by Quennie Ann J. Palafox

       Spain notwithstanding her insufficient number of men made successful conquests in the archipelago not with the aid of their swords but with the cross, and this was made possible by converting the natives into the Christian faith. For many years beginning from about 1655, natives did not stop in their struggle for freedom as separate revolts to challenge the Spanish colonial power perpetuated in different parts of the archipelago. The early years of Spanish conquest was centered on the evangelization of the natives which eventually transformed the pagan natives to become Christians. The natives began embracing the Christian faith but they began to apprehend the repression that had been imposed upon them by their colonial masters and so individuals in various towns and villages attempted to break away from the yoke of imperialism. Despite their effort and bravado in their quest for freedom, they were suppressed for the rebels were not sufficiently trained in warfare and small in number against the superior arms of the Spaniards.

      These conquerors imposed a religion on the inhabitants of the Philippines that was so inflexible that any deviation was not only prohibited but considered a revolt not only against the church but the Spanish government as well as these two entities were united with the cross being the symbol of the state. This religious oppression by the Spaniards can be viewed in the experience of Apolinario de la Cruz’s Cofradia de San Jose.

       Hermano Pule and the Cofradia de San Jose

       The Cofradia de San Jose would not come into being without its founder Apolinario de la Cruz. This charismatic leader and future founder of the Cofradia was born on July 22, 1815 in Lucban, Tayabas province (now Quezon) of relatively well-to-do peasant parents Pablo de la Cruz and Juana Andres, both of which were religious Catholics. At fifteen, he decided to become a priest so he went to Manila in 1830 to pursue his ambition. He got frustrated when he was not allowed to enter priesthood just because his being an Indio. This event did not stop him from rendering religious service, he worked as lay brother instead, or, donado, at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, a charitable institution where he joined the Cofradia de San Juan de Dios, a brotherhood open to Indios and affiliated with the hospital. De la Cruz’s interest in public speaking was developed in this organization and he eventually became a lay preacher with a capacity to touch the hearts of his audience.

       The year 1832 became a turning point in the religious life of Apolinario de la Cruz when he helped organize a group of nineteen persons also from Tayabas into a confraternity, the Hermandad de la Archi-Confradía del Glorioso Señor San Jose y de la Virgen del Rosario (Brotherhood of the Great Sodality of the Glorious Lord Saint Joseph and of the Virgin of the Rosary). This organization was a mere brotherhood. Similar to other religious organizations existing in Tayabas and other parts of the province whose purpose was to live in a religious life in accordance to the teaching of Gods and perform charitable works and church activities. In 1837 Apolinario de la Cruz appointed Octavio Ignacio de San Jorge as the “Hermano Mayor” while Filipino priest, Ciriaco de los Santos was designated as the Chaplain and Treasurer of the Confraternity.

      The Cofradia was small organization unlike the other cofradias that from its founding in 1832 to 1840, it existed unnoticed. There was still no certain date but sometimes in 1839 or 1840 the Cofradia, had its member increased. The original nineteen members were now called fondadores (founders). Representatives were sent by the Cofradia to towns in the provinces of Tayabas, Laguna and Batangas.  A dozen of people recruited to the Cofradia was equivalent for one vote for each council, these representatives became known as cabecilla (headmen).

        The Cofradia conducted a meeting in the house of Francisco de los Santos in 1840 where the aims of the brotherhood was made public and by this time they have male and female members in Batangas, Laguna and Tondo. Collection of fees were imposed upon the members such as entrance free set at one real another real for their contribution during Holy Mass and other religious services held every 19th of the month. By 1841 there were more than 500 members in Lucban alone, more than 240 in Tayabas town, 120 in Pagbilao, 20 in Tiaong, more than 40 in Batangas (Lipa and San Pablo), 130 in Majayjay. It had also members in Laguna (Nagcarlan, Liliw, Magdalena). Dela Cruz accounted that total members of Cofradia based on padrones (registry) was from 4, 500 to 5, 000 members.

The Confrontation between the Cofradias and the Church

      Monthly assembly to hear mass became a customary among the members of the Confraternity who were convinced that their brotherhood was performing mere religious practices, thus, needing no permission from the government officials. When they realized that there number was increasing, they then considered it appropriate to authorizations from the church and the government.

