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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

God, Knowledge, and Status

The Philippines strived to be an independent country for over three hundred years. The Filipinos resisted no matter which empire, Spain or America, was the colonial master. Religion and education are important factors in both the efforts to control the Philippines and the resistance against colonialism; however, race is an underlying factor embedded within the two. During the Philippines’ two periods of colonialism, both countries found it crucial to Christianize the Filipinos.

Spain and America viewed spreading Christianity as a way to assert their dominance. Patronato Real was the primary way Spain exercised control through religion. This system was “essentially a Crown policy that set rules for the presence and behavior of the Catholic Church in the colonies.”[1] The friars were an integral part in maintaining control in the Philippines. Race was a factor, which divided the peninsulares and insulares clergy. While both held the same position in the church, the insulares were deemed lower-ranking because they were considered to be from the subordinate race. The church and state forced the natives to resettle, lose their autonomy, and be “consolidated to form pueblos” in town plazas.[2] By doing so, the people were “within hearing distance of the church” for religious instruction.[3] Although the friars physically relocated the natives to Christianize them, their main goal was to convert all the colonists to be Christians regardless of their race. The priests used religious fear and acquired almost “400,000 acres…of cultivated land”[4] purchased through “exorbitant fees” collected from the colonial subjects no matter, which race they identified as.[5] The church became the literal and figurative center of the native’s daily life, but the colonists also used religion to resist the empire.

Native priests, secular clergy, and the Muslim population resisted Spanish and American domination. These religious figureheads advocated for nationalism and the freedom to practice a “personalized belief system.”[6] During the American colonial period, the native Filipino priests succeeded in establishing a church, which “embodied one of the revolution’s goals: the displacement of the friar orders by Filipino clergy.”[7] With religious ideals at the foundation of resistance, illustrated the clash between opposing views, which united groups to organize and compete for dominance. While religion was an important element in both the efforts to control the Philippines and the resistance against colonialism, equally important was the colony’s education system.

Both countries aimed to educate and impose their language—and inevitably their culture— upon the colonists. During the Spanish colonial period, “…the religious orders had shaped the landscape of higher education in the country by founding colleges and universities.”[8] The goal was to instruct in Castilian and indoctrinate religion. The Educational Decree of 1863 “privileged only the peninsulares and native wealthy.”[9] Race and social status coincide, as many privileged and wealthy people had lighter skin, but those selected to attend school was based on socioeconomic class. It was important to Spain and America for Filipinos to hold a university degree. For example, a program was set up to send “qualified Filipinos” to the United States to “earn their university degrees.”[10] The American colonial masters hoped “mass education in English,” which “produce[d] trained people would return and take over the tasks of civil administration.”[11] Those selected for the program “were usually drawn from middle-to upper middle-class families.”[12] This demonstrated the United States favoritism towards the elite, which further solidified the Philippine class structure. The colonial masters further advanced wealthy families by providing higher education. The remaining colonists, however, received enough education to assimilate and comply with the empire’s ideologies. While an education gap existed among the classes, the colonial regime’s main goal was to educate all their subjects despite any racial differences. Control was maintained through a knowledge-based hierarchy, but education enabled resistance.

As the natives acquired knowledge, their colonial masters became less of a mystery. Education presented itself as an opportunity to rise up. Because more colonists were literate, they were able to make sense of the world around them and became more “…eager to show that they were capable of running the country without outside help.”[13] Throughout the American colonial period, nationalists campaigned for self-government. They drafted multiple constitutions drawing their ideas from “several South American countries.”[14] Additionally, the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916 and the Tydings-McDuffie Act were two forms of legislation, which called for representation and independence from America. The gift of education not only brought forth more official means of protest compared to early and unsuccessful rebellions during the Spanish colonial period, but it also helped people to rise to power.

Control was maintained through a social hierarchy, but it provided an opportunity for those with prominent status to resist. The offspring between a native mother and a Chinese man, also known as a Chinese mestizo, formally were of low social standing, yet they climbed the social ladder and earned positions of power. For example, the Chinese mestizos “competed with alcalde mayors or provincial governors, the religious orders, and ethnically pure Chinese in positioning themselves economically.”[15] This group assimilated and “constituted the new principalia” or the prominent citizens. Nationalism advocate, Jose Rizal, became a “rallying image” during the Propaganda Movement.[16] Because of he was a descendant of the high class, also known as an ilustrado, he utilized his higher education knowledge to publish the Noli me Tangere. This book is about “the powerful and searing indictment of corruption” in the Philippines.[17] His literature was circulated confidentially, but “the Noli’s existence made the dream of Philippine independence possible.”[18] Although Rizal came from an ilustrado family, he used the advantages of his social class to work against colonialism rather than for it.

In an effort to control the Philippines, Spain and America Christianized the Philippines and emphasized higher education for the elite as a means to exercise control. The Filipinos, however, used religion, education, and class structure to rise up against their colonial masters. While race was an underlying theme both in the efforts to control the Philippines and resistance against colonialism during both Spanish and American periods, it was not the dominant factor.


[1] Luis Francia, A History of the Philippines : from Indios Bravos to Filipinos (New York: Overlook Press, 1910), 63.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid., 124.

[5] Ibid., 71.

[6] Ibid., 90.

[7] Ibid., 160.

[8] Ibid., 103.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 165.

[11] Ibid., 164-165.

[12] Ibid., 165.

[13] Ibid., 143.

[14] Ibid., 142.

[15] Ibid., 111.

[16] Jose Rizal, introduction to Noli me Tangere, trans. Harold Augenbraum (New York: Penguin, 2006), xxii.

[17] Francia, 120.

[18] Rizal, xxi.

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