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luciano pr. santiago
luciano pr santiago WITH THE stunning victory at the polls of Fr. Eduardo "Among Ed" Panlilio as the governor of Pampanga, Kapampangan priests continue to make history in the 21st century. Contrary to popular impression, however, Among Ed is not the first Filipino or Kapampangan priest to be elected to public office. In the early 19th century, two Kapampangan priests together with other Filipino priests were elected to represent the Philippines in the Spanish Legislature called Córtes. Because the church and state were united during the Spanish Regime, Filipino priests were eligible and available for election to the Córtes to represent both sectors.

Córtes of 1813-14

Briefly, the electoral process for the Córtes consisted of the following: The principalía of each town or parish voted for a local elector. The group of municipal electors gathered at the provincial capital to select the district electors. Finally, the district or provincial electors met in the walled city of Manila to elect the Philippine delegates to the Spanish Córtes. Affirming the popularity of Filipino priests, many of the district electors belonged to or were relatives of the native clergy.

For the Córtes of 1813-14, the delegate who obtained the second highest number of votes (from 24 of the 25 district electors) was Licenciado Don Joseph de Vergara y Masangcay (1767-1820; ordained 1791), a Spanish mestizo from Manila and Pampanga. He was asked to deliver the sermon at the Mass of Thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit at the Manila Cathedral on September 19, 1813. During the mass, the winners were proclaimed and took their oath of office. His eloquent sermon saw print before the end of the year. It was the first published politically-oriented speech by a Filipino.

The other priest delegates who were elected with him were Dr. Don Mariano Bernabé Pilapil, eminent Tagalog writer from Bulacán (25 votes); Bachiller Don (BD) Camilo Pividal, another Spanish mestizo from Manila (19 votes) and Dr. Don Mauricio de Miranda, Chinese mestizo from Bataan (13 votes). After much delay, Vergara and Pividal together with the lay delegate, Don Iñigo González Azaola sailed for Spain. But when they arrived in Cádiz, the site of the Córtes, after a year's voyage, they found out to their chagrin that King Fernando VII had abolished the Córtes. Vergara with Gonzalez, lost no time in leaving on the same ship on its return journey to the Philippines. After another year of fruitless odyssey at sea, they finally disembarked in Manila in early 1816. Pividal arrived later.

A Spanish mestizo, Vergara was born in the city of Manila (Intramuros), to Don Félix Antonio de Vergara, originally of Nueva Segovia (Vigan) and Doña María Rita Masangcay y Coronel of Bacolor. She was the sister of BD Nicholás Dorotheo Masangcay, secretary of the archdiocese of Manila, rector of the cathedral and chief ecclesiastical prosecutor (promotor fiscal). When Masangcay died in 1795, Vergara succeeded him in his last two positions, which he obtained in competitive synodal examinations. Two years later, Vergara was also appointed secretary of the cathedral chapter sede vacante after the death of Archbishop Orbigo (who had ordained him in 1791). He held four degrees from the University of Santo Tomás: the baccalaureate and licentiate in arts and the baccalaureate in both canon and civil laws. Thus, he had also served as a lawyer of the Royal Audiencia. It seemed more his brilliant mind like that of his uncle's, rather than a special eagerness on his part, which propelled his career. As enumerated in the title page of his published sermon as a delegate to the Cortes, the following were his concurrent positions: proprietary treasurer of the Cathedral Chapter, lawyer of the Audiencia and chief notary of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Holy Crusade and of the Court of Ecclesiastical Accounts.

A few months after his return to the Philippines in 1816, Vergara took the synodal examinations for a series of higher offices in the chapter and won the precentorship (chantría) on April 6, 1816. Like Pilapil, he also chose to lead a very quiet life after this. Four years later, at the age of 53, he decided to return to parish work and thus, arranged for an exchange of his chantría with the pastorship of Binondo, which was held by the 77 year-old BD Juán Nepomuceno de Mijares, also a Spanish mestizo. Unfortunately, in that year 1820, the first cholera epidemic swooped down on the Philippines from India. Before he could carry out his career change, Vergara fell victim to the virulent organism on December 2, 1820. Two months earlier, the same epidemic had also claimed the life of his older colleague, Dr. Pilapil.

