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THE PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT CATHOLIC CHURCH

A BRIEF HISTORY
By Dr. Valiant O. Dayagbil

According to Dr. William Henry Scott, on August 3, 1902, the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente (in Spanish) or Philippine Independent Catholic Church (in English) was proclaimed by Don Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr. together with the members of the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD). Following is a quotation from his article published in The East and West Review, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1 (January, 1962), 3-13, entitled The Philippine Independent Church in History:

In May nationalist ambitions were at least temporarily quashed by American military might, and in August one of the irate delegates to the Spanish papal nuncio broached the matter of religious independence before a meeting of the first Filipino labour union. “I am fed up with the arrogant attitude of the Vatican towards all demands from our people for justice toward the Filipino clergy,” he cried. “I solemnly and without any reservations declare that today we definitely secede from the Church of Rome and renounce allegiance to the Vatican and, relying on God’s aid, proclaim ourselves members of a Christian, Catholic, Independent Church, to be ruled and administered by Filipinos!” Those present then proceeded to elect seventeen “bishops” and Gregorio Aglipay as “Supreme Bishop” (Obispo Maximo). Thus was the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente finally and officially born.

Thus, on August 3, 1902 “The Filipino Church” was finally and officially born – independent from the Church of Rome. However, questions may be asked: Why do some church bodies claim to be “Filipino Churches” when there was only one “Filipino Church” proclaimed on August 3, 1902? How come that each one of these churches claims to be the “Filipino Church”? Among the many claimants, which one is “The Filipino Church”?

There is no doubt that “The Filipino Church” is the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente (ICFI) or Philippine Independent Catholic Church (PICC) – with an Episcopal form of polity, meaning, episcopally led and episcopally governed. However, what happened was that many groups around the country joined the Filipino Church after August 3, 1902. Each one of these groups used and still uses the name that stood for what they strongly believed to be the rightful name of and for the group. The ICFI or PICC became the umbrella that sheltered and presented a one Filipino Church of the various churches that joined her or comprises her after the proclamation.

Following are the names of the churches or church groups around the country that came to be identified with the Filipino Church, the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente or Philippine Independent Catholic Church: Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), Iglesia Aglipayana (Aglipayan Church), Iglesia Catolica Apostolica Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Catholic Apostolic Church), Iglesia Catolica Aglipayana (Aglipayan Catholic Church), and Iglesia Independiente Aglipayana (Aglipayan Independent Church).

These churches held on to each name and claimed exclusive right. However, the claim of exclusive right was not legal since these names were not individually registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) when it was established in the Philippines on October 26, 1936 and became operational on November 11, 1936.

Exclusive right of each name from the legal point of view was simply taken for granted. The euphoria of having a Filipino Church independent of Rome glossed over the fact that the Filipino Church was a conglomeration of churches, an organic union so to speak. Another factor was the need for a united front in attending to the ensuing overt and covert persecution of the whole Filipino Church during the American occupation. The Americans, in duet with the Roman Church, considered the nationalist Church as suspect. In addition, the quest for Apostolic Succession preoccupied the leadership of the nascent Church.

Few months after she was proclaimed, the leadership of the Filipino Church began its quest for Apostolic Succession but to no avail. In the 1930’s, she was drawn to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA (PECUSA). This desire for Apostolic Succession made the Filipino Church increasingly use one of the names that comprises her – the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or Philippine Independent Church (PIC). This is because, for the PECUSA, the word “Catholic” was suspect. It was a practical or pragmatic move by the Church leadership to register the Filipino Church under the name “Iglesia Filipina Independiente” to express our difference and independence from the Church of Rome, and to secure Apostolic Succession. This early, a rambling can be heard from some sectors inside the Church. Some claimed that the Church is becoming Episcopalian. The Church amended her Constitution and Canons, coming up with the 1947 Constitution and Canons. Thus, on April 7, 1948, the gift of Apostolic Succession was bestowed upon Filipino bishops by the PECUSA.
In 1977, some sectors in the Church succeeded in mangling the 1947 Constitution and Canons. The 1977 Constitution and Canons came into being – full of infirmities, departing from the spirit of 1902. By virtue of a new Constitution and Canons in 1977, the IFI departed from the Episcopal form of polity and from the ethos of the Filipino Church. For quite sometime, beginning in 1995 until about 2005, the IFI could not identify her form of polity. It was only lately that she was able to coin the phrase: episcopally led, synodically governed. In effect, the IFI has a Congregationalist form of polity – modified, one may say. With this change of polity, the IFI ceased to be corporation sole and became corporation aggregate beginning in 1977. This is the reason why there is parish council in parish level, diocesan council in diocesan level, and Executive Commission on the national level. However, the IFI national leadership wants her members to believe that she is still a corporation sole, that she was only amending the 1947 Constitution and Canons in 1997, and the like – for reasons known only to them. The problem in the Filipino Church reared its ugly head in 1981 when, after few years from approval, the then Obispo Maximo Macario V. Ga, D.D., questioned the authenticity of the approved 1977 Constitution and Canons. According to him, some provisions approved were not in the original final draft of the Constitution and Canons. Civil court cases ensued to date.
Those who belonged to the original Filipino Church became a minority because the significance of the name and its ideals were taken for granted for so long a period of time. Their national officials were booted out from the national office by the majority who does not want to use the name “catholic”, and had to establish their own. The ICFI or PICC is not a faction of the Filipino Church. It is the Filipino Church. It is not a faction of the IFI. The IFI was only a part of it – until for practical reason it stood representing the Filipino Church. In the year 2003 however, the original Filipino Church decided she had enough. The ICFI or PICC, not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) since 1902, was registered with the SEC on January 8, 2003. Legally, the ICFI or PICC reclaimed her name and its exclusive right to it.

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