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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Philippines, Theosophy in the

The first lodge in the Philippines was chartered in 1892 in Manila. It was named the Manila Theosophical Society (TS) in Escolta with B. C. Bridger as Secretary. By 1903, however, the lodge was no longer listed in the annual report of Adyar, presumably because it had ceased to function. In 1911, an organization called Oriental Theosophical Society was formed, but which did not have any connection with the international Theosophical Society. In May 19, 1925, the Manila Lodge was established with Devereux M. Myers, a Lieutenant of the U.S. Air Corps, as the first President of the Lodge. The lodge was under the Theosophical Society (TS) in America, as the Philippines was a colony of the United States at that time. The next six lodges with their respective first presidents were as follows: Cebu (Jose Ma. Espina), Lotus (Manuel Pecson), Jose Rizal (Rosendo Reinoso), Soliman (Domingo Argente), Muñoz (Domingo Enrile), and Filipinas (Mariano Sayo).

In 1933, the seven lodges with a total membership of 112 were granted a charter by the International Headquarters at Adyar that made the Philippine section autonomous of the American section. Its first National President was Ismael Zapata of the Manila Lodge; Mrs. Micaela S. Brilla (Lotus) was Vice President. In the same year, Geoffrey HODSON gave a series of lectures in the Philippines. During the next two years, the Section underwent a reorganization. A magazine called The Lotus was launched. In 1937, when Jose M. Espina was the National President, a Theosophical Institute was established with Benito F. Reyes as the principal.

During the Second World War, the Society suspended meetings and activities. In 1946, Domingo Argente, who was then the President, reported that several members were tortured and executed by the Japanese. The first postwar convention was held in Manila on February 24, 1946, with eight reorganized lodges, plus one new lodge, having a total of 161 members. In 1947, a piece of land was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Roberto Martinez in Quezon City where a two-story building was constructed from funds borrowed from the bank. This is still the site of the National Headquarters to this day. The work of the Philippine Theosophical Institute was continued, and at the same time an elementary school was built with 100 students up to grade six. The Institute gave weekly classes that were open to the public. The youth movement was active and published the Philippine Theosophical Youth Digest in mimeographed format. Translations of theosophical pamphlets were made into Filipino.

By 1950, there were 12 lodges with 289 members. Sidney A. COOK, International Vice President of the TS, with his wife, Ellen, visited the Philippines. Jose B. Acuña of Costa Rica was the guest lecturer the following year, when Olimpio Cabellon became the section President. In 1952, Benito Reyes became National President. National lecturers were appointed to visit the lodges. A Symposium on Religion was held for 12 Sundays where representatives from different religions were invited. In 1957, Domingo Argente again assumed the Presidency of the section, followed by Jose Zulueta in the following year. From 1959 to 1970, Argente again assumed the Presidency. In 1959, Rukmini Devi ARUNDALE visited the Section and presented ancient Indian dances which attracted the attention of the press. The then International President, N. Sri Ram, made a four-day visit in 1961. He met with the Carlos P. Garcia, who was then the President of the Republic of the Philippines, and who was a member of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines. The Section had an active Theosophical Order of Service. One of its projects was “Friendship Incorporated,” headed by Cleo Z. Gregorio, to assist and rehabilitate former prisoners.

In 1964, several prominent lecturers came to the Philippines. The first was John B. S. Coats, the then President of the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe. Geoffrey Hodson also visited for one month, and later, Bishop Sten von Krusenstierna of the LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. Edith Gray of the Theosophical Book Gift Institute also visited and donated substantial theosophical books to public and university libraries. During this period, Francisco Escudero also served as National President for a brief time before migrated to the United States.

Cleo Z. Gregorio became the President in 1970 and she began to undertake an active public program to popularize theosophy in the country. A significant milestone was the holding of the School of the Wisdom in the Philippines by Geoffrey Hodson in 1971, which drew many members into the Society, and attracted wide attention. Later in the year, John Coats was the guest of the convention, and he also returned the following May. A free correspondence course on Theosophy was announced in the newspapers. Geoffrey Hodson and his wife returned again in 1974 for another month’s lecture. His several visits had been a significant factor in the deepening of the commitments of many members to the theosophical cause. In the same year, the Section published its first book, Self-Discovery Through Meditation edited by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., commemorating the section’s 40th year. During these years, the section’s book distribution and library programs grew through the initiative of Tony Francisco.

In September 2, 1978, however, the three-story national headquarters building was destroyed by fire. Funds had to be raised to reconstruct the headquarters, and this call also received responses from other theosophical sections. A temporary structure was set up, which later gave way to a permanent two-story building. During this period, the work was assisted by a visit in 1980 by Joy Mills, who gave public lectures and a seminar for members. By 1983, the Section hosted the Indo-Pacific Conference of the Theosophical Society with over 150 participants from nine countries, with Joy Mills as the principal speaker.

When Cleo Gregorio stepped down as National President after 14 years, she had already strengthened the core membership of the section who embodied a deep sense of commitment to theosophical work. She was succeeded by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. in 1984. In 1985, the Section established a nursery and kindergarten school, and printed a Filipino translation of At the Feet of the Master and the Introductory Study Course in Theosophy. The Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) was reactivated with the launching of Day Care Centers for severely malnourished children in Metro Manila as well as the Self-Reliance Program for extremely poor families. A course in Theosophy was started in one of the colleges in the Philippines.

In 1989, the Section launched the Theosophical Digest intended for the public. The public reception of the magazine was quite unexpected, and it has since become a major vehicle for the dissemination of theosophical principles to the population. It was eventually adopted as a public magazine by the Theosophical Publishing House in Adyar and has since been simultaneously printed in the Philippines and India since 1998. For a few years, an independent publisher also printed and circulated it in Malaysia. In the Philippines it became instrumental in helping establish new lodges in various parts of the country, such as Bacolod, Iligan, Davao, Bohol, Iloilo, and Capiz. Previously, lodges were concentrated in Luzon island.

In 1989, the Section also published Light of the Sanctuary: The Occult Diary of Geoffrey Hodson, containing diary entries of the author regarding his contact with the Mah€tmas. Before he died, Geoffrey Hodson left instructions that the book be published by the Philippine section. This was followed by another posthumous sequel entitled Illuminations of the Mystery Tradition compiled from his diary. A third book entitled Yogic Ascent to Spiritual Heights was also published by the Philippine Section. The publishing arm of the section was renamed Theosophical Publishing House, Manila. One of its major publication was the chronological edition of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett edited by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., containing notes and historical background of each letter.

In 1991, the Section formed the Peace Library and Research Center, which launched a nationwide essay contest on “What I Can Do to Promote Peace,” in cooperation with the United Nations Information Center and the National Press Club. The Center also published a quarterly newsletter, Peace Ideas, which became an effective bridge between the TS and other peace-oriented and spiritual organizations.

In the meantime, its TOS program had grown such that it became the recipient of international volunteers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Korea. It also received grants from UNICEF and other foreign NGOs. In 1992, the Indo-Pacific Federation elected Hao Chin as its president, and who served for three triennial terms.

In 1993, the Section formalized a Theosophical Core Curriculum, consisting of three parts: theosophical studies, self-transformation, and service work. It also formulated a Mission Statement in order to clarify what its core work was in order to prevent unnecessary confusion about what work should be considered as priorities. Based on it, the Board of Trustees approved a 10-year vision regarding its priority projects, practically all of which was accomplished by the end of the period. To strengthen its fund base, the Section set up a separate Philippine Theosophical Foundation.

A weekly radio program was launched in 1995 entitled “Golden Lessons in Living,” followed by another one called “In the Light of Theosophy” a few years later.

A significant program of the section was launched in 1996 called the Self-Transformation Seminar. It was at first intended to help the integration and deepening of the spiritual life of members, but groups outside of the TS became interested in it and it eventually became a very active public program of the section, serving the needs of universities, government agencies, civic organizations and the general public. By the year 2003 the seminar had been conducted in more than ten countries, including United States, England, India, Australia, Pakistan and Singapore, with facilitators trained in three countries. As an offshoot of the seminar, the Section organized the Golden Link Youth Organization, intended to promote character integration among young people. The project led to significant observable changes among young people who were part of it. This led to the establishment of the Golden Link School in June, 2002, designed to incorporate this character program into the formal school curriculum for primary and secondary school levels. This became the fourth school of the section, the others being Sunshine Montessori Learning Center, TOS Learning Center, and Besant School in Bacolod.

In 1998, the Section launched a searchable digital version of The Secret Doctrine. In 2003, it released the CD on Theosophical Classics, containing all the writings of H. P. Blavatsky including the Collected Writings, in cooperation with TPH Wheaton. This has enabled theosophists to quickly find references on any subject found in the writings of Blavatsky, Mahatma Letters and other classic works.

V.H.C.

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