Brothers of Rizal’s Padre Damaso: Cost of Burying the Dead During the Spanish Colonial Period
The stories of Spanish friar abuses of parish fees (“arancel parroquiales”) collected for burying the dead stood out as one of the litany of sins of the brothers of Rizal’s Padre Damaso (Rizal’s iconic figure of friar abuses). Last year’s publication of Stuart’s “Revolutionary Routes” brings to light the memory of one family’s refusal to pay for a funeral service and the consequent friar’s rage over this revolutionary act. Present day readers ignorant of the arancel controversy during the Spanish colonial period might ask: what was the fuss all about?
Image: How Much For A Funeral Service With Three Priests? (Source: Museo de Santisima Trinidad).
Marcelo H. Del Pilar, foremost revolutionary propagandist, must have realized early on that people’s anger about friar abuses of parish fees could be exploited for revolutionary’s aims. After all, most everyone had to get married, or baptized, or be buried (probably some, sooner than later). According to Fr. John N. Schumacher, S.J., Del Pilar “… printed the official church schedule of stole fees to be offered for baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc., together with a tagalog translation” in order to “…reduce the income of friars or at least incense the people against their parish priest...”(Schumacher, John, N., The Propaganda Movement, 1880-1895: The creation of a Filipino Consciousness, 2000, p. 154-155). Resil B. Mojares, in his “Brains of the Nation” called Del Pilar a “provocateur with a feel for the public nerve, he even translated to Tagalog the official church schedule of stole fees for services like baptisms and funerals, Arancel de los Derechos Parroquiales, to stoke public indignation over commercialized religion (2006, p. 455).
Image: Front Cover of Arancel de Los Derechos Parroquiales and sample page showing both Spanish and Tagalog text.
Marcel Del Pilar translated into Tagalog the Spanish edition of the arancel that was printed by the University of Santo Tomas in 1870 and which was based in the 1771 arancel signed by Archbishop Sancho de Santas Justa y Rufina. Actually, the publication showed both Spanish and Tagalog text using two columns thus allowing for an easier comparison of both versions. Directly or indirectly, both Fr. John and Mr. Mojares seem to acknowledge that del Pilar’s publication of the “Arancel de los Derechos Parroquiales en las Islas Filipinas:Publicado Con Su Traduccion En Tagala” in 1890 played a significant role in the propaganda efforts that led to the 1896 revolution.
After the outbreak of the 1896 Philippine revolution, some Spanish newspapers highlighted friar abuses as the cause for the existential anger of the Filipinos against both Spanish individuals and institutions of the Spanish empire in the Philippines. The Spanish newpaper, La Autonomia, printed the “Katipunan y los frailes” which listed a litany of friar sins among which included the refusal of friars to bury the dead of the poor for free, or even worse, to force the poor to dispose of what little they to pay for the funeral of their beloved relatives (see “Katipunan y los frailes ” in La Autonomia, Diaro Republicano, Jan 29, 1898, p.2-3,). Maybe to deflect criticisms about governmental failures, Governor General Fernando Primo de Rivera y Sobremonte, in his address to the Spanish Senate in August 1898, targeted squarely the friars when he mentioned that one of the things that most exasperated the people was the abuse by the friars of the parish fees without regard for the people’s ability to pay (Memoria Dirigada al Senado por el Capitan General Fernando Primo de Rivera y Sobremonte, Acerca de Su Gestion de Filipinas, 1898, p.172).
During the early American colonial period, members of the Philippine commission conducted a series of meetings regarding the religious orders in the Philippines. From around July 31, 1900 to about Nov 15, 1900, around 38 individuals testified about their knowledge of the affairs of the religious and one of the standard questions asked of “witnesses” revolved around the question of parish fees. Not surprisingly, a good number of the invited “resource persons” (in the parlance of today’s Senate investigation in the aid of legislation) shared stories about friar abuses of the arancel.
Felipe G. Calderon, well known lawyer who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, characterized the parish fees as being “very heavy and always increasing because I have to pay for the birth, marriage, and burial fees of all my tenants and servants, and they are charged on an ever increasing scale…(p.146).” Maximo Viola, a medical doctor from Bulacan, narrated that “if the patient dies the family is compelled to have a most expensive funeral, with all the incidental expenses which go to the church, or be threatened with deportation or imprisonment; and if the dead person is a pauper, and has naturally nothing to pay with, or if he is a servant or a tenant, the master of employer has to pay or he will be deported, as happened to my brother-in-law, Moises Santiago, who was a pharmacist, and was deported in the month of November, 1895; because he did not pay the funeral expenses of the son of the female servant in his house. The father of this child was a laborer, and had funds sufficient to defray the burial expenses, and the friar was so informed by my brother-in-law, and they said they had nothing to do with that, and that he was his master and would have to pay or suffer the consequences, which he did ( p.156).” In addition, Dr. Viola states that if a pauper dies…”without burial fees, his corpse is often allowed to rot, and there has been many cases where the sacristans of the church have been ordered by the friar to hang the corpse publicly, so that relatives may be thus compelled to seek the fees somewhere sufficient to bury the corpse (p.157).” Jose Garcia del Fierro, from Nueva Caceres, noted that fees for internments “…were excessive” and that “at times the corpse would be left unburied for many hours because the curate did not wish the burial to be carried into effect without the fees he charged being first paid” (p.214). As a specific example. Mr. Fierro cited the case of Dona Lucia del Fierro who died around 1866 or 1867 in Zambales. Apparently, the concerned friar, a Recoleto by the name of Fray Mariano Rincon, presented an excessive bill prior to burial with instruction that the relatives needed to pay the bill first otherwise there would be no burial. The relatives agreed to pay on condition that a detailed accounting of the each item for the burial fees should be included. Needless to say, the friar agreed, the relatives paid for the bill, but they never got the detailed accounting that the friar promised to provide them (p. 215). Jose Templo, an agriculturist from Lipa, Batangas, testified how a member of his family died during Holy Week and thus, due to the solemnity of the Holy Week, should have been buried at the cost of one prayer. However, the friar concerned charged the family 40 pesos (1900, p. 209). Nosario Constantino, from Bulacan, remarked that the exact amount of parish fees depended on the “caprice” of the friar and that “….many have to pay four times the official schedule” (1900, p. 150). Ambrosio Flores, a retired officer of the Spanish army but who later became an insurgent general, noted that parish fees were “very excessive” and the friars were “…always compelling the rich in have the greatest amount of ceremony in their weddings, baptisms, and internments – whether they wanted it or not – and cost them thereby a good deal, and if they did not accede to the payment they would say they were Masons or filibusters” (p. 169). Florentino Torres, Attorney General of Islands Under Military Government, noted that the arancel, or printed schedule of parish fees, should have been in public view, but “…was never seen or known in the majority of parishes, and in many of them the fees were charged at the caprice and at the will of the parish priests ...”(p. 186).
In summary, the testimonies cited above criticized the brothers of Padre Damaso for the following behaviors: a. not publicly posting the schedule of fees as per 1771 arancel; b. charging fees for funeral services greater than what was stated in the schedule; c. forcing families, especially the more well-to-do, to avail of the more “expensive” funeral services. Finally, failure of the families to pay for the funeral fees led to various indignities (corpse left to rot) or injustices (false accusations against family member).
Since the core of the complaints involved the discrepancy between the official schedule of fees and what was actually charged by the friars, the curious is left no choice to ask: what exactly was the allowed schedule of fees as per the 1771 arancel?
During the panel interview of the members of the Philippine commission, the heads of the Dominicans and the Augustinians provided answers to the question of the schedule of fees. However, Fr. Jose Lobo, Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, testified that the burial cost for an adult was at $1.50 while Fr. Santiago Paya, O.P., Dominican Provincial Superior, mentioned that it was at $2.25 (p.73). Were the provincial superiors of the Dominicans and the Augustinians using different schedule of fees? For the burial of children, the Augustinian friar mentioned that it was 75 centavos while the Dominican friar mentioned that it was at $1.50 (p.51). As per Del Pilar’s 1890 arancel de Filipinias, the cost for adult burial was at 3 pesos and at 1.5 pesos for children (if the deceased was a Tagalog). However, it should be noted that burial costs increased for a mestizo (4 pesos for adult, 2 pesos for children) and Spaniards (7 pesos for adults, 3.5 pesos for children). The additional presence of supporting priests, sacristans, choir, vigil masses, etc. added to the cost of the funeral services.
Jose Templo, one of the invited resource persons during the Philippine Commission study on the religious land issue, mentioned in detail the actual burial costs charged by the friars: “for each burial, with prayers, of an adult, if the latter were a pure native, three pesos and fifty cents; for the burial of a Chinese mestizo, with prayers, five pesos; for the burial of a child of native parents, two pesos fifty-six cents; for first-class interment of a child, with coffin and in a pantheon or niche, thirty-seven pesos and fifty cents; if the deceased were the child of Chinese mestizos, a large amount was charged (p. 208).” Consequently, if we just compare burial costs, the difference as per Templo’s testimony and the schedule of fees as per Del Pilar’s arancel will be 50 cents for native adults, and 1 pesos for a child. One wonders why there was a larger discrepancy of burial costs for children?
The passing of time begs the question as to what happened to the practice of arancel among parishes here in the Philippines given the fury and pain experienced during the Spanish colonial period. Well, the practice did continue during the American colonial period (and up to today) as most parishes did not have any other source of income to sustain parochial operations. As a desired state of affairs, the phasing out of the arancel remains one of the key challenges of many parishes here in the Philippines. During the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCPII) in 1991, agreement was reached to replace the arancel with tithing. However, the speed of the removal of the arancel system in each parish needed to be balanced with the spiritual and economic readiness of the parishioners to take on the responsibility of tithing. As an example, the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, under the leadership of Archbishop Socrates. B. Villegas, are on their 2nd year of preparatory efforts to phase out the arancel (“obligatory table of offerings for the administration of the sacraments and sacramentals”) by 2013 (see http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.lingayen-dagupan.org/CircularLetters/arancelsystem.html). The progress and success of this archdiocesan wide effort to replace the arancel system will be keenly watched.
1. Online copy of Del Pilar’s 1890 translation of “Arancel de los Derechos Parroquiales” is available at http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/dms/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN618599185&PHYSID=PHYS_0007
2. Online copy of the testimonies available at “Lands held for ecclesiastical or religious uses in the Philippine Islands, etc. Message from the President of the United States, transmitting…a report from the secretary of war, with accompanying papers…also transmitting certified copies of the acts of the Philippine commission, numbers 56 to 68, inclusive. February 25, 1901 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89016963100).