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The Hidden Filipino Priests

This essay is not about the rise of the Filipino clergy for I would leave that to the new historian, analytical and critical. This essay is more an insight on the bountiful and original research conducted by Luciano P. R. Santiago who is a non-historian. But that qualifier does not make sense given with what he has produced, a book whose title, The Hidden Light: The First Filipino Priests urged me to look at the document as a guide to to finding out the Filipino priests hidden through bigotry, archival density or unclarified perspective.

In his introduction, Fr. Jaime C. Bulatao, SJ, asks the problem statement: who were the First Filipino priests. Then the great Jesuit psychologists, legendary for his incursion into paranormal and the parapsychological, asks the enduringly inspiring question: “How did a psychiatrist ever come to write this book?”

In the same introduction, Fr. Bu, as he was fondly known, informs us how “Dr. Santiago was doing some archival research on the genealogy of his own family and the history of their town Pasig, when he stumbled upon early archiepiscopal records that had been missed by previous historians.”

The gift of the book is that the meticulous archival research was done mainly at the Archives of the Archdiocese of Manila, which is located at the San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati, and partly at the University of Santo Tomas archives in Manila.

As with most excellent researches, a well-clarified delimitation and acceptance of limitation do not hamper the analysis of data but rather helps crystallize them given what is not there, and what cannot be accounted for. Thus, we are told early on that most of the Libros de Ordenes of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were gone. Fastidious in his manner of inspecting the data, Santiago also is candid to admit that there was a possibility that the ordination of the first Filipino priest may not have taken place in Manila: “This is one of the limitations of this work for it focuses mainly on Manila, the only archdiocese in the Philippines during the whole Spanish period.”

What about the diocesan archives? Unfortunately, according to Santiago, the diocesan archives of Cebu, Vigan, and Naga have all but perished.

How did Santiago identify the priests then and their ethnicity?

He clarifies some salient terms first: “The term Filipino or native priest is used here to include not only the Malay Filipino who was then called Indio but also the half-Filipino or mestizo, whether Chinese or Spanish.” Given this caveat, one of the most exciting findings of the book is the fact of the Indio priests being the focus of this study “since, not surprisingly, the majority of the first Filipino priests were specified or at least indicated as such in original documents.”

Santiago came up with categories of names, which aided him in identifying native priests on the basis of their surnames. He gives the first category, which points to “Those who had Malay surnames and were identified as Indios: Agustin Baluyot, Sta. Ana y Taas and Saguinsin.” There is a second category, which indicates persons “who had regular Spanish surnames but were identified as Indios: Diaz, Mañosca, Mercado, Andrade and Cavalquinto.”

While it is almost a given that those who were allowed to retain or asked to maintain their “original” names were readily identified as Indios, it is a point to ponder names that are already in Spanish forms but whose bearers were still labeled Indios.

Was the appellation, Indio, a mark of prejudice? Santiago certainly talks about prejudice, and this was experienced, according to the writer, by the first two groups of ordained Filipino priests and, if I may add, by the succeeding individuals who became part of the church.

Articulating the presence of prejudice is the added information about how by “judging from their family names, academic background and other records, all – including the mestizos on their mothers’ side – came from native nobility or the Lakans, like their counterparts in Latin America.

“Indeed,” Santiago says, “the first Filipino priests were a procession of the Lakans.” I am tempted to go colloquial and declare: bakong basta-basta!

Stressing these extraordinary statuses of the first Filipino priests, Santiago quotes Juan Jose Delgado, a Jesuit historian who noted of the early Filipino priests in the 1750s: “…there are among these Indio priests, many (and perhaps most of them) who are as noble in their line of descent as Indios, as is any Spaniard; and some of them much more than many Spaniards who esteem themselves as nobles in this land. For although their fate keeps them, in the present order of things, in an almost abject condition, many of them are Seigniors of vassals.”

It must interest us Bikolanos that in terms of regional background, there was one Bikolano among the Tagalogs and Kapampangans who constituted this band of pioneering men of cloth. His name was Cavalquinto. It intrigues us no end if he could be related to the family bearing the more contemporaneous orthography of that name, which is Cabalquinto.


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