Tomas Millamena: Bishop of the people, staunch defender of justice and peace

“He had always known the issues that would arise, whether pastoral or otherwise, because his ministry grew out of the deep well of engagement with the lives of the people.”


MANILA — Progressive groups mourn the passing of Most Revd. Tomas Millamena, former Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI).

In a simple program at the IFI National Cathedral in Taft Avenue, Manila, leaders of progressive groups took turns paying tribute to Bishop Millamena and his commitment to the people.

“Bishop Millamena was always one with us in calling on the government to act in the interest of the people,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairwoman of human rights group Karapatan, said.

Enriquez said the late bishop was a staunch human rights defender, adding that his death is a great loss to the Filipino people and those who are struggling for genuine change. She remembered Bishop Millamena as a “funny person” who would crack jokes even when they were discussing serious issues.

Bishop Millamena died on June 4 due to liver cirrhosis. His remains was brought to Manila on June 11. He would be laid to rest today, June 13.

“Bishop Tom is known as ‘Bishop of the People’ whose unassuming manner has endeared him to many. He had always known the issues that would arise, whether pastoral or otherwise, because his ministry grew out of the deep well of engagement with the lives of the people,” the IFI said.

“He never ceased to radiate the comforting presence of God in everywhere he had set forth his feet. His gentle humility shows the best of what a bishop should be in bringing people together regardless of rank and status and showing them support in many ways,” the IFI said.

The IFI said Bishop Millamena “took the side of the people in the struggle for life and liberty, for food and freedom, for jobs and justice.”

The remains of Bishop Tomas Millamena (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao/
The remains of Bishop Tomas Millamena (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao/

“His consistent voice on many social and political issues have raised the consciousness and placed these important issues at the heart of every clergy and member of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente,” the IFI said. “In the challenge of many crosses, crowns of thorns and iron nails, he always lifted the presence in the living Christ among the people.”

Estrelieta Bagasbas, an urban poor leader from North Triangle, said Bishop Millamena has been consistent in expressing support for urban poor communities facing demolition.

“He was there during the demolition at San Juan. He would visit us at San Roque to boost our morale,” Bagasbas said, “Bishop, though you are no longer with us, your spirit and teachings would remain in our hearts.”

Roger Soluta, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, referred to Bishop Millamena as a “hero of the toiling masses” for his support to the plight of workers.

“When he spoke to overseas Filipino workers in a forum held in Iloilo, he did not just extend pity to their plight. He extended his sympathy and expressed his commitment to help end the cycle of migration in the country,” Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, said.

Martinez said Bishop Millamena said those who have neglected the plight of Filipino migrant workers should be held accountable “not just because they are members of the IFI but most importantly because they are children of God.”

In a statement, detained peace consultants of the NDFP said, Bishop Millamena “fought a continuous battle against cancer. Cancer killed his body. But his valuable lifelong contributions in the battle against social cancer and for national liberation, justice, equality, social upliftment and lasting peace in the life of his beloved people continue even after his physical passing away.”

Peace advocate

Fr. Ben Alforque of the Promotion of Church People’s Response described Bishop Millamena as a “true compatriot” and “peace advocate.”

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), in a statement, rendered its highest honors to Bishop Millemena for “his staunch advocacy for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines and his firm pro-people stand against the anti-people and anti-national policies of the US-Aquino regime and other earlier reactionary regimes.”

The NDFP said Bishop Millamena played a significant role in the NDFP-GPH peace negotiations as mutually accepted Third Party Depositary for depositing the photos for the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

Bishop Millamena was also an NDFP Nominated Independent Observer in the Joint Monitoring Committee under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

“He fulfilled his functions with heart and soul to the best of his ability. He was present and an active participant in the resumption of formal peace talks in Oslo on Apr. 27 to 30, 2001. He attended some other formal talks in Oslo thereafter, unafraid to take a principled stand. One clear example is when the GRP delegation walked out after the punishment of notorious torturer Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo in June 2001. He firmly took the position which he stated to the Royal Norwegian officials that the GRP should not have walked out; they should have referred the case to the Joint Monitoring Committee under CARHRIHL,” the NDFP said.

Rey Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center, said Bishop Millamena, during the resumption of peace negotiation in 2004, joined the government delegation so he could attend the talks in Oslo for free. Upon arriving there, however, he joined the group of the NDFP.

“The GRP was looking for him. But he told us, ‘Eh ayaw ko sa kanila eh (I don’t want to be with them.),’” Casambre said during the tribute.

Casambre lauded the late bishop for his commitment to the revolutionary tradition of the IFI.

“In speeches at various national and international forums, he did not hesitate to expose the role of US imperialism in the exploitation and oppression of the Filipino people.We shall sorely miss Bishop Millamena’s firm solidarity and his friendship. We are certain that his closeness to the struggling Filipino people and his dedication to a just and lasting peace in the Philippines will be a lasting legacy and inspiration to those who continue the struggle for national and social liberation and a just and lasting peace,” the NDFP said.

Inspiration to priests

Bishop Millamena was born on Jan. 24, 1947. He was a student at the Central Philippine University before entering St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City in 1964 where he graduated with a degree of Bachelor in Theology.

He finished his Master of Divinity in 1988. He was ordained to the diaconate on Apr. 16, 1970. Three days later, he was ordained to priesthood at the IFI National Cathedral in Manila, according to a biographical sketch written by Rev. Eleuterio Revollido.

Bishop Millamena was first assigned as an associate priest in the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer in Odiongan, Romblon from 1970 to 1971. He was transferred and appointed as parish priest to Culasi in Antique from 1971 to 1982.

Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and members of progressive groups from various sectors raised their fists in honor of the late Bishop Tomas Millamena. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao/
Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and members of progressive groups from various sectors raised their fists in honor of the late Bishop Tomas Millamena. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao/

He elected as bishop in 1982 and served as bishop of the Diocese of Antique and Palawan until 1995. He was soon appointed as executive assistant to then Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento and then as general secretary of the IFI.

On May 8, 1999, Bishop Millamena was elected Supreme Bishop.

He was also conferred the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary at the St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois on May 31, 2002 for being a leader who “championed humanitarian causes.”

“I was a witness to his involvement in the people’s struggle. I admire the path that he took because while he was serving the Church, he was also serving the Filipino masses,” Fr. Jonash Joyajoy, chairperson of the Council of Priests of the IFI, told

“He was an excellent leader. He was very soft spoken yet very uncompromising. When there are issues within the church, he is able to fix it due to his low-key approach,” Fr. Joyajoy added.

The Christians for National Liberation, in a statement, said that Bishop Millamena’s “relentless effort to pursue just and lasting peace and selfless dedication in serving God’s people will not be put in vain. The example you are leaving behind will continue to inspire us and the legions of Christians for National Liberation who are engaged in the continuing struggle for national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective in this our beloved land.” (

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