The Philippines Under the Frailocracy

For more than three centuries of Spanish rule, the missionaries or the friars as they were known at that time played a major role not only in propagating the Christian faith but also in the political, social, economic and cultural aspects of the Filipinos. They are actually the ‘real conquistadors’ during the Spanish times.

The Advent of Frailocracy. When the Legazpi expedition reached the Philippines in 1565, the Augustinian missionaries also began to make its presence. Other religious orders followed such as the Franciscans (1577), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587), Recollects (1606) and the Benedictines (1895). The primary role of these missionaries is to propagate Christianity among the natives of these new conquered islands.

As the pope gave the king of Spain the power of patronato real, the State and the Church in the Philippines was unified. Thus, the colonial government appoints and pays the salaries of the archbishops, bishops and the parish priests. The government also funds the churches, schools and charities run by these religious orders.

In order for these missionaries to have a self-sustainable life, land estates known as ‘friar lands’ were granted to them thus, making them land owners and later on merchants. They started to become influential not only economically but also politically. They reigned supreme even in government matters. Some even acted as governor-general until 1762. One example is Manuel Rojo, the last archbishop to hold such high position. Another development is the scarcity of secular priest to manage the parishes. These vacancies led to the appointment of the regulars, especially in the rich and developed parishes. These events started frailocracy or monastic supremacy in the Philippines.

The Role of the Friars. Aside from spreading the word of God, the missionaries help in pacifying the country. They created more than 300 towns; built churches, roads and bridges, and other infrastructures. They also established schools, colleges and universities; hospitals, orphanages, and asylums across the country. They become the ‘carriers’ of the Western culture. Many friars contributed much in the development of the printing press, medicine, science, architecture, music, grammar, dictionaries, literature and the arts which eventually become part of the Filipino culture. They also introduced new crops, plants and animals from Europe and Mexico. They also taught the natives new industries such as dye-making, bricks and tile-making.

The parish priest is the most powerful figure in a town or pueblo. Even if he is the only Spaniard in town, he was feared and obeyed by the people, and was often kissed on the hands as a sign of respect and of his great influence.

Preacher/ Confessor

Parish Priest

Peace and order advocate
Guardian of morality and charity Registrar of Deeds/ Public Documents
Teacher/ educator Law enforcer
School Supervisor

Social worker/ Community Development Officer
Builder of towns and public works Adviser to local government officials
Tax Collection Inspector Local Elections Supervisor

Filipino’s Reaction to the Frailocracy. As the friars become powerful, abuses among the Filipinos took place. The issue about the friar lands became one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution. Majority of the lands, especially in the Tagalog region, were owned by the friars. Foreclosure of mortgages and outright land grabbing were frequent. Abuses made by the friars among his constituents/ flock were observable. The secularization of the parishes also became an issue since the regulars won’t give up their parishes to the Filipino seculars. These abuses made by the friars are well depicted in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Del Pilar’s La Soberania Monacal en Filipinas and Lopez-Jaenas’ Fray Botod. Though unsuccessful, the first and only open anti-friar demonstration against intolerable church abuses was spearheaded by several gobernadorcillos in 1888. Many unsuccessful Filipino revolts of the 18th and 19th centuries were also rooted from these friar abuses.

Frailocracy ended during the dawn of the Philippine Republic and the early part of the American Occupation. At present, we can still see the influence of the clergy in our education system and in our culture. Though already less, they still react and participate in the political affairs of the country as seen in the two EDSA People Power revolutions.

*Published in Student’s Digest Gr.5, Vol.27 No.2 SY 2006-2007 by Azur M. Peraz

References: Agoncillo, Teodoro A. A History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, Inc. 1990.; Arcilla, Jose S. SJ. ed.. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People, Vol. 3: The Spanish Conquest. Manila: Asia Publishing, Ltd., 1998.; Constantino, Renato. The Philippines Vol.1: A Past Revisited. Manila: Renato Constantino, 1975.; Zaide, Gregorio F. and Sonia M. Zaide. The Philippines: A Unique Nation. Quezon City: All Nations Publishing, Inc., 1994. Photo credits:;;

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