Philippine Independent Church

(Iglesia Filipina Independiente, IFI)

Catholic missionary work started in the Philippines in 1565 when Augustinian missionaries arrived with the conquering Spanish army. Within a few years most of the population had been baptized. Franciscans, Jesuits and others joined the Augustinians in the 17th century. The church soon became an integral part of the colonial government. There were instances of protests and revolts against Spanish friars in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was the 19th century that saw the emergence of organized struggle within the Filipino church. The martyrdom of three Filipino priests in 1872 raised nationalist consciousness. This culminated in the 1896 Philippine Revolution; independence was proclaimed in 1898. That same year the Americans defeated the Spanish and took over the Philippines as a colony. The Filipino-American war ended in 1902 with the defeat of the Filipinos. It was in this context that the Philippine Independent Church was born in 1902, out of the aspiration of the Filipinos for genuine independence, democracy and abundant life.

Partly because of the appeal of nationalism, the church drew some two million former Roman Catholics into its membership. But in 1906 the supreme court ruled that all the churches they were using should be returned to the Roman Church. This seriously weakened the new denomination. Under the theological leadership of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay, the IFI adopted a Unitarian stance, but after his death in 1941 it returned to a more Catholic position and entered in 1961 into inter-communion with the Philippine Episcopal Church with which it now shares a seminary. Strong relationships were developed with other Anglican churches in the world and with Old Catholic churches, which eventually resulted in full communion with the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. The IFI and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines signed a covenant of partnership in 1999.

The mission statement of the IFI says that as a community of faith steeped in the nationalist history and the workers' struggle in the Philippines, it affirms its commitment to its historical mission and ministry in empowering the poor, deprived and oppressed through its liberative education, organizing and mobilizing of the Filipino people in pursuing life in its fullness. The church envisions a Philippine nation that is free from foreign domination, where justice and peace reign, and whose people are united in active witness to God's love in the world.

The IFI now has two colleges in Manila and in Southern Leyte, three theological seminaries, 14 primary and secondary schools, and many kindergartens. It is much involved in peace-building ministry, human and democratic rights advocacy and ecumenical linkages. It pursues better Christian education and stewardship; the training of more dedicated priests and more aggressive campaigns against all forms of poverty are high on its agenda. Among its programme objectives the IFI seeks to fully inform its members of its history, mission and ministry, to enhance the interaction between national, diocesan and local levels, to establish effective instruments for the implementation of its activities and to achieve recognition as a pillar of Philippine society.