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Who was Gainza?

The paper of Calacday, Racialising Reform: Bishop Francisco Gaínza and the Creation of the Native Clergy in the Philippines, 1863–1879, which looks into how racialism was a part of both Gainza’s persona as well as his official position in the Spanish colonial administration is another way of probing into the character of this bishop. Favorably, Bishop Gainza has always been seen in the light of his so-called achievements in the area of economics and education at a time when the friars and even the Church were not always seen as participants in those endeavors.

This is where the questions – not necessarily the insights that followed – asked by Calacday remind us that good research is not so much the answers posited in the end of the study but the questions, however tentative, crystallized at the beginning of the investigation. Or have we forgotten how excellent researches are valued for their tentative generalizations?

Calacday’s probe into the character of Gainza begins with the big picture. The historian, in other words, sets the stage: “Philippine ecclesiastical history in the mid-nineteenth century can be summed up as the history of the struggle of native secular priests against the domination of Spanish missionary friars (see Schumacher 1981; Blanco Andrés 2012).”

What do the citations that follow that statement bring to the table? It simply means that were we interested to dig deeper into the situations mentioned, we should go and read what Schumacher and Blanco Andres have written about that era.

Calacday goes on to describe what the conditions were then: “The latter [meaning, the friars] held most of the parishes in the country at the expense of the former, who, considering official church and civil directives, should rightfully lead parishes.” Although seen as “a question of internal ecclesiastical policy”, this condition dramatized the beginning of the nationalist movement with the execution of the Gomburza reverberating in the middle of the issue.

Personally, I like being reminded of this duality, which brought into the fore the existence of friars and the secular priests. In the many narratives of the Church in colonial history, the storytellers, especially those enamored of our so-called Castilian heritage, tend to emphasize the benign contribution of priests, leaving out the categories of friar vis-à-vis secular priests. Where was the “Filipino” priest when the abuses of the institutional Church were happening? Did they speak up? Did they have a voice?

Who were the friars? In the words of Calacday, “the friars in the Philippines constituted an anomaly in Spanish history: in the Peninsula (meaning Spain) they were scorned as enemies of progress after the liberal revolutions of the 1800s, but in the Philippines—Spain’s remaining overseas territory alongside Cuba and Puerto Rico—they were the necessary agents of Spanish colonial rule.” Expounding on this idea further, he points to the Patronato Real (Royal Patronage) as “having accorded mutual obligations on both the church and the Spanish crown,” which then “technically cast the clergy as workers of the state.” In our common language, the church continued to receive funding and support from the state, a status rendering clerics with the obligation or duty to, more or less support the interests of the colonial regime.

Where did Gainza situate himself in his promotion of the interests of the “inferior natives?”

The great questions of this paper are the following:

“Could a Spanish cleric [the reference is to Gainza], supposedly a ‘product of his time,’ really advance the cause of his native subjects?

“To what extent?”

“And how did he reconcile the two seemingly opposing poles of canon law and colonial logic?”

Embedded in the last question is the proposal that Gainza being a canon lawyer was gifted with an extra layer of perspective that would have allowed him to see the moral nature of colonization. But the struggle in Gainza did not terminate in his being a church intellectual; if ever, it must have made his official position even more complex and difficult because with the moral right and wrong, he was expected to internalize also the logic of colonization.

Calacday clearly tells us how Gainza “grappled with the question of the struggle between the native secular clergy and the Spanish regular clergy.” In the words of this historian, Gaínza was “initially an advocate for reforms in the Philippine church especially as they related to the issue of handing over parishes to the secular clergy (or technically, secularisation).” But there is qualifier in the statement of Calacday, for however the bishop sided with the native clergy, “racism coloured and complicated the way he personally thought of and enacted these reforms.” He argues that “insofar as the question remained within the bounds of ecclesiastical affairs, Gaínza rallied against the marginalisation of the secular clergy—who by then were predominantly natives. But when the struggle assumed proto-nationalist overtones, he distanced himself from it, thus radically reshaping the way his perceived reforms took effect.”

According to Calacday, like most of the Spanish clerics, Gainza was still of the opinion that Filipino priests must be “trained and educated into loyal state workers.” Gainza is said to have maintained his view that native priests were “intrinsically” inferior to Europeans.”

These ideas are further developed by Jethro Calacday in the paper, but at this point, I wish to ask this question: Was this racializing attitude of the bishop carried over in his founding of the Escuela-Colegio de Sta. Isabel that later would be known as the Escuela Normal de Maestras de Nueva Cáceres in 1875? It would be good to look at another paper, Fashioning Maestras: Fray Francisco Gainza and the Escuela Normal de Sta. Isabel de Nueva Cáceres, by Grace Liza Y. Concepcion.

More thoughts on Calacday’s paper next issue.


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