I asked an Indio boatman:
“You –are you with the Katipunan?”
“No, sir, I am with the buena gente.“
“Whom would you rather obey –Insurgents or Spaniards?”
“Spaniards, sir. They are good masters.”
I posed the same question, less brusquely, to a mestizo reeking of perfume.
“Me, with the Katipunan? No sir. I have a job in the government.”
Would the rebels be coming from the ranks of dismissed workers? The truth is, the insurrection is much less popular than aristocratic. The government has the support of many natives whose loyalty is a matter of salaries and wages, and many others like my boatman who believe that all is for the best in a world where handsome cocks fight gallantly and the saints are accustomed to promenading in pompous style around the town.
It is worth noting that the union of mestizos and native is of recent date. All the travelers who were in Manila before anyone suspected the rebellion was in the offing expressed disgust at the brutality of mestizos towards native subordinates. The mestizos themselves are divided by their grudges and conflicting interests. Marcelo H. del Pilar, whom Blanco considers the most intelligent among the separatists, wrote to a friend in 1894: “The withdrawal of some and indifference of others, who are also some of the richest, will leave a void in our cause. It is enough to make one weep blood and tears.” The Pedro Roxases and the capitalists of the archipelago, recipients of official decorations, have no wish to risk their millions in uncertain war. If they secretly contributed to the insurgents’ coffers it was only to ensure their fortunes against any eventuality, as far as they were concerned. The very rich are conservative.
Between them and the people, however, there are classes fortunate enough to educate themselves sufficiently to claim distinction: small proprietors, middle-class country folk and village mayors somewhat like tribal chiefs, who live far from Manila and are safe from the Spanish pestilence or, to use a better term, the European contagion; for in Hongkong as well as Singapore, in Saigon or Shanghai, associating with whites means nothing to the yellow race, so that I am amazed that so many orators in our parliaments can still expatiate on the moral benefits of the Conquest. Here it is the landed proprietors whose sons have travelled to Europe, the carefree millers, who most employ trickery or openly fight the encroachments of the friar, those whose assets are not large enough to accommodate the friars or who are in any case too proud to pay him ransom –these are the ones, grouping malcontents, failures, pseudo-scholars and their Indio households, convinced of the safety of their mountains and even more convinced of the Spaniards’ ignorance, who confronted bloodshed and ruin; and organized the guerrillas.
Their need to be commanded has given rise to a commander, Aguinaldo. Fifty years earlier the young school-teacher’s ambition would have risen no higher than to lead an armed band. Under the influence of European ideas, which the opening of the Suez Canal spread all over Asia, he aspired to the title of president of a republic. I fear that he is deluded; but I would not scoff at the twenty-seven-year-old leader haunted by the glories of Washington and Simon Bolivar, who has drawn from their example enough strength to discipline his army and avoid the shameful excesses which have stained Spain’s noble name with blood. The bandits, whom the Spanish authorities have never been able to eliminate, may claim him; nobody will believe them. We know that Aguinaldo is as generous as Menelik to his prisoners and that he is even opposed to reprisals . . . He cultivates the religious beliefs of his followers, knowing that his prestige would suffer from their loss of faith. All human authority borders on the supernatural; there is something that defies explanation in the fact that one man can impose his proud rule over other men. Their souls shrouded in mystery, the Tagals attribute superhuman powers to their young hero. Much as he may live under their tents and participate in their labors, his face is already blurred in legendary mist. He must believe himself to be as invulnerable as his men think he is.
In addition, news reports and slogans that virtually spread by themselves assume the forms of legend in this country. Before the insurrection, it was rumored in Tondo that around six in the evening people would see the apparition of a woman whose head was crowned by serpents; everyone interpreted this vision to mean that the fatal hour was approaching. Another report had it that in Biak-na-bato a woman had given birth to a child dressed in a general’s uniform –which meant that arms had been landed. These tales and apparitions over-excite the people’s imagination, which soon drops the supposedly hidden meaning and gets lost in pure fantasy.
Someone has written that the Spanish conquest robbed the subdued peoples of their original poetic imagination and impoverished their souls. A time always comes when the spirit of a race is reborn and impatiently seeks to know life. The very earth nourishes it with fresh vigor. Today the Spaniards have not only peoples to contend with but also, and above all, the phantoms of the past, nature awakened from slumber, legends descending from their mountains, the dead rising from their graves. And that is why the soldier, overwhelmed by his task, fights indifferently while the insurgents go into battle with such courage that they actually have been observed rushing, bolo in hand, across firing lines and returning to camp bloody but alive.
War has this to be said for it, that it unleashes a people’s energy and, provided that its cause is legitimate, endows individuals with moral values that they would not acquire otherwise. The mestizos and natives that one sees everywhere in Manila are no different, in nature or education, from the Tagals of Aguinaldo. They have the same finely shaped heads, bodies that move with woman-like grace, and often, also beardless faces like those of the women, large foreheads, an upper lip so distant from the nose that the whole face assumes a stupid or sad expression. And yet, resident foreigners and Spaniards agree that they are untrustworthy, lazy, greedy and fond of gambling . . . that the women have such few scruples that they consider it an honor to give birth to a child with alta nariz of Caucasian nose . . . .
I was dining this evening with an amiable European woman who narrated the following story:
“We live near a police station anf the window of my room overlooks the courtyard where the officers and men gather. Once I saw Indios being brought in, obviously suspects. One after the other they were made to lie face down on a bench, and soldiers beat them with canes on the soles of their feet. When blood appeared on the bruises, vinegar was poured on them, if they were not filled with large grains of salt. The victim screams, the soldiers laugh. He is told to count the blows himself, in a loud voice. If at, say, forty, forty-one, or forty-two, the unfortunate gets his count mixed up, the officer orders: ‘Begin again!’ I shouted: ‘Wretches! Murderers!’ The torturers looked up and began to laugh.”
The young woman paused awhile, her eyes half-closed and her pale face trembling.
“Alas, sir!” she went on, “I have not yet told you the worst. There were people there who were laughing harder than the officers and soldiers; they were the natives awaiting their turn, and behind them, in the street, women and children were also laughing.”