Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Isabelo de los Reyes on Stamps

Isabelo de los Reyes, popularly known as " Don Belong", was a law graduate of the University of Santo Tomas majoring also in philosophy, history and anthropology. He was a Notary Public at age twenty-two. He was the founder and the first president of the first Labor Union in Manila. A founding member of the Philippines Independent Church, he also served as councilor of Manila for two years and finally as senator for six years.

Born to Elias de los Reyes and the poetess Leona Florentino in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, he attended schools in Vigan and Manila. He followed his mother's footsteps by initially turning to writing as a career and became a journalist, editor, and publisher in Manila.

At 6 years old, due to troubled marriage of his parents, Isabelo was entrusted to a rich relative, Meno Crisologo, who later enrolled him into a grammar school attached to their local seminary run by Augustinians.

In 1880, at age 16 he escaped to Manila where he finished Bachiller en Artes at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. After that, he studied law, history and palaeography at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas.

In 1887, at the age of 23, he won a silver medal at the Exposición Filipina in Madrid for a huge Spanish-language manuscript he called El folk-lore filipino. It was the same year Jose Rizal published his first novel, Noli Me Tangere in Berlin. As a teenager, he was inspired to write about the foundation of this "new science" concerned about el saber popular or folklore, as he read an appeal in Manila's Spanish newspaper La Oceania Española (founded 1877) asking readers to contribute articles to develop the science of el folk-lore, followed by a simple sketch of how this was to be done. Two months later Isabelo set to work not merely on folklore of Ilocos, but also on his future wife's township of Malabon on the outskirts of Manila, on the Central Luzon province of Zambales, and in general terms, what he called el folk-lore filipino. It became one of the greatest passions of his life. By 1886, just as the French was starting to pursue a national effort of applying the study of folklore on their own native tradition, Isabelo is already producing a manuscript for publishing.

After his father died he was obliged to support himself and did so while pursuing his passion in writing, he contributed to most of Manila's newspapers. And in 1889 he founded the first vernacular newspaper in the country, El Ilocano, , said to be the first such newspaper written solely in a Philippine vernacular. He continued to write and research extensively on Philippine history and culture.

As a journalist, he almost faced the firing squad for attracting the ire of Spanish authorities in highlighting Spanish church and governmental abuses. He turned his writings against the Americans when they took over in 1898, and took advantage of rapidly changing sentiments of the Spanish intelligentsia as they saw America taking over the remnants of the Spanish overseas empire. In Madrid, he published fortnightly Filipinas ante Europa with the editorial Logo: "Contra Norte-America, no; contra el imperialismo, sí, hasta la muerte!" ("Against the Americans, NO; against Imperialism, YES, till death!") It ran for 36 issues between 25 October 1899 and 10 June 1901. After closing (probably due to trouble with the authorities), it briefly reappeared as "El Defensor de Filipinas" which ran monthly from 1 July to 1 October 1901. But Don Belong isn't only a journalist; according to the chronicles of the Philippine Bible Society, he also helped in translating the Bible in Ilocano. He did this when he was detained, thus making him one of the few convicts to translate the Scriptures.

He was later jailed when he returned to the Philippines for inciting labor strikes against American business firms. Influenced by European socialism (specially during his imprisonment in Barcelona), as well as Marxism, Isabelo de los Reyes founded the first labor union in the country in 1902, the Unión Obrera Democrática Filipina, against what he perceived as the impending exploitation of Filipino labor by American capitalist institutions. In the same year, he, along with UNO members launched the Philippine Independent Church in response against the Catholic Church, and chose his fellow Ilocano compatriot, Gregorio Aglipay, as its first bishop.

In 1923, he won a Senate seat in an election against Elpidio Quirino, representing the Ilocos region. After his term, he went back to private life and dedicated the remainder of his life to religious writings for the Aglipayan church as an honorary bishop. Writing sermons and other Christian literature, he translated the bible and its various components into his native Ilocano. However, nearing death, he retracted and returned to Catholicism in 1938. De los Reyes was married and widowed three times and had 27 children.

The stamp was issued in May 4, 1982.