The Aglipay Spirit Will Live On – Speech on the 156th Birth Anniversary of Gregorio Aglipay

Pandesal Forum: In commemoration of Gregorio Aglipay”

Welcoming Speech
Delivered by

Party List – DIWA

History books will tell us very little about Monsignor Dr. Gregorio Aglipay y Labayan, the first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). This is why I am thankful to Wilson Lee Flores and the Kamuning Bakery for inviting me in today’s Pandesal Forum in commemoration of what would be of his 156th birth anniversary and in giving this opportunity to relive his story.

I am a direct descendant of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay. Gregorio’s brother Pedro has a son named Telesforo, who is the father of Joven and Joven is the father of my father. That makes Gregorio Aglipay my great-great grandfather.

Gregorio Aglipay is the first Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church which was a national Catholic church, independent of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican.

Unknown to many, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay is not only a founder to the IFI but he is also a great revolutionary leader who lived during the time of the GOMBURZA, Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and Luna. He united nationalist Filipino Christians in standing up against the colonial oppression by Spaniards and Americans. While his story may not have been well known due to the religious prejudice against him and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s schism with the Roman Catholicism, I think that we should take the time today to remember how his contributions has enabled a religious revolution and our country’s emancipation. His story is one that must be understood within the proper context.

Throughout the course of our history, we have seen how religion has been used to colonized our archipelago. And under this context, Bishop Aglipay fought for the Filipinization of the church. The Roman Catholic faith and the introduction of the church began with the Spanish conquest. During this time, religious Filipino people suffered politicking and discrimination with the propagation of the Roman Catholic religion. These injustices did not go unnoticed as protests from Filipinos spread against decrees forbidding the assignments of Filipino clergy as parish priests.  However, we were deprived of opportunities to be heard which further enabled frailocracy to become the rule of the land. As a result, the church under the hands of our colonial masters was a divisive force, particularly since Filipino priests were regarded as inferior compared to their Spanish counterparts. Regardless of where you come from, your education or your background, there was rampant racism against the Filipino clergymen who were disempowered to run their churches in their homeland. Corruption in the church was widespread and any hint of nationalism was considered as anti-friar. Under this oppressive rule, Bishop Aglipay chose to stoke the embers of patriotism in fellow Filipinos. He was one of the leaders who called for Filipinos to reclaim ecclesiastical authority and ownership of churches and for this he was excommunicated.

According to Alfredo Navarra Salonga, there are several words associated with Bishop Aglipay: schism, anti-Roman, anti-friar and anti-papal. These words became part of the mythos that was built around him. Do these words resemble him? Are these things true? I believe that these words capture the core of what he stood for. But how we understand these words now does not truly reflect how these words were understood back then. We need to situate these words within the proper context.

Schism, what schism did he cause? It was a breakaway from the tyrannical rule of foreigners. It was a rejection of a colonially imposed institution, and a call for the establishment of a truly Filipino Church. It was a movement away from Rome and the anti-Filipino bias of Vatican at that time.

Anti-Roman, anti-friar, anti-papal did not mean that the opposition was meant to propagate hate and discrimination against other people of faith. What was being rejected was the use of religion as a tool for division and oppression, instead of being used to promote unity and collective action. What was being rejected then was a colonial church that was anti-Filipino and considered the Filipino clergy as inferiors.

It was Bishop Aglipay’s strong nationalist sentiments which bolstered his belief in the revolution as a path towards independence and thus he accepted the responsibility of being one of the revolution’s leaders. He aided the Katipunan but he remained compassionate to captured Spanish despots. His love for the country drew him once again to revolt against American imperialists.

The spiritual sickness which ravaged the nation was cured through the religious revolution that flourished under Aglipay’s watch, together with the help of other reformists in the Filipino clergy. The pleas and initiatives for a theology and a church that would best serve the Filipino people transformed Roman Catholicism as it became autonomous from the Vatican and integrated Filipinos within the Church’s hierarchy. I believe that the emphasis of the liberalization of our church and Bishop Aglipay was not to glorify a person. Rather, its very essence was to promote the fraternal reconciliation of our nationalistic spirit and spiritual liberation. We can see the relevance of our continued battle against social inequities which is mirrored by our countrymen’s daily struggle for abundance, joy, justice and peace. And we must cure our spiritual sickness in parallel with our societal sickness with our unceasing effort to uplift our countrymen and women from ignorance and poverty which was spawned by our colonial heritage.

Colonialism and social inequities are problems that we continue to face. Today, Aglipay, according to Renato Constantino is a shining example of relevance in the continuing nationalist struggle. These struggles are not only rooted on race but are also caused by gender, status and age. With Gregorio Aglipay’s blood running through my veins, I strive daily to be worthy of the name I carry. I continuously uphold the Aglipayan spirit through my vocation in legislation. As the representative of DIWA Party-list I have sought to reform the labor landscape in the Philippines and uplift the dignity of every worker. Neoliberal policies enable capitalist companies to exploit workers but through the passage of progressive policies, we can promote systematic and radical change to alleviate the working conditions of Filipino laborers.

In reducing these social inequities, DIWA has championed pro-people policies such as the Kasambahay Law which provides broad protection to our domestic workers by prescribing a minimum wage, leaves and rest periods as well as providing benefits and social security protection. DIWA has pushed for the passage of The Magna Carta for Informal Sector Workers which protects the members of the workforce who are not covered by the Labor Code by expanding their rights and extending to them social security protection and benefits of Philhealth and Pag-ibig. Aside from informal sector workers, THE priority bill of DIWA Party-list since its first term in Congress is the Act to Strengthen Security of Tenure which seeks to end the unconstitutional practice of contractualization to circumvent security of tenure. It protects the welfare of employees from employers who take advantage of gray areas in the Labor Code for profiteering through worker exploitation. DIWA believes that by empowering the poor to have more in the eyes of the law, we protect the rights of vulnerable sectors just as how the Aglipay spirit empowered the victims of colonialism and social inequities.

At a time when oppressors are no longer as overt as our colonizers before, I think it is all the more timely to relive the Aglipayan spirit as a lens through which we view the affairs of our society in order to seek out where injustices exist. But more importantly, we are in a more modern age where our voice can be more readily heard by the government. We can all be a part of the positive change to solve the long-standing problems of the country. I believe that in our undertaking as Filipino citizens, we continue to live the Aglipay spirit for as long as we fight against injustices in our society.

We are the Aglipayan spirit and for as long as we fight for the oppressed, for as long as we fight for the rights and welfare of the vulnerable, for as long as we continue to fight for a just, humane and free society, it will live on. The Aglipayan Spirit will live on!