Dr. Pedro Pablo Pelaez champion of Filipino clergy, the first truly national leader

Thursday July 09, 2015 ()

Dr. Pedro Pablo Pelaez champion of Filipino clergy   
(Dr. Pedro Pablo Pelaez)   
It is rather unfortunate that the name of the great Dr. Pedro Pablo Pelaez is not well known as it deserves, partly due to the fact that his role, though important, was less dramatic than those played by others, like Fathers Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora who were garroted in February of 1872. And yet Burgos and his companions played comparatively unimportant parts since they merely continued the work initiated by Pelaez whose championship of the Filipino clergy was well known before he died a victim of the great earthquake of June 3, 1863. Perhaps, in a sense, it is better that Pelaez died then, because there is no doubt that he should have been the first victim of the Cavite mutiny of 1872. On the other hand, it is lamentable because his less spectacular death had placed him in comparative oblivion. Perhaps, the fault lies partly on our historians who have not properly emphasized his achievements when he is entitled to the highest place in the public esteem.

On 1812, Pedro Pablo Pelaez was born in Pagsangjan, Laguna. Pedro was the son of Don Jose Pelaez Rubio a peninsular and alcalde-mayor of the province, and Doña Josefa Sebastian Gomez Lozada, a creole of Spanish parents. There is no agreement on his birthday, some historians say he was born June 12, 1812. Others assert that he was born on June 29, 1812.

Like most men who rose to prominence, Pelaez started his schooling at home. At the age of 11 his father died and as an orphan of a Spanish functionary, he was able to stay with the Dominicans in of the latter's convents in Manila, and in exchange for his services there, he was able to study in the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and later in the University of Santo Tomas. In the university, he captured the admiration of his professors for his sterling character and unusual ability. He obtained the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, with honors on February 20, 1829, Bachelor of Sacred Theology on January 21, 1833, Licentiate in Sacred Theology in 1836, and Doctor of Sacred Theology in 1844.

Dr. Pedro Pablo Pelaez champion of Filipino clergy, the first truly national leader

In 1833, Pelaez was ordained as a priest and was subsequently assigned to the Manila Cathedral where he occupied such positions as deacon, canonigo magistral, secretary of the archbishop, assistant racionario, racionario, examinador synodal, canonigo penitenciario, sub-delegate of the holy crusado, treasurer, and apostolic Judge of the archbishopric.

Upon the death of the archbishop Jose Aranguren on April 18, 1862, the ecclesiastical cabildo elected him Vicario Capitular, a position almost equivalent to that of Ecclesiastical Governor of the Philippines. Pelaez was to govern the archdiocese until the arrival of the new archbishop, Gregorio Meliton Martinez. Pelaez election was general well accepted since he was the most capable, prudent, and virtous member of the secular clergy.

While occupying these several positions in the Cathedral, Pelaez devoted also part of his time to teaching philosophy in the College of San Jose from 1836 to 1639 and philosophy and theology at the University of Santo Tomas from 1843 to 1861. As a professor he must have attracted no little notice since Governor Antonio de Urbistundo appointed him member of the commission to study and draft reforms on education for the Phillipines. In this task, as in all others that he undertook, he did very creditable work. A good many of his recommendations are embodied in the famous education decree of 1863.

He was also a preacher of no mean ability. As a matter of fact, Professor Austin Craig calls him one of the foremost in the mid-nineteenth century. Everytime he was scheduled to speak there was always a big crowd to hear him. After his death his admiring friends contributed funds to finance the publication of his sermons. The result was the Colleccion de Sermones published in Madrid 1869, which contains 38 of his famous discourses. The consensus of critical opinion is that the sermons are jewels of literature and masterpieces of pulpit oratory.

While he excelled as educator and as preacher his title to greatness rests mainly on his championship of the Filipino clergy. It is in this that his countrymen should esteem and admire him for his courage in openly advocating a cause, even in the face of the very strong opposition of the powerful religious corporations. On the occasion of the promulgation of the royal order of September 10, 1861, which would take away most of the parishes from the Filipino priests, Dr, Pelaez filed his memorial on March 10, 1862, with the Vice-Regal Patron (Governor General) protesting against its provisions. He pointed out that the royal order was beneficial neither to the Recollects nor to the seculars. On the other hand, it would produce harm to both. He therefore advocated the repeal of the order as being unjust and discriminatory. He claimed that the Filipino clergy deserved to be rewarded for their good work and their loyalty to Spain instead of being despoiled of their parishes. When he was Vicario Capitular, he disregarded the royal order of September 10, 1861, and appointed seculars whenever vacancies occurred in the archbishopric of Manila. In addition to these, he, in collaboration with others, founded and edited the newspaper "Catolico Filipino" wherein he discussed the religious question, always taking care to champion the Filipino cause. In another paper, La Generacion, published in Spain, appeared many of his articles likewise defending the cause of the Filipino clergy.

While no immediate results were obtained by him, he kept alive the aspirations of the Filipino clergy. After Pelaez' death, Fr. Jose Burgos, one of his pupils, assumed the leadership of the secularization movement. During the period of the Propaganda, in line with the work of Pelaez and Father Jose Burgos, Dr. Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and others demanded the exoulsion of the friars, or at least the secularization of the parishes. When Emilio Aguinaldo laid down his arms 1897 after the so-called "Pact of Biacnabato", he did so because he was made to understand that, his demands, one of which was the expulsion of the friars, was acceded to by General Primo de Rivera. Bishop Gregorio Aglipay seceded from the Roman Catholic Church because he was convinced that the Filipino cPorgy were being discriminated against even under the American regime.

If we admit, as we should, that secularization question was the greatest single factor that helped to bring about the spirit of nationalism among the Filipinos, it follows that the person who first championed that cause would logically be the first truly national leader. A great teacher, preacher and champion of the national cause, it is high time that the Filipino people should accord Dr. Pelaez the honor that is his due. It is unjust that he should remain almost an unknown figure. Let him occupy his proper place in the nation's pantheon - the front rank in the galaxy of our national heroes.


  1. Pelaez, First National Leader, Gabriel F. Fabella, Philippine Nationalism, 1957 (Philippine Free Press, Volume 34, Number 27, July 6, 1940)
  2. Pedro Pelaez, Albert C. A. Flores, 2007 (Ateneo University Journals Online)
  3. Photo credit: Ang mag paring Filipino, Martin F. Venago, Manila, 1929


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