Home » Articles » The Church under attack, May 5, 1956

The Church under attack, May 5, 1956

May 5, 1956

There is a new outburst of anti-clericalism as Catholic politicians denounce the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the bill requiring Filipino students to read the two controversial novels of Rizal

By Teodoro M. Locsin
Staff Member

NOT for a long time has the Catholic Church, or, at any rate, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such attacks as it has for the last two weeks. Archbishops, accustomed to having high government officials kiss the ring of their office, were mocked and ridiculed, were called enemies of freedom, to great applause. Catholic political leaders led the attack….

Did the hierarchy expect the attacks when it issued the pastoral letter objecting to the Senate bill which would make the two novels of Rizal required reading in all public schools—novels the hierarchy considered impious and heretical? If it did, and went ahead just the same and registered its objection, it could only be because of an overriding concern for the safety of the Faith; to read Rizal is to endanger it. A temporary embarrassment is nothing in the light of eternity; the Church is 2,000 years old; it will still be standing when the supporters of the bill are no longer around. The Senate, as it is presently composed, will not prevail against it. Thus, perhaps, wen the thought of the churchmen. It was a calculated risk.

It was all very surprising. A month ago, one could not have imagined a Filipino politician speaking in any but the most respectful terms of the prelates of the Church; he would have considered it political suicide to express himself critically of them. Now all caution seems to have been thrown to the wind. Anything goes. There is a new freedom, or, to put it another way, license.

The Church has grown in power and influence since the days immediately following the Revolution. Then every other Filipino leader seemed to be the critic if not the enemy of the Church. Many had lost their faith; even among those who retained it, there were not a few who were, in some degree, anti-clerical. The women were pious but the men were something else. During Mass, when the priest turned around to deliver a sermon, the men would walk out of the church; when the priest was done, they would come back. “Do what I say, but don’t do what I do,” the men would say, referring to the man of God.

In time, many Filipino leaders returned to the Church, abjuring Masonry as in the case of the late President Quezon; they became quite devout. It no longer seemed queer to be a priest or to listen to one. The Church grew in prestige. When a Protestant, Camilo Osias, made known his intention to run for president, he was told he couldn’t win; he was not a Catholic. He could be a senator; he was. He could never be president. He must face the facts of political life. When he wouldn’t, and bolted to the other side, he couldn’t even get elected as senator.

If Ramon Magsaysay is president of the Philippines today, it is due not a little to the help of the Church. The hierarchy, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the perpetuation of the Quirino administration through electoral fraud and terrorism would eventually drive the people into Communism, urged the faithful to keep the elections free. Free elections would mean the defeat of the Quirino administration. The Church couldn’t help that. The elections were free, and there was a new administration.

Never had the Church seemed such a power in Philippine politics! A maker of presidents, it suddenly seemed. At any rate, a maker of senators it proved itself two years later, when Francisco Rodrigo ran as a candidate of the Catholic Church—to be precise, the people were made to believe he was the candidate of the Church; with no political experience whatsoever, he polled more votes than many veteran politicians.

The Church had become a great, perhaps the greatest, political factor in the Philippines. Catholic action had taken on a political color. This was, Catholics felt, as it should be. It is impossible to separate politics from religion, or the practice of religion. Human life is a unity, not a series of separate compartments. A good Catholic not only goes to the right church but votes for the right people.

Then came the Senate bill making Rizal’s novels required reading in all schools and the pastoral letter opposing the bill. Bishops and archbishops were suddenly being called unpatriotic, worse than the country’s former Spanish oppressors. The political climate had suddenly changed.

So stormy was the atmosphere that Senator Rodrigo proposed running for cover; let the debate on the bill be held behind closed doors, he said.

Let the hearings remains public, said Sen. Lorenzo Tañada, as good a Catholic as Rodrigo. (Rodrigo had left Tañada’s Citizens Party without even a letter of resignation to run for senator on the administration’s ticket.) Closed-door sessions would imply that the Filipino people were not yet prepared for democratic processes, Tañada said.

Another senator, Quintin Paredes, observed that when Rodrigo pleaded for national unity, all he really wanted was for everybody to do his will. According to Rodrigo, Paredes went on, there would be unity only if the bill was not passed, and no unity if it was.

“How can we instill unity when you, who advocate it, insist on enforcing your will?” asked Paredes?

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Rodrigo said.

