Isabelo de los Reyes

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Isabelo De los Reyes
Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr..jpg
Honorary Bishop
Philippine Independent Church
In office
Senator of the Philippines from the 1st district
In office
ServingwithSantiago Fonacier (1922-1925)
Elpidio Quirino (1925-1928)
Preceded byVicente Singson Encarnacion
Succeeded by Melecio Arranz
Member of the Manila City Council
In office
President of the Union Obrera Democratica
In office
Succeeded by Dominador Gomez
Personal details
Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino

(1864-07-07)July 7, 1864
Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Captaincy General of the Philippines
DiedOctober 10, 1938(1938-10-10) (aged 74)
Manila, Philippine Commonwealth
Nationality Filipino
Spouse(s)Josefa Sevilla
María Ángeles López Montero
Maria Lim
Mother Leona Florentino
FatherElias de los Reyes
Alma mater Colegio de San Juan de Letran
University of Santo Tomas
Nickname(s)Don Belong, Beluco

Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino, also known as Don Belong (July 7, 1864 – October 10, 1938), was a prominent Filipino politician, writer and labor activist in the 19th and 20th centuries. He was the original founder of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente , an independent Philippine national church. He is now known as the "Father of Philippine Folklore", the "Father of the Philippine Labor Movement", [1] and the "Father of Filipino Socialism". [2]


As a young man, de los Reyes followed his mother's footsteps by initially turning to writing as a career; his works were part of the 1887 Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid. [3] :258 He later became a journalist, editor, and publisher in Manila, and was imprisoned in 1897 for revolutionary activities. He was deported to the Kingdom of Spain, where he was jailed for his activities until 1898. While living and working in Madrid, he was influenced by the writings of European socialists and Marxists.

Returning to the Philippines in 1901, de los Reyes founded the first labor union in the country. He also was active in seeking independence from the United States. After serving in the Philippine Senate in the 1920s, he settled into private life and religious writing. de los Reyes wrote on diverse topics in history, folk-lore, language, politics, and religion. [3] :255 He had a total of 27 children with three successive wives; he survived all his wives and 12 of his children.

Early life and education

Isabelo de los Reyes was born to Elías de los Reyes and Leona Florentino in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. [4] His mother, of mixed Spanish and Filipino descent, is recognised as the first significant female poet of the Philippines for her works in both Spanish and Ilocano. de los Reyes may have been distantly related to Ventura de los Reyes, a creole merchant who was the first Philippine delegate to the Spanish Cortes through his father's side. He may also have been a "distant cousin" of Jose Rizal through a Chinese tax collector married to both Rizal's grandmother and de los Reyes' grand-aunt. [3] :256

Due to their troubled marriage, Elías entrusted his six-year-old son Isabelo to the care of Don Marcelino Crisólogo, a wealthy relative [5] who was also a writer in the vernacular. Don Mena was married to Felipa Florentino, sister to Leona. [1] Beluco, as he was called in his youth, was enrolled in a grammar school attached to the local seminary run by Augustinians; their harsh discipline made him a lifelong critic of friars. [4] de los Reyes was a free spirit and chafed against seminary life. Once, he led a student strike against the friars to protest the maltreatment of students. [3] :257 His stay in the Vigan Seminary helped him develop a fascination for legends, music, songs, and Ilocano traditions. [1]

In 1880 at age 16, de los Reyes went to Manila without his uncle's consent, [3] where he finished the Bachiller en Artes at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. After that, he studied the Civil Code, Penal Code, the Mercantile Code, judicial proceedings and drafting documents, palaeography and anthropology at the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas. [1]

Early career and Journalism

While studying in the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, he supplemented his allowance by taking to journalism, [4] setting type for La Oceana Española as well as writing for periodicals such as Diario de Manila, El Comercio, La Revista Popular, and La Opinion. In November 1882, his work, La expedicion de Li-Ma-Hong contra Filipinas was published in Diario de Manila and garnered him a prize. [3] :257

In 1886, de los Reyes worked as Manila correspondent for El Eco de Panay, a newspaper in Iloilo, but was replaced by Wenceslao Retana when his reports began to appear too liberal. His reputation as an independent-minded writer was such that in 1887, La Opinion hired him as a foil for their ultra-conservative staff writer, Camilo Millan. [3] :257

