During this year’s June 12 rally commemorating Independence Day, Bp.
Alberto Ramento – the ninth supreme bishop of the Iglesia Filipina
Independiente (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) – expressed some
pride at being the chairman of his church’s Council of Bishops. In so
being, he said, he was the chairman of what he described as a group of
LIVING LEGACY: IFI priests rallying
against extra-judicial killings stand in front of a statue of Andres
Bonifacio, who in 1896 headed a revolution that led, among other
things, to the founding of their church.
In the first eight days of this month (October) alone, the IFI lost two of
its men of the cloth. One of them was Ramento himself who at the time of
his death was bishop of his church’s Diocese of Tarlac. The other was Fr.
Dionisio Gingging of Tago, Surigao del Sur. Both died violent deaths, with
Ramento succumbing to several stab wounds in the chest and back on Oct. 3
and Gingging being stabbed and shot five days after.
Though Tarlac police have “closed” Ramento’s case, dismissing it as a mere
“robbery with homicide” perpetrated by four drug-crazed youths they
recently presented to media, people who knew the IFI’s ninth supreme
bishop are convinced there is something else to the killing.
An independent fact-finding team led by lawyer Rex Fernandez found that
the DVD players and mobile phone supposed to have been taken by the
killers from Ramento were actually stolen on two separate incidents before
the killing. The killing, the fact-finding team found, took place when
there was nothing more to be stolen from the dilapidated rectory where
As early as mid-2005, Ramento had said of having received information from
his military contacts that he was on the Order of Battle, together with
four IFI priests: Fr. Mario Quince, parish priest of Paniqui,
Tarlac; Fr. Gregorio Lacanaria, parish priest of Victoria, Tarlac; Fr.
Marshal Bautista, parish priest of Pura, Tarlac; and Fr. William Tadena,
parish priest of La Paz, Tarlac. Tadena had been shot to death on March 13
that same year.
That same year also, an IFI priest – Fr. Allan Caparro of the Diocese of
Samar – was ambushed together with his wife Ailyn. Both fortunately
In Gingging’s case, Chief Supt. Antonio Nanas, Caraga regional police
director, immediately issued a statement saying “personal grudge” was
behind the killing.
Two days before Gingging’s death, Fr. Antonio Ablon of Cagayan de Oro City
– also belonging to the IFI – had received a threat on his cellular phone.
“Fr. Ablon, patay gain ang supreme bishop ikaw pa kaha i sample ka namo
dinhi sa CDO” (Fr. Ablon, even the supreme bishop was killed, all the
more can you be made an example here in Cagayan de Oro City), read the
message which was reportedly sent from the number 09203546270.
Activist clerics, revolutionary origins
Ablon, Quince, Lacanaria, Bautista, and Caparro are all known as activists
and human rights advocates – as were Gingging, Ramento, and Tadena.
Ramento, in particular, was at the time of his death the co-chairman of
the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) together with Roman Catholic Bishop
Deogracias Iñiguez of Caloocan City and a convener of the Movement of
Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL). He and Tadena were staunch
supporters of the Hacienda Luisita farm and mill workers, who staged a
historic strike in 2004 demanding land distribution, higher wages and more
It is not surprising for the IFI to have so many priests and even bishops
who are at the same time also high-profile activists. The involvement of
these IFI clerics in the cause-oriented movement is but a reflection of
their church’s activist orientation.
The IFI’s activist orientation is clear in the value that it places on
is one of the most precious gifts with which the Creator has favored us;
therefore we may in no way set more limits to it than those, which the
purest morality and right conscience impose on all things,” reads part of
the1903 Doctrine and Constitutional Rules of the Iglesia Filipina
The said document goes on to state that:
Our morality consists of
loving the good for its own sake, and in saying this, we mean specifically
that we ought to love, practice, and defend philanthropy, justice, honor,
liberty, labor, and the sciences.
Philanthropy and justice
are the distinctive characteristics, if it is true that we differ in some
way from the other animals, which elevate our moral level with theirs.
Labor products us what we
need and is the untouchable front of well-being. We must therefore love it
and seek it always.
Honor dignifies and
The sciences provide our
minds with necessary knowledge, and are the most valuable factors for our
progress in all their branches.
Liberty and the noble
ambitions, which it arouses, are the indispensable elements and the potent
means for our exaltation for progress, for science, for civilization, and,
in short, for our general perfection.
The IFI’s activist orientation as
expressed in this concept of good is a product of the church’s
Historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo described
the IFI as “the only living and tangible result of the (1896) Revolution.”
And rightly so, for it was founded by people who were key players in the
ferment of 1896 – a revolutionary armed struggle against Spanish
Religion and resistance
With religion historically having taken
deep root in the Filipino consciousness, it is not at all a wonder that
nationalism in the Philippines has at times taken religious aspects.
In the early revolts, which were all
localized struggles, the rejection of the Spanish-imposed Roman Catholic
religion often took the form of a return to pre-colonial religious beliefs
and practices. As Roman Catholicism sank deeper and deeper into the
popular psyche, rebels began blending some Roman Catholic doctrines and
rites with their old religious beliefs and practices. The combination
contained more and more Roman Catholicism and eventually, the religious
aspect of resistance took on the demand for equal rights for Filipinos
within the Roman Catholic Church.
