The 1904 Report on the State of Public Health of Batangas - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore The 1904 Report on the State of Public Health of Batangas - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore

The 1904 Report on the State of Public Health of Batangas

The annual Reports of the Philippine Commission provide a comprehensive picture of life and conditions in Batangas — and elsewhere in the Philippines — early during the American colonial era. Excerpts of these reports that are relevant to the Province of Batangas are made available in this web site for the benefit of teachers, students, researchers and enthusiasts of Batangas history, culture and folklore. For citation purposes, the pages given are as they appear in the reports themselves.


[p. 112]

Manila, P.I., September 5, 1904.

The Commissioner of Public Health,

Manila, P.I.

Sir: In compliance with special orders, No. 136, office of the board of health for the Philippine Islands, I have the honor to submit the following report:

In 1902, during the cholera epidemic, by order of the board of health, no funeral services were allowed to be held over dead bodies in the churches of Batangas Province. In most cases, the funeral services were held in the churches, but the bodies went directly from the house to the cemetery, and in many cases, services were held there.

This law was necessary, and its wisdom at that time was not questioned by the people. The scarcity of doctors in the province made it impossible to distinguish death due to cholera from those due to other causes.

This law has never been rescinded, and even at the present time, no funerals are being held from the churches. The church authorities, supported by some of the Catholic residents of the towns of Batangas and Lipa, wish to get this order rescinded and to be allowed to return to the old order of things as before the cholera epidemic, and have forwarded a petition to that effect signed by thirty-eight residents of Batangas.

The provincial and municipal health authorities, for various reasons enumerated by indorsements on the petition, are opposed to the granting of this request, the sum total of their reasons being that they think it is better for the health of the province not to return to the old way. In this, they are supported by a large proportion of the Catholic residents of the towns of Batangas, who, after the arrival of the undersigned, drew up a counter petition signed by over fifty prominent people of the town, which is hereto attached. The curé of Batangas, in an interview with the undersigned, stated that they based their petition on the following facts:

1. That the province was free of epidemic diseases.

2. That the burial of the dead from the churches was an old custom and very dear to the people.

3. That the province of Batangas, as far as he knew, was the only one in the islands forbidden that custom.

Furthermore, he stated that the church would give all assistance in its power to the board of health, and even agreed to furnish a building to be used as a morgue where bodies could be inspected by the municipal doctor before being allowed to go into the church.

The presidente of the town was next interviewed. He expressed great surprise to think that the wisdom of the present law should be questioned, although he admitted that he had heard of the petition of some of the residents, but that the petitioners represented only a small percentage of the Catholics of the town. Personally, he was satisfied with the present status of things and he was sure the majority of the people of the town also were.

Governor Aguilar made practically the same statement as the presidente, but in addition, he wished it understood that the question of religion did not enter into the controversy on the part of those opposed to the rescinding [of the] law; that they were all good Catholics and that there was not a follower of Aglipay in the province, and that the priests were opposed to the law because it decreased their revenues.

[p. 113]

The provincial treasurer and the superintendent of schools (the supervisor had already placed himself on record as being in favor of the present law), two Americans in close touch with the natives, said that the whole trouble was due to a very small percentage of the people, led by the priests of Batangas and Lipa, but that in the other towns of the province, everybody was apparently satisfied. The both assured the undersigned that the question of religion did not enter into the feelings of the people who opposed the rescinding of the law.

Many other people, both natives and Americans, were seen regarding this matter and majority of them said that they had heard of the matter but had never given it any thought.

If what the people interviewed said is true, the priests and their followers are very much in the minority, though the undersigned in all his experience in health work in the Philippines has never known so many people anxious to support the laws of the board of health where those laws interfered with a church custom.

If it resolves itself into a question of sanitation pure and simple, everything points favorably to a continuation of the present law. From a sanitary standpoint, there is nothing in favor of having funerals from churches. The lack of doctors make it impossible to ascertain the causes of death in all cases, and the lack of undertakers makes it impossible to have bodies properly coffined.

There are only three towns in the province with doctors as presidents of the boards of health. These are Batangas, Lipa, and Taal, and in these towns, all bodies could be examined and, if deaths were due to non-contagious diseases, funerals could be held from the churches. (In all other towns, diagnoses are made by the municipal doctors.) But to make exceptions to these three towns would make trouble. There must be some general law to cover the whole province. Since cholera times, there have been no funerals from the churches. This in itself is a good indication of the feelings of the people, or else a good example of the discipline and strength of the municipal government.

Bodies properly coffined, unless they are cases of smallpox, plague, cholera, leprosy, or some other contagious or infectious disease, can cause no damage, but if this question is to be settled solely from a sanitary standpoint, it will be settled in favor of the continuation of the present law.

Very respectfully,

Medical Inspector, Board of Health.
Notes and references:
1 “Report on Public Health in Batangas,” by Arlington Pond, published 1905 as part of the “Sixth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission” by the Bureau of Insular Affairs, United States War Department.
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