ISABELO DE LOS REYES
Isabelo de los Reyes was born on July 7, 1864 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur to Elias de los Reyes and Leona Florentino, a well known poetess of the Philippines.
At the age six, the young Beluce (his nickname then) was committed by his father to the care of a rich relative, Don Mena Crisologo.
As a boy, he studied at the Vigan Seminary, where he began to hate the friars because of their maltreatment of the students that led them to strike. In June 1880, at 16, he went to Manila and enrolled as a self-supporting student at the San Juan de Letran College where he obtained the grades of sobresaliente in all subjects when he graduated with the Bachelor of Arts Degree. He later studied law in the University of Santo Tomas, and registered for courses in paleography, history and anthropology. He was flexing the universality of his interests.
He became a notary at the age of 22. As the legal age to practice law was 25, he turned his attention towards journalism.
His first article dealt with the “Invasion of Limahong”, which appeared in the Diario de Manila in November 1882. Then he founded the first vernacular paper, El Ilocano. He published the prize winning books, the Historia de Ilocos, Folklore Filipino and also Las Islas Visayas en la epoca de la Conquista: He edited books and leaflets, contributed articles to various Spanish periodicals, wrote articles criticizing the Spanish maladministration in the Philippines, and openly attacked the religious and Spanish writers.
On June 14, 1884, he married Josefa Sevilla, a Filipina beauty of Malabon. As he had a growing family to support, he engaged in business, but never prospered. He then returned to journalism and literature.
Because of his stirring and pungent articles against the friars, he was regarded as a dangerous enemy. Accused of complicity in the Revolution of 1896, he was arrested and jailed in the Bilibid Prison on February 13, 1897. While he was in prison, his wife died. He was permitted to attend his wife’s funeral and share the bereavement with his six children.
Inside the Bilibid Prison, he wrote his Sensecional Memoria and addressed it to the Governor pointing out that the friars were the ones who sowed the seeds of rebellion against colonial government in the Philippines. This document provoked discussion in the islands especially in Spain so much so that it caused his deportation to Spain, where he was incarcerated at the Montjuich Castle in Barcelona. In accordance with the terms of the Pact of Biak na Bato on December 14-15, 1897, he was released. As an indication of the high regard for him, he was appointed Consejo del Ministerio de Ultramar in the Spanish Cabinet in 1898-1901.
While working as consejero (counselor) he fell in love with Señorita Maria Angeles Lopez Montero and married her on Christmas Eve on 1898. His marriage to this Spanish girl and his having a good job in the Spanish government did not, however, diminish Don Belong’s love for his native land, so that in 1899 he published La Sensecional Memoria sobre la Revolucion Filipina in Madrid.
While abroad, he was commissioned by the Filipino Ecclesiastical Assembly to negotiate with the Pope to secularize the Filipino clergy. The rejection of the appeal compelled him to resume his anti-friar campaign. However, upon the proclamation of the Philippine Independence Church, Filipinos were consecrated bishops; for fear that they would affiliate with the Aglipayans.
During the Filipino-American War (1899-1902), he attacked the Americans for assaulting the first Philippine Republic in his new book Independencia y Revolucion. He founded and edited two nationalist periodicals in Madrid, El Defensor de Filipinas and Filipinas Ante Europa.
Upon Gen. Aguinaldo’s capture in March 1901, General Malvar appointed Don Belong, as he was now popularly called, while still in Spain as Secretary of State of the Revolutionary Cabinet. He was named President of the Republic of the Philippines by some of the revolutionary generals, a title he never received because at that time the Americans already occupied the Philippines.
He returned to Manila on July 1, 1901. On February 2, 1902, he organized the first labor union, Union Obrera Democratica Filipina. As its first President, he initiated the first Labor Day celebration on May 1 and published La Redencion de Obrero, the first labor newspaper.
In the first labor Congress held on August 3, 1902, he proclaimed the establishment of the Philippine Independent Church and nominated Fr. Gregorio Aglipay, vicar general of the Revolutionary Army, as its Supreme Bishop. Mons. Aglipay then named Isabelo as Honorary Bishop.
In the first labor strike of the Fabrica de Tabacos in Malabon, the supreme head of the labor union. Don Belong was charged of violating a law prohibiting an organization to force the increase of wages, and sentenced him to four months imprisonment.
After his release from prison, he left Manila in February 1903, for China and Japan. He was able to contact the self-exiled revolutionary General Artemio Ricarte in Yokohama and apprise him on the Philippine situation.
He returned to Manila, and later in 1905, he sailed for Spain, where he worked as a juror of the Spanish government. On April 3, 1909, he returned to Manila with his wife and children. His wife died later in a Tokyo hospital. Surviving here were eight children – Isabelo, Jr., Angeles, Elisa, Elvira, Isabel, Maria, Antonio and Luisa.
A widower at the age of 48, he re-married, this time, to Maria Lim, a Chinese mestiza of Tondo.
He was twice elected councilor of Manila. He appeared in the City Hall and challenged his colleagues daily with discussions, motions and resolutions all of which were the focus of attention of both American and the Filipino public. He was councilor from 1912-1919.
He was elected senator of the first senatorial district which comprised the Ilocos provinces from 1922 to 1928.
Senate President Manuel L. Quezon more than once made him preside over the sessions of the Senate to the satisfaction and amusement of the members and the public because of his peculiar mannerisms.
After his term as senator, he devoted his time to religion and writing. As an honorary bishop of the Aglipayan Church, he wrote many sermons and other religious tracts. He was the author of most of the Aglipayan literature such as the Biblia Filipina, the Aglipayan Calendar and the Divine Office.
Stricken with paralysis, Don Belong became bedridden until his death on October 10, 1938.
The Isabelo de los Reyes Elementary School in Tondo, Manila was named after him.
Filipinos in History vol. II