In the controversy between regular and
secular priests, lay Filipinos generally sympathized with the latter
because native priests were seculars. The campaign for the Filipinization
of the clergy became an important part of the nationalist agitation which
resulted in the 1896 Revolution. Filipinization called for an end to the
monopoly of Spanish priests in the Roman Catholic Church and granting
their Filipino counterparts the same rights and positions they enjoyed.
Many native priests thus sympathized with
the Revolution, even as they had to resolve the conflict between their
patriotic sentiments and their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church
which opposed the Filipino people’s anti-colonial struggle.
One of the priests was Fr. Gregorio
Aglipay. Born in Batac, Ilocos Norte, he was orphaned at an early age and
grew up as an agricultural worker in the tobacco fields. He had deep
grievances against Spanish colonialism, having been arrested at 14 for not
meeting his tobacco quota.
He had been a priest for only six years
when the Revolution broke out. He would be the only priest to attend the
When the U.S. intervened in the war with
Spain, Aglipay accepted from Abp. Bernardino Nozaleda the mission of
trying to win over the Filipino revolutionary leaders to the side of Spain
and against the American forces. Failing to convince them, he decided to
join them and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Revolutionary
Government, appointed him as military vicar general on Oct. 20, 1898.
Before that, cabinet president Apolinario
Mabini had prevailed upon the Revolutionary Government to declare civil
marriages valid, based on the doctrine of separation of church and state.
Also at Mabini’s instance, the
Revolutionary Government served notice that it no longer recognized
Nozaleda’s authority. It even instructed Filipino priests not to occupy
vacant parishes nor perform religious services without its approval.
Aglipay followed this up with a letter
urging Filipino priests to rally to the side of the Revolution and create
a council that would work for the Filipinization of the Roman Catholic
Church in the Philippines while retaining its loyalty to the Vatican.
Aglipay found himself being excommunicated
by Nozaleda in May 1899 though he had not expressed schismatic intentions.
In a subsequent manifesto, Mabini supported Aglipay and urged Filipino
priests to elect an Ecclesiastical Council to set up a provisional
organization for the Filipino National Church – one which, though still
loyal to the Vatican, would work in harmony with the Revolutionary
On Oct. 23 that year, Aglipay called an
Ecclesiastical Assembly in Paniqui, Tarlac. The body adopted a temporary
constitution for a Filipino Catholic Church and that the body would not
recognize any foreign bishop unless he had the approval of a majority of
the Filipino priests – a position the Spanish hierarchy refused to give in
The Roman Catholic Church authorities’
inflexibility and the pro-friar leanings of the first American Apostolic
Delegate, Msgr. Placido Chapelle, gained more supporters for the idea of a
Filipino church independent of the Vatican. But soon after the Paniqui
Assembly, Filipino-American hostilities intensified and Aglipay left for
the Ilocos to fight as a guerrilla general. He surrendered in May 1901.
Birth of the IFI
In August 1902, the revolutionary scholar
and journalist Isabelo “Don Belong” de los Reyes – who a year before had
founded the country’s first labor union, the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD
or Democratic Labor Union) – proposed to his membership the establishment
of the IFI with Aglipay as supreme bishop. Aglipay headed the new church a
De los Reyes was arrested the next year
after a series of strikes by the UOD. He was, however, pardoned by Gov.
Gen. William Howard Taft and released after a few weeks in detention.
Shortly after, he retired from unionism and ran for public office.
Aglipay ran for president in the 1935
Commonwealth election, but lost to Manuel L. Quezon. He died shortly
But the legacies of De los Reyes and
Aglipay have not been lost to succeeding generations of the IFI faithful.
Through the years, the IFI has been able
to maintain its ties with its revolutionary origins. It remains a pillar
of church activism in the Philippines, and was described in a recent
Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial as “perhaps the most political of
all the Christian churches, given to political activism and organizing and
often taking strong positions against the establishment.”
The IFI is a founding member of the
National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), a conciliar body
of various churches advocating what it describes as a society that is
“just, egalitarian, self-reliant and sustainable.”
The IFI is perhaps the largest among the
NCCP member churches, with various estimates placing its membership at two
to three million scattered in 35 dioceses throughout the country.
Enjoying Concordat relations with the Old
Catholic Church and the Anglican provinces, it is described as “the
largest church alternative to the Roman Catholic Church in the
Philippines” in a recent statement by Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of the
International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and a former professor of
literature and the social sciences. Bulatlat
Constitutional Rules of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, 1903.
Ranche, “An Introduction to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine
Independent Church),” 1999.
website, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (http://www.ifi.ph/).
Renato Constantino, The Philippines: A
Past Revisited, Manila: 1975.
Teodoro A. Agoncillo, History of the
Filipino People (8th Edition), Quezon City: Garotech
“Death of a Bishop,” Editorial, Philippine
Daily Inquirer, Oct. 10, 2006.
Sison, “Tribute to Bishop Alberto Ramento: The Bishop of the Workers and
Peasants,” Oct. 6, 2006.
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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