Masonry and the Philippine Revolution©


MW Bro. Reynold Smith Fajardo, PGM
Grand Masonic Historian (GMH)

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From the very start of the Masonic organization down to the present, its internal laws have invariably enjoined its members not to involve the Fraternity in political controversies. In every nation where Masonry is established loyalty to government and country are constantly stressed. But not withstanding the "ad nauseam" of the non-political injunction in Masonic regulations, countless political upheavals have been laid at its doorsteps. For a century and a half a large segment of the intelligentsia of Europe believed that many of the events that transpired in the world happened because Freemasons planned them so. Masons were considered "ipso facto" subversives, and were blamed for the French Revolution, and subsequent uprisings in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, and Latin America. In 1852, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli of England warned that secret societies, in the guise of Freemasonry, were "ever prepared to ravage Europe." A decade later, Pope Pius IX attributed to Masons the "great wars and movements of revolt by which all Europe has been set ablaze."

Masonry Reaches the Philippines

The Philippines in the 18th and 19th centuries was a distant Spanish colony. The Masonry which was first introduced into the country was, therefore, the Masonry of Spain which has an envenomed relationship with the Catholic Church.

Historians tell us that the first Masonic lodge established in the Philippines dates from 1856. It was followed shortly thereafter by lodges organized in Manila. All these lodges, however, were composed of Spaniards and foreigners. Only a handful of Filipinos were admitted into membership. It was not until 1892 that the first lodges composed of Filipinos were set up in the country. But while the doors of the early lodges were closed to the Filipinos, the Spaniards and foreigners who comprised their membership gave the Filipinos a foretaste of the libertarian ideals of the Fraternity and aroused in them a craving for the "new liberties". This was especially true during the terms of Governor Generals Carlos Maria de la Torre and Emilio Terrero y Perinat.

De La Torre's Term

After the triumph of liberalism in Spain in 1868, the Masons who headed the new administration in Madrid appointed hundreds of their Fraternity brothers to government positions in the Philippines as replacements of the officeholders of the deposed regime. The genial liberalism and humanism of the new arrivals awakened as first curiosity and later a feeling of goodwill towards the Fraternity. The Masons spread among their newly-found Filipino friends such dangerous ideas as "liberty, equality, fraternity and independence."

The Masonic regime in Madrid also sent to the Philippines Carlos Maria de la Torre as the new Governor General. A liberal to the core, he became very popular among the Filipinos. La Torre encouraged freedom of speech, abolished censorship of the press and fostered free discussion of political problems. Encouraged by his liberalism, the Filipinos, both priests and laymen, waged a campaign for the Filipinization of the parishes and the ouster therefrom of the friars and pressed for greater political rights. For the first time, Manila witnessed the staging of public demonstration and the emergence of a crop of agitators for reforms.

The liberal regime in Spain also caused an Assembly of Reformers to be established in Manila. The assembly had the power to vote reforms in the colony, but monastic supremacy prevailed. The friars in the Philippines were in those days the true rulers of the country, with sufficient clout to frustrate all attempts at change. Thus the reforms voted were never carried into effect. Nonetheless, the first sparks of liberty had been struck with no amount of persecution could totally extinguish. The Filipinos had been taught to hope for equal laws. They agitated for their promulgation and became a torn to the side of the Monastic Orders.

The friars viewed La Torre's liberalism with alarm and utter distaste. They started a campaign in Madrid to bring about his removal and simultaneously plotted their moves against the Filipino intellectuals who in the liberal atmosphere of his administration expressed their views too freely. In 1870, La Torre's patron, General Prim, was assassinated, and the following year he was recalled to Spain. His replacement, Rafael de Izquierdo, was a Mason, but he was above all a Spanish patriot who took to heart his mandate to reassert Spanish authority. Besides he was convinced the friars were indispensable for the preservation of the Spanish rule in the Philippines. He reversed the liberal policies of La Torre and reverted the governorship to its classic form.

The Cavite Mutiny

In 1872, the friars got their chance to revenge. The Filipino workers at the Navy yard in Cavite mutinied. It was a minor uprising which was easily suppressed, but the friars saw in it a chance to silence the local intelligentsia and nip in the bud the growing agitation for reforms, so they blew it up all out of proportion. The moment the mutiny started, authorities began rounding up prominent Filipinos, priests, lawyers, and wealthy traders, who were at the vanguard of the reform movement. Historian O.D. Corpus tells us that "some or most of the lawyers and businessmen were freemasons." After hasty trials, those arrested were meted severe penalties. The Masons Enrique Paraiso, Crisanto de los Reyes and Maximo Inocencio were also implicated, but Izquierdo extended protection to them and saw to it they received only light sentences. Nonetheless, Masons were persecuted in the aftermath of the Cavite Mutiny and the lodges were forced to close.

The harsh measures taken by the regime wiped out the leadership of the reform group, but it was a costly triumph. Instead of fear, a hatred of the friars took hold of the people. Peace prevailed, but it was peace which had to be enforced by the sword.

The Term of Terrero

In 1855, there was a resurgence of Masonic influence in the country. In that year, the Prime Minister of Spain was Praxedes Mateo Sagasta, the Sovereign Grand Commander and the Grand Master of the Gran Oriente de España. Sagasta sent to the Philippines a 33 degree Mason as Governor General of the country, Emilio Terrero y Perinat. The new Governor started out as a new Carlist, but after seeing first hand the abuses and avarice of the friars and their blatant disregard of the laws of the land, he gradually abandoned his absolutist and apostolic Carlist convictions and was transformed into a liberal, reform-minded and anti-clerical Governor General. Terrero's two principal assistants were also 33 degree Masons. Jose Centeno, the acting Civil Governor of Manila, was the local head of the Oriente Nacional de España, while Benigno Quiroga Lopez Ballesteros, the Director General for Civil Administration, was a protege of the Mason Segismundo Moret. The three formed what historian Manuel Artigas y Cuerva called the Triangulo de 33. For the first and only time during the Spanish regime the Philippines was governed by the Square.

The Triangulo de 33 brought the power and prestige of the friars to their lowest ebb. They struck the first blow in 1887. In the approaching fiesta of Binondo, three guilds -- one for the native, one for the Chinese, and a third for the mestizos -- contested the right to manage the affair. The parish priest, Father Hevia Campomanes, ruled in favor of the Chinese guild, but when the matter reached the desk of Terrero, he sided with the natives. In protest, Campomanes refused to go on with the fiesta and when Terrero maintained that it be held, he kept away from the celebration. Incensed, Terrero removed him as parish priest over the objection of the Archbishop. He also discharged the gobernadorcillos of the mestizos and the Chinese.

The affair was a signal success for the Filipino nationalists. They had prevailed over the parish priest and the Archbishop. Moreover, when they called on Terrero in Malacañang to thank him, he declared that Filipino natives are by law Spaniards. His statement gave the Filipinos hope for the realization of their aspirations for equal rights with Spaniards despite the uncompromising opposition of the friars.

A greater blow to ecclesiastical prestige followed when Quiroga issued an executive order directing the provincial governors to prohibit the exposure in the churches of the corpses of persons who had died of infectious diseases. Some claim the order was in retaliation for the refusal of a parish priest to grant a Christian burial to a Mason. Be that as it may, the decree hit the friars where it hurt most : the pocketbook. The friars tried to defy the order, but Centeno and the other provincial governors called in the troops.

A third decree which exacerbated the dispute called for the establishment of schools in Malolos "with such assistance as the resources of the Treasury would allow," but with the specific injunction that they should be managed by lay persons and not by the religious. It was an audacious move. Only a few years before Pope Leo XIII issued a Bull, Humanum Genus, castigating Masons because they advocated the education of children by laymen. The decree was in direct defiance of the Papal Bull.

The bold measures taken by the Triangulo de 33 brought them close to the hearts of the Filipino patriots. The Filipinos led by Marcelo H. del Pilar, with the assistance of his group in Malolos, Bulacan and the gobernadorcillos and principales of Manila, gave them their full and unqualified backing. In Malolos the group of del Pilar published the decree on burials "with music and flags" and paraded in the streets. The Filipinos were also emboldened to report to the civil authorities the abuses of the friars and their infractions of the law.

The Return of Rizal

In August, 1887 Jose Rizal returned to the country. He was a member of Acasia Lodge No.9 of the Gran Oriente de España and was the leader of the Propaganda Movement of the Filipinos in Spain. Before returning to the country be had written a socio- historical novel, "Noli Me Tangere", an incisive, full-scale indictment of the Philippine political and religious regime. Understandably, the friars wanted to get their hands on him and his book, but Terrero extended him protection and even gave him a bodyguard. Needless to say, Terrero's coddling of Rizal did not endear him to the friars. The friars, however, were persistent. Daily they demanded that Terrero ban the "Noli" and order the arrest of Rizal. When the pressure became too strong, Terrero himself advised Rizal to quit the country.

The Manifestation of 1888

On March 1, 1888 emotions were raised to their highest pitch. The Filipino patriots, encouraged by the support they were getting from the Triangulo de 33, marched through the streets of Manila to the office of Centeno to whom they handed a petition addressed to the Queen Regent which asked for the expulsion of the friars. The demonstration was organized by Doroteo Cortez, Marcelo del Pilar and Jose A. Ramos.