Córtes of 1820-23

In the subsequent Philippine elections for the Córtes, the same procedure was followed. For the Legislature of 1815-16, the election produced the same astonishing results as the previous one. Many of the district electors as well as the elected delegates were Filipino priests although this time, none of the latter was a Kapampangan. Due to his recent frustrating experience in Cádiz and because he was still at sea at the time, it was correctly assumed that Padre Joseph de Vergara would not be interested to involve himself again in another similar exercise. For the second time, Dr. Pilapil got a unanimous vote from all the electors. None of the delegates, however, left for Spain because of the news of the abolition of the legislative body.

The Córtes was restored in 1820 and another election was held in the Philippines. For the third time, the same results were repeated, that is, Filipino priests dominated the list of district electors as well as delegates. One of the elected legislators was a distinguished Kapampangan priest-writer, Padre Anselmo Jorge Fajardo (1785-1845; ordained 1810). Only three prominent creoles were sent to Spain to represent the colony. Due to a shortage of public funds, Fajardo and the other priests remained in the Philippines unable to fulfill their mandate. Like the previous Córtes, the present one turned into a useless exercise when the despotic King Fernando VII suppressed it anew in 1823.

Dubbed the Father of Kapampangan Literature," Padre Anselmo was the only known priest playwright during the Spanish Period. He created the longest play in Philippine literature, Don Gonzalo de Córdoba consisting of three volumes, 832 pages and 31,000 lines. Under his direction, it took seven days to perform in his native Bacolor in 1831. The genre was called a kumidya (comedia). But this is a misnomer because it is actually a serious play presenting moral as well as veiled nationalistic values in verse form but with several light moments to relieve the heavy motif. It depicts the conflicts between the Christians and the moors, which apparently represented the local situation in a figurative way.

In the last two elections for the Córtes of 1834 and 1837, the rules were changed and only Spanish residents and creoles in the Philippines voted or were elected.


Although the Philippine representation to the Spanish Córtes was on the whole an exercise in futility, it nevertheless introduced the Filipinos for the first time to the concept and experience of the right of suffrage, however limited it was. The general longing for the restoration of the Philippine representation remained ingrained in the collective mind of the Filipinos for the rest of the 19th century. This was the major agenda of the Propaganda Movement and when it was thwarted, the Philippine Revolution inevitably ensued. Further, the entire exercise of electing leaders to public office affirmed the people's basic trust for the Filipino clergy as well as the latter's deep influence, direct or indirect, on the electoral process, which in fact can still be observed in Philippine politics today. The electoral triumph of Among Ed is a case in point.

1. Luciano PR. Santiago. "The Filipino priest delegates to the Spanish Córtes of 1813-14." Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 13 (1985): 221 -234.
2. Luciano PR. Santiago. "Laying the Foundations: Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church 1592-2001." (Ángeles, Pampanga: Holy Angel University, 2002) pp. 57-59.
3. Jaime C. de Veyra y Mariano Ponce. "Fernando VII y los Diputados Filipinos." Efemérides Filipinas. (Manila: IR Morales, 1914) 1: 88-91.
4. Gregorio Yabes. "Philippine Representation to the Spanish Córtes." Phil. Social Science Review. 8 (Feb. 1936): 36-69 & (June 1936): 140-160.

[About the author. Luciano PR. Santiago is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He trained in both Adult and Child Psychiatry at the Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He is now in private practice in Metro Manila. In his spare time, he researches and writes on Philippine history, art, and culture. Among the awards he has received are the National Book Awards for Art and for History from the Manila Critics Circle.]

-Posted: 9:25 PM 6/27/07 | More of this author on eK!