Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

A Royal and Imperial Agitator for a Republic

Blumentritt cannot conceal his admiration for the revolutionaries and mockingly quotes the friars who spread the idea that the revolutionaries would soon surrender if they did not have white men as leaders, since the natives were not capable of leading a revolution on a large scale. On the contrary, Aguinaldo proved that the Tagalogs possessed all the abilities to establish an orderly government: "And it can be gathered even from the accounts which the Spanish newspapers carry, which were certainly not kind to Aguinaldo, that the insurgent province of Cavite was, at least, governed not worse than as it had been under the Spanish rule. Truly, if foreign reports are credible, then the greater peace and justice than ever before prevailed during the time when Aguinaldo was sovereign in Cavite."

Blumentritt publishes his resumés about the political condition in the Philippines year after year, above all, in the "Österreichische Monatsschrift für den Orient" (Austrian Monthly Journal for the Orient). And from the beginning, he makes clear his position - on the side of the revolution and against the Americans. Unlike in Cuba where the US-troops had to conquer everything, in the Philippines, "it was the insurgents who won all the rich coastal territories with their own hands, and cleared the way for the Americans," the protessor writes in October, 1898. And he perceives too that the relationship between the Yankees and the Filipinos was friendly as long as the Americans relied upon the help of the revolutionaries. Only when the American army arrived did the relations became strained. Blumentritt says that he knows nothing authentic about these relations yet. All the same, he speaks with certainty about the "arrogant Anglo-Saxons incalcated with disdain of the colored people."

Aguinaldo's motives are clear to Blumentritt: "He . . . wanted to act as ally of the Americans, the latter, however, just wanted to lay claim to the services of the rebels." Blumentritt still does not believe that the USA wants to get involved in a prtracted guerilla war. He is, however, convinced that the revolutionaries would fight against an American annexation with the same courage with which they fought against the Spanish domination. And with the same conviction with which he had constantly appealed to the Spaniards to save the situation through reforms, he warns the US against abusing their victory and power.

A year later, in l899, Blumentritt already gives his report with the highly suggestive title of "The Filipinos as Masters in their own House". Here, he writes out the best testimonial for the young republic. First of all he dismisses all news about the persecution of the Spaniards or half-breeds under the revolutionary government: " . . . I affirm that neither the Philippine Republic nor its leaders and partisans or the colored inhabitants manifest on the whole, any caste sentiments . . . for the Filipinos, all castes and colors have equal rights and are of no importance; for them, they are just Filipinos . . .

Nothing comparable to Aguinaldo's policy of national reconciliation, as Blumentritt describes it, is found in any of the contemporary sources or in the subsequent historical works. The "ricachones" (something like money bags) kept away from the republic, because "the revolutionaries had a scent much too democratic for their fine noses," as Blumentritt states sarcastically. But then, the belief that the days of the Spaniards were finally over grew and suddenly everyone who was somebody in the Philippines, the wealthy, the merchants, the aristocrats and even the retired Spanish officers swore allegiance to Aguinaldo. In addition, Aguinaldo proved to be an excellent diplomat and tactician, preventing dissensions and party fights in his camp. The deserving revolutionaries were bestowed military positions, those who joined up with the revolution later got civil offices as long as they could be awarded. Blumentritt renders the Republic the highest compliment when he says "that with the exception of the postal system, everything is working smoothly, the government machinery is at least not going worse in this young state as under the Spanish . . . reports according to which doubts appearing on the ability of the Filipinos to govern . . . are not in the least justified. Surely the discipline and the close unity, which the Filipino manifested in the Katipunan uprising and in the current war, speaks for their competence to guide the destiny of their fatherland themselves."

This question played a prominently significant role in the debates in the USA over the years. Blumentritt's opinion which extended over the Atlantic, exerted a strong influence here. The University of Boston published an opinion poll in the year 1901 about the issue of the readiness of the Filipino for self-government. Naturally, Blumentritt was one among those who were asked. The Nestor of the American ethnologists, Professor G. Brinton, called him "the greatest living scientific authority about the Philippines" and adds, on the current issue: "Since there is nobody who is better informed about the intellectual state of the Filipinos, then it will interest the readers to know that he is convinced that they are adequately developed for independent self-government." In his verdict for the USA, Blumentritt, however, rigidly defends, which is unusual for him, the claim of the Filipinos to independence and he does not hesitate either in drawing comparisons with his European neighbors and thereby risking conflicts: "The Filipinos have more people with university education than the kingdom of Serbia, the principalities of Bulgaria and Montenegro could show. They have less illiterate people than the states of the Balkan peninsula, many provinces of Spain and Portugal and the Latin Republics of America . . . the Filipinos take care of their educational system better than Spain and the Balkan States . . . They do not lack trained civil servants to govern their own country . . . the history of the Philippine revolution is not tainted with such grand series of atrocities as those revolutions of the great civilized nations of Europe . . . Accordingly, no one can deny that the Philippines has more right to form a government than many European and American states."

