Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jan - Mar 2002

Liberalism in the Philippines:
The Revolution of 1898 : The Main Facts

by Fr. Emerson Salvador


In the XIXth century, Spain opened the Philippines to world trade and that stimulated a remarkable progress in commerce, agriculture and industry. Records show that foreign investors were permitted to do business in Manila as early as 1809. This opened the way to material prosperity and the Filipinos began to enjoy a higher standard of living. The improvement of agriculture, the opening of Manila and other ports to foreign commerce, the development of Manila as a commercial center, easier and faster communication with Spain, increased educational opportunities, and the offering of professional courses, and so forth, led to the emergence of another elite among the native population- the ilustrados. It was in this middle class that liberalism was to take root in the Philippines. Up to that time, the only career that enabled a Filipino to achieve some parity with the conquistadores was to be a priest, the increase of educational opportunities and professional courses opened new vistas for the ambitious scions of the rising class of well-to-do families. However, because of the religious values of the people, the priesthood still remained an attractive and relatively fruitful career.

The rise of the ilustrados would not caused the inquietude of the friars were it not for the fact that many of them were being influenced by liberal ideas emanating from the mother country. The revolt in Spain, which had deposed Isabella II, succeeded in establishing a Provisional Republic, which for about two years (1868-1870) put liberalism in the saddle. Under the republic, General Carlos Maria de la Torre, a fierce liberal, was appointed the Governor-General of the Philippines. He encouraged free and open discussion of political and social problems. He abolished strict censorship of the press. He encouraged Filipinos to speak out boldly for the political rights. He openly affirmed his support of the Filipinization of the clergy and the secularization of the parishes held by the friars.

In November of 1870, the Spanish Cortes elected a new constitutional monarch (an Italian prince, Amadeo, who reigned only three years) and six months later, brought a new Governor to the Philippines, General Rafael de Izquierdo. He was completely opposed to the liberal policies of his predecessor, and with the help of the monarchists and the friars, he revived press censorship, curtailed political discussions, and declared himself unsympathetic to secularization. De la Torre’s tenure of office was short but it was just long enough to wet the Filipinos’ appetite for their political and social rights. The hands of the clock could not be turned back.


The Cavite Mutiny of 1872 and the Execution of three Filipino Priests

On January 20, 1872, about two hundred discontented Filipino soldiers and workers at Cavite arsenal rose up in arms and killed their Spanish officers.  In two days the mutiny was smashed by the government troops. Since there was evidence that the mutineers were in collusion with soldiers in Manila, the whole matter was judged not merely a local revolt but one aimed at the separation of the colony from Spain. The suspected leaders were those believed to have been harboring liberal ideas. Many masons were arrested, punished and exiled. Many Masonic Lodges were forced to close and those that remained merely existed. General Izquierdo caught by surprise the Lodge Espanola in Cebu, while at work, and turned over to the court of justice all Masons captured.

Among those arrested in that tragic event of 1872 were three priests, Fathers Burgos, Gomez, Zamora. Father Jose Burgos was a Philippine-born Spaniard and had been a student of the brilliant Filipino priest, Dr. Pedro Pelaez who so ably championed the rights of the Filipino clergy. After the death of Father Pelaez in 1863, Father Burgos took up the torch for the Filipino clergy, and in 1864 anonymously published a manifesto, which implored the righting of wrongs done to Filipino priests who had proved loyal to Spaniards whose moral and intellectual qualities were beyond question. When, in the middle 1860’s, a Reform Committee of laymen and priests was organized in Manila and Madrid to press for secularization of the parishes, Father Burgos became leader of the sub-committee of the clergy which also included Father Mariano Gomez and Father Jacinto Zamora. At the time of his arrest, Father Burgos, 35 years of age, was serving on the staff of the Manila Cathedral.

Father Gomez was a Chinese-Filipino mestizo. He was the curate of Bacoor Cavite, when he was arrested, and about 73 years of age.

Father Jacinto Zamora, 37 years of age, was serving as a curate of the Manila Cathedral when he was arrested.  His imprisonment and trial caused him to lose his mind.

The three priests were accused of having fomented the Cavite revolt. The charges were supported by the perjured testimony of a man who was connected with the Cavite mutiny and consequently they were publicly garroted on February 17, 1872. The above public execution created consternation, shock and scandal among the people. The refusal of the Manila Archbishop to defrock them thereby expressed the Church’s official doubt as to the guilt of the three priests. It was inevitable that the friars would be blamed for their execution. The opinion held universally by the Filipinos was that the friars were indeed implicated.

It was difficult to ignore the racial implications of the execution. The executed priests were called martyrs by the ilustrados and other sympathizers. The line between anti-Spanish friar and anti-Spaniard became thinner with dire results for Spanish sovereignty.

The above event represents a recognizable stage in anticlericalism in the Philippines, a stage equated with anti-friary. However, it was an attitude initially directed at four religious orders only, the Recollects, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, and the Franciscans.


