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    The First Obispo Maximo, Monsignor Gregorio L. Aglipay


    Monsignor Gregorio Aglipay y Labayan
    First Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente


    A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF
    SUPREME BISHOP GREGORIO AGLIPAY Y LABAYAN
    (May 5, 1860 - September 1, 1940)

    Gregorio Aglipay y Labayan was born in Batac, Ilocos Norte on May 5, 1860, the third child of Pedro Aglipay Cruz and Victoriana Labayan Hilario who came from a small family of poor farmers.[1] Gregorio’s mother died when he was only one-year old and was raised by his maternal grandmother from whom he learned his first letters. Gregorio enjoyed a normal childhood and learned to work hard on the farm with his uncles. As an adventuresome boy he liked to climb the tallest trees and to swim in the dangerous currents of the river. It was during this young age that he first experienced a personal encounter with colonial authority causing his resentment against the Spanish regime. He was arrested with his uncle and taken to the tribunal for failure to meet their quota in planting tobacco.[2]

    In 1879, Gregorio Aglipay went to Manila for his secondary education supported by his uncle, Francisco Amor Romas, who was a menial employee of the Dominican Sisters School of Santa Catalina. [3] He enrolled in a private school in his first two years and transferred in his third year in Letran as a working student, a job he obtained through the help of the Dominican Sisters. He could be described as a late bloomer as seen in his academic records. While he got consistent average grades in his four years at Letran, he blossomed when he transferred to the University of Santo Tomas to become a topnotch student. As the historian William Henry Scott puts it, “a topnotch student with an average of 1.25, took the national prize in Psychology, Logic and Moral Philosophy (1.0 or Sobresaliente), and served as proctor (pasante) in that subject, i.e., a kind of academic master-sergeant who drilled the other students in recitations.” [4] 

    He graduated at the University of Santo Tomas in 1881, and made acquaintances with people who later on became prominent figures in the Philippine Revolution, like Felipe Agoncillo, Ladislao Diwa, Jose Luna and Marcelo H. del Pilar, and with younger contemporaries at Letran like Apolinario Mabini, Isabelo delos Reyes, Daniel Tirona and Emilio Aguinaldo, to name a few. [5]It was during his senior year that he was motivated to enter the seminary instead of becoming a lawyer, as influenced by his fencing partner, Jose Rizal, a senior medical student at the University of Santo Tomas. [6]

    In 1883 at the age of 23, he entered the Vigan Seminary where his classmates included men who were also destined to play their role in the Revolution like Fathers Mariano Gaerlan and Mariano Dacanay who were tortured in 1896 and Father Valentin Rubio who was executed during the Candon uprising of 1898. [7] The rector during his seminary years was the energetic Fray Celedonio Mateo de San Jose. Years later when Gregorio Aglipay became the Obispo Maximo of the IFI, he heard from Fray San Jose these words, “You will not have forgotten those years you spent by my side in the Seminary in Vigan, or of our discussions of theological and moral topics, during which I had the pleasure of hearing your arguments based on the doctrines of St. Thomas…You, Father Gregorio, did not show any inclination to disobedience, much less of rebellion, during the time you were at my side.” [8]

    Gregorio Aglipay was ordained to the priesthood on December 21, 1889 on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle at the old Dominican Church in Intramuros. The ordaining bishop was a retired Spanish Dominican missionary from Tongking, Msgr. Bernabe Garcia Cezon, titular bishop of Biblios.[9] He celebrated his first sung mass on New Year’s Day of 1890 in Santa Cruz Church in Manila with the canons of the Manila Cathedral, Fathers Faustino Sanchez Luna and Teodoro Revilla as his sponsors. [10] He proved himself as a zealous Catholic priest and was assigned as coadjutor [11] in many different parishes in Luzon.  He served in 1890 in Indang Cavite; 1891 in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija; 1892-96 in Bocaue, Bulacan; in the latter months of 1896 in San Pablo, Laguna; and lastly in Victoria, Tarlac until July 1898.[12] It was possible that his early contact and involvement with the cause of the Katipunan [13] happened when he was an assistant in one of the parishes mentioned above.

