San Pedro Bautista in the Philippines

by Fr. Erwin Schoenstein, OFM



Pedro Bautista y Belasquez who arrived in the Philippines in 1584 with the fourth group of Franciscan Missionaries was not an inexperienced man.  He was 42 years old, had acquired fame as a preacher in the cathedral of Toledo in Spain, had taught philosophy for three years in Merida and was an excellent musician.  He arrived as the head of the Chapter of the Custody.  In a word, he was a mature, educated, experienced and placed in a position of authority.

When he arrived, he found that the Chapter of the Custody was already finished.  He checked the elections and the new statues and by the authority vested in him, approved the decisions of the Chapter.  He himself thus received no position of authority and was happy to be a simple subject.


First Assignments

As soon as Fr. Juan de Plasencia, the recently elected superior of the Custody, learned that Pedro Bautista was an excellent musician, he assigned him to the town of Namayan, later a barrio of Sta. Ana de Sapa, to teach music and plain chant.  Bringing children and adults together from towns and parishes around Manila, he was able to form the first instruction in music for the Tagalogs.

But a man his caliber could not be hidden long.  It seems that after a year or so in Namayan he was made Guardian of San Francisco de Manila, and in 1586 we find him as parish priest of Lumban, Laguna.



The fourth Chapter and the first after the arrival of Pedro Bautista held in the convent of Manila on September 23rd, 1586. In it his confreres elected Pedro Bautista as Custos or superior of all the Franciscan in the Philippines.

Apparently he preferred not to accept the position of authority.  According to Marcelo Ribadeneira, after the election he went away to hide, and only later when his brethren would not accept his responsibility, he put himself dynamically into his work.  He animated his religious to live out their profession and to care for the conversion of others.  To encouraged with letter worthy of a holy man.



St. Francis of Assisi urged his Ministers Provincial to go out to their subjects to encourage and console them.  Pedro Bautista did just that.  His friars were spread over hundreds of kilometers from Bulacan to Sorsogon, and Pedro Bautista made it a point to make regular visitation, visiting the new “doctrinas” several times.


Founding Towns

Continuing the policy of his famous predecessor, Fray Juan de Plasencia, the “Father of the Reductions,” he worked to gather the natives into towns.  In Morong, for example, he obliged the numerous rancherias spread throughout the mountains to form the “doctrina” of Morong, where the town of Morong was founded after the people left their dwellings in the forest.  He was the moving spirit behind the foundation of many towns.  In Camarines: Quipayo, Cagsawa, Baao, Oas, Libmanan and Buhi.  In Laguna: Tanay, Baras, Longos, and Paquil.  And in Bulacan: Catangala (or present-day Polo).  He likewise gave new site and a new start to the churches and convents of Meycauayan and Calilaya, centers in those days of Bulacan and Tayabas respectively.


Stone Buildings

To him are due the first Franciscan buildings made of stone in the towns outside of Manila.  In 1586 he got permission from the Governor General to rebuild in stone the church and convento in Lumban, Laguna, and began the work.  But in 1589, because the work was not progressing, he asked help from Gov. Santiago de Vera who assigned a native leader, Burlon, with authority over the laborers, and so he finished the first stone church of the Franciscans.  It is interesting to note too that it was in the church of Lumban that the Franciscans first reserved the Blessed Sacrament outside of Manila (1600).


Arrival of the Dominicans

In 1587 some of the Dominicans on their arrival in Manila went to the convent of the Franciscans in Manila and were put up there several days by Pedro Bautista, the Custos, and Fray Vicente Valero, the Guardian of the house.  The Dominican Vicar General called all his friars to the convent of San Francisco de Manila and from there gave them their first assignments.



In 1587, as Custos, he wrote a letter to the kiing and to the Pope asking for more missionaries.  He sent the letters in the care of Fray Francisco de Sta. Maria; this lead to an historic event.  On the way to Spain his ship was forced by bad weather into the bay of Mohala in Borneo.  The zealous friars took the opportunity to preach to the Moslems there.  But after a couple of days they turned against him, and cut off his head, in December of 1587.  And so the youngest friars of the first band of Franciscan missionaries to the Philippines became the protomartyrs of the Province.


New Letter to King

In 1588, Pedro Bautista wrote another letter to King Philip II asking for more missionaries from the Discalced Province of San Jose, or he says, from the other province, “provided that they are men of recollection, zeal, and competently degreed.” We see here his esteem for a well educated missionary.