“Then why not give Rizal what is Rizal’s and God what is God’s?” demanded another senator, Domocao Alonto of Mindanao. The Moro senator disclosed that Rizal’s books were the Bible of the Indonesians during their struggle for independence. He attacked Filipinos who proclaimed Rizal as “their national hero” but seemed to “despise what he had written.”

Rodrigo hinted that “ulterior political motives” were behind the filing of the Rizal bill…

“They say that this bill was filed not really for the sake of Rizal, but for the sake of political expediency. They say that this bill was filed to create cleavage and confusion in the ranks of our Catholics in order to nip in the bud the growing political unity of Catholic citizens.

“I even heard some people say that the real purpose of this bill is to put President Magsaysay in a very tight spot. If this bill, they say, passes Congress, and if the present controversy spreads and increases, then when this bill reaches the President for his signature, he will be placed between the two horns of a dilemma, where he will suffer politically either way.

“If he approves the bill, then he antagonizes a big Catholic voting sector; if he vetoes the bill, then he alienates the sympathy and the votes of those who zealously favor the bill. And if he does not act on the bill and just allows it to become a law, then he loses even more, for he will be accused of moral timidity.”

Mayor Arsenio H. Lacson of Manila spoke up, denouncing those who opposed the Rizal bill as “enemies that threaten the very foundations of our freedom.” This “new breed of Filipinos” would, on the one hand, deny to the state the right to prescribe the books to be read in school, on the other hand, dictate to the state what books should not be read by the people….

“These are colonial-minded people who, fronting for their alien masters, would shackle the minds of our youth with the fetters of artificial prejudice, of artificial ignorance, and of artificial imbecility…The evils that Rizal denounced exist very much to this day, though it may be in a modified form, and those countrymen of his who set such a high premium on their animal comfort are very much alive and with us today, together with their alien masters still as bigoted and intolerant as of old.”

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo attacked Filipino Catholic priests for being still, according to him, “under the yoke of the old Spanish friars, against whom the Filipinos of 1896 had risen in arms for their tyrannies.” The government should assert the constitutional separation of church and state. The revolutionary general recalled how Rizal’s Noli was banned by the Spanish authorities who had kept Filipinos subject for more than 300 years under “the guise of Christianity.” The influence of the Spanish friars was still here, according to Aguinaldo, “despite our blood spilled on the battlefields.”

While the Philippine Public School Teachers Association, with a membership of 70,000, came out in favor of the Rizal bill, a spokesman of the Cavite chapter of the Philippine Veterans Legion announced that the chapter had unanimously approved a manifesto calling “un-Filipino and morally repulsive” any opposition to the bill. The spokesman, a Catholic, said he would stop going to church on Sundays until the bill was approved.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Pedro Lopez of Cebu told the story of the Filipino struggle for national independence….Filipinism asserted itself for the first time in Mactan Island, according to him. There Lapulapu, “refusing to yield to alien imposition, slew Magellan, thus repelling Spanish aggression.” That turned out to be “the first, the only, and the last successful defense put up by our people throughout our history against foreign invasion and domination….”

The congressman then hit the men of the Church:

“Nowhere in the world except here have alien educators garbed in their ecclesiastical habits had the temerity to act as our back-seat drivers or kibitzers and publicly tell a congressional committee what books our youth in school should not read.”

In the Senate, Sen. Claro M. Recto accused the Catholic hierarchy of being more intolerant than the Spanish friars whom Rizal had attacked…

“It was natural for the Spanish friars to retaliate against Rizal because he had been unmerciless in his charges against some of them. But I can’t understand why Filipino bishops…are now condemning his books. Without Rizal’s books, perhaps there would not be any Filipino bishop today.”

Those who oppose the Rizal bill, Recto said, “would blot out Rizal from our memory.”

Instead of being grateful to Rizal for helping in their exaltation, they call him and his books impious, and heretical.

When Senator Rodrigo asked Recto to point out where in the pastoral letter the Catholic hierarchy had directly called Rizal or his books impious and heretical, Recto read the portions of the letter accusing Rizal of having attacked various dogmas and practices of the Church. To attack the dogmas and practices of the Church is to be impious and heretical; the letter says that Rizal had attacked the dogmas and practices of the Church; that is the same as calling him impious and heretical, Recto said.

Rodrigo insisted it was not the same.