              A written document proved his direct participation in the revolution when he took the responsibility of leading the local Katipunan chapter known as Liwanag (i.e. Light) in Victoria, Tarlac in March 1897[14]. His prominence as a revolutionary priest and staunch Ilocano nationalist carried him to the seat of political power to become the lone clergy representative to the Malolos Congress in 1899.[15] Earlier, the President of the Revolutionary government, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, appointed him as Military Vicar General [16] on October 20, 1898. Following his appointment, Aglipay issued two Manifestos on the 21st and 22nd of the same month strongly reminding the clergy of the political gains of the Revolution. [17]

              Aglipay was also appointed by Bishop Hevia Campomanes as Ecclesiastical Governor of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia on November 15, 1898, after the latter abandoned his see as a bishop and became a political prisoner of the revolutionaries in Aparri, Cagayan. It was on this event where Bishop Campomanes acceded to Aglipay’s request to ordain sixteen seminarians to take care of the vacant parishes in the Diocese of Nueva Segovia.[18] In his exercise of authority as ecclesiastical governor he took the administrative power to appoint priests, not an episcopal function like ordination or consecration. On April 29, 1899 Gregorio Aglipay was excommunicated and accused of “usurpation of ecclesiastical jurisdiction”.[19] Aglipay defended himself in his Fourth Manifesto as military Vicar General issued on August 19, 1899, echoing the legitimacy and triumph of the revolution that crushed the validity of Spain’s authority based on Patronato Real. [20]  On October 23, 1899 an important clergy conference was convened to provide temporary regulations for the one already existing and had come to be known as the Paniqui Assembly. It was attended by twenty- three Filipino priests presided by Father Aglipay and they produced a Provisional Constitution of the Filipino Church. This Assembly had no intention to separate from Rome but was rather aimed to provide the necessary measures to prevent chaos in a diocese abandoned by the Spanish bishops.[21]

              Aglipay was also a Guerilla Padre who fought against the American imperialists. The fighting which broke out between the U.S. and Filipino forces on February 4, 1899 prompted Aglipay to withdraw to Ilocos Norte to organize an armed resistance. He established his headquarters in Kullabeng (Pinili, Ilocos Norte), and led a good number of fighters. Aglipay adopted the classic tactics of hit-and -run raids on enemy garrisons and installations.[22]

     Due to Aglipay’s successes, he was reported by General Otis to Washington that, “by his military operations in the field proved himself to be abler as a soldier than a bishop.” [23]   The American soldiers also felt embarrassed by the Guerilla Padre and the Ilocano populace. This situation heightened their ire on Aglipay as manifested in a letter written by an American soldier to his family saying that, “I would rather send a bullet through one of these black-robed cut-throat robbers than Aguinaldo”. [24]

    The most popular image that Aglipay portrayed was that of a leader in the struggle for religious independence following the footsteps of martyred Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora.[25] Like the three, he led in the articulation of the demands of the native Filipino clergy to be fully recognized for their capabilities and to have them receive appointments on an equal basis with those of their Spanish counterparts. This was in view of the fact that they had received the same formation, training and most importantly the same sacrament of ordination to the priestly vocation. With Aglipay’s commitment and love of the Church, he wrote to the clergy in his First Manifesto:

    “Because of our sacred ministry we are called to defend in these islands the immaculate purity of the Catholic religion, it is very necessary that we take advantage against the avalanche of impiety which always take politico-social disturbances to infect the purest tradition...” [26]

    In his love for the Church and his country he wrote in the Second Manifesto:

    “The  Revolution,  having  triumphed  and  the independence  of  our Motherland  having been  solemnly  proclaimed  by a regularly- constituted government,   patriotism   imposes  on  us,  in  the   first  place,  the duty  to acknowledge it as fait accompli inasmuch as we clearly see that its purposes, as  regards  the Catholic religion that the  Filipino  people  profess,  tend  to preserve it in all its purity;  and  we  must not only recognize it but we must incorporate it  by means of our forces  and in  consonance  with  the  character of our mission to the effective realization of its noble ends without doubting even for a  moment  that  those ends were and are to liberate our people from foreign domination...” [27]

     Some weeks after President Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in Palanan, Isabela, Aglipay was forced to surrender to the Americans in April 1901. [28] From here he shifted to parliamentary struggle and continued the battle for political independence and the campaign for the rights of Filipinos to govern the Philippine Church.  He even dialogued with the American Protestants as early as 1901 [29] for a possible alliance in establishing a Church run by Filipinos. But the opinion to separate from Rome was already gaining ground as seen in the events beginning in January 1902, an opinion that Aglipay himself was expressing alongside with his friends when he celebrated his birthday on May 8, 1902 at Kullabeng.