Interest in Japanese

At the time, there were many Japanese living in the town of Dilao (Paco) near Manila.  In 1587, Gonzalo Garcia, a mestizo Portuguese-Indian who had lived and worked for many years in Japan and knew the language well, was received into the Franciscan Order in Manila.  This made it possible for Pedro Bautista in his concern for the Japanese to do something for their good.  With the help of Bro. Gonzalo Garcia, he formed a special group of Japanese in the Parish of Dilao.  We will hear more of this same Brother later in our story.


San Francisco Del Monte

Because of his deep concern for the spiritual welfare of his friars, Pedro Bautista saw the need for a secluded place where the missionaries, true to the reform spirit of their province, could revive their spiritual vigor by prayer, reflection and discipline. After a long search, he selected a site a little over a league from Manila.  On February 15, 1590, Gov. Santiago de Vera donated “una pequeña encomienda, “ an estate of some 250 hectares, to the Franciscans, and Pedro Bautista immediately ordered the construction of a small bamboo and nipa convent and church under the title of Nuestra Señora de Monteceli which, however, from the very beginning was popularly known as San Francisco del Monte. It was opened as a house of retreat for the missionaries and as a novitiate house.  From 1580 on, the novitiate had been in San Francisco de Manila, but the noise of the city and the coming and going of the friars to the Provincial headquarters made it less than appropriate for a novitiate house. The first profession recorded in San Francisco del Monte took place already in December of 1591.

In this convent many of the missionaries of Japan, China Cochin-China and Molucas would later prepare themselves before leaving for the missions, as did Pedro Bautista himself. Records show that the Archbishop of Manila, the Governor, and other dignitaries were also accustomed to spend days of retreat and recollection there.


Los Baños

In the same year as the founding of the San Francisco del Monte, 1590, Pedro Bautista discovered the hot springs of Los Baños.  He was returning at the time from a visitation of all the places administered by the friars.  He immediately had the waters analyzed by Fray Francisco de Gata, who was very skilled in medicine and learning that they had medicanal qualities, planned to build a hospital there.  That was the beginning of the famous Holy Waters Hospital of Mainit, Los Baños, which served the sick up unto the 20th century.


Hospital of Cavite

In the middle of 1591, Pedro Bautista founded a hospital in Cavite in response to the petitions of the people of the area.  It was called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit.  Only the sick belonging to the navy and people employed at the pier were admitted there.  The Franciscans ran the hospital successfully until 1640 when Gov. Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera relieved the religious of its temporal and spiritual administration.  It was destroyed in 1622 by order of the Chinese pirate, Cogsen or Kuesing.


Colegio de Santa Potenciana

It should be noted in passing that the first and one of the few institutes of secondary education conducted by the early Franciscans, the Colegio de Santa Potenciana in Manila, a college for girls, was founded in 1591, during the administration of Pedro Bautista.


Erection of the Province

Because the mother Province of San Jose in Spain could not cope with the urgent request coming from the Philippines for more and more missionaries, it requested the Holy Father to raise the Status of the Custody in the Philippines to the status of an independent Province.  With his papal brief “Dum ad uberes fructus” dated Nov. 15, 1586, Pope Sixtus V erected the Province of St. Gregory the Great in the Philippines.

The papal brief was brought to the King and the Council of the Indies in Spain, but some intervention by P. Alonso Sanchez, SJ, stalled its further movement.  Later, at the request of the Franciscans, the Papal Nuncio in Madrid gave testimony on June 22, 1588, to the authenticity of the Bull.  It wasn’t until May of 1591, four and a half years later, that the documents finally reached Manila.


Chapter of 1591

The friars in the Philippines had heard unofficially the good news of the erection of the Province.  Pedro Bautista's term as Custos should have run out in 1589,  but waiting for the arrival of the official documents, they kept postponing the Chapter until the documents finally arrived.  The Chapter was held in September 1591 when Pedro Bautista turned over the seal of the Province and all the documents to his newly elected successor and first Provincial, P. Pablo de Jesus. At the time there were 95 Franciscans in the Province taking care of 40 churches and 20 “visitas” (or churches with no resident friar), in Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, and the Bicol region.  Thirty-five (35) friars had already died. This was the 13 years from the time of the arrival in the Philippines of the first Franciscans.

In this chapter, Pedro Bautista was made Guardian or superior of the convent of San Francisco de Manila.