As a teenager, de los Reyes had been intrigued by the growing interest in the "new science" of El saber popular (folklore). On March 25, 1884, Jose Felipe Del Pan wrote an article in La Oceania Filipina calling readers to contribute folklore articles, inspired by interest in the subject in the peninsula. De los Reyes was urged by del Pan to contribute and gave him books on the subject pique his interest. Two months later, de los Reyes submitted his articles concerning the folklore of Ilocos, Malabon, and Zambales. In 1887, at the age of 23, del Pan compiled de los Reyes' articles and submitted them to the Exposición General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, where he won a silver medal. These articles would eventually become one of his most important contributions to Philippine studies, El Folk-lore Filipino. Folk-Lore was published in 1889 in two volumes. [3] :305

De los Reyes' interest in folklore continued. He collected materials, wrote for periodicals, and issued an open letter calling on readers to collect, publish, and organize a folklore society, which did not materialize. De los Reyes wrote Folk-Lore not just as a book for legends and fables, but eventually as "a general archive at the service of all sciences", expanding his definition of "folklore" to include "popular knowledge relevant to all sciences", including sections on religion, customs, literature, and articles on Diego Silang, millenarian revolts, and local miracles of the Virgin Mary. [3] :306–308

In 1884, de los Reyes was married to Josefa Hizon Sevilla, his first wife. Sevilla was the daughter of Gregorio Sevilla, the capitan of Malabon. Shortly after, the couple started a pawnshop, which failed. They also opened a bookstore, which similarly failed because de los Reyes "refused to sell the good ones". Eventually, they were able to build a modest fortune as a commercial agent of rice, tobacco, indigo, and other products. [3] :258

During this time, de los Reyes published in rapid succession multiple works: Ilocandias (1887), Articulos Varios (1887), Las Islas Visayas en la epoca de la conquista (1889), Historia de Filipinas (1889), and the two-volume Historia de Ilocos (1890). These and other works won him a measure of recognition as a scholar. [3] :258 By 1889, he was listed as a corresponding or honorary member of societies such as the Imperial y Real Sociedad Geografica de Vienna, Academia Indo-China de Francia, and the Sociedad Española de Geografia Comercial. [3] :259

In 1889 he founded El Ilocano, said to be the first newspaper written solely in a Philippine vernacular. [6] de los Reyes declared that he founded El Ilocano to "serve [our] beloved pueblo Ilocos by contributing to the enlightenment of her children, defending her interests." El Iloco lasted for seven years. [3] :259 By 1893, de los Reyes was able to acquire his own printing press, which he set up in the basement of his house in Binondo and called Imprenta de Isabelo de los Reyes. Proud of his provincial origins, he boasted that the press parts were fabricated by Vigan artisans and he hired Ilocanos as printshop personnel. [3] :259

Aside from El Ilocano, de los Reyes also published the periodicals La Lectura Popular (1890-1892), a Tagalog biweekly joint venture with Jose de Jesus, and El Minicipio Filipino (1894), a short-lived Spanish-Tagalog magazine devoted to colonial jurisprudence. [3] :259

Imprisonment and exile

As the Philippine Revolution of 1896 began, multiple personalities suspected of being a part of it were arrested by the Spanish government. One of these people was de los Reyes, who at the time, openly advocated reforms, and if necessary, "take up arms against the tyrants". [3] :263 de los Reyes was arrested on February 12, 1897, and taken to Bilibid Prison.

De los Reyes was charged with membership in La Liga Filipina , the political organization organized by Rizal, as well as being knowledgeable of the Katipunan, however, he denied all of this. de los Reyes, however, sold types to Emilio Jacinto for the Katipunan's printing press, and he later claimed that he made a financial contribution to the Liga. de los Reyes also claimed that while he declined when Julio Nakpil asked him to join the Liga, he offered to give Nakpil a thousand pesos to purchase revolvers from someone on board the steamer Salvadora, and that he offered his services as a soldier. [3] :264–265

