The Knights of Columbus in the Philippines
By SK Patrocinio R. Bacay
In the wake of the Spanish-American War in1898, many Americans were assigned to the Philippines in military or government capacities. Many of these new arrivals were Catholic and some were members of the Knights of Columbus who wanted to have their own council in their new land. The Supreme Council, however was reluctant to allow the expansion of the Order to the Philippines. The area was far distant from the United States at a time when travel to and from as well as communication with the Philippines was very difficult. The Order’s Board of Director felt that, given such difficulties, the Supreme Council could not adequately serve councils in the Pacific islands.
Nonetheless the Board did approve the creation of one associate council – that is, a council which would operate without the insurance feature – and Manila Council 1000 was instituted April 23, 1905. The 31 charter members were all Americans. The first Filipino members joined the Order’s rank in 1907. By 1918 the membership of Council 1000 was predominately Filipino and interest in the Knights of Columbus was growing. That year Gabriel La O was elected the first Filipino Grand Knight of Council 1000. The Board did approve the creation of San Pablo Council 1900 in Laguna Province, but still would not agree to large-scale expansion of the Order in the Pacific.
Without authorization to establish new councils, members of Council 1000 and 1900 established K of C “Centers”, each operating with a president and other officers, but attached to the Council. The Order in the Philippines worked in that fashion for the next several years. In that period the catalyst that would expand the Knights of Columbus in island nation arrived in the person of a Jesuit missionary Father George J. Willmann. In time he would become known as "the Father McGivney of the Philippines,” but what was not to happen until the end of World War II and Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
Convinced that the Knights of Columbus was vital to the future well-being of the Philippines, Father Willmann, who joined the Knights in 1938 and was Chaplain of Council 1000, wanted to recruit new members and form new councils. On a visit to the U.S. in 1947 Father Willmann met with Supreme Advocate Luke E. Hart in St. Louis and convinced him of the need for expansion of the Order in the Philippines. Hart agree to make the recommendation to the Board of Directors provided that Father Willmann himself would agree to serve as District Deputy. In October 1947 the Board approved the plan. Father Willmann had been so successful that by the time Hart, as Supreme Knight visited the Philippines in 1955, the Gold Jubilee of Council 1000, there were more than 50 councils.
As the Order’s historian Dr. Christopher Kauffman writes in Faith and Fraternalism, “As if to testify that Father Willmann’s dream had been realized, Hart noted that the hierarchy and the clergy . . . regard if (the Order) as a most important factor in the lives of the people and in the welfare of the Church.” Indeed, unlike Knights in other jurisdiction (except Mexico) the Filipino K of C was placed on a canonical basis as the Church’s official Catholic Action agency. It remains that way today.
On December 2, 1949 the Fourth Degree was established in the Philippines with 160 candidates becoming Sir Knights, Father Willmann was designated Faithful Navigator. On November 5, 1950, Circle 623 of the Columbian Squires was the first to be instituted in the Philippines. It was located in Cebu City and was sponsored by Council 3106.
The Order was established in the Philippines on an “associate”, that is, non-insurance status. Father Willmann recognized the need for a local insurance system to benefit the economically underprivileged Filipino Knights. On August 01, 1958 the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines (KCFAPI) was incorporated. On September 9, 1958, KCFAPI received its license from the office of the Insurance Commissioner. At long last, Filipino Knights could enjoy the benefits of a fraternal mutual benefit association.
Ramon Mabanta was the first president and Basilio King was the first general manager of KCFAPI.
In 1954 the Board of Director’s changed Father Willmann’s title from District Deputy to Territorial Deputy. The priest did not care for the title “Territorial Deputy” and in 1962 it was changed to “Philippine Deputy”. In 1970 Supreme Knight John W. McDevitt visited the Philippines and upon his return to New Haven recommended that the Board of Director’s appoint two Assistant Philippine Deputies to aid Father Willmann in the administration and supervision of the various councils scattered throughout the vast archipelago that is the Philippines. The position were created and Oscar Ledesma was named Assistant Philippine Deputy for Luzon and Western Visayas. Antonio Giron was named to the position for Eastern Visayas and Mindanao. The appointment took effect on July 01, 1970.
