Filipinos and Freemasonry
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Talk for the Annual 2010 Multi-District Convention for All Masonic Lodges in the Philippines
Plaridel Masonic Temple, San Marcelino St., Manila
November 27, 2010
FREEMASONS, n. An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies and fantastic costumes, which, originating in the reign of Charles II, among working artisans of London, has been joined successively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man on the hither side of Adam and is drumming up distinguished recruits among the pre-Creational inhabitants of Chaos and Formless Void. The order was founded at different times by Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Cyrus, Solomon, Zoroaster, Confucius, Thothmes, and Buddha. Its emblems and symbols have been found in the Catacombs of Paris and Rome, on the stones of the Parthenon and the Chinese Great Wall, among the temples of Karnak and Palmyra and in the Egyptian Pyramids -always by a Freemason. —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
Today Masonry is viewed as a civic organization not very different from the Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis to which these Masons may, in fact, belong to as well. And yet there was a time -not so distant at that, as we will soon see- when Masons and Freemasonry were viewed with alarm in certain quarters, not just in the Philippines, but throughout Europe as well.
The Catholic Church, for one, has, since the 18th century, condemned Freemasonry, and subjected Masons to the most severe ecclesiastical sanctions. The latest revision of Canon Law undertaken during the reign of Pope John Paul II retains the penalty of automatic excommunication for any Catholic who becomes a Mason. This is a relic of the acrimonious relationship between Catholicism and Freemasonry which continues to have repercussions up to the present.
Other groups have persecuted Masons in their time: Napoleon detested them (although his brother Joseph was a Mason). Hitler loathed them; indeed dictators in general have displayed an aversion if not outright hostility to Masons.
For Freemasonry carries with it a mystique accumulated over the centuries, historical baggage which has amused skeptics like Ambrose Bierce, and delighted aficionados of conspiracy theory and mysticism verging on the occult. The phenomenal success of Umberto Eco’s novel, Foucalt’s Pendulum , an intricate tale of secret societies, from the Knights Templar to the Rosicrucians to the Ilumminati and (naturally) Freemasonry, attests to this. The only other organization which has as strong a grip on the popular imagination are the Jesuits, the traditional nemesis of Masonry.
The traditional view is that Freemasonry is a global conspiracy, which has taken on an antireligious character. It is viewed as a shadowy organization which aims to infiltrate the corridors of power, all the better to facilitate the rise into prominence of fellow Masons, to the exclusion of all others. The governing elites of entire countries -France, the United Kingdom, to name just two examples- are said to be dominated by Masons, and the same thing used to be said of the Philippines.
No wonder then that Freemasonry remains a favorite subject for speculation, from the alleged murder of Pope John Paul I in the book In God’s Name , to a journalistic expose of Masonic domination of the British police and legal system in The Brotherhood. But speculation as to whether Masonry is a “secret society” -or “a society with secrets”- overlooks a central fact, which should rapidly demolish any attempts to portray Masonry as a global conspiracy. Masonry is not an organized global movement. There are individual Masons who belong to autonomous Masonic lodges which may be linked to other lodges within the same country; but there is no world-wide super body that gives orders to the different national lodges.
So what is Masonry? Is it what the Masons claim it is -a fraternal society with secrets, a civic entity with benevolent aspirations? One among civic organizations which undertake philanthropic tasks? You would find it impossible to convince conspiracy theorist sthat this is so. The truth is that the average citizen pays no more attention to it than it does to the fraternities that are so prominent in the public’s consciousness. No one pays more particular attention to Masonic symbols, the ubiquitous compass-and-straight-edge, displayed on the vehicles of some Masons, than they to to say, a Rotary International sticker or Toastmaster’s sign.
This nonchalant attitude is, after centuries of hysteria, quite welcome, but it is as misplaced as the paranoia that used to accompany the mere mention of the word “Mason”. For what sets Masonry apart from other fraternal organizations -indeed, what made it worth the while of various governments to expend energy arresting Masons- are ideals it espouses, best summarized by the glorious motto of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Enlightenment ideals of our very own Propagandists and Revolutionaries. Over the past two centuries Masons have been the proponents, and then the guardians, of Enlightenment thinking; Rationalist, Deist, essentially Democratic and always stressing Political Compromise. No surprise then that it has often been at the vanguard of resistance to absolutist regimes, including the totalitarian regimes of the recent past. Masons were active in the French and American revolutions; they were prominent during the long process of the reduction of the governing powers of British sovereigns; they were central figures in the attempts to establish a more liberal regime in Spain, and were still persecuted during the time of Generalissimo Francisco Franco; they helped undertake the Risorgimiento which finally united Italy and which, ironically, forced the Catholic Church, through the elimination of its temporal power, to reassess itself and make itself once more a potent force in word affairs because of its strictly religious prestige. And Masons were central figures in the long campaign to secure independence for the Philippines in war and peace.