    The proclamation of the IFI by the Union Obrera Democratica headed by Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. on August 3, 1902 caught even Aglipay by surprise. In fact, it took him more than a month to accept “with a soul most grieved” in leading the new Church because of the division it will cause to the Filipino people. But believing its cause, the courageous and nationalist prelate accepted the leadership of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. For thirty-eight years he guided the new Church with determination and commitment as seen in the contents of the early documents of this Church and through his valiant actions.  As a nationalist and democratic person, he led an IFI that exemplified the participation of the laity in the affairs of the Church. He elevated the Church to use the vernaculars in worship and a form of liturgy that expressed the culture of the Filipino people. As Supreme Bishop he allied himself with the nationalist and most radical political parties during his time like the Sakdalistas and later on even with the Socialist and Communist Parties. He actively involved himself in the parliamentary struggle and ran as the candidate for President of the Republic in 1935. His candidacy was supported by his own Republican Party in alliance with other nationalist political parties forming what they called the Coalition of the Oppressed Masses. As an ecumenist, he opened the door of the IFI for cooperation with other Churches and initiated dialogue and possible alliances with the other Churches like the Old Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. [30] 

    During the twilight of his historic life, Bishop Aglipay got married before reaching his seventy-ninth birthday to Pilar Jamias of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, who was sixty-four years old at that time. The marriage was officiated by Bishop Fernando Buyser and standing as sponsors were his Unitarian friends, Dr. Louis Cornish and his wife. The wedding was held at the IFI Church in Tondo on March 12, 1939.[31] Bishop Aglipay explained that, “he had to marry in order to set an example for his followers, particularly the priests, that they could get married in conformity with the liberal teachings of his church.”[32] They begot a daughter before their marriage named Liwliwa. She served as Philippine secretary of the Rationalist Society of London and secretary to Bishop Aglipay in translating English letters for his contacts abroad. Aglipay called her “my hope and partner in my struggles for the ideals of justice and humanity.” [33] She was born on February 24, 1913, studied at the University of the Philippines but unfortunately died before reaching her twenty-fifth birthday on February 17, 1938, or thirteen months before the marriage of her parents. She was buried in the Pasay Municipal Cemetery. It was said that the other reason for Aglipay’s marriage was very personal and sentimental. It was “in order to comply with the young Liwliwa’s dying wish.”[34]

    Bishop Aglipay died on September 1, 1940, during the advent of another foreign domination in the country, the Japanese invasion. On his death the then incumbent President Quezon said:

    “I have learned with profound sorrow of the death of Monsignor Aglipay. His services to the country during the revolution were of inestimatable value and marked him as a Filipino patriot of the first rank. In this respect our people should forever be grateful to him. I became his personal friend since 1907 and have felt great affection for him throughout these years, even during the presidential campaign when we were political opponents.”[35]

              The deepest tribute that captivated the life and ministerial journey of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay for more than eighty years was heard from the message delivered by the Ilocos Norte Governor Roque B. Ablan, Sr. during the necrological service in his address entitled, “Bishop Aglipay the Man and Patriot”:

    “It is not for us to assess in terms of dogmatic evaluation his contribution to the cause of Christianity and the brotherhood of man; it is not for us to judge his philosophy in bringing man nearer to God for that question has not been solved throughout the years to the satisfaction of all mankind, but no one can deny that whether in the bloody battlefields, in the sacred prescient of his cathedral, and in the routine of his everyday life, he had one possessing obsession and that was to serve his country that the Filipino nation might live and that the Filipino people merit the respect that is its due...

    Bishop Aglipay received for heritage a duty and that duty he discharged to the full measure of his ability. That duty was to collaborate with others to form a heterogeneous mass into a compact whole to be known as the Filipino nation...

