Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

El Filibusterismo

In spite of the problems of the "Solidaridad", Rizal had decided to write a continuation of the Noli me tangere and started right away the writing of the sequel on the novel. Interrupted over and over again, he continued to work on the second novel for several years. It was begun in London, continued in Paris and Madrid and finally completed in Biarritz. This time, however, there was no rich friend who assisted Rizal with the printing expenses. Thus, he decided to move to the Belgian city of Ghent where he got hold of a cheap printer. Because money was wanting, the edition was finished only on September 1891. Rizal himself wanted to take along 800 copies to Hong-Kong in order to sneak them into the Philippines from there.

Rizal named the work EI Filibusterismo, a term whose meaning has changed again and again.

The French form "filibuster" is derived from the English word "flyboat" or the Dutch word "Flieboot". These are small fast boats which the pirates used in the 7th century in the Caribbean. According to other sources, "filibuster" has its origin in the English word "freebooter", from which the German "Freibeuter" was derived. In more recent time - above all in the USA - the term obtained another meaning. Those senators who want to delay the acceptance of laws which they oppose, through speeches and motions lasting for hours are called "filibusters".

The word certainly acquired a profound and broad meaning in the Philippines in the previous century. Blumentritt defined it in the Leipzig journal "Unsere Zeit" (Our Time): "To the modern Spaniards, 'filibusterismo' means the idea of the breaking away of the colony from the mother country, and 'filibusteros' are accordingly those who aspire for the realization of this idea. For our purposes, however, it will be more practical to ask: Who is considered a 'filibustero' in the Philippines?" And let Rizal answer:

  • Those who do not raise their hats to Spaniards.
  • Those who only greet a friar instead of kissing his hand or his habit.
  • Those who offer resistance to being addressed with the familiar "tu" by the best Spaniard.
  • Those who subscribe to a periodical from Spain or another European country.
  • Those who, at elections, give their vote to a candidate other than the one recommended by the priest.
  • Those who read books other than miracle stories and biographies of saints.

"In brief, all those," Rizal sums up, "who in modern civilized countries and under normal conditions would be considered good citizens, lovers of progress and enlightenment. All of these are looked upon as filibusters and enemies of public order and, like a lightning conductor, draw misery and wretchedness upon themselves during turbulent times."

Rizal dedicated the new book to the three priests, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, who were executed because of their supposed participation in the first revolutionary campaign of modern Philippine nationalism, the mutiny of Cavite. The trial of the three priests was nothing more than a contrived show, like the trial of Rizal later. In accordance with the method, tested and tried, prominent leaders were removed by making them responsible for actions which they not only did not commit but to which they have always objected. Rizal derives the reason to dedicate the work to them from the fact that the Church did not excommunicate the three priests and that there were serious mistakes in the surreptitious trial which irresponsibly led to his death sentence, and as victims of such circumstances, to the opposition which involved his lifetime work.

The Fili, as the book was called in its abbreviated form, is a continuation of the Noli in its plot. Again, the main character is Crisostomo Ibarra. This time, however, he is called, for the most part, Simoun, and is a business magnate and jeweler, a mystical, demoniacal figure whose only thoughts are to overthrow the existing order, the colonial rule. He is moved partly by political motives and partly by a personal desire for revenge. He proceeds withal as nihilist in accordance with the principle that the worse the conditions are, the earlier the revolution will be. Thus, he uses his wealth to promote the corruption of the ruling class, its arrogance towards the natives and the oppression machinery - and at the same time to draw the attention of the oppressed people to the conditions which he himself, to some extent, has caused, and to provoke their opposition. All of Simoun's plans, however, miscarry; the revolution does not succeed and Simoun seeks refuge in the solitude of the mountains, where strangely, there is a priest with whom the fugitive weighs his actions carefully before his death.