The march of the Filipinos was astounding for its daring. It was the first and only time in the history of the country that a demonstration against Spanish friarchy took place. The manifestation which the marchers presented to Centeno was dynamite. It went too far even for Terrero and the other senior Spanish officials who held anti-clerical views. Compelling the friars to obey the laws and curbing their abuses was already extremely difficult to accomplish; asking for their expulsion was too much. It was declaration of war; something which even the Governor General could not dare support. Rizal also doubted the prudence of the petition.

The Fall

Three days after the demonstration, the JUNTA DEAUTORIDADES met and placed responsibility for the manifestation on the shoulders of Centeno. Within a week he was forced to resign and depart for Spain. In April, the 3-year term of Terrero expired and was not renewed. A few months later Quiroga also had to leave. The Filipinos had lost their protectors.

Terrero was succeeded by Valeriano Weyler, a pliant tool of the friars. Immediately the friars took their revenge. Strong measures were adopted to undo the reforms instituted by the Triangulo de 33. Cuiroga's decree on burials was rescinded. The "Noli" was included in the censor's list and Filipinos caught possessing it were incarcerated. Father Hevia Campomanes whom Terrero removed was restored to his parish in Binondo and given a de 33 were booted out of office, arrested and charged. Plans were also made to arrest del Pilar, but he was given timely notice by his friends in the administration and was able to Sail for Spain before the police could get their hands on him.

Filipino Masonry in Spain

In the 1880's improved economic conditions in the Philippines enabled Filipinos to sail for Spain to pursue a higher education or, like del Pilar, flee from the dangerous environment of their homeland. At first only a trickle left, but when the Suez Canal was opened reducing travel time to Spain from four to only one month, the exodus grew into a steady flow.

The Filipinos found the political atmosphere in Spain conducive to a campaign for reforms. They had come from a country of oppression and arrived in a country of freedom. There, unlike in the Philippines, the citizens enjoyed all the "modern liberties." The "carta fundamental" or Constitution guaranteed to Spanish citizens freedom of speech, press, association and religion. One could criticize, orally or in writing, the policies of the government, and even atheists and agnostics could express their views freely. All these were unheard of in their homeland. If one criticized the authorities in the Philippines he was branded a "filibustero", a sobriquet which was enough to cause his detention and deportation. The Filipinos also found that in Spain the vast wealth, power and influence of the friars, so pervasive in the Philippines, was absent, and in fact there existed a large residue of anticlerical feeling. Above all they learned that in Spain Filipinos were in legal contemplation Spaniards and enjoyed all the rights and privileges given to Spanish citizens, unlike in their home country where they were sneered at as "indios", members of an inferior race.

The Filipinos observed that the Spanish officials and politicians who took great interest in their welfare, defending their rights in the parliamentary tribunals and issuing decrees in their favor, were Masons. Among them may be counted ministers Segismundo Moret and Manuel Bacerra, former Presidents Francisco Pi y Margall and Emilio Castelar, and, above, all, Miguel Morayta. Since the lodges in Spain were open to all nationalities regardless of race or color, the Filipinos as soon as possible became initiates of the Masonic lodges. Those who joined included Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce, Rafael del Pan, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Moises Salvador, Pedro Serrano Laktaw, Galicano Apacible, Teodoro Sandico, Tomas Arejola, Jose Panganiban, Antonio Lima, Ariston Bautista, Tomas del Rosario, Pedro de Govantes, Jose Alejandrino, Julio Llorente, and Santiago Barcelona. In 1886 some of these Filipinos participated in the organization of Lodge Solidaridad in Barcelona. A few years later, they established Lodge Revolucion also in Barcelona and in 1890 they started another Lodge in Madrid also named Solidaridad which was composed exclusively of Filipinos.

The Filipinos attended lodge meetings with great enthusiasm and in these meetings they were indoctrinated through lectures with the immutable teachings and lofty ideals of Masonry. "The meetings of the Lodge," said Teodoro M. Kalaw, "were of utmost interest. They were feasts of patriotism and Masonic apostleships; a marvelous communion of ideas and action, spirit and matter. Never did lips utter such eloquent appeals in the name of a universal brotherhood of all men as were heard at these gatherings. Never could Masonry have a more noble or a more chivalrous objective."

A Plan to Establish Filipino Lodges in the Philippines

The Filipino Masons in Spain soon realized that the Fraternity could be a potent instrument in the promotion of Philippine nationalism. With this objective in mind del Pilar and Rizal initiated a project in 1890 to establish lodges in Manila and the provinces exclusively for Filipinos. Specifically, there were two sound reasons behind the plan.