“If you describe a person as constantly telling falsehoods, is that not calling him a liar?” asked Recto. “If you call a boy the son of a woman by a man not her husband, there is no need to say that the child is an ‘s.o.b.’”

Recto went on:

“The tragedy of Rizal is that even after his death he is being mercilessly persecuted.”

When Rodrigo said that it was not necessary to have read the novels of Rizal in order to venerate him, that Rizal would still be a hero even if he had not written his books, Recto quickly tore that argument to pieces. For what would Rodrigo honor Rizal if he had no written the Noli and the Fili? When Rodrigo said, “For the suffering he had endured,” Recto pointed out that if Rizal had not written the two books, the Spaniards would not have made him suffer; they would not have shot him. He would not be the national hero of the Philippines.

When Rodrigo said that the Church ban on Rizal’s books was not absolute, that a Catholic could always obtain permission to read them if the Church was satisfied that it would not shake his faith, Recto asked, sardonically, how the Church would go about processing the applications of millions of Filipinos to read the novels of Rizal.

Rodrigo must have found Recto a difficult if not impossible man to debate with; again and again, Recto would not permit Rodrigo to complete a thought, to finish a sentence; again and again Rodrigo had to plead for the elementary right to speak; Recto kept butting in. Never once, however, did Rodrigo lose his patience. If he lost the argument, and that would seem to have been the verdict of the gallery which kept cheering Recto, he won the sympathy of many who listened to the debate on the radio. He might have engaged in sophistry, as Recto accused him of doing, but he was a gentleman every inch of the way.

Then Sen. Decoroso Rosales spoke up for those who would not make Rizal’s novels compulsory reading in school. Those in favor of the Rizal bill would make those opposed to it appear as unpatriotic, said the brother of an archbishop. This is unjust.

During the Japanese occupation, the senator recalled, he and others now opposing the Rizal bill fought the enemy. Archbishop Rufino Santos, who is against the bill, was imprisoned for 10 months in Fort Santiago by the Japanese. Meanwhile, some Filipinos collaborated with the Japanese. Now collaborators would brand as anti-Filipino. Archbishop Santos, Rosales and others for opposing their measure. Only these collaborators, it would seem, love their country. They have the monopoly on patriotism.

There was no answer to this, although it might have been pointed out that not all those favoring the bill collaborated with the Japanese; there are patriots, too, behind the measure—patriots in Rosales’s sense of the word. They fought the Japanese; they would make Filipino students read Rizal. They fought the Japanese and now they are fighting the Church.

Rosales warned that rather than make students read Rizal’s novels, Catholic schools throughout the country, numbering more than 600, would close.

Recto expressed scepticism.

“They are making too much profit which they can ill-afford to give up,” said the Batangueño.

Not for a long time has the Catholic Church, or the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such an attack. There was an anti-clerical tradition among Filipino leaders early in the century; many considered themselves Catholics but had no use for priests. A footnote in the Derbyshire translation of Noli Me Tangere tells us of a Fray Antonio Piernavieja, O.S.A., who was taken prisoner by the insurgents of Cavite and made “bishop” of their camp. “Having taken advantage of his position to collect and forward to the Spanish authorities in Manila information concerning the insurgents’ preparations and plans, he was tied out in an open field and left to perish of hunger and thirst under the tropical sun.” Filipino leaders became Masons; an “independent” church was founded. Eventually, many returned to the Church. Anti-clericalism seemed to have died out—unlike in Italy where millions of Catholics don’t listen to priests, vote Communist. Now, here are Catholic Filipinos speaking out against the bishops and archbishops of the Church.

The Church could have been devious. It could have pretended to make students in its school read Rizal, but quietly prevented them from doing it. Instead, it chose to be “straightforward.” It will not make students read the books of one it considers impious and heretical, though he is the national hero. It just won’t. The result: a crisis, not only of conscience for individual Catholics, but a political one for the Church.

But should anyone, after all, be made to read a book no matter how detestable he may think it to be? How could he think it detestable before reading it?