The Fili, like its predecessor, contains dramatic and romantic elements of the social novel of the late l9th century influenced by Dumas. It is a reflection of the colonial society of that time, this time, however, not in a small provincial town, but rather in the capital city of Manila. The nucleus of the novel is the story of Cabesang Tales. This is an episode complete in itself and still delights the Philippine audience as a theater piece today:

Tales, a poor farmer, clears a piece of land under difficult conditions. This will cost his wife and his oldest daughter their lives. After the first harvest, the religious order lays claim to the land. Tales does not want to get himself into a scrap with the powerful friars and states that he is willing to pay a yearly rent. The friars double the rent after two good harvests. Again Tales gives in. He is diligent and because of this, to a certain extent, he is able to lead a tolerably good life. He is well-liked and respected in the village. He is made head of the village and tax collector, or what was then known as Cabesa (from the Spanish word "cabeza", meaning director or head of the family). Soon he realizes that many farmers are too poor to pay their taxes so that he has to add his own money in order to make up the total tax quota. The friars, however, increase the rent tenfold and answer the protest of the farmer, Tales, with the threat that if he cannot pay, his land will be confiscated. Tales goes to court, spends all his savings paying for the lawyers and the legal expenses and as expected, loses the lawsuit. The next day, the administrator of the order takes a new tenant farmer to Tales' land. But the following nights the friar, the new tenant farmer and his wife are murdered. Tales leaves a message written with his blood behind. He has gone to join the rebels up in the mountains; there was no longer any other choice for him.

The story has a profound symbolism of Rizal. The question of "evolution or revolution" and the problem of whether to wait for justice by the hands of the Spaniards or to take the law in one's own hands are interspersed in the entire book.

All the same, the Fili cannot be considered simply as a call to revolution; in the end, the rebellion fails. This failure reflects Rizal's own vacillation and confusion again; the desire for reforms and the acknowledgement of the hopelessness of his efforts, the need for revolution and the fear of it. In this sense, in many ways, the Noli is regarded as the last admonition to Spain as regards the thrust of its policy in Madrid if peaceful development is not guaranteed through reforms. For this reason, the friars, perhaps come off better in the Fili than in the Noli. A commission even found out that the Noli contains 36 percent of anti-Catholic passages, the Fili, however, just 27 percent. In this second book, Rizal precisely directed the attack above all, toward the entire Spanish colonial apparatus, up to the Governor-General.

Compared with the Noli me tangere, the El Filibusterismo contained the book's value and significance, not in the melodramatic plot, but rather, in the dialogues and debates which raise the problems of colonialism. With brilliant foresight, Rizal took up issues and threw often problems for discussion, which today, almost a hundred years later, are still of extreme importance: Autonomy or independence? Assimilation or national consciousness? Liberalization and granting of freedom by the colonial power or a decisive bloody battle? Stupefaction or education for self-administration? And the so-called civilizing mission as justification for unending suppression? Are the colonized people ready for democracy or does the danger that a white tyranny will be replaced by a colored tyranny exist? The whole gamut of problems and feelings, the arrogance of the ruling class, the subservience or the resistance of the ruled, the prejudices of the whites against the colored as well as the colored against the whites, on both sides, the brutal ones, the moderate ones, the unsymphathetic ones, the symphathetic ones, the unrelenting ones and the ones willing to compromise, the upwardly ones and the brave ones, the resigned ones and the eternally hopeful ones - Rizal lets all of them have their say, as depicted in the following examples:

Father Camorra, who sees his vocation very dispassionately as a business enterprise: "The natives of our parish have taken it into their heads to force down my fees for the sacraments and insist on the official rates which the Archbishop prescribed in the previous century. As if the prices did not shoot upward from that time! Why should baptism not increase in price like maybe a chicken? But I feign deafness and demand what I can succeed in getting, and they do not complain."

The discussion of Simoun with Basilio is basically significant. It is a matter of the question of assimilation or national normalization; should the colonized people aspire to assimilate themselves to the motherland as soon as possible, or should they develop their identity: "You make every effort to unite your country with Spain with roses and garlands and in reality only forge iron chains. You ask for equal rights and the Spanish way of life and do not realize that by so doing you ask for death, the annihilation of your national identity, the disappearance of your native land, the submission to tyranny.

