Toc whom do the Philppines belong? On arriving at Manila I had thought they were owned by Spain. Nominal ownership, yes. The civilized world which draws up the maps concedes that they are Spanish territory, according to I know not what historians or which treaties, but the Sultan of Mindanao and the island groups of Jolo or Sulu assert the contrary, and their claim is based on the undeniable fact that they have maintained their independence for the past three hundred years. The Spaniards found the Moros in the Philippines and have not driven them out yet. And the Negritos already in the mountains recognized no masters. Two days’ journey from Manila, the Igorrotes rule themselves and are inhospitable to the guests that God sends them. Robber bands roam up and the down the islands, infest the environs of Manila, and even penetrate the city. The Spaniards hold the coast; interior towns are beyond reach, unless I am misinformed.
Different races of the widest diversity live here but do not merge. After three centuries, Spanish has not replaced the native languages. Out of fifty-six districts there are hardly six where Spanish (or “Christian,” as they say) is spoken. If the natives resist Spanish, their masters do the same with Tagalog and Visayan, which are the most common and which very few Spaniards speak. And if the Spaniards claim effective sovereignty over the islands,why have they not completely explored them? Have they mapped them accurately? Finally, the most convincing proof that their empire is illusory is the fact that the insurrection they are trying to put down has disrupted only a limited area; not that the inhabitants of the neighboring districts are interested in the Spaniards’ cause but that these independent peoples do not care what goes on among the foreigners. The Visayans are on their side and have been organized into formidable battalions. But the Visayans also could revolt tomorrow.
Three centuries after the conquest, Spain is still a nation confronted with peoples to be subjugated; it does not know the country well enough and can only depend on the tribes’ mutual indifference in order to subdue them one by one. What about the Filipino insurgents? There are no “Filipinos.” Only the Tagals of a few districts have risen in arms; and if we are to pity Spain for being checkmated by one-tenth of the population it has completely annexed, then we can only smile at the ambition of an Aguinaldo to establish a republic of Filipinos.
I have dipped into the history of this colony and what I find fills me with the same sentiments as when I first read about the conquest of Peru, which moved me to admiration and pity. With what heroism, greed, and religious fervor the Spain of the 16th century hurled itself on new lands and sleeping continents! Never before had any nation clung so desperately to its dreams of grandeur. It was for Spain a time of illusions, including the illusion that God was pleased with its massacres. We, too, have committed massacres , like the English and the Dutch merchants; what nation, especially in its era of colonization, has not stained its hands with blood? But Spain added to the carnage the dimension of a holocaust. From the human bonfires of the Inquisition, she lighted the torch that burned down so many native settlements and towns. The Cross was no less destructive than the Crescent. Then again, Moorish blood still flows in the veins of its sons; if their African blood makes them adjust to the heat of the tropic and equatorial zones, it also inflames them with a fanaticism that Occidental influences have not quite extinguished, but which no longer produces the same energy as before, so that today they are only wornout fanatics, enfeebled despots who are violent and weak at the same time.
In the Philippines the Spaniards started with their customary prodigies. Their Juan de Salcedo, the Cortes of this archipelago, explored the coasts, subdued the tribes, constructed forts, and drove away the fleet of the pirate Limahong when he threatened Manila. This first conquest was like a path cut into a virgin forest with axes. Until the middle of the 17th century the governor of Manila, who decided on war or peace according to whim, dealt like a sovereign with a king of Cambodia and the emperor of China. His soldiers were supported by priests, who came from the common people and were still uncorrupted by fortune; hardships only served to fire their missionary zeal. They were capable of pious rage, but also of the most trying sacrifices. With idol worshippers, they succeeded more with charisma than with persuasion. Their hand extended in blessing cast on the native the irresistible shadow of a smiling predator. They learned the language of the native and lived with him; what’s more, the priest protected the native from the rapacity of their compatriots. The political system of the country seemed to favor the conquerors’ enterprise: scattered tribes, the non-existence of ruling families or a priestly caste whose prestige must be destroyed at the risk of breeding future revolt by its remnants. The priests were satisfied with depriving the native chiefs of their power and turning the hereditary nobility into vassals. Slavery was even suppressed, by generosity or self-interest. Under the power of the priests who watched over them, the Tagals and the Visayans enjoyed the security which their mutually destructive wars had once taken away from them.