    Whether fighting in the battlefields, in his Church, or in politics, nobody can deny him of courage, his tenacity, and his sincerity of purpose, qualities which in themselves alone entitle a man to the respect of his time and of history in anytime...”36

     

    (Presented by the Rev. Dr. Eleuterio Jose Revollido during the 150th Birthday Celebration of Supreme Bishop Gregorio L. Aglipay, May 8, 2010 at the IFI, National Cathedral, Taft Avenue, Manila)



    [1] William Henry Scott, Aglipay before Aglipayanism, Quezon City: National Priest Organization, 1987, p. 5. Also in AB-RRP, vol. 1, p. 3. NB: According to baptismal register he was baptized on May 9, 1860 on the feast of St. Gregory of Nazianzus though Aglipay himself celebrates his birthday every May 8. Scott opined that maybe his family assumes that he was born a day before he was baptized. His two brothers were Benito who died at the age of 12 and Canuto who lived until 1920. The latter was one time Chief of Police of Victoria, Tarlac where Gregorio himself was assistant parish priest. The Revolutionary government was established in that town in June 1898.

    [2] Ibid., 6. The Tobacco Monopoly regulations at that time required that in certain provinces every farmer should plant a fixed quota of plants, while in other areas it was strictly illegal to grow the crop at all.

    [3]Ibid., 7. One version of a story why Aglipay decided to go to Manila was to escape his father’s forced engagement to a girl he did not love. But Scott said that his decision was better explained by his desire to pursue education rather than settle down to a farmer’s life at the age of 16. His defiance to custom may be seen also as an example of the strong- willed determination which would later lead to defiance of Spanish political control and Roman ecclesiastical authority. 

    [4] “Real y Pontifica Universidad de Santo Tomas: Libro de Matricula de Estudios Generales y de Aplicacion de Segunda Ensenanza.” 1876-1877, 1877-1878, 1878-1879, 1880-1881 and 1882-1883; and Libro de Matriculas y Calificaciones,” 1871-1889 ; quoted in W. Scott, Aglipay before Aglipayanism,  p. 10.

    [5] Ibid.,p.11

    [6] Tomas S. Fonacier, Ph.D., Gregorio Aglipay: A Short Biography, Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1954, p. 20. Quoted in Crisostomo A. Yalung, ed., Archdiocese of Manila: A Pilgrimage in Time 1565-1999, Manila: The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, 1999, p. 284. Also in W. Scott, oc., p.10.

    [7] W. Scott, oc., p.11.

    [8] Letter dated Uberaba (Brasil) January 7, 1903, IFI Archives (St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Quezon City): OM1.1/1903-1910/Box 1, Folder No. 2) quoted in W. Scott, oc., p. 12.

    [9] AB-RRP, Vol. 1, p. 17. He was ordained to the priesthood together with Valentin Rubio of Badoc, Ilocos Norte, who was executed in connection with the Candon uprising of 1898.

    [10] Ibid., 19. Scott said that Aglipay continued his friendship with Sanchez Luna, a popular preacher at that time, even after he became an IFI Obispo Maximo. He made mention of his letter to Aglipay in 1904 commenting on the Fundamental Epistles saying, “As doctrine, the Fundamental Epistles are not bad, and I see Isabelo in them; but what rules for your fellow bishops?” Letter dated Gerona January 7, 1904, IFI Archives OM1.1 Box 1, Folder 2. quoted in W. Scott, oc., p. 16.

    [11] It was a position of an assistant priest to a Spanish friar. The historical record based on the testimony of Bishop Hevia Campomanes, the Bishop of Nueva Segovia to the Taft Commission on August 7, 1900 clearly revealed Bishop Campomanes discriminating attitude towards the native by saying that their education and capacity were much lower, weak and frail compared to the Spaniards. Regarding Aglipay, he said, “He has not a good presence… half as well educated as many other native priests.” See AB-RRP, Vol. III, pp. 26-28.

    [12] Ambrocio M. Manaligod, Gregorio Aglipay: Hero or Villain ,Manila: CFA, 1977, p. 12. Also in W. Scott, oc., p. 16.

