Ilocano Personalities

Lyra Santos sheds light on two personalities that folks sometimes forget are from Ilocos Norte.

By Lyra Santos
July 23, 2011

When I was asked to write this particular entry, I really had to think. There are a lot of obvious Ilocanos to write about, but since I'm trying to take you on a virtual journey through my province, I wanted to write about people that are not in the headlines too much, if at all. Places and things to do, and food even, are easy ways to let you in on the Ilocano experience, seeing as geographically, we're all the way on top of Luzon and everyone complains about the 14-hour bus ride from Manila. This entry though, is much harder, just because there have been quite a few personalities from our province.

Juan Luna
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One of those that I would like to highlight is Juan Luna, who came from the town of Badoc, Ilocos Norte. He was born there, and until now, as far as I know, there is still a house that is kept in his honor. He was one of a big brood (seven children) whose younger brother Antonio also became a figure in Philippine History. He was a good friend of Jose Rizal and, we Ilocanos say (of course), he was the better artist. He was known for his sculptures and paintings, the most famous of which, the Spoliarium, which now stands in the National Museum, is pop-culture-referenced, even by the Eraserheads in a song. Apart from that, he was the painter of the famous Espana y Filipinas, in addition to numerous others.

On the gossipy side of things, he is also known for going mad from jealousy. He believed that his wife, while living in Paris, was having an affair. He consequently killed his wife and mother-in-law, and wounded his brother-in-law and a friend. He was arrested but later acquitted based on temporary insanity, a law that forgave husbands from killing their wives when or if they were unfaithful (shocking, I know).

Gregorio Aglipay
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Another famous Ilocano is Gregorio Aglipay, the founder of the Aglipayan Church of the Philippines. The few friends whom I asked whether they knew what the religion was said, "huh?" Aglipay was from the town of Batac, Ilocos Norte and was an orphan. It is said that he was arrested at the age of 14 for not meeting his tobacco quota (at the time the Spanish gave certain quotas for farmers and the like for their crops), after which he moved to Manila. He went to the University of Sto. Tomas and upon graduating, was ordained as a priest, afterwards returning north to enter a seminary in Ilocos Sur. As with the other Filipino revolutionaries, it is said that he and his fellow seminarians joined the Freemasons. 

In 1899, Aglipay was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for asking his colleagues in the clergy through a letter to ask the Pope to appoint Filipino priests in all local churches. This went against the Spanish law of not allowing Filipino priests to serve mass. Though he refused in the beginning, Aglipay eventually consented to help form the Filipino national church and was then appointed as Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church by several bishops around the country. 

The Ilocos region is home to many heroes. Ilocos Norte, in particular, is proud of its many sons and daughters who have gone on to influence the country in different ways. Without Juan Luna or Gregorio Aglipay, the Philippines would certainly be a less interesting place. Basta Pinas, Naimas!


By day, Lyra Santos is a freelance web marketing consultant. At night, she transforms into a foodie who likes Star Wars, Jane Austen, and heavy metal music.