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Diocese of Laoag

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Diocese of Laoag
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Long before the coming of the Spaniards, there already existed an extensive region (consisting of the present provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union) renowned for its gold mines. Merchants from Japan and China would often visit the area to trade gold with beads, ceramics, and silk.

On June 13, 1572, Salcedo and his men landed in Vigan and then proceeded towards Laoag, Currimao and Badoc. As they sailed along the coast, they were surprised to see numerous sheltered coves ("looc") where the locals lived in harmony. As a result, they named the region "Ylocos" and its people "Ylocanos".

As the Christianization of the region grew, so did the landscape of the area. Vast tracks of land were utilized for churches and bell towers in line with the Spanish mission of "bajo las campanas". In the town plaza, it was not uncommon to see garrisons under the church bells. The Spanish colonization of the region, however, was never completely successful. Owing to the abusive practices of friars, a number of Ilocanos revolted against their colonizers. Noteworthy of these were the Dingras uprising (1589) and Pedro Almasan Revolt (San Nicolas, 1660). In 1762, Diego Silang led a series of battles aimed at freeing the Ilocanos from the Spanish yoke. When he died from an assassin's bullet, his widow Gabriela continued the cause. Unfortunately, she too was captured and hanged.

In 1807, the kailyan of Piddig protested the imposition of taxes on their native basi. The masses marched to Vigan, gathering force along the way. What is now known as the Basi Revolt ended tragically at Bataoay River right at the doorstep of Vigan. On 2 February 1818, the Ilocos province was divided into the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Long before the coming of the Spaniards, there already existed an extensive region (consisting of the present provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union) renowned for its gold mines. Merchants from Japan and China would often visit the area to barter beads, ceramics and silk with gold. The inhabitants of the region believed to be of Malay origin, called their place Samtoy from saomi ditoy, which literally meant "language spoken in this place".

Like other parts of the Philippines, Ilocos Norte before the advent of Spanish colonization was inhabited by different tribes. Settlements were located along the grounds. Trade with nearby China must have been present with seashore communities considering the proximity of the place with mainland Cathay. Religion was mainly animistic with the belief in Supreme Being like "Kabunian" and other minor spirits which collectively known as di-kataotao-an.

Colonization of IIocos Norte and Christianization. Christianity came to this part of the country in June 1572 during Northern Luzon "pacification" campaign led by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo and his Augustinian chaplain Alonzo de Alvarado. It is said that the cross was first planted on top of what is now known as Ermita Hill in Laoag. However, it was not until 1575 when Vigan was finally "pacified" by the Castillians that effective evangelization campaign reached this part of the newly established Province of Ilocos. In this last quarter of the 16th century mission centers were established in Laoag, Bacarra, San Nicolas, Batac and Dingras. Towards the end of Spanish rule in the Philippines there were 13 towns.

The evangelization of this northern part of Ilocos province was done by the Augustinian friars. They did their apostolate here until the end of Spanish rule in 1898.

Like the other parts of the country, which were pacified and claimed for the Castillian standard, the Ilocos was soon divided into encomiendas, which were awarded to deserving colonizers. The encomienda was more of a grant of jurisdiction than ownership. The encomendero was granted jurisdiction over a land of its people. He had the rights to exact tributes from the people and was privileged to get services from them. However, he had the duty to protect them and to give them religious instruction. But very soon the encomienda system lost its luster in favor of the more lucrative China trade with the galleon system plying from Manila to Acapulco and vice-versa. Towards the end of the Spanish Regime, of the 460,000 hectares comprising the land area of Ilocos Norte, 33,500 were planted with tobacco, palay, sugar cane, indigo, corn and vegetables worked by 35,000 farmers out of a population of 160,000.

