THE HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE OF SAN PABLO
BY REV. FR. GABRIEL MA. DELFINO
From the wide pasturelands of San Pedro Tunasan, bordering the territory of Muntinlupa, Metro Manila until the hills of San Pablo onwards to the fringes of the legendary Banahaw mountain, natural boundary between the provinces of Laguna and Quezon, and ending in the coastal sierra region of Eastern Laguna, the variety of geography, topography and elevation – and its concomitant influence on the cultures and way of life of the localities found in their bosom – characterize the physical attributes of Laguna Province.
The writings of the Franciscan Felix de Huerta, the Dominican Valentin Marin y Morales, the Frenchman Paul de la Gironierre are some of the accounts that describe the towns and sights of the province and its attributes plus its limitations and fragility.
If it is true that physical geography is the primary factor in the evolution of local culture, then it would be most appropriate to refer to the Cultures of Laguna – in order to have a deep understanding the territory and the characteristics of the people living in them.
The towns of San Pedro Tunasan, Biñan, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao and Calamba in the Western fringe of the provine represent the hacienda culture, wide cultivation of rice and sugar and the commercial and export-oriented development that ultimately followed. San Pedro Tunasan was a hacienda of the Colegio de San Jose, thus identified with the Jesuits, the governing entity of that Manila academe. Biñan, and Santa Rosa were Dominican Haciendas until the dissolution of these agrarian estates during aftermath of the 1896 Revolution against Spain. Calamba, former Jesuit (until their expulsion in 1768) and former Dominican hacienda (Colegio de Letran de Calamba was the miniscule remnant of that vast landholding) was the boom town of wide rice and sugar production even during the American colonial epoch. Only Cabuyao, formerly called Tabuco, was a non-hacienda town because of its autonomy as “lupang Tagalog” – inhabited by a stable population even prior to Spanish colonial conquest. Cabuyao was the Matrix of the towns in Western Laguna.
As though by the imperatives of nature, Makiling Mountain would show a decisive influence in the character of the succeeding areas. From its heat, being a dormant volcano, would spring the hot springs of Los Baños (discovered by the missionary saint, San Pedro Bautista, OFM) Pansol, Calamba up to neighboring Bae town. Bae or Bay, first capital town of the province, was to become a hub of the water ferry transfort and later, a major stop-over in the railway system of the American era. Calauan was to be known as the home of the sweetest pineapples and a hacienda of the Roxas-Zobel-Ayala-Soriano clan where agricultural products would originate including fireworks gunpowder coming from the indigenous “kilitis” weed.
San Pablo de los Montes, named by the Augustinians after the eremitical saint of Egypt, Saint Paul of Thebes, the first Hermit, is the gateway to the mountainous towns of the Banahaw slopes. Together with the town of Alaminos, San Pablo use to be a part of the adjoining Province of Batangas until it was ceded to the Franciscans of Laguna. It was considered a major producer and distributor of coconut-based products for local needs and exports.
The Banahaw district of the province – comprising the towns of Rizal, Nagcarlan, Liliw, Majayjay Magdalena, Cavinti and Luisiana provides contrast with their culture based on the coconut and pandan plants. Its higher elevation makes it a cool place for recovery and rest. Indeed, during the American era, many persons sick with tuberculosis would stay in these towns of perpetual spring weather to aid their recovery from the the dreaded malaise.
In the wide plains after the town of Calauan could be found the towns of Victoria, Pila, Santa Cruz – the present-day capital of the province, and Pagsanjan, second capital of the province from the 1600’s until the 1860’s. Rich culture, even until the present, and sufficient agricultural output and commercial expansion would characterize this area of central Laguna.
In the Baybay (i.e. shoreline) district of Eastern Laguna could be found the oldest inhabited settlements of the province and the initial area for the evangelization of the Tagalog tribes. From Lumbang, oldest Spanish town of the province, Longos and San Antonio (now parts of Kalayaan town), Paete, Pakil, Pangil, Siniloan, Mabitac, Famy and Santa Maria (formerly Caboan), these towns stradling the lake-side area of the genesis of the long Sierra Madre mountain range, would provide for the province a strong source of identity, culture and handicraft, natural prosperity and a deep seated appreciation of the Catholic Faith – instilled by the missionaries in souls and in culture.