    [13] NB: It started as a secret society calling for an armed revolution to overthrow the Spanish colonial government and was founded in 1892 by a working class Andres Bonifacio. This was a shift from the elite reformism led by Jose Rizal in the establishment of La Liga Filipina to a lower-class radicalism. See Abinales and Amoroso, State and Society in the Philippines, pp. 109-11.

    [14]Mayor Jose Villarte, Resena Historica del Pueblo de Victoria, 1940. Transcript in the possession of the Municipal Office of Victoria, Tarlac; quoted in  W. Scott, oc., 18. It was said that while in Victoria, Aglipay gave aid to the revolutionaries and employed thirty carpenters who in reality were revolutionists in touch with the Katipunan. It was told that these men saved the forces of the insurgent General Macabulos from annihilation at the hands of the Spanish General Lachambre. See also AB-RRP, vol. 1, p. 36.

    [15] AB-RRP, vol.1, p. 60.

    [16] NB: This title was explained by Aglipay by saying that, “The Philippine government, relying on my will and overlooking my lack of merit, has recognized me as Vicario General Castrense - that is to say, Chief Ecclesiastical Superior of those under arms during the Revolution. This means, all Filipinos. For this reason, I am likewise Superior to all Filipino priests who, as such, should all be appointed Military Chaplains for the duration of the war.” see AB-RRP, Vol.III, pp. 92-3.

    [17] Ibid., p. 99. English translation by William Henry Scott in the early 80’s given to students of IFI history at St. Andrew’ Theological Seminary. Part of the Second Manifesto says, “The  Revolution is  a fact  of   force which  imposes  itself,   its motives and  ends  being just,  as  those  of  our  Revolution  undoubtedly are, because it is and will always be in conformity with the eternal principle of right and justice to liberate  a  country  oppressed  by  the arbitrariness   of  a  corrupt  power that denies  all  conciliation,  all   concessions,  and  lastly,   the  fulfillment  of  Pacts solemnly concluded. What evil could we do by acknowledging the Government constituted in our country   which nobly   invites us to help in its endeavor to civilize and regenerate our beloved Motherland?”

    [18] Upon his visit to the provinces in the north as military vicar general, he found out that the parishes were abandoned because the friars either fled or were imprisoned. He gathered the former seminarians in Vigan and took them to Bishop Jose Hevia Campomanes for ordination. The ordination of eight priests and eight deacons happened in Alcala, Cagayan on November 26, 1898. See AB-RRP, vol. 1, pp. 65-75, see also Yalung, Archdiocese of Manila: A Pilgrim in Time, 289-290. One of the newly ordained priests was Juan Jamias who joined Aglipay in the IFI and later on became his brother in- law after marrying his sister Pilar Jamias. During the IFI leadership controversy of 1946, Juan Jamias was elected Supreme Bishop by the Fonacier faction while the other group elected Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr. The legal battle that ended in 1955 Supreme Court decision in favor of Bishop de los Reyes, resulted in the faction the Independent Church of Filipino Christians (ICFC). Bishop Santiago Fonacier who was behind its establishment was married to Carmen Marcelina Amor Jamias y Ver, the niece of Juan Jamias.

    [19] AB-RRP, Vol. 1, p. 89. Scott commented on this event saying, “As anomalous as his position may have been, however, Jesuit Superior Father Pio Pi did not hesitate to make use of it to secure the release of two Jesuit prisoners of war…(Aglipay) re-open schools in Ilocos…persuade some Dominican sisters in Cagayan to teach in Vigan,”  W. Scott, oc., p. 26.

    [20] Patronato Real or Royal Patronage lies in the Medieval assumption that the pope held supreme authority over the entire globe including pagan world. Through the Papal Bull promulgated by Pope Alexander VI entitled Inter Caetera Divinae, Spain and Portugal divided the world granting them the full authority over all territories discovered and still to be discovered. The rulers of these two countries had dominion over their colonies, not only politically but also ecclesiastically, see David Bosch. Transforming Mission, New York:Orbis Book, 1991, p. 226. Also see AB-RRP, Vol.III, p. 210.

    [21] NB: The old folks of barrio San Francisco (now Anao, Tarlac) insisted that the meeting was held in their humble chapel. The credence of this claim was the fact that the parish priest of Panique was not among the signatories of the Provisional Constitution. Scott made two important comments regarding it. First, its immediate effect, at least in theory, was to make the supreme ecclesiastical authority dependent on the Filipino clergy themselves and, second, its historic significance, “that the revolutionary cause was so just it would soon be recognized both by Vatican and the Great Powers. It was in that noble but naïve conviction that the Filipino president sent Aglipay to reconnoiter an escape route in the mountains of Bontoc in November 1899, and then disbanded the Philippine army and took to the hills.” See W. Scott, oc., pp. 30-32.

    [22] Ibid., p.33. Even Schumacher, despite his aversion for Aglipay, is forced to admit that “Aglipay himself was of course a guerilla leader of undoubted ability and courage. For almost a year and a half he carried on guerilla warfare in Ilocos Norte, particularly in the area between Badoc and Batac, but ranging even to Loaog at times. All evidence indicates that he was the soul of the resistance. So serious did the situation become for the Americans that in late August 1900 the American Commander was proposing such drastic measures as declaring the entire male population of the area rebels and treating them accordingly. Earlier, his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Howze had reported to headquarters: ‘From a very careful investigation in every direction, I find the causes for the outburst to be: first, the fanatical influence Padre Aglipay has over the average man in this province; Aglipay poses and is known as the Filipino government . . . The greatest number has risen against us because of the fanatical influence Aglipay has over them”. John N. Schumacher, Revolutionary Clergy: The Filipino Clergy and the Nationalist Movement, 1850-1903, Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1992, p. 35.

    [23] Annual Report of the War Department for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 1900, Part 4, p. 316; quoted in W. Scott, oc., p. 35.

    [24] U.S. Military History Institute: Spanish-American War Survey: Milton G. Nixon family correspondence, April 1, 1900; Ibid., p. 37.

    [25] They were Filipino secular priests who were garroted by the Spanish colonial government on February 17, 1872 after being implicated in the Cavite Mutiny.

    [26] AB-RRP, Vol.III, p. 95. The English translation was made by William Henry Scott given in one of his lectures on Philippine Church History when the author was his student at St. Andrew’s Seminary, 1980.

    [27] Ibid., p. 98.

    [28] Scott commented that “the greatest compliment to his reputation as a patriot was unwittingly paid him by General J. Franklin Bell after the Ilocano surrender: He requested permission to keep one cavalry unit in the field in case the Guerilla Padre changed his mind”. See W. Scott, oc., p. 35.

    [29] Ibid., p. 39. Accompanied by Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr, Aglipay’s meeting with the Protestants will be discussed in chapter four.

    [30] NB: The Six Fundamental Epistles, the 1903 Doctrine and Constitutional Rules, the IFI Liturgy and Aglipay’s activities as Supreme Bishop will be discussed in chapters four and five.

    [31] AB-RRP, vol. 1, 500.

    [32] Leon O. Ty, “Gregorio Aglipay: Priest, Soldier, Politician,” Philippine Free Press,  Sept. 7, 1940, 36-37 quoted in AB-RRP, vol. 1, p. 498.

    [33] Liwliwa or Consuelo in Spanish was a progressive lady like Bishop Aglipay. This could be seen with her letter to    Helen Auerbach, wife of James Allen, the friend of her father and President of the Communist Party in the USA, regarding her contacts with the Sakdalistas. She said in her letter, “I have some Sakdalista friends and they give me accounts of what they   stand   for   and what they do. I am enclosing a memorial of the Sakdalista party. It was presented to the congressional delegation of the U.S. on Nov. 13, 1935.” See, James S. Allen, The Radical Left on the Eve of War: A Political Memoir, Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1985, pp. 22, 107, 114.

    [34] AB-RRP, vol. 1, p. 500.

    [35] Bayan (Manila), September 1940, p.1.

    [36] Necrological message of Gov. Roque B. Ablan (Sept.15, 1940). Quoted by W.H. Scott in his message delivered for the commemoration of the 30th death anniversary of Bishop Aglipay, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Quezon City in September 1970.




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