Obras Pias

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Obras Pias was a charitable foundation during the Spanish period. The word itself means works of piety in Spanish. The Church directed a share of personal fortunes to its charities such as the obras pias. Donors had specified that the funds are to be used for charitable, religious and educational purposes. However, some of the funds were managed by confraternities that invested capital in secular activities like underwriting cargoes for the galleon trade.

It was determined that two-thirds were to be loaned at interest for maritime commercial enterprises, until the premiums had increased the original capital to a certain amount. The estimated interest were as follows : Acapulco reached 50 percent, China had 25 percent and India had 35 percent. Then the interests were to be given to the founder or to pious or charitable ends. One-third was usually retained as a reserve to cover chance losses. These reserve funds were long ago claimed by the government as compulsory loans but they are still regarded as existing.

By a royal decree, dated November 3, 1854, an administrative council was appointed to take charge of the money of the obras pias. The total capital of five foundations amounted to a trifle less than one million dollars. Since the government disposed the profit obtained from the loans it could no longer be distributed for charitable purposes.

Among the biggest obras pias was the Hermanidad de la Misericordoa (Brotherhood of Mercy). It was established in the late 16th century by a Jesuit. The Misericordia was supposed to have given away 5 million pesos in grants to various causes over the course of its century and a half of existence.


Jagor's Reisen in Den Philippinen 1873 (accessed May 7, 2008).



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