The name of the province would evolve from the designation of the hispanic colonizers from the name of the Lake as “La Laguna de Bae” (i.e. the Lake of the town of Bae). The Lake got its name from the town and the province got its name from the Lake. This W-shaped fresh water lake would be the navel that would nourish the life of the people and provide its initial contact, via the Pasig River [which empties into it], to the capital of the nation, the City of Manila.
From this workings of geography and civilizing settlements dating back to the pre-hispanic era, we observe a certain tempo of life and attitude that is open to the diverse communion of human life.
Aside from excavated pottery shreds in some towns like Pila, Cabuyao and Santa Rosa that indicate the inland growth of trade with the traders of the Chinese Empire, the pre-history of Laguna Province is often shrouded in legends and in surviving oral traditions. The earlier settlements like San Pablo [then known as Sampaloc], Cabuyao [Tabuco], Santa Maria [Caboan] were populated by Malay tribes that were supposed to have originated from the earlier inter-island migrations.
The ethnic identity of the Tagalog comes from “Taga-Ilog” (i.e. people of the river); this appelation comes from the location of their settlements along aquatic channels. Similar to the Pampango or Kapampangan, who derives their ethnic identity as “People of the Pampang” (i.e. people who live in the banks [of the river]), the strategic role of rivers is affirmed in the development of tribal societies.
Supposed founders or leaders of existing communities like Gat Tayaw (Liliw), Gat Pagil (Pangil) are still to be established as historical persons. Names of places are either founded on plants and significant events (example: Liliw or Lilio as coming from the song of a bird of good omen; Cabuyao as coming from a tree of that name; Siniloan from a place where a boor was caught [sinilo] etc.)
While Islam has established a foothold in the Rajahship of Maynilad by the influence of its ruling house, Laguna was still under the influence of the native animistic religion at the time of the Spanish contact.
The initial contact with Christianity occured in the area of Majayjay town in the year 1571 when some traveling Augustinian missionaries encountered the natives. However, due to the lack of adequate personel, no town or parish was founded in the area until 1578 when the Franciscan Apostolic Province of San Gregorio Magno established its presence in the country and in the province. The venerable and dynamic missionary duo of Juan de Plasencia and Diego de Oropesa founded on that year the formal settlements of Lumbang and Pila where each established their principal residence. The legacy of the missionary to the Tagalogs (and later martyr-saint in Japan), San Pedro Bautista, as Minister Provincial of the Philippine Franciscans, included the discovery of the therapeutic value of the hot springs of Los Baños and the 1587 gathering of dispersed people in established reductions that resulted in the subsequent establishment of the towns of Longos, Pakil and San Antonio.
The methodology of introducing the faith was not always a calm and sedate affair. There was armed resistance in the town of Nagcarlan, the burning of the idols in Lumbang and the physical punishments inflicted on pagan priests, priestesses and shamans who persisted in performing occult rites of traditional animism.
Nevertheless, attractive policies and civilizing advantages brought to the fore the advantages of Christian civilization. The first stone church and Tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament outside the City of Manila was inaugurated in the town of Lumbang in 1600 – an indicator that people were sufficiently christianized so as to give due veneration to the sacred species. A grand Eucharistic Procession and Gathering was held in the same town – attended by missionaries of the Augustinian and Franciscan Orders and a great concourse of the faithful.
Similarly, a school for Church Music was opened and attended by some 400 boys who were trained to read notes, use musical instruments and to provide liturgical music for their respective towns and parishes.
The penitential lifestyle of the Franciscan Missionaries like Fray Francisco Solier, Cura of Pakil, led to the establishment of wood, later permanent stone crosses, in the summits of Pingas in Pakil and Macumbo in Paete. The early Franciscan missionaries in the Philippines, belonging to the austere Alcantarine Reform of the Franciscans in Spain, were much adept in corporal mortifications and the carrying of heavy crosses as they traverse difficult mountain trails.