"What will become of you? A nation without a soul, a nation without freedom; everything in you will be borrowed, even the mistakes and the inadequacies. You demand hispanization and do not even blush for shame if it is denied to you. And even if it were granted to you, what could you do with it, what would you gain from it? At best, becoming a country of a military coup, a country thrown into a confusion by civil wars, a republic of greedy people like some republics in South America."

Simoun recommends another course, the counter way, of cashing in on the stubborn and ruthless attitude of the colonial power to further their own objectives: "What you should do is rather to utilize the prejudices of the rulers for your advantage. So they refuse to integrate you into the Spanish nation? The better! Seize the initiative to form your own individuality; lay the foundation for a Philippine nation!

They don't give you hope. The better! just hope for yourself and your own efforts. They do not give you a representation in the Spanish Parliament? That is good. Do you want to sanction the abuse and treacheries resolved there by your presence too?

They refuse you instruction in their own language? Then cherish your own language; propagate it; keep our national culture alive. Do not long to become a mere province; develop an independent, not a colonial mentality. The less rights they will grant you, the more right you have to throw off the yoke ...

Rizal already began to differentiate among the clergy in the Fili itself. The friars are no longer just an inimical mass; apparently there are distinctions among them; the severe, unyielding, conservative veterans side by side with the open, understanding "Padres", who are worried about the future. Thus in the debate about the Spanish language between the Father Camorra already mentioned and Father Fernandez: "But don't you understand why the natives must not have a command of Spanish?" Father Camorra shouts indignantly.

"They must not know it, because they will start to discuss with us. It is not the business of the natives to put up arguments, rather it is their business to pay and to obey. As soon as they know Spanish, they will become enemies of God and Spain!"

Father Fernandez, on the other hand, sees no harm in the teaching of Spanish. Apparently, he is looking way past the churchyard on the horizon of the monastery, when he asserts, "No, no, a moment please, Father Camorra. Why should we always put ourselves against the people; we are after all few and they are many. And we need them, while they don't need us. No doubt, at present, they have neither knowledge nor power. But it will no longer be thus tomorrow or day after tomorrow because they will be the stronger ones, then they will know what is good for them and we will not be in a position to stop them just as infrequently as one can prevent children from knowing things which they will comprehend upon reaching a certain age..."

And then there are again those who have raised the oppression of the natives to a science, who set to work at it with a psychological finesse, as for instance, Don Custodio, a high government official, who even considers himself as their father and protector, only .... "Some are born to rule, others to serve. To be sure, one must not say this aloud, but one can carry it out without saying much about it ... whoever wants to rule over people, must convince them, that they are fit for nothing else but to be ruled. On the first day, they will laugh about it, on the second day, they will protest, on the third day, they will begin to doubt and on the fourth day, they will be convinced. In order to keep them in subservience, one must drum into them day after day that they cannot do anything about it ... Believe me, keeping everybody in his place is an act of charity. Consequently, one gets order and harmony, this is the art of governing ..."

A dramatic scene in the Fili depicts a violent altercation between the governor-general and one of his highest officials, who stood up for a student who was arrested. The intervention of the official certainly provoked the antagonism of the governor who wanted to sentence the student severely. lf he turned out to be innocent, then the sentence would just disseminate fear and terror. He need not fear a scandal as he is accountable to no one but the king, the governor general asserts. Until finally the official lets go of all his reserve and in a burning indictment gives vent to his anger: "I have kept silent for too long ... for the very reason that I love Spain, I must speak ... You promised protection and justice to this country, yet we take from the people their life and freedom, you promised civilization, but we fear that they might utilize it; you promised enlightenment, but we bind the eyes of the people, so that they cannot see our excesses; you promised virtue and we spread vices and instead of peace, prosperity and justice, there is desperation; the economy languishes and the masses lose their faith ... If secure homes, education, freedom and justice are withheld from a nation, then this nation has a right to treat the culprits like highway robbers ...