Freemasonry’s origins in the Philippines are traced to Spain, but masonry as it exists today owes little to Spain, its present-day characteristics and existence being linked to American freemasonry. After the defeat of the First Philippine Republic by the forces of the United States, and the “pacification” of the country, restrictions on peaceable assembly and private associations were relaxed; Masonry was allowed to flourish since the American regime imposed retained the separation of Church and State accomplished during the Revolution.
The surviving Filipino Masons decided to revive their links to the Gran Oriente Español, the mother lodge which had been headed by Miguel Morayta, and with which most Filipino lodges had been affiliated with during the Spanish regime. The Regional Grand Lodge of the Philippines was created on September 14, 1907, with Felipe Buencamino, Sr. as the first Grand Master.
But there were American Masons, too, and the promptly set up their own lodges; in 1912 the three American lodges united to form the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands -which promptly provoked a protest from the Filipino Masons, who pointed out that they had priority of jurisdiction in the country. The result was the decision to fuse the Spanish-oriented Filipino Grand Lodge with the American Scottish Rite Grand Lodge, creating the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands. This was in 1917. By 1918, the unified Grand Lodge was headed by a Filipino, with Filipinos and Americans alternating as Grand Masters thereafter.
The Japanese Occupation was marked by the suppression of Masonry by the Japanese Military Government, while Masonry contributed its own martyrs to the cause of the war effort, most notably Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, a past Grand Master. The Scottish Rite Temple on Taft Avenue, which had been confiscated by the Japanese, who had destroyed the Masonic paraphernalia and records kept there, was heavily damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1945, resulting in the loss of even more documents.
Freemasonry was reestablished, however. In 1950, the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands became autonomous from Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States. The Supreme Council for the Philippines was recognized by the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, which had formerly had jurisdiction over the Philippine lodges. Soon after the Supreme Council for the Philippines was renamed Grand Lodge of the Philippines.
These were the antecedents of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Philippines today; but as to the origins of Masonry itself…
It is ironic that what began as a medieval Catholic guild eventually became the object of Catholic ire. Masonry is called masonry because it was once a Catholic trade guild for the stone masons who were engaged in building the great Cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Stonemasons were considered an elite with special skills, who lived an itinerant existence according to where projects were available; it is said that part of the mysticism and mysteriousness of Masonic institutions was derived from the stonemasons’ efforts to keep their guild exclusive.
These stonemasons gathered in “lodges,” a word which has been traced back to the year 1277. But by the late 16th century, the age of the great Gothic cathedrals had passed; stonemasons’ lodges became an anachronism, representing a dying craft.
Then, in Scotland, non-masons began to be accepted in the lodges. The name of this first non-mason, accepted into a lodge, is known -as is the year he joined. He was John Boswell, Laird of Auchinleck, who joined the Edinburgh lodge in the year 1600. By 1646, the English lodges had also begun to accept gentlemen, the first being Elais Ashmole, of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum fame. This was in 1646. By 1670 it seems non-stonemasons outnumbered the masons in the lodges. Soon after that gentlemen began establishing their own lodges, and Freemasonry as we know it now began. The thirty years that followed, leading up to the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, saw the development of the characteristics that distinguish Masonry to this day. The secrets of the society were laid down, as were its rituals and initiations. Its fraternal ideals, which cut across class divisions, emerged, as well -a remarkable development. It also had its political foundations which would endure and contribute to its appeal, in that many of the first gentlemen-masons also supported the rapid reduction in the governing prerogatives of the Kings of England taking place at the time.
Masonry was reorganized along British lines soon after, and then it began to spread to other European nations. Members of the aristocracy became Masons, as did some sovereigns, following the lead of members of the British Royal Family who became Masons. Freemasonry had already entered France in 1718, and the Austrian Empire by 1726 -with the Emperor Joseph II and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart being two prominent early Masons. Spain had lodges by 1728, the American Colonies had theirs by 1731, and within the next six years Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and parts of Germany had Masonic lodges too. Between 1743 and 1776, Masonry would be established in Scandinavia, the Canadian colonies, Finland and Luxembourg.