Guardian in Manila

After his term as Custos, he exercised his role as Guardian of San Francisco de Manila for more than one year.  He had a reputation for being very recollected and was seldom seen outside the house.  He was conscientious about the recitation of the office and the times of prayer and other religious exercises.  He was very kind to guests and the infirm.  He visited carefully the infirmary and provided for all the needs of the sick.  He resigned from the office of Guardian but continued as preacher of the convent, enlightening many both by his sermons and by the “cases of conscience” he solved.



Indeed he was a very effective preacher.  At times wearing a wooden cross hanging from his neck, standing on a stone bench,  lifting the cross, he shouted to his listeners – noblemen, soldiers, Spaniards and Natives: “Does anyone want to be a soldier of this band? The Captain is Christ.  The Lieutenant is St. Francis, the war is with hell, the wages – Glory.” This was language fighting men understood. So many soldiers were leaving the life of arms to enter the religious life that it was reported to Gov. Dasmariñas (In the nine years between 1583 and 1592, twenty-six men made profession in the novitiates of Manila and San Francisco Del Monte).

The Governor himself experienced the effectiveness of Pedro Bautista’s preaching when one of his own household, Don Gonzalo de la Llave, joined the Franciscans. He made profession in the hands of Pedro Bautista on March 17, 1592, taking the name of Fray Antonio de Padua de la Llave, and later became the first chronicler of the Province.


Question of Tribute

Pedro Bautista was sensitive to and actively involved in the burning issues of the day. In 1591, Gov. Gomez Perez Dasmariñas differed sharply with Archbishop Domingo de Salazar on the question of collecting tribute or taxes from the natives. Theologians and leaders of the religious groups were consulted.  Pedro Bautista and the Franciscan held the most radical position in favor of the natives.  They held that the right to impose tribute was based on the commission given to Spain by the Holy See for the Evangelization of the Natives, evangelization actually carried out.  If religious instruction were given and justice administered, the encomenderos could collect the whole tribute.  But when the encomendero did not or couldn’t provide religious instruction, even though he did protect and defend the natives and set them a good example, they could collect only a small percentage of the tribute.  This is where the Franciscans differed from others.  While others would allowed collecting ¾ of the tribute, the Franciscans would allow only 1/3, and that not on the basis of providing the true faith. Even the administration of justice, they held, conferred no right in itself to collect tribute.  It did so only as it aided in or supported the preaching of the gospel.  This was the opinion signed by Pedro Bautista and three of his brethren.


War With Zambales

In 1592, the issue was war against the natives of Zambales.  Gov. Dasmariñas consulted Pedro Bautista wrote. “If we have injured or provoked them by exacting tribute not due , then war is not  justified.  But if pardon has been offered to them and they have broken their promises and have been more lawless than ever, robbing and killing many people on land and sea, they should be punished. The government has to protect the Tagalogs, the Pampangueños and Ilocanos and all who pay tribute. If this cannot be done without war, then war is justified.”  Still he advocated justice, charity and freedom for the innocent.  He concludes, “Since the cause for just war is the injury received, war against them would be unjust if they are innocent of the charges against them.”



Gov. Dasmariñas was confronted with the problem of lack of adequate means and equipment to defend the city of Manila from foreign stacks.  He decided to build a small but well organized fighting fleet and to surround Manila with a wall.  To implement his plans he forced people to cut timber in the forests, made them work in shipyards and enlisted them as rowers and crewmen on the same boats.  In return he could offer them only a meager pay, insufficient to support them and their families.

In 1592, Gov. Dasmariñas began preparing for a military expedition to Borneo.  Again in the process many abuses were committed. Friars in the provinces of Luzon reported to Pedro Bautista abuses connected with this project. Pedro Bautista personally went to the Governor and in the course of the connected with this project.  Pedro Bautista personally went to the Governor and in the course of the discussion stated. “ Is it inevitable to inflict pain on the miserable, to ruin the poor, rob entire towns, rape widows, abuse married women and their husbands and commit countless other abuses?” He urged the Governor to put an end to these things adding that “if you fail to do so, I will shout about them in the street and plazas to your embarrassment, even though it will pain me.”  It seems Dasmariñas tried to stop some of the abuses, but he was to fascinated by his Borneo expedition and, giving more credence to his officials than to Pedro Bautista’s admonition, he went on with his dream of conquering Borneo.  Pedro Bautista kept receiving complaints from his missionaries.  Finally on June 19, 1592, in the cathedral of Manila in the presence of the governor himself, he preached a scathing sermon on the unjustices being committed, stating that unless the government policy were changed, it would lead to open rebellion.  The Governor and his men were shocked. In his anger he called for a formal investigation of the incident, determined to inform the Pope and higher authorities in the Franciscan Order so as to silence such an outspoken preacher.  Apparently nothing came of this, but here again we see Pedro Bautista defending the cause of the natives.