Other methods of spreading the faith includes the publication of catechisms, the foundation of towns, health care, pilgrimages, the use of stage plays, daily instruction of children, processions, vigils and creative norms of piety.
FOUNDATIONS AND DEVELOPMENTS
The regular arrival of more misionaries from Spain and Mexico made possible the formation of new towns and their corresponding parishes. As the population increased, the interaction between neighboring towns was made easier through the construction of roads and bridges.
Agriculture was developed by the introduction of irrigation canals, dams and the harnessing of rivers and springs. In areas of the province where some hamlets are named “Diezmo”, the term refers to the location of irrigation facilities so that the planting may not be solely dependent on rain-fall but can extend to two crop seasons per year due to the advantage of irrigation.
Aside from physical infrastructures and the formation of communities, other forms of colonial developments included defending the natives from colonial oppression, assistance in the development of agriculture, handicraft, commerce and different forms of livelihood, and formation of school for primary education.
The Jesuit Society was active in the Hacienda of San Pedro Tunasan, an estate that supports the Colegio de San Jose – a Jesuit administered school. Prior to their expulsion from the Philippines in 1768, they also owned the Calamba Hacienda.
Although the Franciscans were the curates of most of the Laguna Parishes, due to their vow of poverty, they did not possess any landholdings.
The Augustinians were initially involved in the Parish Ministry in the towns of San Pablo, Bay and Los Baños until these areas were gradually transfered to the Franciscans.
The Philippine Dominicans, under their corporate organization “Province of the Most Holy Rosary” had parishes and haciendas in Biñan and Santa Rosa. They also succeeded the Jesuits in the ministries of San Pedro and Calamba. Prior to the outbreak of the Katipunan revolution, they also held the parish of Cabuyao.
The Augustinian Recollects or “Recoletos” were active at some time in the Parish of Calauan. Some writings claim that they were also active in Cabuyao.
Other than the implantation of the Faith, the administration of parishes and the consolidation of civil society, the evolution of Christian culture and civilization were the deeper and more far-reaching effects of the early evangelization. Aside from the roads, bridges, irrigation facilities, forts, plazas, schools, cemeteries, livelihoods and social services, the deeper reality of a people transformed, society elevated in standard, and Christ recognized and appreciated as Savior and final destiny of mankind were the finest expression of the dynamism of the faith and the relevance of the Church in people’s lives.
UPHEAVALS AND CHALLENGES OF SOCIAL CHANGE
The realities of Spanish colonial society were filled with situations that often erupted into expressions of violence.
There were many instances when public calm and peace were disturbed. Aside from the occasional outbreak of pestilence, epidemics and natural disasters that resulted to many deaths, there were disturbances in social order like the following:
1. The uprising of the Chinese whose violent dispersal entered Laguna territory;
2. The incursions of Moro slave raiders from Mindanao resulting in the burning of and dispersal of the population of the then town of San Antonio;
3. The armed raid of the British into Pagsanjan during their occupation of the City of Manila;
4. The uprising of Hermano Pule [Apolinario de la Cruz] in Tayabas;
5. The ordinary incursions of bandits from the highlands of Cavite into the towns of Biñan, Santa Rosa and Cabuyao.
Yet, the most profound social and political crisis that the Church in Laguna had to contend with was the eruption of the Katipunan Revolution of 1896. Initially limited to the eastern part of the province with Santa Cruz and Pagsanjan towns as leading revolutionary centers, it gradually enveloped the entire province resulting into the final withdrawal of Spanish forces from Biñan and Santa Rosa to the relative safety of Manila.
In the gradual spread of the revolutionary credo and upheaval, Laguna entered into the “Panahon ng Tagalog” – a period of social insecurity and threats of lawless elements, kidnaping and factional fightings. As the Americans succeeded the Spaniards as the nemesis of Filipino aspirations, the advent of the new conflict brought new confusion and destruction to property.
