Gregorio Labayan Aglipay is known as the first Filipino Supreme Bishop and founder of the of the first Filipino independent Catholic Church, Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
Early life and education
He was born in Batac City, Ilocos Norte on May 5, 1860. His mother died when he was barely a year and seven months old. Aglipay grew under the guidance and care of his maternal grand-uncles and grand-aunts. He spent his childhood as a laborer at a tobacco plantation where he was arrested for not meeting the required quota. The incident left a deep impression on him, eventually leading to his resentment of Spanish authorities, his advocacy against abuses of the agricultural system and his pursuit of radical ecclesiastical reforms.
Aglipay started his early education in his hometown. In 1876, he transferred to Manila and entered the private school of Julian Carpio, a lawyer. After two years and with financial help from his grand-uncle, Francisco del Amor, he was able to enroll at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran where he managed to work his way as a "capista" or a bright but poor student who does not pay for tuition or lodging, but serves the priests during mass and in the refectory. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, then went on to study law at the University of Santo Tomas; but decided to study for priesthood and entered the Vigan Seminary in 1883. In 1898 he was ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church.
The revolution in 1896 broke out while Aglipay was serving as coadjutor in San Pablo, Laguna. The patriot and nationalist that he is, Aglipay sympathized with the cause of the revolution. His support for the cause of the revolution translated to him giving aid to the revolutionists in Victoria Tarlac. At that time, he was assigned as assistant of the Spanish cura parroco.
As the revolution heated up the following year, the Spanish priest he worked for ordered the arrest and execution of many Filipino men accused of being involved with the revolution. Through Aglipay’s intervention who vouched for the innocence of the accused, the latter’s lives were spared.
Aglipay formally joined the Katipunan in 1898. His revolutionary activities were condemned by the friars. He was appointed as Military Vicar General through the decree issued by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on 20 October 1898. His appointment made him the religious leader of the revolutionary movement.
Despite the bitter war against Spain, Aglipay was an upright man who even interceded for the lives of Jesuit Priests Antino Rosell and Felix Mir who were held prisoners by the revolutionaries. He even freed from humiliation a Spanish friar prisoner in Laoag who was asked to cut grass in public.
On October 1899, Aglipay convened the Filipino Ecclesiastical Council, made up of Filipino clergy in Paniqui, Tarlac, in response to Mabini's manifesto urging the Filipino clergies to organize a Filipino National Church.
He represented Ilocos Norte at the Malolos Congress, convened in Malolos, Bulacan in 1898 and he was one of those people who affixed their signatures to the Constitution. It was adopted by the Malolos Congress before the United States bought the country from Spain and sent forces to reoccupy and colonize the islands. When the Philippine-American War began, Aglipay served as a guerrilla leader in the Ilocos Region. He surrendered in Laoag, Ilocos Norte in 1901, as the United States officially declared the ending of hostilities.
Birth of Iglesia Filipina Independiente
The independence of the Clergy was a consuming passion for Aglipay. He worked with Isabelo de Los Reyes, a nationalist labor leader, in persuading the Vatican to recognize their cause to no avail. His involvement in the revolution caused him to be excommunicated by the Vatican and the Catholic Church, with a decree issued in May 1899. He was found guilty of inciting the clergy to rebellion against Church authorities. This paved the way for the birth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente as the first Filipino independent Catholic Church on August 3, 1902. He was appointed as its first supreme bishop.
This finally sealed Aglipay’s separation with the Roman Catholic Church. On October 1, 1902, the first constitution of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was approved, signed, and promulgated in Sibakong, Manila. Twenty-six days after the signing of the constitution, Supreme Bishop Aglipay celebrated his first mass.
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente is said to be the most tangible result of the 1896 Revolution. Its establishment fulfilled the dream of Fathers Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora to secularize and place in the hands of the Filipino clergy the administration of the parishes in the country. It also ended monastic dominance over the people, besides ending monolithic character of religion. It symbolized the flowering of religious freedom in the Philippines.
Its establishment is a significant chapter in the history of the Filipino people's struggle for freedom, demonstrating the capacity of Filipinos to run their own religious affairs. It ended the practice of religious and racial discrimination in the Philippines. It was an expression of Filipino nationalism at its fullest. The Philippine Independent Church embedded love of country to its members and encouraged them to emulate the lives of our national heroes. The Philippine flag is displayed at the side altar in IFI churches.
Today, the Philippine Independent Church is affiliated with the Old Catholics and the Anglican Communion. Aglipayans number around 3 million, mostly in the Ilocos Region. They constitute about 1% of the total population of the Philippines, while 83% of the population are members of the Catholic Church.
Agllipay fought for Philippine independence through political process and his successful tour in the United States in 1931 intensified his interest in political affairs. This led him to run for presidency in 1935, during the Commonwealth of the Philippines, but he lost to Manuel Quezon.
Iglesia Filipina Independiente allows clergy to marry. Aglipay got married in 1939 to Pilar Jamias of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte. On September 1, 1940, Bishop Aglipay died in Manila of cerebral hemorrhage and was buried in his hometown in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
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"GREGORIO L. AGLIPAY First Bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente." www.nhi.gov.ph. (Accessed Nov.3, 2010)