      Dela Cruz sought for the bishop of Camarines’ recognition and authorization of the Cofradia as a religious organization to make legal its holding of meetings and religious practices but the bishop denied his request. Not discourage by the disapproval of the bishop’s to recognize the brotherhood, dela Cruz applied for authorization to the Audiencia in Manila, the papers of the Cofradia was prepared by Don Domingo Rojas but the petition was denied.

       Consequently, the Franciscan friars in the province denounced the religious practices of the Cofradias and pronounced it unorthodoxy and had to be stopped. They called the attention of the gobernadorcillo to make proper actions. On October 19, 1840, the gobernadorcillo of Lucban dispatched men to arrest the members of the brotherhood and so, some 243 persons of the 500 to 600 in the house of Francisco de los Santos were imprisoned. The provincial governor, Don Joaquin Ortega who was a husband to one of the members of the Cofradia, immediately ordered the release of prisoners when the news of massive arrest reached to him. This order from the governor was opposed by the vicar, Fr. Antonio Mateo and the parish priest Fr. Manuel Sancho of Lucban, both wanted the imprisonment of the arrested members.

       Dela Cruz immediately sent a report to Archbishop Segui in Manila disparaging the unchristian acts of the friars in Tayabas. He made public his agitation and accused the friars of beatings on one of two members and threatening the members with excommunication. Dela Cruz challenged the authority of the vicar and of the parish church to do such acts because of the aims of the society was never against the Catholic faith. On January 29, 1841, a letter of dela Cruz was sent to the Bishop of Nueva Caceres restating that the cofradia was not against canon law. This petition letter was forwarded to the juez provisor of the bishopric, who, in turn endorsed it to the vicar, Fr. Antonio Mateo of Tayabas and to Fr. Manuel Sancho, the parish priest of Lucban. In effect, the petition was disregarded; the two friars declared that dela Cruz was not fit to wear the robe of the confradia.  Upon learning of the organization and thinking that it was a seditious group, the Governor General, Don Marcelino de Oraa y Lecumberri ordered the arrest of its members and the brotherhood’s disbandment. As a result, dela Cruz gathered his men in Bay, Laguna and then went to San Pablo, then to Tiaong and to Sariaya. He then moved to Isabang, a sitio between Sariaya and Tayabas, where he was joined by other members from Batangas and Laguna and other towns of Tayabas.

The Bloody Encounter with the Spaniards

       Meanwhile the government in its effort to subdue the brotherhood  and regarded it as a subversive group sent a military force of 300 men  under Alcalde Mayor Joaquin was formed on October 11, 1841 to seize the camp of dela Cruz.  The Cofradia was offered amnesty through a communication but they rejected it. And so, the government forces started attacking the camp but in the end, the government forces were forced to retreat. The Negritoes helped the Cofradias in defending the camp which resulted to a tragic end. Ortega and many of his men were killed in this assault abandoning their falconets, arms, and ammunition much to the delight of the Cofradias.  De la Cruz transferred his camp to Alitao, adjacent to Tayabas capital, which he forthwith fortified. The thought of severing his ties with the Church entered his mind as he assumed the highest position in the Cofradia and his followers crowned him “King of the Tagalogs”.

       This tragic end of the government forces in the hands of the Cofradias reached Governor General Oraa who ordered Col. Joaquin Huet to suppress the group but he initially offered government amnesty with the exception of dela Cruz and his aides. However, no one accepted his offer and so, the attack commenced. On November 1, 1841, the government forces started their assault on De la Cruz’s camp and the fight lasted for four hours. The government forces triumphed in this battle as thousand rebels were killed in the encounter. According to Spanish sources, the Cofradias were in a high state excitement, spoiling for a fight, waving a red flag, fighting.

       Dela Cruz fled to Sariaya to escape but was unluckily caught by the forces of Col. Huet.  He was found out guilty after a summary trial and death by musketry was the punishment ordered by the court. The body of dela Cruz was quartered and his head stored in a cage for public view as it was put on top of a pole stuck along the roadside leading to Majayjay town.  The other Confraternity leaders, Dionisio de los Reyes, Francisco Espinosa de la Cruz, and Gregorio Miguel de Jesus were sentenced to death just like dela Cruz.

     The Supreme Court of Spain criticized the actions of the Government to the Cofradias resulted to the killings of many of its members by the government forces and officially reprimanded Governor-General Oraa. After studying the evidence submitted, the court declared that de la Cruz and his followers clearly had no political aims but to practice its religious faith. What the fault committed by the brotherhood was ecclesiastical in character for not seeking permission from Church authorities in their religious activities.