  1. […] The Philippines Free Press blog looks back at the debates over the law requiring Rizal’s novels to be taught in schools. […]

  2. […] It’s true the Catholic episcopacy has had many tussles with presidents and politicians, as these articles in The Philippines Free Press blog remind us: pre-war, there was the question of religious instruction in the public schools during class time; after the war, there was the debate on the Rizal law. What people forget (read the articles to double-check this point, if you wish) is that a principal objection in those days was the large, even dominant, presence of foreign bishops in the Philippines. That is no longer the case. What’s interesting is that even in the 1930s, when the generation that lived through the twilight of the Spanish era were still alive, what was not questioned was the right of the clergy to comment: what was deemed wrong was lobbying, in effect, purely to promote Catholic interests (therefore: devoting normal class hours to catechism was wrong, from the perspective of the separation of Church and State; as were Catholic objections to Rizal’s heretical ideas being taught to the public; inviting the Papal Nuncio to witness the repeal of the Death Penalty was a violation, but that was one committed by the Speaker and magnified by the President). […]

  3. […] The Philippines Free Press blog has several articles on Magsysay, from his being named Man of the Year for 1951, the story of the Nacionalista Party convention that proclaimed him the party’s candidate, his colossal popularity, and  his first day in office, to  the manner in which Magsaysay distinguished between personal and official expenses, the support he enjoyed from different groups, and attacks from his critics as well as his final hours: all make for an engrossing story. Amando Doronila ponders what might have been, had Magsaysay been reelected in 1957. […]

  4. […] Regarding past controversies, the debate over the vetoing of the religious instruction bill during the Commonwealth, and the debate over the Rizal Law, were covered by the Philippines Free Press at the time. […]

  5. Voltaire de Leon says:

    The most predominantly Catholic country in Asia and it chooses a mason and anti-cleric to be its national hero.

    Either the Filipino is a split personality or the greatest practioner in the art of uniting opposites.

    What a nation!

  6. […] of that generation and its attitude towards Catholicism was the passage of the Rizal Law: see The Church Under Attack, May 5, 1956. Yet victory in Congress -the law was passed, against the impassioned opposition of the Catholic […]

  7. […] of that generation and its attitude towards Catholicism was the passage of the Rizal Law: see The Church Under Attack, May 5, 1956. Yet victory in Congress -the law was passed, against the impassioned opposition of the Catholic […]

  8. Juanito Aurelio I. Cruz says:

    Being a student of history and a Filipino citizen at the same time, I find it very absurd and a slap on the face of the Filipino people if the Rizal law wasn’t passed by our noteworthy senators and congressmen during the passage of this law. Rizal symbolizes every outstanding traits which makes a Filipino is worth dying for. Rizal wasn’t perfect, he was also human and he committed mistakes which during his time was punishable by death. But we must realize that till the very end of his life, he was an exceptional Filipino who wasn’t afraid to die and that his death became the unifying factor for Filipinos to revolt against the Spanish regime. Although it is such a pity now that students regard the Rizal course taught in schools as a mere subject in order to complete their grade requirements, we must let the youth understand the sacrifices made not only by Rizal but by the people who passed on this law in order for them to be proud of their being a Filipino

  9. Ted Arda says:

    The message is quite clear and simple. Set aside religion if it encroaches our governments. One good day will bring us the best intellectual awakening of our generation…that we no longer need to argue over religious dogmas and fanaticsm from a faith not ours. That catholism is a faith genetically linked to a family where the Lordic name Jesus has emanated. That we must not subject our conscience to be nailed within the cross of sin as Adam and Eve have allegedly build for their own offsprings? What if i was born of pure chinese blood? Or of a pure african stock? How could i be a subject of a doctrine that adulterates my spirit and conscience from one exotic faith that strictly talks about a human race having its own genetic and spiritual identity? Moreso, when there is a crystall-clear evidence that my physical well being is comprised of one, two or more genetics, as a result of numerous incidental inter-racial marriages by my foreparents then i must be heretic…a FREEMASON, so and so.

    Rizals’ and of his contemporaries’ work for our country must be credited not only for the physical actions they have manifested alongside our forbearers during those long dark years of protracted revolution. Intellectual awakening tends to be the very core of their struggle. Seeing our generation living peacefully and thinking free, unbounded by protocols and religious dogma is the most valid reason of their sacrifice. Perhaps a sacrifice they wouldnt want to be remembered, but one that simply bears fruition in the minds of our youth and the generations to come.

    LET US UNLOCK THE DOOR OF INTELLECTUAL CONFUSION. It is as simple as this, Cain married someone from a family outside Eden when he was thrown out of Eden after he slew Abel…Perhaps reading some passages from the Book of Genesis will do. How about that Brother?