Little by little, however, religious faith was weakened by worldly pleasures, the trail blazers turned into bureaucrats and the history of the country became a mere series of unfortunate expeditions against pirates and struggles between civil and monastic power. In their frenzy for immediate conquests, the Spaniards forget that two-thirds of the archipelago still remains to be subdued. Their own historians describe Manila, which they call “this pearl of the Orient,” as a pool of iniquity and sordid passions. Officials and clergy outdo each other in skinning the people; if natives and mestizos are able to save a part of their wealth from pillage, it is due to this rivalry alone. The collectors of tithes and the collectors of taxes watch, and often cancel out, each other; but the government officials who rotate cannot compete effectively against the friar who stays put. The individual is defeated by the religious community, the undisciplined civil ranks by the esprit de corps of the priests, solitary greed by organized greed. This is a government where all can be bought, and the religious congregations can buy everything.
Of course there are honest men who come to Manila and try to improve its standards of justice and goodness. They do not leave even their shadow after them. Overpowered, the civil authority consents to its own decline; but its cause thrown down, the native picks it up. The waning of secular power has abated the conflict from which the natives once benefitted; henceforth they would no longer be protected from the greed of those who had championed them only to prey on them later.
On this point we have significant facts and admissions from the mouths of Spaniards themselves. Freemasonry, whose growth was encouraged under several administrations, was more than just a covert means for regaining a little of the power they had lost. I do not believe that their associations have, in the words of Governor Blanco, exalted the primordial poetry of the native, although it is true that such enigmatic verbiage has provided the Indios with facile arguments to turn against their friar masters. An officer of the Spanish navy told me that when his brother went to settle in the northern part of Luzon to engage in agriculture, the priests forbade the natives to work for him on pain of excommunication. He had to abandon his project and return to Manila.
I have before me a petition addressed to the Queen of Spain with pathetic naivete by a mestizo from the Ilocos, written in prison. A pitiable document, soiled from being passed from hand to hand in the secret world of the insurgents who surround Manila. Without mincing words it voices the conspirators’ grievances against the friars who are accused of increasing land rents without any consideration of the financial crisis, the locust invasions and the plant diseases which have ruined their hemp and coffee plantations; setting arbitrary prices on farm products; opposing every industry capable of enriching the country and thus opening the eyes of laymen “who would thus be able to judge the friars’ conduct”; refusing free burial to the natives; grabbing lands inherited by Filipinos from their forbears and causing the deportation of those who bring their complaints to the courts. The Tagals also protest in behalf of the native priests, who are denied rich parishes, assigned far from their families, and persecuted as accomplices of the insurgents to whom they give confession.
Alas, the natives’ charges are confirmed by Spaniards themselves, involuntarily. It is indeed a curious thing to sed the two groups enslaved and ruined by the same enemy cutting each other’s throat under his eyes. One should see how grimly the latter, having nothing more to fear from Spaniards, is inciting them to action and providing the necessary incentives. It was an Augustinian friar, Fr. Mariano Gil, who discovered the papers of the Katipunan conspiracy, a dubious enough discovery and an obscure affair with vague feminine shadows hovering in the background. Immediately, the governor is called upon to take ruthless action.
Nothing is more curious to read than the memorial submitted by General Blanco to the Spanish Senate. Blanco had assumed office on March 8, 1893, at a time when the Masonic lodges were becoming active, almost on the eve of the rebellion. Intelligent, mildly skeptical, and more desirious of tranquility than military glory — such was Blanco, who was less interested in gaining fame with a bloody repression than in leaving to his successor a situation where diplomacy alone might succeed in postponing the deluge. A good man at heart, he might have succeeded, according to insurgents themselves, in saving Spain from the plague of war if the religious orders, sensing their powers threatened, had not bribed their way to secure against him the antagonism of the press hacks, the insults of the mob, the clamor of the students and even the defiance of his generals. When he returned to Madrid in 1897, preceded by accusations of apathy, weakness and lack of foresight, he wrote or caused to be written the aforesaid memorial justifying his policy. In it he pleads his cause, which in a way is also the cause of humanity and justice. The reader cannot remain indifferent to the painful accents of the man who is not free to tell all and is forced, in order to seek pardon for his aversion to merciless tyrannies, to emphasize and even to exaggerate the number of those executed under him. With a fiery eloquence that at times recalls the boasts of of the Romancero, he pleads his case vehemently and tenaciously. “So, noble senators, they accuss of weakness a general who has commanded four armies, unfalteringly waged difficult campaigns, and ruled Aragon, Extramadura, Catalonia and Cuba?” And during the Insurrection, had he not deported 1,042 subversives and sent 37 others to the firing squad during the month of September alone? What more did his enemies want? Is power to be proved only by the number of executions? Must the policy of attraction, considered a ridiculous masquerade in the colonies, always gin in to the politics of repulsion and terror?
