Gen. GREGORIO L. AGLIPAY (1860-1940)
The formal launching, in 1902, of a Philippine national church called the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, was the culmination of a vision first raised at the Assembly of Paniqui which was convened in 1999 for the purpose of organizing the Filipino clergy. This assembly marked the beginning of a religious revolution that; came to affect the lives of a great number of Filipinos. At the forefront in convening the assembly was a man who was a former Catholic priest, a nationalist, a patriot, a guerrilla leader, and the first Supreme Bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. His name was Cregorio Aglipay Cruz y Labayan.
Gregorio Aglipay was born in Bathe, Ilocos Norte on May 8, 1860. His parents were Pedro Aglipay Cruz and Victoriana Labayan Hilario. Little is known of his family: an elder brother, Benito, died at an early age; Canuto, a teacher, was a year or two older than Gregorio.
His mother died when he was barely a year and seven months old. Orphaned. Aglipay came under the care of his maternal granduncles and grandaunts. An industrious and lively lad, he spent his boyhood in the fields helping in the planting of tobacco. An unpleasant incident when he was fourteen made a deep impression on him. For failing to meet the required quota of tobacco, Aglipay was arrested and brought before the gobernadorcillo. This caused him to harbor deep resentment against the Spanish civil authorities.
Aglipay had his early education in his hometown. In 1876 he went to Manila and studied at the private school of Julian Carpio, a lawyer. After two years and with the financial help extended to him by a granduncle, Francisco del Amor, he enrolled at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran where he worked his way as a "capista." A diligent student, Aglipay received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Letran and went on to the University of Santo Tomas to study law. Subsequently, however, he decided to study for the priesthood and entered the Vigan Seminary in 1883.
Aglipay was ordained a priest in Manila on December 21, 1889 and celebrated his first Mass in January of the following year. For eight years he served as coadjutor (assistant parish priest) in various parishes: Indang, Cavite, San Antonio, Nueva Ecija; Bocaue, Bulacan; San Pablo. Laguna; and, finally, Victoria, Tarlac. He was coadjutor of San Pablo when the Philippine Revolution broke out in August 1896.
Aglipay had some radical ideas and his sentiments were doubtless for the revolution. But it was not until after he was assigned to Victoria, Tarlac in the latter part of 1896 that he became directly involved with the movement. He was known to have given aid to the revolutionaries. In Victoria, Aglipav is remembered as a hero and a liberator. Joaquin Rigor, an old resident of the town, recalled that in 1897, the Spanish cura parroco had ordered the arrest and execution of all male residents upon being informed that many prominent familes were connected with the revolutionary movement. However, Aglipay, who was then the coadjutor, prevented the execution when he appealed to the Spanish friar and vouched for their innocence. The order was revoked and the men were freed.
On October 20, 1898 Gregorio Aglipay was appointed military chaplain of the Revolutionary Government by Emilio Aguinaldo. As a military chaplain, he earned for himself the gratitude of the Spanish Jesuits. It was said that through his intercession the Spanish Jesuits, Fathers Antonio Rosell and Felix Mir, who were being held prisoners by the revolutionaries, were ordered released and sent to Manila. On another occasion, he interceded in behalf of several imprisoned Spanish friars in Laoag who were being asked to cut grass in the public plaza. However, his appointment of Eustaquio Gallardo as vicar general of the See of Nueva Segovia, was later cited as one of the causes for his excommunication from the Catholic Church.
In September of that same year, General Aguinaldo called for a meeting of delegates in Malolos, Bulacan. Gregorio Aglipay represented his home province of Ilocos Norte and was among those who affuted their signatures to the Constitution which was adopted by the Congress.
Aglipay was raised to the rank of vicario general castrence (military vicar general) by General Aguinaldo in a decree issued on the 20th of October. As such, he resumed the work begun by Fr. Jose Burgos - the Filipinization of the Church in the Philippines. He issued several manifestoes urging the Filipino clergy to unite and take over the government of the Church in the country. These manifestoes, among other reasons, led to his excommunication. The ecclesiastical court, in a decree issued in May 1899, found him guilty of inciting the clergy to rebellion against Church authorities.
During the lauching of the new church, Isabelo de los Reyes, a labor leader, offered him the position of supreme bishop. He hesitated at first, but finally accepted the offer that sealed his break with the Roman Catholic Church.
The independence of the Philippines was a consuming passion for Aglipay. He tried in every way to serve his country. He was an energetic soldier and an effective guerrilla leader during the Philippine-American war. His guerrilla unit courageously engaged the Americans in several encounters. In April 1901, a month after the capture of General Aguinaldo, Aglipay realized the futility of continued resistance against the Americans, and surrendered to Colonel MacCaskey in Laoag.
Aglipay's desire for independence did not lose its fervor even after peace was restored. He became deeply involved in the campaign for independence during the American regime. The success of his tour in the United States in 1931 intensified his interest in the political affairs of his country. In 1935, he ran for the presidency of the Commonwealth but lost to the fiery Manuel L. Quezon. Aglipay devoted his remaining years to the welfare of his church.
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente allows its clergy to marry. On March 12, 1939, Aglipay married Pilar Jamias of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.
Death came to Gregorio Aglipay on September 1, 1940. He died in Manila following a cerebral stroke. His remains were buried in his hometown, in Batac, Ilocos Norte, after having been interred first at the Aglipayan Cathedral in Tondo, Manila, and later, after the cathedral was destroyed in 1945, at the Temple of Maria Clara in Sampaloc.