In 1973, with his energy sapped by advancing years and ill health, Father Willmann submitted his resignation to the Board of Directors. Reluctantly it was accepted and the Board appointed Oscar Ledesma as Father Willmann’s successor. Ledesma never assumed the office as long as the priest lived, and Father Willmann carried on the burden of leadership perhaps comforted by the knowledge and his successor was in place.
In August 1977 Father Willmann came to the U.S. for the 95th Annual Supreme Meeting in Indianapolis. Afterwards he went to New York to visit his sister Ruth, a Franciscan nun. While there he fell and required hip surgery. While recuperating at the Jesuit House at Fordham University he suffered a heart and died on September 14, 1977. Ledesma then assumed the office of Philippine Deputy and Father Willmann’s post as National K of C Chaplain was assumed by Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila.
In November 1977 Ledesma announced the appointment three Assistant Philippine Deputies: Nicanor Fuentes for Luzon, Antonio Giron for Visayas and Francisco Lopez for Mindanao. Giron died less than a month after his appointment and was succeeded by Antonio Salazar in January 1978. Fuentes died in 1980 and Mardonio R. Santos was appointed Assistant Philippine Deputy for Luzon. Concerned about the question of term limits for top officers in the Order, Ledesma, in 1979 proposed that the Philippines Deputy be limited to a maximum of three two-year terms. In San Diego in 1979 delegates to that Annual Supreme council meeting approved the necessary changes of the Laws of the Order.
In September 1983 Ledesma relinquished his post and Mardonio R. Santos was appointed Philippine Deputy. Ledesma also became Honorary Supreme Director in 1983.
Santos also felt it was time the area be governed as Philippine Deputy be broken down into three smaller areas, an idea he proposed to Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant in 1985. The idea gained the favor of the biennial National Philippines Knights of Columbus Convention in 1987, in Vancouver, delegates to the 106th Annual Meeting of the Supreme council approved the division. The resolution empowered the Supreme Knight to appoint, for two-year terms, a Luzon Deputy, a Visayas Deputy and a Mindanao Deputy. The three assistant Philippines Deputies were appointed to the new positions and the Philippines was broken into three jurisdictions governed respectively by Luzon Deputy Lauro M. Cruz, Visayas Deputy Angel C. Veloso and Mindanao Deputy Leonor S. Lozano in 1988. There was other big news for the Philippines at the Vancouver meeting, Santos was elected to the Supreme Council Board of Directors for a three – year – term. After reaching the age of 65 in 1990, Santos was name Supreme Director Emeritus.
In 1993, the three new men were named to the positions. Luzon Deputy, Alfredo Silva, Visayas Deputy, Ramon V. Consing and Mindanao Deputy Pedro M. Rodriguez Jr. The serve for two years and were succeeded by Luzon Deputy Arsenio R. Lopez, Visayas Deputy Patrocinio R. Bacay and Mindanao Deputy Alfredo T. Taruc.
In 1997 Patrocinio R. Bacay was elected to the Supreme Council Board of Directors during the 116th Annual Meeting of Supreme Council in Montreal, Canada.
In the year 1999 new deputies were appointed, Antonio T. Yulo for Luzon, Panfilo O. Pacubas Sr. for Visayas and Alberto P. Solis for Mindanao. They served for four years and were succeeded by Luzon Deputy Rodolfo Magsino, Visayas Deputy Eduardo Laczi and Mindanao Deputy Ernesto San Juan.
Mindanao Deputy Alberto P. Solis was appointed Honorary Supreme Director in2001 and was elected in year 2001 as Supreme Director.
In July 2007 three new deputies were appointed, Alonso L. Tan, for Luzon, Dionisio R. Esteban Jr, for Visayas and Sofronio R. Crus for Mindanao.