The origins of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines may be traced to as far back as February 15,1945 when the Apostolic Delegate, Bishop William (Guglielmo) Piani, even as the war was raging, created the Catholic Welfare Organization (CWO), with its central office at a remodeled coop at the University of Santo Tomas interment camp. (Eventually, the office was moved to the following addresses in succession: La Consolación College at 260 San Rafael St., Manila, in the same year; 1500 Taft Avenue in 1953; 2472 Taft Avenue in 1955; 2655 F.B. Harrison in 1974; 372 Cabildo St.; and, finally, 470 General Luna St,, Intramuros, in 1983.) Obviously with the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) of the bishops of the United States as his inspiration and model, Msgr. Piani’s major objective was “to meet the war emergency created by the destruction of so many towns.” Manila, for example, was the scene of the most destructive land battles in the country. As Gen. Dwight Eisenhower remarked, with the exception of Warsaw (Poland), “this is the worst destruction I have ever seen.” Seeing the need of a coordinated effort to aid the stricken populace, Msgr. Piani presented the services of the CWO to General Douglas MacArthur, and the offer was accepted. In charge of the relief work was the Rev. John Hurley, SJ. Its first personnel included lay men and women as well as clerics. During and after the battle of Manila, it sheltered around 10,000 half-naked and starving refugees, acted as important outlet of the PCAU (Philippine Civil Affairs Unit) foodstuff, and sent out burial squads to bury countless corpses. In the first five months of its existence, it distributed food, medicine, clothing, and other relief goods valued at 906,030.
On 17 July 1945, all the bishops met in Manila for their first meeting after the Japanese Occupation, and three days after, Msgr. Piani granted their request to place in their hands the direction of the CWO and make it the official organization of the Hierarchy of the Philippines. After the Apostolic Delegate received from the Holy See the proposal and directive to incorporate the CWO, the articles of incorporation were duly registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission in Manila, on 23 January 1946, with 18 incorporators. As stated in the Articles of Incorporation, the purpose of the CWO was “to unify, coordinate, and organize the Catholic people of the Philippines in works of education, social welfare, religious and spiritual aid and other activities.” The Board of Directors was composed of Bishops Gabriel Reyes (Cebu), chairman; Constancio Jurgens (Tuguegarao), Mariano Madriaga (Lingayen), Santiago Sancho (Nueva Segovia) and Alfredo Verzosa (Lipa), members. A few years later, a new constitution was approved by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation on 28 June 1952 and took effect on 30 June 1953. Such were the beginnings of the CWO. It was a welfare organization which had no juridical status in the Church. It was financed through regular quota subscription from all the bishops, and partly from the shipping service and, until 1948, the War Relief Services (WRS; renamed Catholic Relief Services [CRS] in 1955). Later on, the quota subscription was made on the basis of the Catholic population in each diocese. 
The Period of Defensiveness (1945-1965) 
To understand the subsequent history of the CWO until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, it is to be remembered that with the imposition of the American rule, and in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Philippine Church found itself in a new and difficult situation. Quite apart from the destruction of its churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions which was estimated at 250,000,000, it continued to be confronted with various enormous problems which were attendant upon the change of colonial master. Aside from the lack of personnel which compounded the problem of poorly instructed Catholics, it suffered from the dearth of financial resources because the people, though generous in other ways, were slow to contribute to the Church, whose needs were supplied by the Patronato Real for nearly four centuries. It was also faced with the invasion of Protestant missionaries, the anti-religious influence of masonry, the anti-Catholic tendencies of former pensionados who studied in US Protestant universities, the anti-clerical Filipino elite who were inheritors of the anti-clerical feeling during the Revolution of 1898, and who held important positions in the government and in business. It suffered, too, from the outcome of the Aglipayan schism. In addition, it came to grips with such American innovations as public school system and the separation of the Church and State. While all this had to do with the inner life of the Church, the bishops were aware of such social problems as social injustice and the revolutionary threat of the influential communist party, Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), especially when its military arm, the HUKBALAHAP (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, later renamed Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan), became a major political force, and the incursion of the American secular culture and its corresponding values. Given its ecclesiological framework which was largely defined by the ecclesiology of the Council of Trent and baroque theology, it is not surprising that since its foundation until the end of the Second Vatican Council, the CWO for the most part looked inwardly, and was principally concerned with the defense, protection, strengthening and furtherance of the vital interests of the Catholic Church as a social institution and of supernatural values. (During this period of the CBCP history, the body was headed successively by the following archbishops: Gabriel Reyes [1945-1949 / 1950-1952], [later, Cardinal] Rufino Santos [1953-1956], Juan Sison [1957-1960] and [later, Cardinal] Julio Rosales [1961-1965].)