Friar parish priests in Laguna were withdrawn by their superiors, escaped to Manila or arrested by the Katipunan; their position was taken over by Filipino native priests where such were available.
As American rule was gradually consolidated, the Church had to contend with the Masons in government, the public schools staffed by anti-catholic American teachers; the new Protestant denominations and the ascendency of the Philippine Independent Church under Gregorio Aglipay. Strong areas of denominational presence were the towns of Santa Cruz, San Pablo, Biñan, Santa Rosa, Nagcarlan, Luisiana and Pagsanjan.
Some friar parish priests were able to return to their parishes as the need for more priests arose and anti-friar agitation gradually subsided. It is interesting to note that the Spanish Dominicans were able to return to their old parish in Santa Rosa, Laguna and stayed there from 1914 to 1927.
RENEWAL AND TENACY
From the first year of it’s formal evangelization, 1578, Laguna was the privilleged field of the missionary labors of the Order of Friar Minors – Franciscans of the Alcantarine Reform under the Provincia Apostolica de San Gregorio Magno de las Islas Filipinas. Upon the erection of Manila as a diocese in 1581, she was part of that jurisdiction until 1910 when the newly constituted Diocese of Lipa included the Province of Laguna in its ambit.
The years of American Colonial Rule and the Commonwealth Era were years of challenge and opportunities. The advent of secular culture coupled by the relative prosperity of a great segment of the population brought a decline in the religious fervor of the faithful. Shortage of priests and the teaching of Catechism to the new generation of children were chronic problems. The almost nil number of local vocations to the priesthood and the religious life was a worrisome matter.
The immorality in San Pablo, brought about by the upsurge in the number of dance halls, gambling dens and flesh spots, led the then Bishop of Lipa, Monsignor Alfredo Verzosa to exclaim: “San Pablo, you are the Babylon of my Diocese!”
Movements of renewal, however, took roots to re-integrate the people into the mainstream of the Church. Popular missions – preached by Redemptorists and Jesuit priests – awakened consciences and revived sacramental life in towns and barrios. Devotions to the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Lourdes, Santa Teresita and the Flores de Mayo with its pageantric processions and beautiful sagalas prospered.
New apostolates (i.e. Adoracion Nocturna Filipina, Apostolado de la Oracion, Centro Catolica, Bienhechores de Catechesis and Hijas de Maria) attracted the local elites.
A minor seminary, San Francisco de Sales, was opened in San Pablo in 1917 and provided fresh hope that the shortage of priests in the Diocese of Lipa would gradually be surmounted as young boys tried to fit into the clerical state. It was conducted by the priests of the Congregation of the Mission (C.M.). It remained in San Pablo until 1941.
Catholic schools in Manila gradually educated the children of the prosperous and formed fresh catholic leaders with new orientations. Monuments to the Sacred Heart of Jesus started to spring up in church patios and attendance to Eucharistic Congresses, both national and international, and other church events increased.
However, although the loyalty of the affluent and ruling classes were recovered by the Church to a great extent, the great mass of the catholic population seemed neglected in the process of deepening. Most ordinary people equate the truths of Faith with Kasal, Binyag, Libing, Mahal na Araw, Fiesta at Pasko (i.e. Wedding, Baptism, Funeral, Holy Week, Fiesta of the Patron Saint and Christmas). During these solemnities, they come in hordes and affirmed the old faith of their ancestors but zeal for the apostolate, contemplated and promoted by Catholic Action, and need for moral metanoia was slack and tepid.
THE CHURCH AND SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
The post war years was a period of great material expansion specially with regards to Catholic Schools. Dominican Sisters of Siena opened in 1946 the Colegio de Santa Catalina de Sena in Biñan. The Jesuits followed and opened in 1947 the Ateneo de San Pablo. Other Congregations like the Augustinian Sisters (1947), the Canossian Daughters of Charity (1954), the Fathers of the Maryknoll Society (1956) and the FMA Sisters (1960), the Salesians of Don Bosco (1963) and the RVM Sisters (1964) followed suit.
