Isabelo de los Reyes
Senator Isabelo delos Reyes was born in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, on July 7, 1864 to Elias de los Reyes and Leona Florentino.
He acquired his early education in the Seminary of Vigan. The cruel discipline imposed by the friar-professors and their arrogance and bigotry inflamed his rebellious spirit so that he came to have a lifelong for frailocracy.
In 1880, at the age of 16, he went to Manila and enrolled in the College of San Juan de Letran. Two years later, on his eighteenth birthday on July 7, 1882, his father died. After receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Letran, he entered the University of Santo Tomas, where he studied law and paleography. In 1886 he finished the course on notary public, but could not practice it because he was then 22 years old - three years short of the minimum age required by law to qualify as notary public.
To supplement the limited monthly allowance he received from his mother, he became a journalist. Writing was in his blood, for he inherited his passionate love for literature and writing ability from his mother. He wrote articles for EI Diario de Manila, La Oceania Espanol, EI Comercio, La Revista Popular, La Opinion, and other Manila newspapers.
On June 14, 1884, while he was a 2O-year old struggling newspaperman, he married Josefa Sevilla of Malabon.
In 1889 he founded the first vernacular newspaper in the Philippines, Elllocano, with himself as editor as well as publisher. This periodical did not last long. However, it achieved distinction in the history of Philippine journalism. He made intensive researches on Philippine history and culture and wrote various historical works, such as Las Islas Visayas en la Epoca de la Conquista(first edition in 187, second edition in 1889); La Expedicion de Li-Mahong contra Filipinas en 1574 (1888); Triuntos del Rosario 0 Los Holandeses en Filipinas (1888); Prehistoria de Filipinas (1889); EI Folklore Filipino (1889); and Historia de Ilocos (1890, 2 vols.).
As a journalist, Don Belong, as he was fondly called, aroused the hostility of the friars and officials because he openly criticized the evils of the Spanish rule and advocate reforms. He particularly denounced the huge haciendas of the religious orders and demanded agrarian reform to ameliorate the miserable conditionof the landless Fillipino tenants. The Spanish authorities naturally branded him as a tilibusterismo (traitor).
In January, 1897, shortly after the execution of the "Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan," Don Belong was arrested and jailed in the Bilibid Prison. He was one of the many patriots who were jailed and tortured because of their complicity in the ranging revolution, which Andres Bonifacio and his katipuneros began in the hills of Balintawak in August, 1896. While he was agonizing in prison, his sick wife died. The inhuman authorities, who called themselves Christians, would not permit him even a few minutes to attend his wife's funeral and see his orphaned children.
Inside the bilibid Prison, Don Belong was able to talk with many inmates, who were katipuneros, and learned from them the history of the Katipunan and the reasons why they rose in arms against Spain. Accordingly, he wrote within his prison cell the Sensacional Memoria sobre la Revolucion Filipina, which became one of the valuable works on the history of the revolution.
The arrival of General Fernando Primo de Rivera in Manila on April 25, 197, as successor of the ruthless Governor-General Camilo de Polavieja (who ordered the execution of many Filipino patriots, including Dr. Rizal), saved Don Belong from the firing squad. This new governor-general, comparatively more humane than Polavieja, deported him to Spain, where he was incarcerated at the infamous Montijuich Castle in Barcelona. When the Pact of Biak-na-Bato was concluded on December 14-15, 1897, he was released. To silence his trenchant pen and win over to Spanish side, he was given a distinguished job as Consejero del Ministery de Ultramar (Counselor of the Ministry of Colonies) in Madrid, a position which he held from 1898 to 1901. At that time, the Spanish-American war was raging in the Philippines and in the West Indies.
While working in the Ministry of Colonies, Don Belong fell in love with a charming Madrilena, Senorita Maria Angeles Lopez Montero, daughter of a retired Spanish infantry colonel. He married her in 1898.
His marriage to a Spanish girl and his having a good job in the Spanish Government did not, however, diminish Don Belong's love for his native land. His patriotism could not be bartered for a beautiful girl and a high government position. In 1899 he published in Madrid La Sensacional Memoria sobre la RevoluciolJ Filip in a , which he had written in the Bilibid Prison. This book stirred great sensation in Spain, for it exposed the evils of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines, such as the native Filipinos, thereby causing the downfall of Spain in Asia. It had a preface written by Don Miguel Morayta, Spanish historian, statesman, professor, and friend of the Fillipino people.
During the Fililpino-American War (1899-1902), he used his pen to lambast the Yankee attack on the First Philippine Republic. He founded and edited two nationalist periodicals in Madrid, EI Defensor de Filipinas and Filipinas Ante Europa. He wrote two books, both published in Madrid, namely, Independencia y Revolucion (1900) which urged the Filipinos to carry on their war against American and La Religion de Katipunan which discussed the teachings and organization of the K.K.K.
On July 1, 1901, the Spanish Government permitted Don Belong to return to the Philippines. He brought many books with him, among which were those written by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Victor Hugo, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and other socialists of Europe. These books inspired him to introduce socialism into his own country. Shortly after his arrival in Manila, he contacted the labor elements, urging them to unite and protect themselves from the avaricious capitalists. He explained to them the benefits the)! would derive by means of collective bargaining. On February 2, 1902. he"founded the first labor union in the Philippines, called the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina (Philippine Democratic labor Union), with himself as president and Hermenegildo Cruz as secretary, Realizing the value of propaganda, he founded and edited the first labor newspaper in the country, La Redencion del Obrero (The Redemption of the laborer), which championed the rights of labor.
Utilizing his labor leadership, Don Belong, in a meeting of about 42 members of his labor organization at the Centro de Bellas Artes in Quiapo on August 3, 1902, launched the Philippine Independent Church and proclaimed Father Gregorio Aglipay as the Supreme bishop. Shortly after this, he led a general strike of factory laborers and farm tenants against the American business firms and friar-owned haciendas. This general strike was sparked by a strike of the Filipino cigar workers against the Commercial Tobacco factory in Malabon, which was owned by Mr, Moxon, an American businessman. It is said that more than 2,000 laborers and tenants demonstrated in the streets of Manila. Civil Governor Taft had to call the U.S. Calvary to disperse them.
As the mastermind of the abortive general strike, Don Belong was arrested and jailed in Malabon. He was convicted by the court on the charge of public disturbance and sentenced to four months in prison. Because of his imprisonment, the mantle of labor leadership passed to the hands of the fiery Dr. Dominador Gomez on September 3, 1902.
After his release from prison, Don Belong left Manila in February, 1903, for China and Japan. he was able to contact the self-exiled revolutionary general, Artemio Ricarte, in Yokohama, on the Philippine situation.
He returned to Manila, and later, in 1905 he sailed for Spain, where he worked as a juror Uurado) of the Spanish Government in barcelona until 1908. On April 3, 1909, he returned to Manila, with his Spanish wife and children. His wife died on February 10,1910.
In 1912, at the age of 48, two great events highlighted Don Belong's life - first was his marriage for the third time ans second, his election as councilor of the city of Manila. His third wife was Maria Um, a pretty 18-year old Chinese mestiza of Tondo. By winning a seat in the city council, he began his political career. Impelled by his nationalista sentiment and hatred for the friars, he passed through the city council several resolutions changing the names of ceratin streets bearing the names of the friars to those of the Filipino patriots. Owning to his popularity among the asses, he was re-elected for another term and served as city councilor until 1919.
In the senatorial elections of 1922 he launched his candidacy in the First Senatorial District (comprising the Ilocos provinces). His opponent was ; Representative Elpidio Quirino, a rising Ilokano politician. He won after a hard campaign. On May 27, 1923, while serving his term in the Senate (1922-1928), his third wife died of childbirth.
Upon the expiration of his senatorial term, Don Belong gave up politics and devoted the last years of his life to religion and writing. As an honorary Bishop of the Aglipayan Church, he wrote many sermons and other religious tracts. It should be noted that he was the author of most of the Aglipayan literature, such as the Biblia Filipina (Philippine Bible), Oficio Divino (Mass-Book), Catequesis (Catechism), Plegarias (Prayers), Genesis Cientifico y Moderno (Scientific and Modern Genesis), and Calendario Aglipayano (Aglipayan Calendar). He also translated into Iloko the Gospels of St. John, St. Luke, St. Mark, and St. Matthew; the New Testament; and the Acts of the Apostles.
In January, 1829, Don Belong was stricken with paralytic and became bed-ridden until his death on October 10, 1938, at the age of 74. He was survived by 15 of his 27 children by his three marriages.