It was an Augustinian, Father Eduardo Navarro, who drew up the charges against Blanco in his book Filipinas. At the instigation of friars a telegram was sent from Hongkong to Madrid: “Situation worsening . . . urgent ward off danger by naming new chief.” The eagerly awaited “chief” was the Marquis of Polavieja. Praised by some for his uncompromising harshness and severely criticized by others for the results of his methods, Polavieja was unable to placate the anger of the natives; it is really unfortunate that his administration should witness the execution of Rizal, then noblest, perhaps the only noble, figure of the Insurrection.
The family of Rizal had for years opposed a convent which wanted to take over their property. The young man displayed such persistency and logic in the controversy that the friars were forced to yield. To his superior intelligence was added the gift of a winning personality. “He was the flower of our race,” an old insurgent told me. I have seen his photograph: the hair waved back above an open face that seems to pre-empt all sympathy; whose martial yet gentle expression is reminiscent of the young generals of our (French) Republic in the popular prints.
After residing in Madrid, where he finished his medical studies, he lived successively in London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels, where he annotated and published a new edition of the old Spanish book by Antonio de Morga on the conquests of the Philippines, in addition to his novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, both satirical portrayals of life around Manila. Later, he moved to Hongkong where he set up his clinic and built up a clientele. At this time he was offered an opportunity to found an agricultural settlement in Borneo and perhaps, as a man of science and imagination, he would have attempted the colonizing venture if he had not felt it his duty to be in Manila where his compatriots were struggling for reforms. Although there was no order for his banishment and his books were never officially banned, yet he first sought the advice of the governor, Captain-General Despujol, who replied, “You may come.”
He came. The Spaniards claim that despite his promise, he indulged in political activities and plotted under cover; the mestizos say that, being opposed to the idea of insurrection, he did his best to calm rebellious spirits. Nevertheless, after some months had passed, and when he wanted to leave the country, the governor sought to detain him, first by persuasion and then by force. He was imprisoned, and presently deported to Dapitan in Mindanao under the surveillance of a certain Carnicero, the provincial governor, whose name (carnivorous) well suited him. Rizal’s affability won over Carnicero. The exile lived in peace; he started free schools, opened a clinic, and busied himself with agriculture and scientific study. Meanwhile the insurgents of Luzon came out in the open and scored their first victories against the Spaniards.
Upon hearing of these events, Rizal entreated Blanco to send him to Cuba as a medical officer of the Spanish army. Glad to save Rizal, whose only crime was his writings, from the ire of the friars, Blanco allowed him to return from exile and embark for Barcelona. Rizal had given his word that he would not attempt to escape during the voyage. When at Singapore, one of his shipboard companions, Pedro Roxas, offered to help him escape, Rizal refused. The Spanish officers were unanimous in their high esteem of his character; throughout the voyage they treated him as a friend and equal.
In the meantime, however, Blanco had been succeeded by Polavieja. Rizal was returned to Manila on the first boat. Suddenly, he was a dangerous criminal in chains awaited by a military court, to be condemned to death upon his arrival.
A Spanish journalist who was present at the closed-doors trial told me: “While the sentence was being read to him, he stood up; but the presiding judge ruling out any statement by him, we saw the man sit down again, with the same aplomb he would have shown in a sálon. You can’t imagine his impertinence! And he was only an upstart who had nothing but the faculty of assimilation! In his woolly-headed imagination he had combined United States federalism and the French Terror. On the morning of his execution he walked in agony, a disdainful smile on his lips. We had to force him to his knees, for here the condemned kneel down and we shoot them in the back. But he was still able to turn his head and was hit in profile.”
My informant added:
“You will have Rizals in Tonkin: cut off their heads!”
I don’t know whether we shall have Rizals; but God save us from Polaviejas!
The Spaniards have gambled on Malay fickleness; they are now beginning to shake in their boots. Polavieja covered his retreat by asking Madrid for more reinforcementsl instead they sent him a successor, Primo de Rivera. Blood having failed to quench the fire, would gold be used henceforth to choke it? That would be quite in the tradition of Spanish policy; but I do not believe that Primo de Rivera, while proclaiming all-out war against “the Beasts,” would negotiate with them.