If the church was active in the social awakening of its faithful, it would be most evident not only in the Catholic Schools but in the blooming of the church associations of the laity. Included in the organizations of this era were the Legion of Mary (1944), the initial spread (1963-1972) of the Cursillos in Christianity, the Catholic Women’s League, the Knights of Columbus and its partner the Daughters of Isabella (now Daughters of Mary Immaculate), the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the Holy Name Society, among others.
The plurality of the charisms and apostolic messages of each diverse group contributed to an increase in the level of spiritual awakening of its participants.
THE EFFECTS OF INTERNAL SOCIAL MIGRATION
Until the mid-1960’s, Laguna was a predominantly agricultural province with small pockets of sectors engaged in handicraft, commercial, industrial and touristic concerns. Banks were generally small and usually extended small loans for agricultural purposes. Factories involved in manufacturing were limited and almost all were found in the towns from San Pedro to Calamba.
All of this would change as the population of the Manila metropolis continued to grow and agricultural lands were gradually converted into residential subdivisions to provide housing for new migrant families. These upsurge in population would contribute to the multiplication of parishes as former subdivision chapels were erected as canonical parishes.
In the gradual build-up of the social situation leading to rapid urbanization, the Diocese of San Pablo was created in 1967 – the last territory to be carved out of the original Diocese of Lipa. Bishop Pedro N. Bantigue, of Hagonoy, Bulacan and of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila was appointed first Residential Bishop. The new diocese became a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Manila.
A high school seminary, San Pablo Diocesan Seminary, was opened in 1968. This was supplanted by St. Peter’s College Seminary in 1981. A Theologate Residence, San Pablo Theological Formation House, was founded in 1986 in Tagaytay City to serve as formation house for the theologians attending the academic programs at Divine Word Seminary in that city.
The growth of the population gradually provided for a new supply of lay leaders for the Church and assured the continous vitality of lay participation in the life of the local church and in the implementation of the vision and mission enunciated by the 2nd Vatican Council.
METAMORPHOSIS IN ECCLESIAL STRUCTURE
New situations require new modes of apostolates and new systems of relationships. The proliferation of new apostolates like retreat houses, home for the aged, techical education centers, contemplative communities, youth movements, new forms of social action and political mobilizations were the answers that the diocesan institutions strived to maintain as the province face crises and opportunities.
The first Diocesesan Eucharistic Congress was celebrated in San Pablo City Cathedral Patio in 1979 and the first Diocesan Synod was convened in 1994.
Growth in the number of priestly ordination gradually increased after 1990 as the products of the diocesan seminaries took their place in the expanding presbyterium – at present (2012) numbering morethan 120 diocesan priests.
Variety of involvement became the call of the hour as new modes of being church took root and flourished. New apostolates like the PREX formation program, the Youth Encounter, the Charismatic Renewal, the Neocathecumenal Communities, the BCBP, El Shaddai, Elim Community, Couples for Christ, BLD and Opus Dei numeraries found adherents among the lay faithful of the Diocese.
Yet, it must be remembered that it is not the plurality of institutions that make up a local church and announce the Gospel. It is basically the levels of relationships that transform people and situations; create climates for personal conversion and metanoia; advance the cause of communion and demolish alienation; foster liberation in all realms of the spirit and the social community – all these had to be experienced to acertain that the Catholic Church is alive in our midst.
Bishop Bantigue retired in 1995 and was succeeded by Most Rev. Francisco C. San Diego, of Obando, Bulacan and former Vicar Apostolic of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, as second Bishop.
When Bishop San Diego was appointed as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Pasig in 2003, Msgr. Bernardino C. Cortez was elected as Diocesan Administrator. Bishop Leo M. Drona, SDB, D.D., former Bishop of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, became the third Bishop of San Pablo in June, 2004.
The story continues. The reality of breaking bread is not only between the believers of our present time. Neither is it just a breaking of the Bread with Christ and the saints in glory and in purgation. It is also breaking bread with the first missionaries who brought the living faith to us. We can only continue their work or fail to maintain it. The story truly continues.