Firstly, it was perceived, as already mentioned, that Masonry could help unify the Filipinos and imbue them with a sense of nationhood. In spite of the strides already made at that time in arousing among the Filipinos a feeling of oneness and a national consciousness, the Filipino Masons in Spain were sadly aware that the Philippines was essentially still a mere cluster of hopelessly divided tribes. The inhabitants did not have a true sense of nationhood; they did not look upon themselves as Filipinos, but merely as Tagalogs, Pampangos, Ilocanos, Visayans, etc. They belonged to the same racial stock and shared a common grievance against their colonizer, but did not embrace each other as brothers. Tribal and regional differences predominated. They all yearned for freedom and had, in fact, staged a hundred revolts against Spain. But all their uprisings were local in scope, waged by a divided people and, therefore, were easily suppressed. Thus, when the Tagalogs rose in arms, the Spaniards enlisted the Pampangos to put down their uprising, and when the Pampangos revolted, the Spaniards called upon those from other regions to quell it. The Filipino Masons saw the unifying value of Masonry. They had come from different regions and provinces of the country -- Rizal was from Laguna, Lopez-Jaena from Iloilo, del Pilar from Bulacan, Apacible from Batangas, Arejola from Camarines Sur, Panganiban from Camarines Norte, Alejandrino from Pampanga, Bautista from Manila, Llorente from Cebu, and Luna from Ilocos, but inside the lodge all their regional differences were forgotten; they all sat in lodge and mingled together as brothers, as Filipinos. As del Pilar expressed it:

"Masonry has consecrated its efforts to the task of uniting all men in brotherhood, erasing the differences of country, race and color, of banishing war, replacing the din of arms and clanking of chains with the sound of work and industry."

Mariano Ponce, in later years, stated it in the following terms:

"Masonry was established to give our people a school which would provide it with models for cooperative action (normas de sociabilidad) and accustom it to live as a collectivity. In the bosom of Masonry we have learned to live a life of association; in the midst of that brotherhood we have communicated to one another our impressions our thoughts, our aspirations, and we have made ourselves apt to unite our desires and our acts."

Masonry did not always succeed in erasing all ruffled feelings, but it was the best catalyst of unity available.

Secondly, the Filipino Masons perceived Masonry as the "universal protest against the ambition of tyrants," as the "supreme manifestation of democracy," as the organization which could redeem and transform the Philippines "from a downtrodden Spanish colony, poor and sickly, without rights and liberties, into a dignified, free and prosperous nation." They believed that the lodges established in the Philippines could later constitute, together with those in Spain and other countries, a strong, consolidated league against oppression. One by one the members spoke on the need of bringing Masonry to the Philippines. Tomas Arejola, in one of his speeches in the Lodge, said:

"If Masonry is then the supreme manifestation of democracy, for in democracy are found Masonry's principles, teachings and tenets combined, there can be nothing more profitable and logical for us -- children of a forgotten country on the other side of the world -- than to adopt those principles for our own and to become strong advocates of reform if we truly wish to see the land of our ancestors redeemed and transformed from a neglected and downtrodden Spanish colony, poor and sickly, without rights or liberties, into a dignified, free and prosperous nation on the horizon of which the sun of justice and civilization will rise in full splendor.

"There is no place for doubt. A Fraternity that, like Masonry, has existed and will always exist through the centuries, paying unremitting homage to the eternal verities, consecrating its efforts to the redemption of humanity, is the destined liberator to bring freedom and right to the Philippines."

Del Pilar, for his part, declared:

"The failure of the present Government, my dear brethren, proclaims the necessity of trying other civilizing means. If the despotic regime now in force in the Philippines oppresses without doing any constructive or progressive work, then it is our duty to carry beyond the seas the light of Masonry. Let us strive, therefore, to extend to the remotest corners of the Philippines the principles of our august order, teaching the people by precept and example, if not by legislation, the love of liberty, equality and fraternity."

Rizal put it quite differently. To him,

"Masons should not rest so long as the world nurtures a tyrant, so long as the night gathers in its echoes the moans of the oppressed, so long as there are slaves, so long as there are oppressors. And this work is perhaps the greatest that Masonry has imposed upon itself and the only one worthy of its universal name."

Del Pilar lost no time requesting the Grand Council of the Gran Oriente Español for the necessary authority to establish lodges in the Philippines. The Gran Oriente Español, under its Constitution, was committed to spread Masonic light in the Philippines, and, in fact, had already chartered five lodges in the country composed of Spaniards. Approval of the petition was, therefore, anticipated. According to Kalaw, the consent was immediately given. A different version, however, pointed out that the establishment of lodges in the Philippines, composed exclusively of Filipinos, was a ticklish and sensitive matter for it raised the possibility that the role Masonry played in the liberation of the Spanish colonies in the Americas would be replicated in the Philippines. Because of this, it is asserted, the petition was approved only after "conferences, Grand Lodge sessions and finally compromises of some magnitude."