    We must, i suggest, under this present generation, continue to pursue unlocking the door of that labyrinth which distorts our intellectualities and if our elected presidents, senators, congressmen and local leaders continue which prevents many from discerning what is simple right and damn wrong, simple good and damn bad, the simpliest way.

  10. […] Party convention. How, after his landslide victory he was being accused of dictatorship and of coddling the Church; and yet he was, at his death, poised to achieve […]

  11. Mikeharvey says:

    Hey from Toronto, Canada

    Just a quick hello from as I’m new to the board. I’ve seen some interesting comments so far.

    To be honest I’m new to forums and computers in general 🙂


  12. tim says:

    guys can you help me get a summary of this article? i need to understand it. 🙂 please and thanks!

  13. […] Show more appreciation for Rizal, folks! THE CHURCH UNDER ATTACK May 5, 1956 There is a new outburst of anti-clericalism as Catholic politicians denounce the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the bill requiring Filipino students to read the two controversial novels of Rizal By Teodoro M. Locsin Staff Member NOT for a long time has the Catholic Church, or, at any rate, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such attacks as it has for the last two weeks. Archbishops … Read More […]

  14. […] THE CHURCH UNDER ATTACK May 5, 1956 There is a new outburst of anti-clericalism as Catholic politicians denounce the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to the bill requiring Filipino students to read the two controversial novels of Rizal By Teodoro M. Locsin Staff Member NOT for a long time has the Catholic Church, or, at any rate, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, been subjected to such attacks as it has for the last two weeks. Archbishops … Read More […]

  15. arvin auman says:

    Appreciate the life and works of Rizal. Not i’m saying he is our national hero, but I’d rather believe that we Filipinos must recognize the works of Rizal, for our better country.. 😀

  16. […] There were vigorous debates about this on the floor of Congress. Senator Francisco Rodrigo, who nicknamed himself ‘Soc’ as in ‘Soldier of Christ’, even went to the extent of accusing the proponents of the bill of, one one hand, trying to undermine the Catholic political bloc and, on the other, of trying to put President Ramon Magsaysay on a difficult spot; accusations that are founded on an extraordinary stretch of logic, to say the least. If Magsaysay signed the bill, claimed Rodrigo, he would antagonize the big Catholic voting sector. The Catholic prelates even threatened to close down their schools, a bluff to which Recto responded by saying he would push for the nationalization of Catholic schools if they did. […]

  17. […] of that generation and its attitude towards Catholicism was the passage of the Rizal Law: see The Church Under Attack, May 5, 1956. Yet victory in Congress -the law was passed, against the impassioned opposition of the Catholic […]

  18. wolfkiller says:

    why should Catholic schools be forced to teach something they don’t want to? sorry but it sounds like the proponents of the rizal law are the real tyrants, not the Church, the Church is for freedom, and indeed, the Church and anyone else has the right to not teach or not require that rizals books be read. It is the statist pro-rizal law fanatics who are trying to impose their beliefs on others. The govt has no right to force high school students to read rizals books. The Church should have opposed this tyranny and stood its ground. Let people decide for themselves if they want to teach rizals books or make it part of the curriculum, the govt should not impose it on anyone. This rizal law as well as the recently passed rh law, is proof enough that it is the govt and the govt worshiping statists who are tyrants, and it is the Church that is defending freedom and liberty.

    Mayor lacson of Manila was both a fool and a tyrant. The state certainly has no right to prescribe any book in any school, it is the parents who should be followed, not the govt. He also claims that the anti-rizal law people were dictating to the state what books should not be read by the people, what nonsense, people can read rizals books if they wanted, that is not the problem, the problem is the state wasting taxpayers money forcing schools and teachers to require students to read rizals books. The Church isn’t dictating to anyone, people can read rizals books if they want to. What the Church is saying is that people should not be forced to read rizals books, and schools and teachers should not be forced to teach them. And that idiot and degenerate mayor lacson forgets to mention is that it is the state and the pro-rizal law fanatics who are dictating to Catholic schools what they can and cannot teach. The same is true of the recent rh law nonsense.

  19. wolfkiller says:

    If having a national hero results in tyrannical laws like the rizal law and the rh bill, then perhaps it would be better if we had no national hero at all. To hell with the nationalists and the statists. For me and my house, we will serve God Our Father in Heaven.

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