February 17, 2022 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Execution of the three Filipino Martyr-Priests
by Joel Vasquez Ocampo
One hundred fifty years ago - on February 17, 1872 - three Filipino Catholic priests were executed at Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta Park, in Manila City: Padre Mariano Gomez, a priest of Bacoor, Cavite; Padre José Burgos, a priest of the Manila Cathedral; and Padre Jacinto Zamora, a parish priest of Marikina, collectively known as GomBurZa. These three Filipino Catholic priests died fighting for the rights of Filipino priests and for our country.
Padre Jose Burgos
One of them, Padre José Burgos was assigned to the Manila Cathedral. He was one of the main proponents of secularization, which would allow secular (Filipino) clergy to get the position of parish priest from Spanish friars, known as “regulars”, who are members of religious congregations.
He studied college at the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán and University of Sto. Tomas. He was one of the most brilliant Filipinos of his time. He finished seven degrees, including two doctorates. He became a canonical magistrate (mahistradong kanonikal) of the Manila Cathedral.
Yet in spite of his high position, he fought for Filipino priests with lower ranks. Such was his fame that his name was used in a revolt in Cavite on January 20, 1872, causing his arrest and eventually his execution.
Padre Jacinto Zamora
Padre Jacinto Zamora was also one of those who supported secularization.
He studied at Colegio de San Juan de Letrán for his bachelors degree and at the University of Santo Tomas for his degrees in Theology and Canon Law in 1858. After his ordination, he served as a parish priest in Marikina and Pasay.
He directed a campaign against the abusive Spanish friars and fought for equal rights among priests. While serving as parish priest in Metro Manila, Padre Zamora witnessed the unjust treatment of the Spanish friars against Filipino priests.
Padre Mariano Gomez
Padre Mariano Gomez also studied at the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán and then pursued theology at the University of Santo Tomas.
As a priest in Cavite, through the Sacrament of Confession, he learned about the heartaches and situations of abused Filipinos workers. Being true to his mission as priest, he protected until his death the seal of confession.
Archbishop Gregorio Meliton Martinez
During the execution of GOMBURZA, the Governor-General of the Philippines, Rafael Izquierdo, requested Archbishop Gregorio Melitón Martínez, the 22nd Archbishop of Manila, to order the three priests to remove their priests' habit so that they will not die as priests. The archbishop refused the request. Instead, he commanded that all the church bells be tolled during the time of execution.
The Rise of Secular Priests
According to historians, there two categories of priests that served the Catholic Church in the Philippines during the Spanish regime: “regulars” and “secular”. The “regular” priests were those who belonged to religious orders such as the Franciscans, Recollects, Dominicans, and Augustinians. Meanwhile, “secular” priests did not belong to any religious order.
Most of the Filipino priests then were secular. They were trained specifically to run the parishes and were under the supervision of the bishops.
When Bishops insisted on visiting parishes that were being run by regular priests to check on the administration of these parishes, regular priests refused and threatened to abandon their parishes if the bishops persisted.
In 1774, Archbishop Basilio Tomás Sancho y Hernando decided to maintain the diocese’s authority over the parishes and accepted the resignations of the regular priests. The archbishop assigned secular priests, including Filipino seculars to take their place.
On November 9, 1774, a royal decree was issued which provided for the secularization of all parishes or the transfer of parochial administration from the regular friars to the secular priests. Because of this royal decree, the regulars felt aggrieved and protested that Filipinos are unfit for the priesthood because of their brown skin, lack of education, and inadequate experience. The Spaniards were clearly in favor of their own regular priests over Filipino priests.
Fr. Pedro Pablo Peláez, the then Ecclesiastical Governor of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, sided with the Filipinos. He died in an earthquake that destroyed the Manila Cathedral in 1863. After his death, other priests took his place in fighting for the secularization movement. Among them were the GomBurZa.
Thanks to the Padre Mariano Gomez, Padre José Burgos, Padre Jacinto Zamora, and many other Filipino priests who fought for the secularization, the faith of the Filipino people became stronger.