In Bilibid, de los Reyes wrote his Memorial sobre la revolution, which initially was the Memoria de agravios de los Filipinos. The document was addressed to the Governor-General, Fernando Primo de Rivera and was meant to gain sympathy for the rebels. [3] :265 His Memoria pointed out that the friars sowed the seeds of colonial revolt in the Philippines. [6] de los Reyes' wife, Josefa, died while he was in prison. When his son, Jose, broke the news to him, de los Reyes wept unabashedly. [1]

de los Reyes was pardoned on May 17, the King's birthday, but was arrested again shortly after complaining about the injustice of his arrest and reminding the governor-general of the Memoria that he sent. [3] :265–266 de los Reyes was deported aboard the SS Alicante in June 1897, and was interred at the Montjuïc Castle in Barcelona for six months, before being released as part of the terms of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. [6]

Exile in Spain

During his time in Montjuïc, de los Reyes was acquainted with anarchists, syndicalists, and other extremists, who shaped him. A sympathetic guard supplied him with anarchist books and newspapers. de los Reyes also met Ramon Sempau, a Spanish poet-journalist who left an impression in de los Reyes. [3] :268

After his release in 1898, de los Reyes was barred from leaving Spain and became a drifter in Barcelona. [3] :268 It was during this time that he came to know radicals such as Francisco Ferrer, Alejandro Lerroux, and others. [2] :4 He began reading the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and other socialist thinkers. He also joined protest actions and was imprisoned for a short time by police authorities. He was released and was forced to relocate from Barcelona to Madrid. [3] :269

During his time in Madrid, he was taken in by Doña Justa Jugo Vidal and met with other Filipinos to discuss the Philippine situation. He also met Señorita Maria Angeles Lopez Montero and married her on Christmas Eve in 1898. [6] He published La Religion del Katipunan, which he wrote during his stay in Montjuïc, and he was commissioned by the British and Foreign Bible Society to translate the Bible to Iloko. [1] de los Reyes later said that this work was "one way by which [he] could contribute to the liberalization of dogmatic religion." [3] :270

At the onset of the Spanish–American War, de los Reyes was employed as Counselor of the Ministry of the Colonies (Consejero del Ministerio de Ultramar), which he held until 1901. [5] In this capacity, de los Reyes helped rally Filipino support against the Americans, thinking that this would create conditions favorable to the Philippines. He believed that once the Americans were repelled, they would be granted autonomy, and should Spain renege, then the already armed Filipinos could take matters to their own hands. He had received assurances from the governor-general Basilio Augustin regarding autonomy, and together with other Filipinos in Spain, offered to return to the Philippines to organize militias to fight the Americans. [3] :270–271

De los Reyes wrote anti-American articles for La Correspondencia de Epaña and other papers. [3] :271 On November 10, 1898, as Spain's loss of the Philippines became imminent, he and Dominador Gomez published Filipinas ante Europa , which had the editorial logo: Contra Norte-America, no; contra el imperialismo, sí, hasta la muerte! (Against the Americans, no; against Imperialism, yes, till death!) It ran for 86 issues between October 25, 1899 and June 10, 1901. After closing, it briefly reappeared as El Defensor de Filipinas, which ran monthly from July 1 to October 1, 1901. [5]

After Aguinaldo's surrender, de los Reyes was repatriated to Manila on July 1, 1901. Given guarantees by the American consul in Barcelona that he will in no way molested upon his arrival in the Philippines, he left Spain on September 14 aboard the steamer Montevideo. De los Reyes arrived in Manila on October 15, 1901. [3] :274

Return to the Philippines

On his return, de los Reyes quickly set about to launching several initiatives that he already had in mind while still in Spain. On October 25, 1901, ten days after he returned to Manila, he sought authority from the Philippine Commission to publish his Defensor de Filipinas, which was refused. On October 31, he appeared before the Commission, with Pedro Paterno and Pascual H. Poblete to seek permission to form a political party, the Partido Nacionalista, which was also denied. He wanted to push for a party that would push for independence within the framework of US occupation. Eventually, Poblete managed to form the Nacionalista Party, which de los Reyes joined. He was eventually named its leader. [3] :275–276

In tandem with party building, de los Reyes also set about organizing a workers' movement in the Philippines. In 1902, Hermenegildo Cruz and other members of the Carmelo and Bauermann publishing house approached de los Reyes to seek advice in forming a cooperative store for rice and other staples. [7] :15 The Union Democratica de Litografos, Impresores, Encuadernadores y Otros Obreros was thus formed on February 2, 1902, which came to be known as the Union Obrera Democratica . De los Reyes was its first president. [3] :278

