We celebrate the 155th birth anniversary of Monsignor Gregorio Labayen Aglipay, first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. We honor the memory of a great Filipino patriot priest and flag-bearer of the Philippine religious revolution whose strong leadership charted the course of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente for 40 years. Let us commemorate his life which had borne courageous and faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ in the national democratic struggle of our people, and let us also draw inspiration from the way he lived-out our Church’s historical heritage Pro Deo et Patria.
If there is a social and political principle that would describe his character, or a spiritual rule that would be indicative of his life, it would be the motto “Serve the people!” Throughout his priestly life, Bishop Aglipay had constantly placed himself under what would benefit most the majority. Instances abound where he had displayed complete surrender and preference to the pursuit of collective good than think about his personal advantage.
In his encounter with the Jesuit friars Francisco Foradada and Joaquin Villalonga, Bishop Aglipay indignantly refused to yield to the compromise offered to him – the office of the first Filipino bishop and a large sum of money – should he desists from leading the Filipino clergy and abandons the crusade for religious freedom. Infuriated by the Jesuits’ insult to the Filipino clergy, and for using indulgence to buy his allegiance to the Roman Church, Bishop Aglipay declared, as quoted by Professor Teodoro Agoncillo in History of the Filipino People, “I seek not for my personal betterment. What I am after is justice and truth. Though you tempt me with miter and millions, I am compelled by my conscience to refuse.”
Bishop Aglipay’s theological thoughts is a wellspring of moral and spiritual standpoints which remain significant as we strive to faithfully pursue our Church’s mission and confront the challenges of our present historical context. There is much to be learned from this man of the cloth whose principles were shaped by a living faith that unhesitantly engaged itself with the Filipino people’s collective aspiration for national and social liberation, and the affirmation of human rights and dignity.
For Bishop Aglipay, the right to self-governance, the right to live as a free people of a free nation, is a matter of human dignity. He strongly believed that this right should be upheld and defended at all cost, even to the point of an armed revolution. His participation to the national democratic revolution against Spanish colonialism and American imperialism was guided by this noble belief.
He also believed that human dignity should be realized and protected by the social order which manifests and offers legitimate recognition to the people’s collective aspiration for the common good. He understood rights and honor, and freedom and courage, as forming a single thread which constitute human dignity. He believed that every human person has an inherent worth and should be treated with respect, and should enjoy life that is free from any form of oppression, manipulation and exploitation. We may say that for Bishop Aglipay, human dignity informs the form and content of all democratic rights.
Bishop Aglipay eloquently said these words in the 7th Fundamental Epistle: “A free man is a man…with dignity…upheld by all his rights and strengthened by his inescapable duties… [and] obliged to defend [his] freedoms. We are born with the right to think freely…, to govern our own person, our family, our home and our own homeland; we are born to do freely whatever pleases us as long as we do not usurp the freedom of others and violate their rights.” His statement provides us a rich theological and moral foundation for any discourse on social, political, economic and cultural rights in our time.
“Pro Deo et Patria!” “Serve the people!” “Promote human dignity!” “Defend human rights!” These are all noble concepts and principles. But what do they really mean to our Church?
Mary Jane Veloso’s case, the overseas worker sentenced to death for alleged drug trafficking in Indonesia, puts to test our sincerity about the protection of human rights. The parliamentary campaign for the abolition of the pork barrel system was a challenged to our commitment to the promotion of public good. The call for truth and accountability over the death of 67 people, Christians and Muslims alike, in Mamasapano tells us about how we seriously take the call for the realization of just peace in the country. The plight of workers and their demand for just wages continue to challenge the way we live out our pro-labor legacy as Church.
As to how much have we made our contribution to these efforts, weighing ourselves against Bishop Aglipay’s firm commitment to the promotion of human dignity, we are the only ones who can come up with the right judgement upon ourselves. In critical self-examination, let us ask ourselves as to where are we now in our collective duty to work in solidarity with the poor, deprived and oppressed? Let us ask ourselves as to what have we really done to witness prophetically in society inspired by a faithful appreciation of our Church’s historical mandate.
Bishop Aglipay, during his lifetime, was never remiss in advocating for human dignity at the forefront of every arena in the struggle for national liberation and democracy, ecumenically and internationally. We must constantly strive to faithfully pursue the same. May we celebrate Bishop’s Aglipay’s legacy with firm commitment to the promotion of human dignity with the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose.
† Most Revd Ephraim S. Fajutagana