In Protestant countries, Masonry flourished, as it continues to flourish, there being no incompatibility in the views of Protestant clergymen, between the tenets of Masonry and their religion -to this day many members of the Anglican church are Masons.
But in Catholic countries the Catholic Church and Catholic principalities eventually opposed Masonry. While a Catholic, the Duke of Norfolk, had had no problem in becoming the tenth Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, by 1738 no Catholic could become a Mason without incurring condemnation by the Church -partly as a response to the number of Catholic prelates who had joined Freemasonry.
In Countries where the union of Church and State was particularly firm, it was inevitable that Church policy would be adopted as the policy of the State. This is what happened in Spain -and as Spain went, so did its little backwater of a colony, the Philippines. Even more virulently so.
On December 2, 1956, during the Second National Eucharistic Congress in Manila, President Ramon Magsaysay read an act consecrating the Philippines to the Sacred Heart. He simply reiterated the consecration of the Philippines to this popular devotion undertaken by then Vice-President Fernando Lopez in 1950 -but his action provoked a storm of protest.
One of those who objected to Magsaysay’s action, an Evangelical leader named Dr. Gumersindo Garcia, said, “In accordance with the principle of the separation of Church and State, the President of this country should not give preference or favor to any particular Church.” Two young leaders came to their President’s defense. Senator Soc Rodrigo said the President was acting as a private individual, while Raul Manglapus maintained that it was wrong to take the separation of Church and State to mean that a private individual was not entitled to publicly display his faith.
The protest to Magsayay’s act was joined by the Philippine Independent Church and the Philippine Federation of Christian Churches. But a citizen’s group, called “The Spirit of 1896,” headed by Judge Guillermo Guevara, joined the fray. As the lines of battle were drawn, another thing became apparent: this was as much a fight between generations as anything else. The point of separation between the views of elder Filipinos, as represented by Judge Guevara, and the perspective of outstanding young leaders such as Soc Rodrigo and Raul Manglapus, was the proper role of the Catholic Church in a secular state.
Judge Guevara’s generation would have remembered that less than twenty years earlier, President Quezon had deliberately absented himself from the country in order to avoid participating in the International Eucharistic Congress held in Manila in 1937, explaining that “as President of the Philippines, I am not in a position to do what your program calls for.” He also declined to petition the Pope to appoint a Filipino archbishop of Manila (the Archbishop then was Michael O’Dougherty, who would prove to be the last foreign archbishop), saying that this would constitute a violation of the separation of Church and State.
They would have remembered, too, that a campaign begun by the Catholic Church, to allow religious instruction in public schools, bore fruit when the National Assembly passed an Act authorizing religious instruction -by any denomination- as an acceptable alternative to a new course on character building, good manners and right conduct mandated by the same Act. The bill was promptly vetoed by Quezon, resulting in a pastoral letter criticizing the executive action, and something of a tiff between the Palace and the bishops.
Memories of the squabble over the Religious Instruction bill certainly could account for the alacrity with which the restoration of religious instruction in public schools was met. In 1953 administrative charges were filed against Secretary of Education Cecilio Putong and three others “for allegedly intending to sabotage the religious instruction provision” of the Administrative Code. During the investigation that ensued (Putong would be absolved after a presidential inquiry), it was maintained that religious instruction in the schools was being “sabotaged” by, among other things (as stated in one complaint), religion classes were being held beside the room where the school band was practicing. Not a good way to keep the students’ attention, particularly when the rooms were divided by a sawali wall.
It was alleged that Putong was part of a committee aimed at “the elimination of religious instruction in public schools.” Grandmaster Emilio P. Virata was quoted as having said that,
“At present we have a law permitting religious instruction in public schools. There is a strong movement to make this instruction compulsory. This I take as a violation of our Constitution and I urge everyone of you to use all your power and influence to not only to frustrate this movement but also to have the religious instruction law repealed.”
For the next couple of years it seemed that the Propaganda Movement was alive again. Cries of Masonic conspiracy were raised, for it was true that Masons figured prominently in attempts to enforce a strict definition of the separation of Church and State. But it was also true that the issue was also important to non-Masonic groups, such as the Evangelicals (the case of the Philippine Independent Church was a special one, for it had always had friendly ties with the Masons as some of its clergy were Masons themselves).
Then in the summer of 1955, Secretary of Education Gregorio Hernandez issued Department Order No. 5 which allowed religious instruction to be carried out during the school session of public schools, instructing religious instructors to hand in their grades to school principles, and furthermore giving principals the discretion to take the grades into consideration in appraising the conduct of children. The order was challenged by a parent, who challenged a principal’s request for his child’s grade in religious instruction. The case reached the Supreme Court, which dismissed the case because, it pointed out, the parent had authorized his child’s taking religion classes, thus making the option requested in writing by the parent obligatory -you could not request something and then wriggle out of its consequences afterwards. Nonetheless, the case did result in a further clarification of the implications optional religious instruction in public schools had on this Constitutional principle.
More skirmishes lay ahead; The famous fight lead by Claro M. Recto (not a Mason) and Jose P. Laurel (a Mason) to make Rizal’s novels mandatory reading in all schools; also Recto’s reaction to what he perceived to be illegitimate religious pressure exerted on the electorate by the Catholic clergy in the elections of 1953 and 1955. Recto even suggested, in an article in The Lawyers Journal (1958) that a Constitutional amendment be passed to further clarify the definition of the separation of Church and State in the Constitution.
You may be puzzled over all this hubbub over religious instruction, and may wonder about its significance today in an age when the Filipino people gave John Paul II the biggest audience in history, and when Filipino leaders and politicians regularly invoke religious authorities to support their candidacies; never before, it seems, has religion played such an important role in national politics -with the implication that the old, strict definition of the Separation of Church and State is obsolete.
But just as Masonic influences are evident everywhere -from the equilateral triangle in our flag and the seal of the president of the Philippines- so are the anticlerical feelings of the Propagandists deeply ingrained in many people’s psyches.
But from the grand vista of our political history, let me focus on the emerging crisis confronting all organizations built on fraternal ties and a strong civic sense. Many Freemasons are also members of fraternities; the Craft may be preeminent in their lives but it is also an aspect of their membership in clubs.
Clubs are one of the few institutions that have an institutional memory, and which cherishes traditions. They are organizations that serve, for their members, as part of the bedrock of society. I’ve long pointed out that our society, at least for the upper classes, and the middle class which tries to copy the upper class, is defined by three institutions. They are, church, club, and school.
All these institutions require a rite of passage. For Christians, your initiation into the religion begins with baptism. For schools, you have ceremonies to mark your passage from grade school to high school and when you finish college. For clubs, they invariably mark the acceptance of new members with some sort of ceremony, which at times requires some sort of hazing.
There’s a reason behind the existence of clubs, and their rituals. And it has something to do with a freedom Filipinos take freedom for granted. The freedom of association. As well as associations being a means to exercise not only freedom, but gain influence.
Filipino Sociologist Randy David has long been arguing, that our society is undergoing a crisis of modernity. The crisis comes out of our traditional values turning out to be incompatible with our aspirations to be modern. Modernity, as David pointed out, means institutions that operate according to impartial rules.
For example, what should matter more, merit or connections? What happens, when connections end up putting a few people ahead of the interests of everyone else? You have the crisis in modernity David was referring to.
Knowledge is power. Not only what you know, but who you know, confers power.
This crisis has actually been there for some time. Even if you try to establish a modern institution, the people who make up that institution, often operate to age-old values, and demonstrate behavior drilled into their minds by society.
The comfortable bonhomie of a Lodge is far removed from the days when membership could, literally, cost someone their life. The networking that characterizes much of the interactions that take place in Lodges and in clubs, is, itself, under threat: by new standards of modernity where connections are actually viewed as challenges to meritocracy; and by changes in the behavior of young people.
How many Rotarians, for example, do you know, who find it increasingly difficult to recruit new members, because their children and grandchildren find it more useful to network through FaceBook rather than attend a weekly Rotary luncheon; or who say, they aren’t interested in the Craft because they no longer see the advantages of a fraternal organization in an increasingly globalized world?
These are the challenges ahead: where, on one hand, the sense of civic pride, of historical obligation, both strong motivations for excellence and dedication, are confronted by new notions of what constitutes not only admirable, but useful, behavior. I cannot pretend to know how these challenges will be resolved. I can only say that to confront these challenges is the first step. And one, I am confident, organizations like the Freemasons have the integrity, brainpower, and love of country and of people, to successfully meet.