Immediately after the war, the CWO continued to be largely engaged in relief services. When it was made the agency for the War Relief Services (WRS), its 18 bishops and prefects apostolic became the 18 regional directors for the WRS relief, with the parish priests and various congregations seeing to the equitable distribution without racial or religious distinctions. From 1946 through 1948, it distributed relief amounting to 4,645,282.95. However, not a few of its services were directed toward the institution itself. For instance, aside from the War Damage Claims services it offered to make possible the war damage payments to the Catholic Church, its churches, rectories and schools, it rendered services in particular legal problems for various bishops and religious orders, and, through its Shipping Department, handled their incoming and outgoing cargoes, inter-island and overseas. Likewise, it took care of a variety of problems of bishops, priests and religious with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration, Office of the Registrar General, Registrar of Priests and Ministers Division, among others. Its Information Department issued bulletins that were of interest and use to the bishops and the major religious communities.
At the same time, the CWO became the means through which the interests and values of the Catholic Church were defended, protected and furthered. Faced with the consequences of the separation of Church and State, among them being the lessening of the means by which it could fulfill its teaching mission and influence the people, the CWO fought much for the religious instruction in public schools which was strongly opposed by Masons, anti–Catholic individuals and religious sects, and for the private schools’ right to exist. For the bishops, the Catholic schools could help create and support a Catholic order. Largely for the same reason, and to spread the faith under constant attack, it tried to maintain a national weekly, The Sentinel, despite the financial burden, until its closure in 1968. Likewise, it had a radio program over DZPI and DZST in Manila and DXMS in Cotabato, even though its original plan, as early as 1949, was to put up its own radio station in order to “guarantee Catholic independence to speak out on any question of morals.” The “Tinig ni Mang Juan” radio program was instrumental both in the defense of Catholic faith against Masons and other anti-Catholics, and in the return of many to the Catholic fold. With the country under the threat of Communist takeover in the 1950s, the latter two became vehicles through which the Catholic view on Communism was expounded. In the face of indifferent or even anti-Catholic politicians and Masons, it tried to influence elections and the legislature, and mobilized public opinion. For example, it helped rouse public opinion against the efforts to liberalize divorce, introduce unwise sex education in the schools, discriminate European teachers in private school because of their religion, sterilize children of lepers, etc. With not much success, it opposed taxation on religious organizations. And against the corruption of morals, it set up, among others, the Legion of Decency, which later became a commission, to discourage the public from seeing morally objectionable pictures and from patronizing theaters which exhibited indecent films. As can be gleaned from its resolutions and letters, the CWO, of course, tended to confine the problems of morals to issues related to smutty movies, sex and birth control. In 1956, it approved not to admit ballet students to Catholic high schools. Obviously, it then lacked focus on more important moral issues as labor and social justice. And needless to mention, it was hardly ecumenical, either in its pronouncements or in its activities. As already noted, all this reflects the ecclesiology of the period, and illustrates an effort to construct a social order in which faith can be embraced, grow, and thus create a Christian culture.
At times, its battles for the protection of the legitimate interests of the Church and the furtherance of supernatural values became celebrated cases. In 1952, for instance, it was discovered that three top men in the Department of Education, sworn into office to uphold and implement the teaching of religion in public schools, were also sworn in by their masonic affiliation to eliminate it. The CWO handed a letter to the President stating the stand of the Church with regard to the Masonic commitment of the three officials. It availed itself of the services of Atty. Raul Manglapus, Atty. Ambrosio Padilla, Atty. Jose Feria and Atty. Francisco Rodrigo in prosecuting the cause of the Church. The Rizal Bill No. 438 is another case in point. Originally authored by Sen. Claro Recto, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jose Laurel, proposed to make Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo compulsory reading in all universities and colleges. The measure ignited a hot controversy, and encountered a determined opposition from the CWO, not to mention the various Catholic organizations led by the Catholic Action of the Philippines (CAP), on the ground that it violated freedom of conscience and religion. The controversy ended with a substitution of a different measure which accommodated the objections of the CWO.
But the concerted voice of the CWO was also communicated to the Catholics and the whole nation at large through its letters and statements. The CWO was almost always able to issue them on issues of national importance. Its opposition to Freemasonry found expression in a joint pastoral letter, issued on 18 and 24 January 1950, on the anti-Catholic book of Rafael Palma, The Pride of Malay Race, which tried to prove the Jesuits concerned were liars and the ecclesiastical authorities forgers of Rizal’s retraction, and in its statement on Masonry (14 January 1954). Its concern for the threat of Communist takeover can be seen in its pastoral letter on social justice (21 May 1949) and on Communism (15 August 1954). In these letters, the bishops wisely pointed out the social roots of Communism, and criticized the injustices of Capitalism which encouraged the growth of the communist movement; and with the surrender of Luis Taruc showed its opposition to witch-hunt, even though it rejected Communism. That it considered the transmission of Christian truth and values through the schools important in a society that fostered pluralism in religion can be inferred from its letters and statements on Religious Instruction in Public Schools on 18 February 1953, on Catholic Education on 10 April 1955, and on the Religious Instruction Bill on 6 June 1965. The ground for its opposition to the Rizal Bill finds expression in a statement on the two novels on 21 April 1956. And against the corruption of morals, it wrote a pastoral on materialism, its first joint letter to Filipinos after the war. All in all, the CWO issued 39 joint pastoral letters and statements from 1945 to 1965. It may be observed that although these letters and statements were strong when Catholic interests were under attack, in general they tended to dwell on general principles and lacked prophetic slant when it came to particular political and social questions.
It would appear from the foregoing, that the CWO was for the most part concerned with the Church ad intra. In fact, its administrative structure lends support to this observation. After eight years of existence, in addition to the agencies under the secretary general (Sentinel, Relief, Legion of Decency, and Public Relation Office), it had only three episcopal commissions, which were hardly engaged in ad extra issues: Department of Education and Religious Instruction, Department of Catholic and Social Action, and Department of Mission. That, however, is understandable. The ecclesiological framework derived from the theology of the Council of Trent put theological limits to the CWO involvement in the socioeconomic and the political structure of the nation. It is not surprising, therefore, that despite the unrest in agriculture and labor fronts, its involvement in these spheres may be characterized chiefly as social charity or welfare. The importance of the Catholic schools, orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions, like the Catholic Charities which Cardinal Santos founded in 1953, may be viewed from this angle. Indeed, although it wrote letters on social principles (1948) and social justice (1949), the place of these social principles was not yet well integrated into the ecclesiological outlook inherited from Trent. Obviously, the CWO needed some vehicles to translate these principles into the particular situation.
