Seculars were part of the Legazpi-Urdaneta expedition which arrived in the Philippines in 1565 but never formed a big community compared with the regular (religious) clergy. While much have been written, said and credited to the latter, most of Philippine church historical accounts were, understandably, antagonistic and negative to the latter. It is common knowledge that the Spanish friars and those in the government that time distrusted the Filipino clergy.
The political developments and the intertwined histories of the Seculars, the Recollects and the Jesuits in the latter part of the 19th century led to one of the country’s defining moments: the revolution against Spain in 1898.
Ideally, the setup was that after the mission was founded, this should be turned over by the religious to the secular clergy. However, this never easily happened. In 1813, after the proceedings in the Spanish Cortes, the Secularization Decree was promulgated again, a follow-up to four previous orders but was never implemented and was even supressed by the then Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila, Archbishop Zulaibar, a Dominican prelate.
Upon the return of the Jesuits in 1859 (they were expelled in 1768 in the Philippine Islands and in all Portuguese and Spanish dominions), the Recollects, with much protestations, were told to vacate and turn over their parishes to them. As compensation, they were given the wealthy and prosperous parish of Antipolo as well as parishes in Cavite, all held by the Seculars. This seeming injustice led to the Cavite Mutiny in 1872 that saw the execution of the three secular fathers known collectively as the GomBurZa. This in turn fueled nationalism that culminated in the event of 1898.
The Seculars handled the cathedrals and some scattered parishes in the country. While some were rebuilt by the religious when they took over, they also built magnificent churches that are still standing today.
The churches of Tayum and Bangued in Abra were built by the Seculars. In Bulacan, we have one in San Rafael town. Quiapo Church, shrine of the Black Nazarene, in another. The parishes in Cavite like Gen. Trias and Ternate, inherited after the Jesuit’s expulsion were built by them. There’s also one in Batangas, Molo in Iloiolo and the southwestern part of Leyte island. Bicol has also its share of churches like the one in Paracale.
In Cebu, the beautiful church of Bantayan as well as the still existing churches of southwestern Cebu like Ginatilan, Samboan, Malabuyoc and the stunning structure of Dumanjug are credited to the Seculars. One of the magnificent churches in Cebu City located at the burgeoning Parian District was also built by them. Unfortunately, upon the supposed instigation of the Augustinians of the nearby Basilica del Sto. Niño, was ordered demolished in 1878-79.