by Michael Angelo Cruz

Kaya sa manga iniirog kong kapatid na si Gomez, Burgos at Zamora na nangalait sa pag sintang lubos sa ating bayang Pilipinas at sa manga ngayoy nawawakawak, nag durusa at nanga matay ang iba sa deportasion, inihahandog ang aming puso at buhay sa pag damay sa ilalim nang isang mahigpit at dakilang Katipunang itatatag ngayon sa pag pipigitang maagao sa kukong masakim nang manga Kastila itong ating bayan at matimawa sa hirap gaya nang kanilang nais napinag karamayan nang kanilang sariling bayan.

 The above statement culled from the Katipunan founding documents: Kasaysayan; Pinag-kasundoan; Manga dakuilang kautusan mention the names of the three Filipino martyr priests executed two decades before the document’s release, indicating the society’s profound reverence for the martyrdom and legacy of these Filipino ecclesiastics to the revolutionary movement. It is also noteworthy that this is the first time that bayang Pilipinas was mentioned rather than Katagalugan – reflecting the Katipunan’s objective of liberating and ending the suffering of the colony from its oppressors.

Although the GomBurZa held a vast influence in the nationalist and separatist sentiment of the latter part of 19th century Philippines, it is important to revisit how these Filipino priests were upheld and recognized as prime movers that sparked the Filipinos’ sense of nationalism. What circumstances made Mariano Gomes de los Angeles, Jose Apolonio Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora the heroes they are today?

In order to understand these circumstances, we must look back on how the secular clergy – the clergy where the three priests belonged – came into light in the late part of the 18th century. As early as 1774, a royal decree ordering the transfer of the administration of parishes from the religious orders to the secular clergy was already in effect. However, because of the strong condemnation of the regular clergy to this decree, little to none was done to implement the order. By 1813, another decree was passed in the Cortes to transfer parishes to the secular order, assigning displaced missionaries to missions to the infidels, and turning over the haciendas’ management and administration to the Indios. This, unfortunately, never materialized with the abolition of the Cortes in 1814, however the decree’s contents had spread to the secular clergy despite the disapproval of the Governor-General and Dominican prelate, citing the inadequate preparedness of the country’s secular clergy.

The 19th century Philippines saw the rise in the number of secular priests, outnumbering the friars’ population three times. This is associated with certain factors: (1) the incorporation of the secular clergy in the Patronato Real (on which the Spanish crown plays a vital role in administering and supporting church affairs), discouraging friars to leave their conventual life in Spain; (2) participation of Spain in the Napoleonic Wars hindered communications and disrupted religious life in the Peninsula – which diminished the number of religious men on the island, many of whom died off or retired, with very few to replace them.

However, the poor quality of education and training received by Filipino secular priests made them unprepared to run a parish. This lack of capacity may be associated with the meager means and qualifications the early generations of friars provided to their successors that was passed down to native priests, which resulted in the steady decline in their education and training.

But despite these challenges, many parish priests belonging to the secular clergy performed their religious duties zealously and even pursued higher education to obtain degrees in canon law and theology. These advancements of the native clergy in ecclesiastical offices aroused the suspicion and hostility of the Spanish, considering these developments as harmful to state affairs and signaled the rising militancy of the secular native clergy. 

The religious orders pursued measures to prevent native priests from gaining further power and authority in the Catholic Church in the Philippines. In the mid-19th century, the religious orders demanded to take over parishes that were not originally founded or granted to them, and despite the shortage of Spanish regular priests, the native clergy were not allowed to administer newly established parishes. Some parishes run by the native clergy were also involuntarily dispossessed and granted to religious orders who had not requested it, resulting in a deficit of friar missionaries in evangelization works in areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Because of these injustices, a growing resentment among the secular clergy towards the religious orders became apparent since their displacement was caused not by their inabilities but of political machinations and racial prejudice. In was inevitable that the secular clergy would be forced to defend their dignity and loyalty by demanding equal treatment and respect from the Spanish authorities and religious orders.

Early defenders of the rights and dignity of the secular clergy were Padre Pedro Pablo Pelaez, a full-blooded Kastila, and one of the three Filipino martyr priests, Padre Mariano Gomes de los Angeles. Pelaez championed the cause of the secular clergy, but was an unfortunate victim of the 1863 Manila earthquake. 

Gomes, a native Filipino priest and the parish priest of Bacoor, alongside his colleague Pelaez, drafted an exposition that requested the revocation of the 9 March 1849 decree, which awarded parishes belonging to the secular clergy to the religious orders: three (3) to the Recoletos and four (4) to the Dominicans. However, even before the plea was made, rumors broke out that protests were aired in the pulpit and through clandestine meetings signifying a conspiracy was plotted among Cavite priests. Gomes, in a reply, denied these allegations and was dismayed by these suspicions on their loyalty.

