The Philippine Revolution

by Apolinario Mabini


Spanish Rule in the Philippines before the Opening of the Suez Canal


Permission to post this text on the Austrian-Philippine Website is provisionally granted by the estate of Leon Ma. Guerrero. It is intended for academic use. Commercial exploitation of this is explicitly prohibited. Copyright Estate of Leon Ma. Guerrero. All rights reserved.


Scanning and proofreeding of the text by Robert L. Yoder

The Philippine political revolution is of recent origin, to be found, so to speak, as late as the opening of the Suez Canal in November 1869. Previous uprisings had been provoked by affronts offered to particular regions or persons, and were not motivated by a generally felt need for political reforms; thus they were no better than mere riots. Even the insurrection which broke out in the Cavite Arsenal in 1872 had this character. Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, who were made to appear as instigators of this movement and as such were executed on the 17th February that year, were only asking for the restitution of the parishes which the friars had seized from the Philippine secular clergy, and for the recognition of the preferential right, which canon law recognized in the latter, to the administration of the archipelago's parishes.

It could not be otherwise for when the Spaniards established their rule in the islands, toward the middle of the 16th century, the social organization of the Filipinos was still in a rudimentary stage. Where the inhabitants spoke the same dialect and observed the same usages and customs, there was an independent leader who governed his subjects in the manner of a patriarch or tribal chieftain: in Manila, which had a sizable population, there were two leaders entitled rajahs, one to the north and the other to the south of the Pasig river. Since none of these leaders or chieftains had attempted to unite everyone under one rule, whether by permanent alliances or by force of arms, there did not exist a consciousness of national unity or solidarity. Thus the Spaniards, by dint of pledges of friendship and protection, sealed in blood, were enabled to win over peace-loving chieftains, and with their help subjugated the more bellicose by force of arms. Discontent having thereafter grown because the pledged friendship and protection quickly turned into onerous lordship, the Spaniards, justifying whatever means might be used to this purpose, found excuses to rid themselves of those who, suspect because of their position and influence, could lead an uprising. They then prohibited the carrying of arms, leaving the conquered Filipinos so weakened and unarmed that the Mindanao Muslims could sack the coastal towns of Luzon and the Bisayas, often unresisted when the Spaniards still did not have steamships at their disposal.

The Spanish conquest's ostensible purpose was the propagation of the Catholic faith; it was to snatch infidels from the jaws of the barbarian and the Devil, and enable them to share the benefits of civilization and eternal life -- nothing could have been more disinterested and generous. But the conquistadores had to run the risks of uncharted seas and struggle against savage peoples and unaccustomed climes, and the goal of doing good to unknown people, by itself, was not and is not sufficient incentive to drive the average man to undertake such enterprises. A more positive incentive was needed, an objective concealed but more realistic, such as to make one's fortune. America's gold had roused the. cupidity of adventurous spirits. Then again, the conquest of new lands has always meant more possessions, more money. By teaching the natives their own religion and customs the conquistadores could rule their bodies and souls, taming them the better to exploit them. Whether soldiers, priests or merchants, the conquerors went and will go, after money, and, whatever their pretensions of humanitarian sentiments, will not put them into practice except as a means, to attain their original objective.

Having completed the domination of Luzon and the Bisayas, the Spaniards divided the conquered country, into districts which they termed encomiendas. Those who had distinguished themselves during the conquest were given each his own encomienda, with the right of succession. Since the encomenderos, to enrich themselves faster, required their serfs to pay tribute in kind according to the industry of each, and since a serf had little left to meet his needs after having paid tribute, he had to give up the crafts he had learned from his forefathers or from the Chinese, Japanese, and other races which had traded with the Filipinos before the conquest, and make his living only from the natural fruits of the soil which were still sufficient for his needs, thanks to the low density of the population. So much for all that humbug about the indolence of the Filipinos. On the other hand, the friars, driven by the zeal and intolerance made famous by the Inquisition in its time, proscribed as heretical and superstitious the religious usages and popular chants which might perhaps preserve the traditions regarding the origin, settlement and culture of the native population of the islands, and in their stead imposed beliefs and practices contrary to the native manner and way of life. This apprenticeship must have been painful for such a radical and violent change of life could not have been accomplished without great cruelties on the part of the conquerors, and unspeakable sufferings and utter exhaustion on the part of the conquered.

This, explains how a society that was already beginning to learn the art of living should return to its infancy and to live without consciousness of itself for three Centuries. If the Spaniards were to perpetuate their rule, they should perpetuate the ignorance and weakness of the native. Science and wealth meant strength; only the poor and the ignorant are weak. Since it was unavoidable to give the native a measure of religious teaching that he might not revert to his old superstitions, this education should train him to keep his eyes on the skies that he might neglect the bounties of the earth. 'The native should learn how to read the prayer-books and hagiographies translated into the country's dialects, but he must not know Spanish because then he would understand the laws and the decrees issued by higher authorities and cease to heed the advice of his parish priest, the friar. He must not read subversive books, and so those coming from abroad or locally published had to be subjected to the: strict censorship of the ecclesiastical authorities. Trade with neighbouring Muslim countries was prohibited; Japanese immigration was likewise forbidden and Chinese immigration, restricted. It was sought to stifle the echoes, already much weakened by distance and the difficulty of communications, of the revolutions in the United Colonies of America against England, in France, and in the Spanish American colonies, that they might not awaken the Filipinos from their long sleep, already shaken by frightening nightmares. In short, the Spanish government, working hand in hand with the friar, tried to isolate the Filipinos, intellectually and physically, from the outside, world that they', might 'not be subject to influences other than those both judged it convenient to allow.

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created: September 8, 1998
updated: December 22, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger