The proclamation of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) on August 3, 1902 as a Church founded through the aspiration of Filipinos for social, political and religious independence and dubbed as the “only living and tangible result of the revolution” desires a firm formation of clergy even from its inception. In October 1902 the leadership of this Filipino Church emphasized in its early documents in Epistle IV of the Six Fundamental Epistles the intention, “to create seminaries … in order to provide all parishes with educated young priests.” This was the basis in the establishment of one of the first seminaries in the Ilocandia region that was named Seminario Central de Mabini (SCM).
According to history, it was the first Supreme Bishop Gregorio L. Aglipay (1902-1940) who declared to name“Mabini” the almost three hectares portion of land in Nancamaliran West, Urdaneta, Pangasinan in honor of his friend Apolinario Mabini, “the brain of the Katipunan”, after the latter died in 1903 while in exile in Guam. From that time on until today the IFI parish in Urdaneta has been popularly known to the people of the place as the “Mabini parish” where the place of worship, the seminary, and the cemetery are presently located. The Seminario Central de Mabini serves its purpose to provide parishes “with educated young priests” especially in the northern Luzon region until the advent of the Second World War.
During the Japanese occupation of the country another leader who treasured education and the importance of seminary formation was again realized in the incumbency of Supreme Bishop Santiago A. Fonacier (1940-1946). He led the establishment of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Central Seminary (IFICS) located at 1108 Taft Avenue in Manila and served the seminary training of its priests until mid 1940’s.
When the IFI was in search of its catholicity and membership in the communion of Churches during the leadership of Supreme Bishop Isabelo M. de los Reyes, Jr. (1946-1971), an opportunity for IFI members who had vocation to the priesthood emerged in partnership with the Episcopal Church. Beginning in 1948, IFI aspirants were accepted at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary (SATS), as a result of the dialogue between the IFI and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA (PECUSA) in resolving one aspect in the issue of Apostolic Succession of IFI sacred order.
For almost 33 years, SATS became the IFI’s sole training ground for the ministerial formation of its members amidst clamor to establish again its own. This cry was in response also to the question of relevant theological education and formation where SATS even though believes has given the students enough grounding in theology but shelved IFI’s spirit of nationalism in the periphery. This condition went hand in hand with the reawakening of the IFI’s nationalist heritage and the contextual articulation of liberation theology during the height of the Martial Law regime of President Ferdinand Marcos until the 1980’s. This desire was also echoed by the IFI Ilocano bishops who formed themselves as “Admirers of Genuine Aglipayan Discipline and Customs” (AGADAC) “to mold the minds of young seminarians” on the “teachings of the Patriot and Religious Reformer,” “preservation of the identity and independence of the IFI,” and “disseminate the true history of the IFI, the lives of the founding fathers, and theological treaties.”
In 1980, during the 9th year of the administration of Supreme Bishop Macario V. Ga (1971-1981), a decision was made by the Supreme Council of Bishops and affirmed by the Executive Commission to establish two regional seminaries, namely, St. Paul’s Theological Seminary (SPTS) in La Paz, Iloilo City, and Gregorio Aglipay Theological Seminary (GATS) in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. The official opening of GATS in 1981 was practically a resumption of its operations that ceased almost forty years ago under its former name Seminario Central de Mabini. GATS management fell under the administration of the newly elected Supreme Bishop Abdias R. de la Cruz (1981-1987) and offers a three year program of Licentiate in Theology (L.Th.).
It was Bishop Sotero Mitra who was appointed as seminary Dean to start the seminary operations until he was replaced by Bishop Paterno Piso, the diocesan bishop of Eastern Pangasinan the following year. The seminary received substantial support from the National Priest Organization (NPO) in terms of finance and human resources as exemplified by the services given by some academically qualified priests like the Revs. Ernesto Tadly, Primitivo Racimo, Apolonio Ranche, Rey Bonoan, Bernabe Samson, Bartolome Castillo, Warlito Baldomero and Isagani Fabito. Before the graduation of the first batch of L.Th. students in 1984, GATS was re-named Iglesia Filipina Independiente Theological Seminary (IFITS). One glaring reality that was proven in the ministerial formation during this period was the importance of commitment to the vocation, appreciation of the context of mission and immersing to the life of common people that becomes the strength of IFITS amidst deficiencies in books and material support.
In 1985 the first concrete seminary building was constructed near the old parish church. It was named “ABC Building” to represent Aglipay, the first Supreme Bishop, Bitanga, a notable Ilocano donor and Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada for its generous support. The building was inaugurated in May 1986 and in the same year GATS name was changed to Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS). The new name was coined by Bishop Emerson Bonoan, a long time professor of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary and appointed as the new Dean during the inauguration. Some lecturers who added to those who offered their time and talent during this period were Revs. Ralph Agustin, Taklin Reyes, Dwight de la Torre, Generoso Rosales, Tomas Maddela Deacon Francis Lucero & Mrs. Quirona. Bishop Bonoan was succeeded by Fr. Ismael Sarmiento in 1989 that managed to guide the graduation of the third batch in 1991 before it was decided by the church authority to close its operation due to lack of funds and availability of qualified lecturers.
The bold decision to re-open ACTS was made by the newly elected Supreme Bishop Alberto B. Ramento, (1993-1999) in 1993 with a collective backing from the bishops of Luzon and the commitment made by the Anglican Church of Canada. Under the new seminary Manual of Operations and with the new set of Board of Trustees, Rev. Guillermo Juan, Jr., was appointed as Academic Coordinator with Bishop Julian O. Juanitez, diocesan bishop of Eastern Pangasinan, as the Administrative Head. It was Fr. Juan who initiated the acceptance of student intakes on a yearly basis and managed the improvement of a modest library. Unfortunately, he resigned in 1994 and left to Revs. Robert D. Ilay and Apolonio M. Ranche the administration of the seminary. It was in January 1995 when Rev. Eleuterio J. Revollido, who returned from his five year teaching ministry in an Anglican seminary in Solomon Islands (1990-1994), was appointed as the new Academic Coordinator by Supreme Bishop Alberto B. Ramento. From 1995 the Very Rev. Eleuterio J. Revollido led in running the affairs of the seminary with some years of interval while doing his master and doctoral studies in 1996-1998 and 2004-2006 where Rev. Joel Porlares and Rev. Nixon Jose respectively took the rector’s post in an acting capacity.
It was during this period that a sustained and aggressive campaign to support the ministerial formation in ACTS was launched. Internally, the National Priest Organization, some Luzon dioceses and generous lay members shared their support to the seminary. Some qualified priests made their commitment to teach such as Revs. Ephraim Fajutagana, Robert Ilay, Bartolome Espartero, Larry Herrera, Nixon Jose, Joel Porlares, Guillermo Juan, Jr., Noel Dacuycuy, Danilo Ito, Mario Quince, Dominador Nino, Jr., Rogelio Marrero, Glenn Nino and Rose Binas-o. The partners overseas also gave their support such as the Anglican Church of Canada, Old Catholic Church of Switzerland, Netherlands and Germany, Church of Sweden, Netherlands Reformed Church (now Protestant Church in the Netherlands), Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK-England), the Church of Melanesia, The Episcopal Church diocese of Hawaii, IFI diocese of USA and Canada, and IFI Hong Kong. Aside from scholarship and financial aid they also sent their personnel such as Hakan Tholerud (CoS, 1995), Dr. Lawrence and Connie Hessel (PCN, 1996, 1998) Annastina Jonsson (CoS, 1998-2001), Bosse &Margareta Temneus (CoS, 1998, 2000-2007), Rev. Drs. Peter-Ben Smit, Franz Segbers & Ms. Elly Hessel (OCC).
ACTS infrastructure was also given great consideration where local churches and overseas partners shared their resources in renovating the old ABC building and the parish church, fencing the seminary compound, the construction of six faculty houses, female dormitory, Mabini Hall and the three storey ACTS Centennial building. This building housed the four classrooms, offices, mini book shop, Ramento-Soderblom Library with more than 8,000 usable titles, computers and internet / wi-fi connections, IFI Archives, and the Bishop Eduard Herzog Recording Studio. Part of the centennial building is the Balay Aglipay, a space that caters for seminars and retreats. Its amenities are the alumni conference hall, ten bed rooms, dining hall, Kullabeng cottage and a garden. The interior design of the centennial building was done through the creative and collective efforts of Bosse & Margareta Temneus and Rev. Revollido.
The faculty development was seriously taken where scholarship grants were given for the masteral and doctoral studies of teachers beginning in 1997. ACTS teaching faculty members have succeeded in their fields of expertise such as the Rev. Eleuterio Revollido, (Master of Theology, SEAGST, 2000 and Doctor in Sacred Theology, University of Santo Tomas (UST) , magna cum laude, 2009), Rev. Noel Dacuycuy, (Master of Theology, University of Edinburg, 2005 and Doctor in Sacred Theology, UST, cum laude, 2011), Rev. Joel Porlares, (Master in Canon Law, academics, UST, 2003), Rev. Nixon Jose (Master in Theology, SEAGST, 2004 & academics in the doctoral level, UST, 2011), Rev. Jennifer Jamias, (Master of Theology, Silliman University, 2009, Mrs. Mariefe I. Revollido, Master of Arts in Religious Studies, St. Louis University, cum laude, 2010).
The above progress happened in more than a decade beginning in 1995 coupled with a balanced curriculum based on ecumenical, liberational and contextual teaching and learning that stress academic excellence, spiritual formation, character development and immersion to the realities of peoples and nations have qualified ACTS to become a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA) in 1999. In 2003, after ACTS attained ATESEA’s standard requirements its Licentiate in Theology program received an accreditation. In 2004, ACTS ventured to the degree program in offering the Bachelor of Theology to its students. After couple of years of preparation in terms of curriculum, faculty, library and infrastructure ACTS received its accreditation in May 2011. The accredited membership status of this seminary has given great advantage to its almost 200 graduates the opportunity to enroll into higher degrees of learning such as the masteral and doctoral levels and can claim in equal footing with SATS in terms of the Bachelor of Theology program. This status gives assurance to the future clergy of the IFI for quality learning and relevant theological education and formation that are responsive to the demands of the gospel, the context of the IFI, the worldwide church, the peoples and nations. ACTS commits itself to the mandate of a relevant theological education and formation in partnership with the local churches, concordat and ecumenical partners and assures the Filipino Church to join in the struggle as this theological seminary faces the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.