Initially, its work for the socioeconomic aspect of the people’s lives was handled by the Social Welfare Department. However, in 1952, the Social Action Department of the CWO was established to promote, on the national level, a sound and effective program of Catholic action in the social field for the reconstruction of the social order in accord with the directives set forth by the popes especially in Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. On 13-27 April 1953, the department organized the Priests and Laymen’s Institute of Social Action (PLISA) under the auspices of the Ateneo de Manila, and one of the concrete results of the PLISA was the establishment of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) on 8 September 1953, under the leadership of Atty. Jeremias Montemayor. Staunchly anti-Communist, its purpose was the organization of small farmers and tenants for cooperative action in defense of their rights, and promotion of their social welfare. (The Federation of Free Workers [FFW] was organized earlier, but this was not the initiative of the CWO, even though it was inspired by Catholic social teaching, as was Atty. Raul Manglapus’ Christian Social Movement [CSM] in 1967.) Even so, the CWO was not very much involved in labor and rural problems of the day, despite the fact that its statements often quoted papal social encyclicals. In 1956, the Organization suffered a setback in its socioeconomic involvement, because after the UST strike by the FFW-affiliated UST Employees Organization, the Catholic Church, in the words of Bishop Lino Gonzaga, “lost much prestige in the labor front.” It was not until 1970, and even more strongly in 1976, that the bishops’ body would issue a statement on labor rights.
The same ecclesiological framework marked off the lay participation in the social apostolate. Understandably, Pius XI, in his Ubi arcano Dei (1922), within the boundaries of a monarchical ecclesiology, defined lay apostolate in terms of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. Still, that cooperation was a major link between the Bellarminian view of the Church which rooted all ministry in the Hierarchy and the consciousness that each Christian had to be a witness to the Gospel in the world. In the Philippines, the lay participation was accomplished through the coordination of various religious organizations on a national scale under the Episcopal Commission on Catholic Action. Their primary objective was to strive, give practical effect, in their respective fields, to the mandata of the Hierarchy in accord with the directives of Pius XI. The Catholic Action was represented at both the diocesan and parochial levels: the Barangay Sang Birhen, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League, Legion of Mary, Student Catholic Action, Young Christian Workers, Sodality of Our Lady, etc. At the national level, these were federated into the Catholic Action of the Philippines (CAP). Aside from such traditional activities as organization of religious celebrations, congresses, and catechesis, these organizations were the frontliners in many rallies, lobbied in Congress, and were engaged in various social activities. The Catholic Action of the Philippines sponsored the first Lay Institute of Social Action (LISA), and held its first post-war convention in 1952. It was not within the province of the lay apostolate to be directly involved in socioeconomic institutions and their activities. And obviously, it was the thinking at that time that if the social order was to be renewed, it would come from the top.
Four outstanding events, which came to pass during this period of the CBCP history, and in which the CWO played a part, may be recalled because, among other reasons, they demonstrated that the Philippine Church, despite the onslaughts against it by the Masons and other anti-Catholics, was vibrant and flourishing. The first one was the convocation of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines in Manila from 7 to 25 January 1953, presided over by Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy, archbishop of Sydney (Australia). Its purpose was to bear witness to the Catholic faith of the Filipino people, and to decree such legislations as may be necessary for the preservation, enrichment and propagation of Catholic life. To solve the problems confronted at the time, the Council, no doubt within the Tridentine framework, offered to renew the social order through the renewal of spirit of both clergy and laity. That spirit was to be manifested in the concern for individual salvation and formation of social conscience. And the individual and social energy generated was to be organized in the forms approved by the Church and under the direction of the Hierarchy. The second one was the Marian Congress in Manila, held on 1-5 December 1954, with Cardinal Fernando Quiroga y Palacios, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), presiding. It was a grand manifestation of Catholic faith, which culminated in a liturgical celebration, participated in by more than a million Catholics, headed by President Ramon Magsaysay and his family. Then, on 7 October 1961, the Pontificio Collegio-Seminario Filippino, whose cornerstone was laid on 1 August 1959, was finally inaugurated and blessed, so that Filipino seminarians and priests could be trained sub umbra Petri. Lastly, the nation observed a six-day celebration of the 4th centenary of the Philippine Christianization in Cebu (27 April – 2 May 1965), graced by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the US, and by most of the Philippine bishops. It saw the birth of the Philippine Mission Society, signifying, among others, that it was now the turn of the Filipinos to spread to other lands the faith they had received.