Creation of the Province of Ilocos Norte. Ilocos Norte was so remote from the central government in Manila during the Spanish Regime. It was rural and rustic. Owing to the abusive practices of many Augustinian friars, a number of Ilocanos revolted against their colonizers. A number of uprisings erupted. Noteworthy of these were the Dingras uprising (1589) and Pedro Almazan revolt (San Nicolas, 1660). One in Bacarra led by a certain Juan Magsanop was triggered by a series of revolts in the south in the 17th century. The Augustinian parish priest of the town Juan de Arias was killed by the rebels. In the first quarter of the 19th century three rebellions in a row erupted in a period of fifteen years, which prompted the colonial government to divide the Ilocos province in 1818. One of these revolts in Piddig town was caused by the government's attempt to put a monopoly on the production of basi, a locally produced wine fermented from sugarcane juice.

The Diocese of Laoag shares the early history of its mother see, the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia. As mentioned above, Christianity came to this northernmost frontier of the far-flung Spanish colony in 1572 as a part of the "pacification campaign" by the Spaniards led by the youthful and swashbuckling conquistador Juan de Salcedo. The cross and the sword came thus planting the standards of Christianity and the monarchy of Spain on this part of the world. The northern part of the old Ilocos Province came to be known as Ilocos Norte since 1818. The division was exacerbated by three revolts (1807, 1811 and 1815).

The rise and Decline of Aglipayanism. Three quarters of a century later this rebellion was experienced in the religious sphere. The Philippine Religious Revolution at the turn of the 20th century that gave rise to the Philippine Independent Church "Iglesia Filipina Independiente" (IFI) made Ilocos Norte as the epicenter. Only one of the seventeen Filipino priests then assigned to the province remained steadfast to the Catholic faith. This was mainly because the former guerilla padre Gregorio Aglipay, now the religious leader of the new schismatic movement was from Batac and both his lieutenants, Simeon Mandac and Santiago Fonacier were from Laoag. The "Independientes", (to distinguish them from the "Romanos") as they were subsequently called, brought with them about 95% of the total population of Ilocos Norte.

It was a slow and painful recovery for the "Romanos" in this part of the Philippines. The years following 1902, the foundation year of the IFI, were difficult. All church properties except the Laoag Cathedral were taken over by the schismatics. However, the Philippine Supreme Court's landmark decision in 1905 (Barlin vs. Ramirez) ordering the return of properties belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, which were taken over by the Independientes, saved the day for the Romanos. Priests were soon assigned to the parishes of Ilocos Norte, many to their hometowns to bring back to the fold their relatives and their tenants. Hence, we have the likes of Luis Cortez of Badoc, Clemente Edralin of Sarrat who was later murdered in his convento of mysterious causes, Atanacio Albano of Bacarra.

The Canonical Erection of the Diocese of Laoag. The Civil Province of Ilocos Norte became the Diocese of Laoag in 1961. The first bishop was the former chancellor of the mother see of Nueva Segovia Antonio Ll. Mabutas of Agoo, La Union. The next decade saw the building up of the new diocese. Infrastructure had to be built and the people spiritually prepared and clergy had to be united.

The St. Mary's Seminary opened its doors to the first batch of seminarians in 1963, although the construction was still going on. The bishop's residence soon stood up along Gomez Street in the then outskirts of Laoag City. The Catholic Center Building near the cathedral replaced the old Knights of Columbus building. Catholic Schools were opened (St. Anne in Piddig, St. James in Pasuquin, St. Lawrence in Bangui and St. Jude in Pagudpud) to add to those already existing at the time of the separation.

Lay formation centered on the Cursillos de Christianidad. This was a weekend lived-in retreat. Then came a new trend in catechesis, the Christian Community Program. This was a different approach from the Baltimore type of traditional catechism. The Diocese of Laoag was one of the experimental centers for the whole Philippines.

