The Day When Aguinaldo Wrote a Letter to the Pope

leo and aguinaldo

Very seldom that history books would mention this but yes, Aguinaldo wrote a letter to the pope. The copy that survived to this day was actually just a draft and so we do not know if ever it had reached Rome. The only way to verify it perhaps is to find it at the Holy See’s Secret Archives—an ambitious task that no one would bother to do anyway.

The letter is actually a reaction to the negotiations being setup by the Vatican in behalf of the Spanish war prisoners. With the detainment of priests, brothers, sisters and a bishop—Most Rev. José Hevía y Campomanes, who happened to be same bishop who elevated my hometown Sison (Alava) into a parish of Nueva Segovia—a question arose among the international community whether they are rightly called prisoners of war according to international standards or should they be instead treated as civilians who deserve to be protected anyway during a war. Such issue reached to the attention of Rome that Queen Regent herself, Maria Cristina, through an audience granted to her by the Papal Nuncio of Madrid, Archbishop Nava di Bontife, appealed to the pope in January 1899 to intercede for the release of the Spanish clergy and the religious.


E. Aguinaldo with G. Aglipay via

The pope then was Leo XIII, who is known today in the history of modern church as the champion of labor rights for his staunch position to improve the condition of labor. An observer would perhaps think that this is the kind of pope whom Aguinaldo would like to negotiate to in behalf of the concerns of the Filipinos. But there is something that stands between them: the issue on the friars as Aguinaldo’s prisoners of war.

The papal nuncio in Madrid sent to Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, the Vatican Secretary of State during that time, the request of the Queen to convince Aguinaldo to release his war prisoners. Speaking in behalf of Pope Leo XIII, Secretary of State Cardinal del Tindaro sent instructions to Achbishop Bernardino Nozaleda, a Dominican and then Archbishop of Manila, to dispose the negotiations by assuring the Filipino camp of the following: a Papal Delegate will be sent to negotiate (meaning, the Spaniards will have no hands in the negotiation but only the Holy See) and parcels of lands shall be given in exchange of the war prisoners especially the friars. The Vatican also asked the help of the secular clergy (priests who do not belong to any religious order) in the Philippines to join them in pleading for the cause of the Spanish clergy, brothers and sisters. In response to this, 44 Filipino secular priests sent a letter to Aguinaldo to express their concern to their Spanish brother-priests. They warned Aguinaldo not to dare God’s wrath by touching the Lord’s anointed. “They belong to the class of those whom our Lord forbids to vilify: Nolite tangere Christos meos.”[1] Threatening Aguinaldo of catastrophes which his actions might incur to the nation due to Divine punishment, the Filipino priests interestingly advanced the release of the Spanish clergy “not only because of feelings proper to the priestly ministry we [they] exercise but also of the natural interest we, as sons of the Philippines, have for the good name and future of our people.”[2]


Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda, OP, last Spanish archbishop of Manila. via

Was Aguinaldo moved in all these efforts to release his unlikely prisoners? Even when the cause was still in Madrid and had not yet reached Rome, some political agenda was being proposed allegedly in the name of Aguinaldo. Isabelo delos Reyes, founder of Aglipayan Church, turned himself up before Papal Nuncio of Madrid claiming to speak as the revolutionary government’s envoy. According to him, the conditions which had been setup by Aguinaldo’s government for the release of the prisoners are the expulsion of the friars and the accession of parishes by the native clergy. Whether these ‘native clergy’ whom de los Reyes was referring to were the dissenting priests of the Aglipayan movement or still the native priests who remained under the Catholic Church, it’s hard to speculate beyond this point. Although the same conditions are reminiscent to the sentiments of Aguinaldo mentioned in his letter to Pope Leo XIII, we do not know in whose inspiration Aguinaldo got that curious interest of detaining the Spanish clergy and the religious despite that it could harm the image of his government which he was struggling then to establish in order to be recognized by the early 20th century international community. Or was it simply a strategy purely of his own? Here is the translation of Aguinaldo’s letter to Pope Leo XIII appeared in Fidel Villaroel, OP’s The Dominicans and the Philippine Revolution. While the title of this post is “The Day When Aguinaldo Wrote a Letter to the Pope,” we can’t honestly place when did this happen. The extant draft is undated and so that day was lost to us—just like any memory of a Filipino revolutionary who dared to write a letter to the leader of the Holy Roman Church for the love of his country.

To His Holiness Pope Leo XIII,

Most Holy Father: With the help of God and the efforts of the people I have given independence to a large part of our territory, and the Philippine archipelago will soon be under its own government of which I am today the president.

Before conveying to you, Holy Father, the political event and the constitution of our government in the form used by diplomacy in similar circumstances, I address this letter to you with the objective of calming your fears as Father of the Catholic Church insofar as what might happen in these islands to your priests.

I read with displeasure that some people have informed Your Holiness that I have imprisoned friars, and that it was my desire to deprive them of their lives.

Allow me to present to your Holiness, whose justice and wisdom is the object of homage and respect by the entire world, that the friars in the Philippines have been one of the more effective causes of the Philippine revolution because of the abuses continually committed at all times both in the religious as well as civil and social orders.

The resentment their conduct has produced in this people is such, and the hatred they motivated is so deeply rooted, that nobody would have been surprised if, at the beginning of the revolution, a total extermination of them had occurred.

But this did not happen, Holy Father, because the Filipino people, always calumniated, is convinced of the justice of its cause and has never once forgotten its humanitarian sentiments. The respect and veneration you inspire in me, Holy Father, compels me to inform you that the news from the European press which you received have no basis whatsoever. My government has always ordered, and its orders have always been obeyed, to respect human life throughout all its territory.

Neither is it true that the Religious prisoner suffer evil treatment. None of our prisoners can formulate this statement. Deign, Most Holy Father, to receive the homage of respect and profound veneration of your servant in God humble servant.[3]

[The letter was probably written by Apolinario Mabini in behalf of Aguinaldo. Notice that the word ‘servant in God’ was replaced with ‘humble servant.’ Villaroel noted that in the document, the word “APPROVED” is seen.]

[1] Fidel Villaroel, OP, The Dominicans and the Philippine Revolution (Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press, 1999), 383.

[2] Villaroel, OP, The Dominicans and the Philippine Revolution, 382.

[3] Villaroel, OP, The Dominicans and the Philippine Revolution, 380-381.

2 responses to “The Day When Aguinaldo Wrote a Letter to the Pope

  1. There’s this story that when Alfonso XIII of Spain died in the 30’s he attended a special mass in Manila Cathedral for the king. This raised some eyebrows of course; when asked why he was there, his response was that “He’s also my King.”

    This is a story told to me by an older relative.

    • Perhaps he was just being sarcastic? But yes, I would not be surprised if he had said that. I’ve seen a picture of him once standing beside a Japanese official during a ceremony. Bad that I can’t find it in the internet.

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