Let us turn our attention now to Japan.  For many years the Franciscans had been anxious to do missionary work in Japan. In 1585, the Daimyo of Hurado sent letters to the Governor and to the Custos of the Franciscans, Fr. Juan de Plasencia, asking for Franciscan missionaries to Japan. Bishop Aduarte, O.P., of Manila also received letters in 1584 and 1585 from the vice-Provincial of the Jesuits in Japan with the same request.

Because of these requests, Fr. Juan de Plasencia made preparations for sending a few friars to Japan with the intention of starting mission work there.  But the preparations came to naught because on Jan. 28, 1585, Pope Gregory XIII issued a brief forbidding other Religious from doing missionary work in Japan.

Two years later persecution broke out in Japan against the Jesuits.  On July 24, 1587, the Regent of Japan, Hideyoshi, issued a decree of sxile for the 113 Jesuits working there.  Some left the country but the majority remained working secretly in the country.

When words got  to Manila that there were no more Jesuits left in Japan, Pedro Bautista, on June 23, 1590 as Custos, wrote a letter to the King of Spain.  In it he first states that since the friars in Spain felt entrance to China was barred to them, many had lost interest in coming to the missions.  Then he refers to the several letters received from Christians in Japan asking for Franciscan missionaries.  He mentioned the decree of exile against the Jesuits.  He states that the Bishop of Manila decided to send three or four religious to Japan but that the new Governor, Gomez Perez Dasmariñas opposed the step until he would hear from the King.  Therefore, Pedro Bautista asked the King to work for the revocation of the Motu Propio of Gregory XIII which forbade other religious access to Japan.”

At about this time the Regent sent an arrogant letter to Manila demanding that an envoy be sent to Japan, threatening to invade Luzon unless an ambassador be sent as a sign of friendship.

News of the letter naturally threw Manila into turmoil.  Unable at time to defend the city against the threatened invasion, Gov. Dasmariñas decided to send a Dominican, Fr. Juan Cobo, a skilled sinologist, as his ambassador.  He left in April of 1592 to express the desire to have peace with Hideyoshi.  Fr. Cobo was successful in warding off the invasion.  From Japan he too wrote asking for Franciscans to do missionary work there.


Pedro Bautista to Japan

After a successful mission Fr. Cobo left for Manila.  But he was lost ar sea and never arrived.  Gov. Dasmariñas waited one year for his return and finally decided to send Father Pedro Bautista to Japan as his new ambassador. He decided to send with Pedro Bautista the aforementioned Bro. Gonzalo Garcia who knew Japanese very well as his interpreter and two other companions. After his diplomatic mission Pedro Bautista would stay on as the permanent representative of the Governor of Manila and would labor for the conversion of the people.

That was the plan of Gov. Dasmariñas, but the Superior of the Jesuits in Manila reminded the Governor of the church what cold be done.  The outcome of the discussuin was his firm decision to send Pedro Bautista and his companions.  And so on May 30, 1593, Pedro Bautista and his companions sailed for Japan, their new work and eventually their martyrdom on Febuary 5, 1597.



Pedro Bautista worked in the Philippines only 9 years.  During that time he showed himself a virtuous Christian, a perfect religious, a fearless and eloquent preacher, and a champion of the ordinary people.

Bishop Domingo de Salazar, O.P., of Manila often consulted him concerning grave spiritual problems and allowed him free access to his vast library.

Even Gov. Dasmariñas, who had been publicly corrected by him, later wrote of Pedro Bautista:  “He is a most serious man from whom I seek advice in the affairs most important to my King… He is my comfort and consolation, as he is to all the people of the state.”

Bishop Miguel de Benavides, Bishop of Cagayan, said of him before many religious that if the choice of the Pope were up to him, he would choose Pedro Bautista because he saw in him all the qualities necessary for such a lofty dignity.

Apparently the King and the Holy see also though highly of him because, as we are told, one year before his martyrdom he was chosen to be the Bishop of Camarines.  The Royal Cedula however arrived in the Philippines only after his death.

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