A good number of priests from La Union (6) and Ilocos Sur (6) were "trapped" in the Diocese of Laoag as a result of the separation. Unity and spiritualization among the clergy had to be worked out. The monthly recollection and meeting had to be consistently held. Priests from every nook and cranny of the diocese were urged to go to Laoag every month for this event. These were the times when coming to the center was still a feat considering the dust and bumpy roads to the interior parishes in the eastern and northern vicariates.

The Episcopacy of Bishop Rafael Lim. When the 1970s came, storm clouds were looming in the horizon for the Diocese of Laoag. In 1970 Bishop Mabutas was elected coadjutor Archbishop of Davao. Archbishop Juan Sison of Nueva Segovia was apostolic administrator during the months of vacancy. The following year Bishop Rafael of Marinduque came to Laoag. This was a difficult decade everywhere: the first and second quarter saw the storm of activism, the "hippie" generation, martial law and dictatorship, the changes brought about by Vatican II were now being felt.

It was Bishop Lim who brought about the first reshuffle of priests' assignments in the diocese, thus moving the well-entrenched "immovables." The general reshuffle in 1973 also tried to standardize the finances of the parishes with priests theoretically receiving equal remunerations. A system of parish financial reporting was established with transparency as the end in view. This did not progress in the ensuing years, and it was eventually dropped to give away to the quota system, that is, each parish was assessed and the amount to be submitted to the curia was fixed.

The Diocese experienced the exodus of priests in this decade. Many priests either left the diocese or left the active ministry. By 1978 five parishes were already without priests. In the middle of this year, Bishop Lim became the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Boac, Marinduque, his home province. The Rev. Jose F. Agustin served as diocesan administrator.

Abaya: The shepherd for 20 years. By early 1979, the diocese had its third bishop in the person of Edmundo M. Abaya of Candon, Ilocos Sur. The next two decades saw the diocese on the rise. New Orders of Sisters came mainly to do pastoral work. At its highest number there were seventeen religious orders of sisters working in the diocese. The priestly identity crisis brought about by the shift of things by Vatican II was on the wane. More vocations, hence more ordinations, were coming up. The catechetical program of the diocese was beefed up with a more centralized management. However, the once thriving Catholic schools in the diocese were on the run because of many factors.

The strong earthquake of 1983 wrought havoc and destruction to the centuries-old churches of the diocese. Two years later all the destroyed churches and rectories were rebuilt or restored.

The diocese of Laoag celebrated the 25th Anniversary of its foundation in 1986 with much fanfare. Archbishop Antonio Mabutas of Davao, our first ordinary, presided over the opening Eucharist. The San Lorenzo Medical and Dental Charity Clinic were also inaugurated to serve the indigents who need medical and dental treatment. About the same year the Foyer de Charite in the compound of the St. Mary's Seminary was slowly rising to serve as a retreat house for the diocese.

In 1994, Bishop Abaya convoked the First Diocese of Laoag Pastoral Assembly. This was in response to the renewal of the Philippines called for by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991. This was a week-long gathering of clergy, religious and lay faithful of the diocese to pray, reflect on the pastoral situation and to offer solutions and remedies. It was geared towards creating of a community of disciples in the Diocese of Laoag. The Vision-Mission Statement with the Acts and Decrees of the Pastoral Assembly reflects the pastoral situation of the diocese and the kind of response to be addressed to such.

Bishop Abaya's Episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Laoag came to an end when he was installed as the Archbishop of Nueva Segovia on September 8, 1999. The diocese was again without a pastor. The months of interregnum were under the leadership of the Rev. Rodolfo R. Nicolas who served as administrator for 16 months.

Fourth Bishop: another Ilocano from the southern Ilocos province. On January 30, 2001 Bishop Ernesto A. Salgado became the fourth Bishop of Laoag. A native of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur, he was originally a priest of Nueva Segovia. When he took possession of the See of Laoag he was already a veteran in the mountain missions of the Cordilleras having served as Apostolic Vicar of the Mountain Provinces for 14 years.

