Non-Spanish, Non-Catholic Defenders of the Friars

Non-Spanish, Non-Catholic Defenders of the Friars

Pio Andrade Jr.

The many good and enduring accomplishments of the Friars did not escape the attention of foreign visitors and historians. Many of them wrote favorable of the friars and defended them from the unjust treatment and comments that were heaped on them by critics. I would cite here praises for the Friars written bu non-Spaniards many of whom are not Catholics.

“With no oither arms but faith, the Religious Orders pacified and civilized the Philippines archipelago,” write Frenchman Jean Mallat who stayed in the Philippines for 6 months in the 1790 and traveled to many places in the islands.

Yale Historian, Edward Gaylord Bourne, in his introduction to the monumental 50 volume Blair and Robertson’s THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS praised the friars zeal and charity. “…it was the spirit of kindness, Christian love and brotherly helpfulness of the missionaries that effected the real conquest of the islands is abundantly testified by qualified observers of various nationalities and periods, but the most convincing demonstration if the ridiculously small military force that was required to support the prestige of the Catholic King. The standing army organized in 1590 for the defense of the country numbered 400 men.”

Fray Ezequiel Moreno, who served as priest for Parañaque is remembered as one kindest and generous that seashore town ever had. So loved was this man that townspeople protested his transfer. Today, when people hear friar they think of  Rizal's fictional Friar character, Damaso. (Photo courtesy of

Fray Ezequiel Moreno, who served as priest for Parañaque is remembered as a kind and generous leader. So loved was this man that townspeople protested his transfer. Today, when people hear friar they think of Rizal’s fictional Friar character, Damaso. (Photo courtesy of

Sir John Bowring, a former Governor of Hong Kong, in his book on his travel and official visit to the Philippines in 1850 wrote his admiration for the intimate unity of natives and the Friars, and the absence of a caste in the country. “I have met the Friars who were the object of special respect and affection, and in fact they merited it as guardians and restorers of peace in the family, and as protectors of the children in their studies, and moreover for the labors they undertook in the welfare of their respective pueblos.”

The German Naturalist Jagor in his book “A Traveler in the Philippines”, “Spain belongs the glory of having raised to a relatively high grade of civilization, improving greatly their condition, a people which she found on a lower stage of culture distracted by petty wars and despotic rule. Protected from outside enemies, governed by mild laws, the inhabitants of those splendid islands, taken as a whole, have no doubt passed a more comfortable life during recent centuries than the people of any tropical country whether under their own or European rule.”

Frederick Sawyer, a British businessman who lived in the Philippines for many years including the decades of 1890’s, in his book “The Inhabitants of the Philippines Islands” heaped praises on the friars accomplishments in the Philippines. “Let us be just, what British, Dutch and French colony, populated by natives, can compare with the Philippines as they were in 1895,” he concluded his defense of the friars and Spanish rule.

In the first decades of the American rule when the Friar lands was a burning issue, Stephen Bonsal, a Protestant correspondent of the New York Tribune wrote an article in the North American Review defending the Friars. He mentioned the Friars role in the education of the natives, the churches, roads, bridges, and villages they built, the commercial plants they introduced, their work in agricultural extension, their services as soldiers. On the 10 million valuation of the Friars lands, Bonsal wrote: “There are half a dozen foreign firms in Manila without the knowledge of the people and the islands which the Friars possess, who have made as much as this out of the Philippines within the decade.” He did not cover up that the Friars, being men, had been swayed by human passions at times and, therefore they are not without stain. Nevertheless, his overall judgment of the Friars will be echoed by historians who cares to dig the truth. “But when time has calmed the controversy to which the termination of their mission in its medieval shape has given rise, it will be seen that under their guidance a large portion of the Filipinos have reached at much higher stage of civilization than has been attained by other branches of the Malay family under other circumstances and in another environment. I believe the work of the Friars is recorded in the golden book.”

It will surprise many Filipinos that during the American period, the most outspoken and spirited defenders of  the Friars were American journalists Walter Robb and Percy Hill who were not Catholics. Robb came to the Philippines as a teacher but later gravitated towards journalism and became the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce. He wrote many articles about the Friars’ accomplishments in that history-minded publication.

On the other hand, Percy Hill came here with the invading army in the Philippine American war. He became a school teacher for a few years and then settled to a farm in Nueva Ecija where he became a big rice farmer. All the while, he wrote about the Philippines during the Spanish era. He wrote many articles on the Friars’ work in Northern Luzon, and was ahead of William Henry Scott and other historians in praising Fr. Juan Villaverde’s mission in Ifugao country.