De los Reyes took home with him works by socialists such as Karl Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Errico Malatesta. [7] :15 Malatesta's Propaganda socialista fra contadini was particularly familiar to union organizers. [3] :278 The UOD was the first labor federation in the Philippines, soon being joined by neighborhood associations from Cavite, Quiapo, Santa Cruz and Sampaloc; company guilds from the San Miguel Brewery and L.R. Yangco Shipping Company; and trade associations of printers, tabaqueros, tailors, sculptors, seamen, and cooks. At its peak in 1903, the UOD's membership was estimated at around twenty thousand. [7] :14

As conceived by de los Reyes, the UOD's aim was to "achieve the longed-for alliance between capital and labor" by bringing together workers and employers in a spirit of friendship, mutual respect, and recognized interdependence. de los Reyes also wished to enlighten the masses as a prerequisite to modern nationhood. In this end, he organized veladas instructivo-recreativas as a way to "improve themselves and learn the life of cultured peoples". He had observed that workers in Europe had clubs and cafes where they could read newspapers and discuss current events, and wished to emulate that in the Philippines. [7] :16–17 de los Reyes also published the UOD's official organ, La Redencion del Obrero. [5]

De los Reyes spent this time mediating in labor disputes and other union-organizing activities. The press at this time called him a "Malay Lerroux" and compared him to Spanish labor leader Pablo Iglesias. On August 16, 1902, he was arrested on the trumped-up charge that he gave orders to assassinate scabs in a strike at the Commercial Tobacco Factory. [3] :279 De los Reyes was eventually released on January 30, 1903 by Governor William Howard Taft, stating that the statute "was not in line with current American thinking on the subject". [7] :19 While in prison, de los Reyes tendered his resignation from the UOD on September 14 and was replaced by Dominador Gomez.

After resigning from the UOD, de los Reyes tried to patch up internal rivalries within the organization but ultimately failed. The UOD was dissolved and in its place was the Union del Trabajo de Filipinas , headed by writer Lope K. Santos. [7] :21 After this, de los Reyes focused on his Redencion del Obrero while contributing to papers like El Comercio, Grito del Pueblo, and others. He took up causes such as labor rights, universal suffrage, the exclusion of Chinese immigrant labor, and parity of Filipinos and Americans in the civil service. [3] :281

Japan, Hong Kong and Spain

De los Reyes left the Philippines in February 1903 for a vacation, going to Japan and Hong Kong. He also sought to continue his translation of the bible and to oversee its printing in Yokohama, although others suggest that his true purpose was to meet with Artemio Ricarte, who was in exile at the time. [5] Details are unclear whether de los Reyes met with Ricarte in Yokohama [6] or in Hong Kong, [3] :284 although it was certain that a meeting took place between the two in Manila. De los Reyes relayed to him the Philippine situation [5] and tried to dissuade him from resuming hostilities with the US. [3] :284

In 1905, de los Reyes once again left for Spain where he stayed until 1909. During this time he worked as a juror in Barcelona until 1908. [5] He also went back to mend relations with his wife, María Ángeles López Montero, who repeatedly urged him to stay away from politics. During his stay in Spain, he wrote texts such as Gregio Aglipay y otros prelados de la Iglesia Filipina Independiente (1906) and Biblia Filipina. He also published La Religion Antigua de Filipinas (1909). [3] :285

De los Reyes returned to Manila on April 3, 1909 with Lopez, however she could not adjust to the climate. After a few months, he brought her to Tokyo to recuperate. Lopez died on February 10, 1910 while giving birth to twin daughters. [3] :285

Later years and death

In 1912 at the age of 48, de los Reyes was elected a councilor of the City of Manila, and began his political career. Winning re-election, he served as councilor until 1919. [6] He ran as a candidate for the labor-based group called the Union Reformista. As councilor, he worked on social welfare ordinances, pushed for "Filipinization" of the civil service, and filed resolutions urging immediate and absolute independence of the Philippines. [3] :286

De los Reyes also met and married María Lim, a mestiza de sangley from Tondo. They married in the independent Aglipayan Church, which de los Reyes had helped found. She would eventually die in childbirth in 1923. [3] :286 As she was dying, she asked de los Reyes that they be married in the Catholic rite, to which he agreed. [5]

Beginning his campaign for the senate in 1922, in 1923, de los Reyes won a Senate seat in an election against Elpidio Quirino to represent the First Senatorial District. As senator, he brokered projects, appointments, and other forms of patronage for his constituents. He was known for crying out "Enough of this nonsense!" whenever he was exasperated with debates on the Senate floor. [3] :286

De los Reyes retired from politics after a stroke left him paralyzed and bedridden on June 5, 1929. He devoted his time to compiling Aglipayan texts and largely slipped out of public notice. His last foray into politics was when he ran in the 1935 elections, losing badly.

