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Domingo de Salazar, OP: The architect behind the creation of the episcopal see of Caceres

By Fr. Francis A. Tordilla

On the occasion of the 426th Anniversary of the creation of the Diocese of Caceres, it behooves upon us to get to know the architect behind the establishment not only of the See of Caceres but of the whole Philippine Church.

Fray Domingo de Salazar, a Dominican Friar, was presented by King Philip II to become the bishop of Manila in 1578. He was consecrated the following year upon receiving the bulls of nomination. Before the hierarchy was established in the islands, the Church of the Philippines was governed by the Archbishop of Mexico, who naturally appointed a deputy judge to oversee a given ecclesiastical territory. Upon the creation of the See of Manila in 1578, by virtue of the bull Illius fulti paesidio, signed by Gregory XIII, it became a suffragan see to Mexico.

Bikolano historian Domingo Abella attached on Salazar the monicker, “Las Casas of the Philippines”. Salazar was a staunch supporter of the ideas of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, known to be a defender of the rights of the natives earning, therefore, the title: “Protector of the Indians.” Due to his advocacy, the new bishop of Manila would soon become the center of a violent conflict in Manila. Concerning his governance of Manila, he divided it into several districts and placed secular priests to be the vicars of these districts. The City of Nueva Caceres was one of those vicariates. A priest who came with the Bishop, Santiago de Castro, was appointed the vicar of Caceres, becoming, therefore, the first secular priest in Caceres.

On June 27, 1588, he wrote the King of Spain, requesting the creations of several episcopal sees, for he found the Philippine diocese too extensive to administer. He asked for two or three bishops for Luzon and a bishop for the Pintados islands of Cebu. The primary motives were: for the good of the natives and the efficient ecclesiastical governance of the whole Philippines. In 1591, Salazar traveled to Spain to give King Philip II a better picture of the situation. It involved a long hearing since an Augustian Friar, Fray Francisco Ortega, objected to Salazar’s dealing with the situation, most especially the appointment of the secular priest to oversee the vicariates of Manila. Supported by documentary evidences that now comprise a voluminous collection in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, the King was convinced.

King Philip II immediately instructed his ambassador in Rome to obtain from the Holy Father:

“…after consideration and the discussion by the members of my Royal Council of the Indies, and advice having been taken on it, I have thought it both fitting and necessary for the fulfillment of my duty to procure the good of the souls of those subjects of mine, as i am commanded by the Holy Apostolic See and bidden by my conscience, that the cathedral church of the city of Manila be erected as a metropolitan see and its territory made an archbishopric. Three new bishoprics should be created as suffragan to it.”

In a brief dated August 14, 1595, Pope Clement VIII approved the promotion of Manila into a metropolitan see and the others, including Caceres, as suffragan sees. Here one can clearly see how purely formal the intervention of the Pope was in this decision. King Philip II virtually dictated what the Holy Father was to approve. The royal letter of the King included what the future Archbishop of Manila, Fray Domingo Salazar, appealed to him. Under the Spanish regime, the nomination of the bishops for the Philippines was under the duty of the Royal Patron, as were all benefices, according to the Laws of the Indies.

Unfortunately, Salazar died in Madrid on December 4, 1594, several months before the creation of what the Vatican documents would call: “Ecclesia de Caceres in Indiis Orientalibus” (Church of Caceres in the Oriental Indies). The ecclesiastical organization of the Philippines would remain unchanged until the Twentieth Century except the erection of the Diocese of Jaro in 1865.

The birth of the new Philippine episcopal sees ironically saw the death of what could have been its pioneer Church leaders. Franciscan Fray Ignacio de Santibañez, was appointed in place of Bishop Salazar but he too died after taking possession of Manila for a few months in 1598. Fray Luís Maldonado was appointed as the first bishop of Caceres, but he died before receiving his nomination. The Augustinian Francisco Ortega was the second appointed bishop (September 13, 1599) of Caceres, but he died in Mexico before taking possession of his diocese.


Anales eclesiasticos, Philippiniana Sacra II, No. 4 (January-April 1967) 193-201.

Recopilación de Leyes de Indios, libro I, titulo 6, ley 3.

J. Schumacher, S.J., Readings in Philippine Church History, 2nd ed., Quezon City: Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, 1987, 18-20.

S. Tamayo, O.P., Idea general de la disciplina eclesiastica en Filipinas, durante la domination española (Manila, 1906), 41-42.

D. Abella, Bikol Annals, A Collection of Vignettes of Philippine History, Vol. I, Manila, Philippines.

P. Fernandez, History of the Church in the Philippines (1521-1898), Manila: National Book Store, 1979.


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