The propaganda movement

After 1872, the reactionary policy of the Government continued unabated. To avoid persecution, a few ilustrados went to voluntary exile to Europe and nearby Asian cities. Spain proved a haven, in spite of the Bourbon restoration, since her people were enjoying certain political rights agitated for by the liberals and republicans. The Constitution of 1876 had accommodated a few of the principles of the short-lived Spanish republic of 1873-1874. Notwithstanding the educational and professional opportunities in Manila, many young Filipino students went to Spain to study. These ilustrados launched a propaganda campaign to acquaint the Spanish government and the public with the need for political, religious and economic reforms in the colony. The chief propagandists were Marcelo H. del Pilar (who helped implant Freemasonry in the Philippines), Graciano Lopez Jaena, (founder of the paper La Solidaridad and who later organized the Lodge Revolucion and one of the founders of Lodge Solidaridad, Madrid, Spain), Mariano Ponce, Antonio Luna, and a few others. But towering above them all was Dr. Jose Rizal, initiated on November 15, 1890 in Lodge Solidaridad.

What these reformists desired was equality of both Spaniards and Filipino in the colony before the law and the same political rights then operative in Spain. To secure these demands, it had become imperative to ask that the Philippines be represented in the Cortes and be considered a province of Spain. To this was added the demand for the secularization of the parishes.

The friars and their sympathizers tried to counteract the reformists since many of their ideas had already been condemned in 1864 in the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX.  The demand for freedom of the speech, press, and association was viewed by the friars as opening the doors to heretical ideas and secret societies like Freemasonry. The friars interpreted the agitation for reform as simply a disguise for separation from Spain and they were therefore disloyal and anti-Spanish.  The reformists, on the other hand, accused the friars as protecting their own corporate interest and disregarding the common good.

The reformists tried to demonstrate that the friars were the source of most if not all the evils happening in the colony. Of the 160 issues of the paper La Solidaridad, there was practically no issue that did not criticize or make fun of friars. The anti-friar spirit was soon shifted to the anticlericalism and antichurch feeling even among some ilustrados thanks to Masonry in which they have affiliated. In Europe some of the passionate liberals and Masons were not only anticlerical but antichurch as well, a kind of people the reformists had to live with.

Meanwhile, the position of the Filipino clergy during all this was their support, out of expediency, for the reformists of the Filipinization of the parishes. The plight of the Filipino priests was presented in Spain by the reformists, because it was their answer to the substitution of the disliked friars.


The Revolution: First Phase


The news of Rizal’s arrest and exile in Dapitan on July 7, 1892, shocked and surprised Filipinos everywhere, since Rizal by then had become the symbol of their national hopes. That very night, Andres Bonifacio and his followers, despairing of obtaining reform by peaceful means, organized a secret society, the Katipunan, for the violent overthrow of the Spanish Government. This was anti-friar and the whole spirit was liberal. One of the aims of that society was to cast the friars out the country and distribute their land to the peasantry.

The secrets of the Katipunan were well kept for more than four years. In August 1896, an Augustinian friar learned from one of his parishioners their secrets and securing evidence reported at once to the colonial authorities. The authorities took immediate action. Hundreds of suspects were arrested. Bonifacio and others fled from Manila to the hills of Balintawak and from there the cry of independence rung out. The Philippine revolution had begun.

The Governor General immediately organized an offensive against the revolutionaries using many thousands of soldiers from the Peninsula. All the Masons were accused as the masterminds in overthrowing the Spanish power in the Philippines. Many ilustrados and Masons were arrested, tried, tortured and executed, culminating in the execution of Jose Rizal on December 30, 1896. A few days later other Masons were executed.

Emilio Aguinaldo had in the meantime won the leadership of the revolutionary forces from Andres Bonifacio. And in December 15, 1897, the conciliary attitude of Governor Primo de Rivera finally ended in the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-bato. This brought about an uneasy peace for four and a half months.


The Revolution: Second Phase


In April of 1898, the United States and Spain entered in a war over Spanish policies in Cuba. On May 1, the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish Pacific Fleet in Manila Bay. The Americans enlisted the aid of the Filipino rebels in overthrowing Spanish military forces ashore. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was brought back from Hong Kong to take command and pursue the war against Spain with remarkable efficiency and soon became the master of Luzon. On June 12, 1898, he proclaimed the Philippine independence.


The Revolution: Third Phase


 In August of 1898, US Army troops landed on Philippine soil and accepted the surrender of the Spanish garrison at Manila. Finally, on December 10, 1898, the United States signed the Treaty of Paris in which Spain ceded the Philippines to America and received a payment of $20,000,000. It became clear for the revolutionaries then that the Philippines was to stay in the hands of foreign power.  Tension mounted between the Filipino and American forces until at last in early 1902, hostilities broke out. For three years war raged in the Islands. The Filipinos fought valiantly but vainly to secure their newly won independence. By April of 1902, the American soldiers defeated the effective resistance to American authority. Gradually, American civil government replaced military command and peace and order were restored.       



C.A. Majul, Anticlericalism during the Reform Movement, Studies in Church History, Cornell U.P. 1969

P.Gowing, Islands under the Cross, 1967

Fr. Archefugi, Religious Revolution in the Philippines, vol.1 1860-1940, Atheneo de Manila, 1960


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