrimage to Meccas also were largely unknown before the twentieth century. There were very few mosques.

As a result of centuries of fighting for the survival of their customs and way of life, Filipino Muslims developed an extraordinary rigidity and a conservatism in social, political, and religious matters. This conservatism has diminished greatly in most areas since World War II, however, owing to the influence of Muslim missionaries from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Indonesia. For example, only after observing that Muslims form other countries wore Western-style clothing did Filipino Muslims begin to do so in any significant numbers: if a Muslim moved to the city and adopted the form of dress of Christian Filipinos, it was assumed he had given his way of life and religion.

Before the twentieth century Islam was largely a veneer under which Filipino Muslims preserved most of the original values and cultural institutions that had existed before the arrival of the Spaniards. Islam was a source of unity among various groups, and it left a life within these groups very largely as it had been before. Nevertheless Islam had a great influence on legal and political organizations: in the early 1970s law was still largely administered through religious courts in Muslim areas, and the decisions rendered were based on a combination of Koranic and customary law.

In essence political organization in Muslim areas was theocratic. Obedience to a sultan was obedience to Allah. Every sultan has as the source of his authority either the claim that he was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and therefore his representative or that he was authorized to rule by the caliph of Constantinopole. Under the system religious and political authority in any given area ws vested in the same individual. Numerous attempts by the government to eliminate slavery, polygamy, and divorce in Muslim areas have been unsuccessful because such institutions have the double sanction of custom and religion. As a rule only those changes that can be deduced form the Koran or from customary law are acceptable. For this reason Muslim missionaries have succeeded in introducing change where other outsiders have failed.

The resurgence of Islam in other countries after World War II had a profound effect upon Islam in the philippines. New mosques were built in Muslim areas, and additional religious schools teaching in Koran, the Arabic language, and principles of Muslim morality were established. Some were staffed by teachers who had studied in or were from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Pilgrimages to Mecca became more numerous. Religious literature is being published in larger quantities and is widely distributed. Many Islamic societies for social and religious purposes also have been established.

Muslim prohibitions against pork and against ballroom dancing are more widely observed, but the prohibition against alcoholic beverages does not appear to have made a significant impact. Orthodox rituals accompanying circumcision, marriage, and burial are followed. The annual fast of Ramadan and the festivities that follow it, as well as other holy days and liturgized seasons, have been introduced successfully in many areas, but the custom of the five day prayers has not generally been accepted.

Consciousness of religious and cultural distinctiveness was heightened by an influx of Christian Filipino settlers, farmers, and loggers, particularly in the post-World War II period. This migration, mainly from the Visayan Islands, increased to the extent that in several traditionally Muslim areas Muslims were greatly outnumbered by Christians. Disputes in landrights, especially in rich farming regions on the island of Mindanao, erupted in the late 1960s into an open communal warfare, apparently aggravated by disputes between Muslims themselves, reflecting broad social divisions similar to those elsewhere in the Philippines. Although the conflicts in Mindanao and the Zulu Archipelago appeared to be largely territorial, economic, and politcal, Muslims understandably perceived them to represent one more chapter in a centuries-old struggle to preserve their way of life in a nation dominated by what appeared to them to be a hostile Christian majority.


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Philippine-American War Centennial Initiative (P.A.W.C.I.)