Bishop Salgado steered the 40th anniversary celebration of the diocese of Laoag with the Church as Mystery of Communion as its theme. The celebration was held on July 28, 2001, a Saturday to allow more faithful in the celebration. The biblical exegete Fr. Gerardo Tapiador was the main speaker. There are three things the Bishop Salgado wanted to do in his Episcopal ministry in the diocese of Laoag. First is the security of priest to make them veritable servant leaders of this particular church. Priestly solidarity and fraternity was the second, to create a community of servant leaders reminiscent of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem. And the third was the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) to create a community of disciples.

Indeed, this was a gargantuan task. But the life of the priests and the faithful is what makes the Church. Qualis sacerdos, talis grex, so the old Latin Maxim goes. A dedicated and unified presbyterium would be the first witnessing of the priests towards BEC. Basic Ecclesial Communities could only endure for as long as if they were served by dedicated and selfless priests. (Fr. Ian Rabago)


The local political structure is characterized by the election of 2 congressmen representing the first and second district of Ilocos Norte, 1 governor with provincial board members, 2 city mayors with city councilors each, mayors, municipal councilors, and barangay captains and councilors (kagawads).


Ilocos Norte's transportation in going to Manila by land, through bus (non-aircon, regular aircon or super de luxe.) Business class passengers take airbus, having daily flights offered by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Chartered flights via the Laoag International Airport are also offered for Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean nationals who frequently visits the province. The Peoples Republic of China has its own Chinese consulate office in Laoag which is located near San Nicolas town. A tour around the cities and municipalities could be in the form of mini-bus, passenger jeep, private car, tricycle, bicycle or kalesa.


The Diocese of Laoag covers the whole province of Ilocos Norte in Northern Philippines. It is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia. The territory covers a land area of 3,386.8 sqm. It covers two districts and is divided into 2 cities (Laoag and Batac ) and 19 municipalities namely: Pagudpud, Bangui, Dumalneg, Adams, Burgos, Pasuquin,Bacarra, Sarrat, Piddig, Solsona, Banna, Carasi, Nueva Era, Marcos, Dingras, San Nicolas, Batac, Pinili and Badoc.The total population of the province of Ilocos Norte as of 2007 was 547, 284 with a .86 growth rate. It is largely dominated by Ilocanos. The natives of Ilocos Norte are composed of the Itneg, Tingian and Yapayao tribes. A portion of a barangay in Laoag City is called Muslim compound where a number of Muslims migrated in the northern gateway of Luzon. Languages used in the province include: Ilokano, Tagalog, English, Itneg, Yapayao


The local political structure is characterized by the election of 2 congressmen representing the first and second district of Ilocos Norte, 1 governor with provincial board members, 2 city mayors with city councilors each, mayors, municipal councilors, and barangay captains and councilors (kagawads).


The province has telecommunications and broadcasts companies like the Philippine Long Distance and Telecommunications Company and Digitel. Globe and Smart wireless centers including Sun Cellular provide cellular phone networks and internet. Aside from access to daily newspapers and nationwide cable television stations, the province has its own ABS-CBN Channel 2 local programming, sky cable, 5 AM and 3 FM stations, and 3 local weekly newspapers.


The literacy rate in the diocesan territory is 94%. Some tertiary students from neighboring provinces of Cagayan, Apayao and Ilocos Sur prefer to study in the government-owned Mariano Marcos State University in Batac City, Ilocos Norte or in Laoag City'd private colleges and universities like: Divine Word College, Northwestern University, Northern Christian College Literacy, College of Informatics and AMA College. Care giver and vocational courses are likewise in demand in the province as graduates work in companies and industries abroad.


The province is dominated by Ilokanos with popular folk songs, dances, and theatrical presentations depicting life's struggles and merry-making during special occasions. Cultural minorities like Itneg and Yapayao from the towns of Dumalneg, Carasi, Adams and Nueva Era organized their annual festivities too showcasing their unique culture and traditions as tribal communities.

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