Both Robb and Hill based their history articles on their readings of history in the National Library. Both are fluent in Spanish unlike today’s history writers whose articles are recycled history from shallow and distorted sources in English.


Undated article written by chemist and historian, Pio Andrade Jr. He sent this article to me last week. Posted here with his permission.


7 responses to “Non-Spanish, Non-Catholic Defenders of the Friars

  • Neopelagianus

    Reblogged this on Judica Me, Deus and commented:
    Another reason why I don’t see any merit in reading Rizal’s Noli and El Fili in the Third and Fourth Year. MOST (not all) cannot discern between satire and propaganda against reality and truth. While I do not believe that friars are without guilt, I believe that these Damaso-mentality has its roots in these novels.

    The logical fallacy that all friars are bad! Ha! I would rather prefer a Salvi or a Damaso rather than the sons of Lolong in the Congress and the Senate.


  • John Earle

    Thank you for your continued stream of stimulating thoughts and observations. I have a few comments on this post and the replies.

    In most forms of the English language, the word ‘lie’ has the meaning of a deliberate attempt to give information which can later be shown to be untrue. In evidence-based historical interpretation and analysis, such strong language has no place and does not make the writer’s point more convincing. False information (as opposed to poor interpretation) is sooner or later found out. You cannot accuse anyone of writing lies unless there is proof of the falsehood of the statements. Discussion is the way forward, not accusations.

    On a minor point of historical accuracy, Sir John Bowring’s visit to the Philippines was for a period of about seven or eight weeks starting on 29 November 1858 (and not 1850 as stated). In tune with European cultural attitudes of the time, he believed that Christianity brought benefits to peoples who were viewed as less sophisticated and like most Europeans he held an unshakeable view that any sane person would recognise that Christianity was best. However, his prime interest in the Philippines was to assess prospects for expanding trade with Britain but that did not stop him observing and recording his observations on all aspects of Philippines life.

    Writings by Bowring and others are a valuable record of life in the Philippines in previous centuries but interpretation must always take careful account of the different historical contexts.

    • De AnDA

      Thanks John.

      Governor Bowring’s accounts is fascinating. Some of the things he wrote about, you could still observe today. I’m sure the Friars had faults. There were many recorded abuses—as they say in the courts, those stays in the records.

      But I have encountered cases like that of Padre Ezekiel Moreno, who later became a Saint, too. And this, I found, are not isolated cases. There were many missionaries who looked after the natives and showed them compassion and love.

      But, generations of Filipinos grew up hearing about the Padre Damasos and other evil portrayals of the missionaries. So I understand also the resentment towards such claims that there were good missionaries. In the early years of the Spanish days here, these men were so rare that if they aroused hatred among the native, they could get killed easy. But most of them remained here until their deaths, with the churches they built still standing today. It is hard to imagine, given the state of our historical education, that some of them were loved by the natives.

  • Admin

    you wrote above: “With no oither arms but faith, the Religious Orders pacified and civilized the Philippines archipelago,” write Frenchman Jean Mallat who stayed in the Philippines for 6 months in the 1790 and traveled to many places in the islands. THIS IS A LIE because they can say what they want to say because the naives at that time have no way of telling their stories. The bloody massacres of native peoples in the Caribbean and South America by christian missionaries will always be in the history of these places. What about the Philippines. As a FIlipino myself, we hate to remember bloody and gory incidents. Even if it is the truth, we cover it up and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    • De AnDA

      Those events you mentioned happened. I think it’s well documented. But were they committed by the Friars? Ever heard of reservations created by the missionaries to protect the Indians in those parts? Here in our country, could you point me to any written historical accounts of this “massacres” committed by the Friars? Honestly, I would want to read these “truth”.

    • De AnDA

      By the way, the article was written by a friend, historian and chemist Pio Andrade Jr.

    • Pepe

      Admin, you can also say what you want to say if that is the only argument you have. Also, you should show proof that what these chroniclers wrote were lies. Anyway, if you’ve read this article carefully (which I doubt you didn’t), all these descriptions about the friars and their works in our country during the Spanish times were written by NON-CATHOLIC visitors (and invaders even). So I really do not see how these chroniclers, all of whom were NON-FILIPINOS and NON-SPANIARDS, benefited from their praise of the friars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: