The Iglesia Filipina Independiente was formed in the beginning of the twentieth century as part of the broad nationalist struggle against Spanish colonialism and American imperialism. It traces its origin from the struggle of the Filipino clergy against racial discrimination and friar domination within the Roman Church in the 19th century, which, consequently, transformed into a nationalist crusade for the absolute Filipinization of the Church in the twilight years of the 20th century.
Fr. Gregorio Aglipay played an important role in the revolutionary war to overthrow Spanish rule and in the struggle for the Filipinization of the Church. In his capacity as Military Vicar of the Revolutionary Government, he gathered Filipino priests to a special meeting on October 1898 to lay down the organizational foundation of the Filipino Church. The formal institution of the Philippine Church was however prevented by the intrusion of the United States of America in the course of the revolutionary war against Spain.
Fr. Aglipay, who fought in the Ilocos region against US aggression, returned to Manila in 1901 following his negotiated surrender and immediately resumed the crusade for the Filipinization of the Church. While keeping an eye on how the US colonial set up might influence reformation within the Roman Church, he explored the potential of cooperating with Protestant Churches which had his efforts irreverently refused.
It was during this period, when the institutional and missionary churches were cooperating with the colonial government, and patriotic Filipinos continue to sustain the struggle for national democracy in the backdrop of US colonial set up, that the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was born. A public protest spearheaded by the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), first labor confederation in the country, publicly proclaimed the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in August 3, 1902. Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr., president of the labor confederation, nominated Fr. Aglipay as Obispo Maximo (Supreme Bishop). Fr. Aglipay eventually joined the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and headed the signatories of the Temporary Constitution on October 1902.
Obispo Maximo Gregorio Aglipay headed the Iglesia Filipina Independiente from 1902 to 1940. He charted the course of the nascent Church in an epoch of strong nationalism and critical opposition to US domination. Consequentially, the Church espoused a theology that approached religion in a nationalistic and scientific way. The Church has expressed in its rituals, music, and worship the enduring aspiration of the Filipinos for national democracy. Obispo Maximo Aglipay likewise earned the reputation of cooperating with Filipino socialists and communists in his many political endeavors, and supported peasant uprisings and continuous political resistance to the colonial structure.
Bishop Santiago Fonacier was elected Obispo Maximo by the General Assembly in October 1940, a month after Obispo Maximo Aglipay passed away. He would lead the Church during the four years of Japanese occupation of the country. He was replaced by Bishop Gerardo Bayaca in 1946 following questions on doctrinal positions and a stringent leadership conflict in the hierarchy.
In the post-war period, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente would consolidate itself under a new Constitution and Canons in 1947. In the three decades that would follow, under the competent leadership of Bishop Isabelo de los Reyes as the fourth Obispo Maximo (1946-1972), the Church would concentrate on developing and nurturing its institutional life. Bishop de los Reyes strengthened the theological position of the Church and ushered in the forging of concordat relations with various Churches in many countries and sought membership in national and international ecumenical bodies.
The 1972 General Assembly elected Bishop Macario Ga as the fifth Obispo Maximo (1972-1981). His leadership was challenged by the general political situation in the country during the martial law years. It was a period that witnessed the growing militancy of most of the grass-root oriented clergy and youth who sought to bring new life to the national and democratic heritage of the Church. During this infernal phase of the country’s history, the Church moved towards a progressive stance with regards socio-political issues.
The adoption of a new Constitution and Canons in 1977 marked another important milestone in the institutional life of the Church. It opened the doors for the empowerment of lay people and greater participation in the governance of the Church. It strengthened the institutional foundation of the life and work of the Church with the implementation of various programs on education and skill enhancement, stewardship and resource generation and organizational consolidation.
The two decades that would follow, under the successive leadership of four Obispos Maximos – Bishop Abdias de la Cruz (1981-1987), Bishop Soliman Ganno (1987-1989) Bishop Tito Pasco (1989-1993), and Bishop Alberto Ramento (1993-1999) – witnessed the conscious renewal of the historical mission and further institutional growth of the Church.
The first General Assembly under the 1977 Constitution and Canons was held on May 1981 at the National Cathedral. The Most Reverend Abdias de la Cruz was elected as the sixth Obispo Maximo. His administration would however be beset with the problem of separation led by former Obispo Maximo Ga who refused to concede to his defeat and formed the Iglesia Catolica Filipina Independiente (ICFI).
The Church elected the Most Reverend Soliman Ganno as the seventh Obispo Maximo in the General Assembly of May 1987. It was during his term that the Statement on Development was adopted which laid down the agenda for renewal on the various aspects of the institutional life of the Church. The statement likewise embodied the continuous and conscious effort of the Church to recapture its historical heritage. Obispo Maximo Ganno, however, passed away after two years of fruitful leadership.
The Special General Assembly that was convened on June 1989 elected Obispo Maximo Tito Pasco to serve the unfinished term of the late Obispo Maximo Ganno. Obispo Maximo Pasco pursued the agenda set forth by his predecessor and initiated concrete programs towards the organizational development of the Church. He launched the Three-Year Vision Program in October 1990 which was aimed to enhance stewardship and education in the Church. In 1992, he led the launching of the Comprehensive National Program (CNP) of the Church which was meant to build up effective organizational structures and institute processes that would facilitate the various program concerns of the Church. The Centennial Decade Celebration was also launched in this year to prepare for the one hundred year proclamation anniversary of the Church.
The Most Reverend Alberto Ramento was elected as the ninth Obispo Maximo during the May 1993 General Assembly. He embarked on an intensified campaign for stewardship and further empowerment of the laity. He strengthened the capability of the Church in facilitating the national program with the creation of various commissions in the Central Office. Obispo Maximo Ramento led the Church to an increasing awareness of its prophetic role in the establishment of a just society. He was recognized as peacemaker and endorsed as member of the joint monitoring committee on the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). It was during his term that the concordat between the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Church of Sweden was signed in 1995.
The May 1999 General Assembly elected Bishop Tomas Millamena as the tenth Obispo Maximo. His centerpiece program is embodied in the Ten Year Strategic Plan of the Church that was approved in 2002. Obispo Maximo Millamena worked towards the strengthening of Church leadership bodies through an intensified education campaign. Episcopal study-conferences, regional clergy convocations, and lay congresses were held to consolidate the different strata of leadership in the Church. He likewise pursued the implementation of important policies that would correspond to financial and property management. Obispo Maximo Millamena held the apostolic staff in leading the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in celebrating its centenary in August 2002.
The Most Reverend Ephraim Servanez Fajutagana was elected in the May 2011 General Assembly as the twelfth Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.