De los Reyes died on October 10, 1938 in a Manila hospital. A legal battle between his children regarding his custody ensued during the last years of his life. De los Reyes executed a document of retraction from his Aglipayan faith in 1936, although this was contested by other family members. His body was initially interred at the Manila North Cemetery before being transferred to the Iglesia Filipina Independiente National Cathedral in 1944. [3] :288

The Philippine Independent Church

De los Reyes was involved with the secular Filipino clergy as early as 1899, when he became a part of negotiations with the Holy See. [6] On January 22, 1899, de los Reyes, representing the "Committee of Paris", visited the Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Francica-Nava de Bontifè in Madrid to convey the Aguinaldo government's desire for the Holy See to send a delegate to look into conditions in the Philippines. [3] :273 de los Reyes wrote in Filipinas Ante Europa:

Enough of Rome! Let us now form without vacillation our own congregation, a Filipino Church, conserving all that is good in the Roman Church and eliminating all the deceptions which the diabolical astuteness of the cunning Romanists had introduced to corrupt the moral purity and sacredness of the doctrines of Christ... [8] :236–237

On his return to the Philippines in 1901, de los Reyes campaigned for the establishment of a Filipino Church. On August 3, 1902, with the help of Pascual H. Poblete and members of the UOD, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was formed, with Gregorio Aglipay as its head. [8] :237 At the time, Aglipay was in talks with the Protestants [3] :281–282 and the Jesuits [8] :238 to prevent a schism, though neither of these events bore fruit. Aglipay initially dissociated himself from the schism, before realizing the futility of staying outside it. In September 1902, he accepted the position of Obispo Maximo and consecrated bishops for the new church. [8] :242

De los Reyes traveled all over the country to rally people to the new church. He also directed the church publications Boletin de la Iglesia Filipina Independiente and La Iglesia Filipina Independente: Revista Catolica. He also turned his residence into a temporary seminary. [3] :283 In 1929, de los Reyes was appointed an honorary bishop, a position he held until his death. In this capacity, he wrote multiple devotional and doctrinal texts such as the Biblia Filipina, Oficio Divino, Catequesis, Plegarias, Genesis Cientifico y Moderno and the Calendario Aglipayano. [5]

Marriage and family

In 1884, at the age of 20, de los Reyes married Josefa Sevilla, the daughter of Gregorio Sevilla, the capitan of Malabon. He and his wife had ten children. [3] :258 His wife died of illness in 1897 while he was in Bilibid prison. [6]

In late December 1898, he married María Ángeles López Montero (the daughter of a retired Spanish infantry colonel) in Madrid, also in a Catholic ceremony. She died in 1910 while giving birth to their ninth child. [5]

De los Reyes' last marriage in 1912 was to the 18-year-old María Lim, a mestiza de sangley from Tondo. They married in the independent Aglipayan Church, which de los Reyes had helped found. They also had several children before María also died in childbirth in 1923. Before her death, she had asked that they be married according to the Catholic rite, to which de los Reyes agreed.

With his own family spanning Catholic and Aglipayan traditions, de los Reyes was tolerant of religious diversity among his children. Isabelo de los Reyes Jr., a son from his second marriage, was ordained an Aglipayan priest and later became Obispo Máximo IV of the church. His daughters Ángeles, Elisa, and Elvira from his second marriage, along with Crescencia from his third marriage, became professed nuns in the Catholic Church. [5]

De los Reyes married three times, siring a total of 27 children. [5] He survived all his wives and twelve of his children.

Works and writings

Throughout his life, Isabelo de los Reyes wrote and published multiple works in various subjects, such as history, folklore, politics, and religion. He used Spanish, Tagalog, and Ilokano in his writings. De los Reyes also published multiple newspapers.


Scholarly works and essays

Novels and stories

Religious texts

He also translated into Iloko the Gospels of the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles. [5]

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