Despite the impediments to Pelaez and Gomes’s plans, their plea was anonymously published through the Madrid-based newspaper El Clamor Publico on 8 March 1850. The article refuted the claims of the Recoletos on the transfer of the parishes from the secular clergy. It also defended the capacity of the native priests and their loyalty to Spain. Another coordinated plan executed by Pelaez and Gomes involved raising funds for an agent in Madrid to secure the revocation of the 1849 decree and to ensure its implementation in the Philippines. Although the plan did not materialize, it gained the support of the native clergy. The list of contributions indicated widespread funding from secular priests in Tagalog areas of Cavite, Manila, and Batangas.

Pelaez’s popularity and actions may have outshone Gomes’ contribution to the secular movement, but the consistent support of Gomes to the cause earned him the respect of his colleagues. He became a guiding light for a new generation of secular priests entrusted to continue the clergy’s cause.

Jose Apolonio Burgos may probably be the most prominent figure among the three martyr priests and believed to be the successor of Pelaez to fulfill the interests of the secular native clergy. Burgos’ intelligence and influence are reflected in his studies and accolades gained, finishing five (5) degrees and two (2) doctorates at a young age.

Even after the death of Pelaez, the native clergy and Burgos continued to be assaulted in the Madrid papers by allegations of the secular clergy’s political unreliability. But an anonymous commentary in La Verdad refuted the attacks of the religious orders against the secular movement. In the response titled Manifiesto que a la noble nación española dirigen los leales filipinos en defensa de su honra y fidelidad gravemente vulneradas por el periódico “La Verdad” de Madrid, the author (believed to be Burgos) advanced the following points: (1) disproving the  alleged incapacity of Filipinos, citing Filipinos from the past who had illustrious achievements and native priests who accomplished their duties with high honor; (2) the lack of substantial evidence on the disloyalty of the clergy, stating that friars fabricated it to justify their presence for the preservation of the colony; and lastly (3) clearing the name of the late Padre Pelaez against accusations of instigating an insurrection, and paying tribute to his memory.

The arrival of the liberal thinker Governor-General Carlos Maria de la Torre set a venue for progressive ideas to prosper through considerable freedom of speech and setting up committees to study reform in the colony. A staged demonstration held at the governor’s palace in 1869 saw how, for the first time, members of the secular clergy, such as Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora, were involved with liberal reformists, lawyers, and businessmen Joaquin Pardo de Tavera and Antonio Ma. Regidor. Liberal ideas were also propagated in universities, triggering some students and faculty members to be involved in the growing nationalist spirit.

With the threat posed by this emergent nationalist stance, de la Torre ordered a close surveillance on potential figures that may stimulate a separatist movement against Spain – including liberals such as Pardo de Tavera and Regidor, and secular clergymen like Burgos, Zamora, Guevara, and Mendoza.

          Jacinto Zamora’s involvement in the secular movement is still a puzzle for most scholars. Unlike Burgos and Gomes, there is a lack of documents on Zamora’s contribution to the secular clergy’s cause. But from the existing evidence and records, Zamora is closely acquainted with Burgos, a schoolmate of his. But with his participation in the protests of 1869 and his letters closely monitored by the state, indicate that despite being inconspicuous, he supported the campaign for the Filipino clergy’s rights.

Through the efforts of the secular clergy movement, the nationalist sentiment of Filipinos was firmly established. The constant assaults against Filipinos for their seeming inabilities resonated not only among the secular native clergy but with Filipinos from different walks of life. The defense given by Pelaez and Burgos defined what Filipinos are capable of and contributed to the nationalist awakening—the importance of equal rights not only for Filipino clergymen but for all Filipinos. These patriotic motives and actions defined who the Filipinos are and what they should be.

The lamentable events that transpired in 1872 cemented the legacy of the three Filipino martyr priests in our history. The hasty and unjust trial they received awakened Filipinos to the cruel and prejudicial treatment we received from the Spanish colonialists, enkindling a sense of self-regard and desire to be liberated from these oppressions.

The importance of the martyrdom of GomBurZa to the nationalistic spirit was reflected in Jose Rizal’s letter to Mariano Ponce in 1889:

Without 1872 there would not now be a Plaridel, a Jaena, a Sanciangco, nor would the brave and generous Filipino colonies exist in Europe. Without 1872 Rizal would now be a Jesuit and instead of writing the Noli Me Tangere, would have written the contrary. At the sight of those injustices and cruelties, though still a child, my imagination awoke, and I swore to dedicate myself to avenge one day so many victims. With this idea I have gone on studying, and this can be read in all my works and writings. God will grant me one day to fulfill my promise.


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