Of course, the official loses his post immediately and has to return to Spain. Nevertheless, as he boards his carriage, he still says to the coachman: "If one day you declare your independence, then remember that there were many hearts in Spain which beat for you and fought for your rights!"

Above all the students worry and do not tire painting pictures of the future as they imagine it: "Tomorrow we shall be citizens of the Philippines ... O yes, the future is ours! It is very rosy, I see this country, which has been oppressed for so long and has been as if dead, awakens to life. I see cities flourishing along the railway lines, factories and workshops everywhere; I hear steam engines whistling; I can see their smoke traces and I can smell the oil which these monsters sweat out while they are working uninterruptedly ... Liberated from exploitation, mistrust and desperation, the people will set to work, because labor will no longer be a disgrace, not enforced, which is required of a slave ... Then it will be possible to develop trade, industry, agriculture and science under the patronage of prudent and adequate laws ..."

"Dreams, nothing but dreams," the student Paulita answers with a sigh the discourse of her fellow-student Isagani, a view which unfortunately is still true today for the majority of the countries of our world, especially for those of the third world.

Doubtless, freedom, first of all, must be deserved, the father says to Simoun in the concluding conversation. The Filipinos are still to blame for the misfortune. They have to be less tolerant towards tyranny, ready to fight for their rights and to suffer. They are still ashamed of their rebellious thoughts, are filled by selfishness, and by the aspirations to seize their share of the booty, whose possession in the hands of the oppressors they detest. Why should they then be given independence? "What would be the use of independence if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"

There is no one who a century ago would have perceived the problems of de-colonization with such sharpness as Rizal had. The politicians - of the mother country as well as of the liberated countries - could have avoided such mistakes through the study of Rizal!

The Fili was essentially a call to revolution although with many limitations. Nevertheless, it was published in an extensively more relaxed atmosphere than the Noli. It created a stir, when for the first time, a Spanish newspaper, the liberal "Nuevo Regimen" (New Regime) reproduced the novel in daily sequels in October 1891.

But the friars too were convinced of the value of the Fili. They are said to have offered Rizal a professorship at the University of Manila, an estate and 100,000 pesos in cash for the retraction of both novels. To this offer, Rizal is supposed to have answered that he will not undo with the left hand what he has done with the right. If his books were true, then he would have written about them, the friars. If not, then they would have nothing to fear. "You are trying to drown me in a glass of water, but you cannot even succeed in doing it in an ocean." He dismisses brusquely even the request of his sister to consider the offer.

What was Blumentritt's attitude towards the Fili? Not only did he welcome the publication of the book, he also volunteered wholeheartedly his services to distribute, publicize and defend the book. It is even said that he suggested the title of the book. At all events, he made the offer of writing the foreword for it to Rizal, offering for this purpose a passage from one of his articles in the "Solidaridad". Rizal corroborates this fact when on june 21,1891 he writes to Blumentritt:
"My brother! I found the passage in the number 49 copy of the "Soli" of February 15 and underlined it in blue. Will you translate it in German for me ...? Then I shall write the German phrase with the translation for it as an epigraph ..."

Blumentritt's epigraph reads: "A man with a glowing imagination can easily indulge in the speculation that a filibuster has surreptitiously bewitched the league of priests' bootlickers and conservatives so that they, following his suggestions, involuntarily pursue the policy which promotes the objective of disseminating ideas of filibusterism in the entire land and imparting the belief to each and every Filipino that there is no other deliverance than filibusterism, breaking away from the motherland." Here, once again, Blumentritt spoke up for full independence of the Philippines publicly. From that time on his epigraph graced all copies and translations of the Fili. It can be found even in the hitherto last English copy of the year 1977.

[Austrian-Philippine WebSite] [Culture and History]
[Rizal-Blumentritt Friendship] [Up]
created: February 25, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger