ANTECEDENTS: 1st of a Series “The Church in the Philippines – Between Two Wars”
1st of series: The Diocese of Cebu at the turn of the 20th Century (Fr. Marvin S. Mejia)
Note: This seven-part series aims to give readers a historical perspective of the tun-of-the-century events and circumstances that serve as antecedents to the establishment Cebu as an archdiocese. The author finished his Doctorate in Ecclesiastical History at the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome in 2007, with his dissertation “The Contribution of Thomas A. Hendrick, the American Bishop of Cebu (1902-1909), To The Church in the Philippines.”
The Church in the Philippines - In Between Two Wars
For more than three centuries the Church in the Philippines was under the Patronage of the Spanish Crown. The Bishops assigned to the Philippine Islands were recommended by the king of Spain. The clergy were typically Spanish missionaries of either the mendicant orders or the Jesuits. They preached the gospel , administered the sacraments, built churches and opened schools that resulted to the development of a Christian culture, the ethos of an emerging nation in the Far East.
The Filipinos became Catholics under Spain, but their conditions were changing tumultuously when the United States waged war against Spain. Although the US entered conflict with Spain over their interest in Cuba, the first shots were fired in the Philippines. On May 1, 1898 the American fleet commanded by Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. Meanwhile, General Emilio Aguinaldo, from his voluntary exile in Hongkong returned to the Philippines, he set up a revolutionary government and continued the fight against the Spaniards.
While Manila was under siege both by the Filipino and the American forces, Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda, O.P. of Manila issued a pastoral letter to support Spain and preserve the Catholic faith. The revolutionaries were not convinced; anti-friar sentiment increased instead. A number of friars were tortured and killed. In Luzon about 300 Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians Recollects were held in captivity. The friars in Negros were driven into forced labor. The Jesuits in Mindanao were expelle from their churches and missions. So also were the Benedictines in Surigao.
As the sad plight of the Spanish friars continued, the military success of the revolutionaries progressed. On June 125, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines. To fortify his position, Aguinaldo convoked the revolutionary Congress at Barasoain, Malolos, where the new Constitution was also drafted. With this the Philippine Church became preoccupied on two issues. The first was the opposition of the Filipino clergy and most Catholics to the separation between the church and state. The leader in this struggle was Father Mariano Sevilla who founded the newspaper, El Catolico Filipino, to defend the rights of the church and specifically persuade Aguinaldo to disapprove the church-state separation provision of the Constitution. Though Sevilla and his associates were not successful, Apolinario Mabini introduced a transitory article suspending the provision in question until a new constitutional convention would meet in peaceful time. This was to avoid alienating the native clergy whose support was necessary in rallying the people behind the forthcoming war against the Americans. The other major issue was the episcopal authority, Archbishop Nozaleda was considered enemy of the revolution. Mabini attempted to get the native clergy to renounce allegiance to him and elect their own superior, but without success. They still acknowledged the authority of this Spanish prelate. But not all! Gregorio Aglipay, an Ilocano priest of the Archdiocese of Manila, joined the forces of Aguinaldo. On October 20, 1898 he was conferred the title Vicario General Castrense, making him the spiritual leader of an nation under arms. The day after, Aglipay issued his first manifesto calling the Filipino clergy to throw aside their obedience to the archbishop and accept him as superior having been named as the military vicar general. In another manifesto he asked the native priests to organize themselves and take charge the parishes left by the friars. Nonetheless, on April 29, 1899 Archbishop Nozaleda issued a decree excommunicating Aglipay for assuming spiritual jurisdiction not coming from a lawful ecclesiastical authority.
At the time of Aglipay’s excommunication, Manila was already under the American military control. Months earlier, after a mock battle on August 13, 1898, the Spanish forces accepted the agreement of capitulation. The seventh item of the terms made certain the city, its inhabitants, its churches and religious worship, its educational establishment and its private property were placed under the special safeguard of American Army. In effect it made the United States army the protector of the Catholic Church in Manila. The Spanish-American war ended with the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, and with President William McKinley’s “Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation”, the US claimed sovereignty over the Philippines.
On January 23, 1899 the Philippine republic was inaugurated, with Aguinaldo as president. The new republic with its new Constitution, however, was not given the time to prove its worth. The shooting incident between an American patrol and a Filipino patrol on San Juan Bridge in the evening of February 6, 1899 ignited the already-volatile relationship between the American troops and the Filipino forces. The following day the Filipino-American war broke out.
In open warfare, the well trained and well supplied Americans had little difficulty in routing the Filipinos. On November 1899, the Filipinos shifted to guerrilla warfare. With the capture of Aguinaldo, however, the guerrilla campaign was coming to an end. By the summer of 1902, President Roosevelt declared the end of the insurrection. During these years of conflict the Church suffered greatly. From 1898 to 1900 the bishops were unable to function efficiently. Archbishop Nozaleda could not leave Manila. Bishop Jose Hevia de Campomanes, O.P. of Nueva Segovia became a prisoner of the revolutionaries; so was Bishop Andres Ferrero, O.R.S.A of Jaro. Bishop Arsenio Del Campo of Nueva Caceres had earlier left the country when the Americans were still blockading Manila. Only Bishop Martin Gracia Alcocer, O.F.M was free for a time in Cebu, but on February 13, 1899 he was forced to sail for Colombo to avoid capture by General Vicente Lucban’s forces from Samar. Though on April 21, 1899 he was able to return to Manila, but he just stayed there, with his Cebuano secretaries Fathers Lorenzo Perez and Eleuterio Villamor, until he finally left the Philippines on October 25, 1903.
There was also a shortage of priests to fill in the many vacant parishes. Although the friars were eventually released from prison at the end of 1899, only very few could go outside of Manila. The native clergy who replaced them were not enough. Some joined the revolutionaries or were in prison while others had died from the rigors of war. Moreover, those Filipino priests were not used to administer older and bigger parishes (They were just coadjutors!) Together with the faithful, they would do a lot of rebuilding as churches, convents and other ecclesiastical infrastructures had often been successively occupied by Spanish, Filipino and American troops at the time between the Spanish-American War and the Filipino-American War.
The Church in the Philippines was indeed in great difficulty. Ultimately, it lost the support and protection of the Spanish government, which for centuries was directly in charge of the ecclesiastical matters in the island.
The Holy See had to address now the religious situation of the Philippines.