Blumentritt even more strongly opposed and more bitterly criticized the American policy of absolute annexation. No other choice remains for the Filipinos but to fight the powerful American union, of whose soldiers' morals he does not seem to have a good opinion. He refers to the tropical climate and to "the alcoholism of the Americans" as good allies of the Filipinos because wherever the Americans had been able to hoist their flag and stand their ground, the brandy plague has set in, the only real success which the Americans have achieved in the Archipelago up to now."

In his work, "The Philippines. A synoptic presentation of the ethnographic and historico-political state of the Archipelago", Blumentritt gives a complete picture of the country and its state of affairs, from geography and ethnology, by way of religion and economics, to political events, along with the constitution of the republic. Yet what was meant as a scholarly synoptic description developed into a polemic for Philippine freedom and against the occupation policy of the Americans, as he comes closer to what, for his time, were actual current events. Blumentritt amazes us through his knowledge of details. He does not only know something about the talks of the American Consul Pratt with Aguinaldo in the famous Raffles Hotel of Singapore, but he himself is in possession of copies of the minutes of the discussions which he correctly calls a treaty between the US and the revolutionaries.

Blumentritt establishes with certainty that the US-military, at the head of all, Admiral Dewey, held the revolutionaries for a long time in the belief that they have come to help them get their independence. How else could it be explained that the Americans take cognizance of the manifestos and decrees of the revolutionaries, of the proclamation of the republic, of the formation of their government, of their armament and their military operations without a word of protest, thus amounting to assent?

From the view of Blumentritt, the outbreak of the hostilities between the USA and the Republic in 1899 looks like an American provocation with a purpose. He relates that at the time of the exchange of fire, the top-ranking staff officers were at a conference with Aguinaldo in Malolos, while other top-ranking military men lingered in a theater presentation. In addition to this, the fact that two days later, on February 6, the Senate in Washington had to ratify the Paris Peace Treaty and probably the Filipinos would have carefully avoided anything which could have tainted the atmosphere to their disadvantage.

No doubt, Blumentritt sometimes deals quite severely with the Americans. He seems to win far less sympathy for them than he had procured for the Spaniards during his lifetime, which considering the upbringing of the professor, would be comprehensible too. At all events, Blumentritt does not even believe in the gradual growth of independence under the guidance of the Americans, which later - to be sure, under the pressure of the events after the second world war - in fact took place.

For the time being, Blumentritt still considers the American rule worse than the Spanish rule, "because the character of the Anglo-Saxons brought a social prescription of tl>e colored people . . . it is unthinkable in the character of the Americans to ever grant the natives, the colored gentlemen, the social and real poilitical equality with the divinely inspired English-speaking white race . . .

BBlumentritt opens an extensively unknown chapter with his depiction of the relations between the USA and the religious orders by describing how the US-occupation authorities supported the claims of the friars, even replacing parishes and estates taken away from them by the Republican government. This, in spite of the fact that the majority of the people in the United States were protestants, and freedom of religion was embodied in the constitution. But even the Pope would not be on the side of the Catholic people of the Philippines in this conflict, rather on the side of the Lutheran occupants from the USA. Thus, as Blumentritt judges, the American church policy would contribute further to the strengthening of ranks of the revolutionaries because the Filipinos would not bear it if "the ruthless Anglo-Saxons of America, overtlowing with racial conceit, were to swing the whip over them and if this were not enough, the friars were supposed to return with all their privileges too!"

And Blumentritt concludes his treatise powerfully: "The dice might fall this way or that way, in any case, the Philippine people have gained the sympathies of all who reject the principle, 'Might comes before right' and considers the Dulce est pro patria mori (It is sweet to die for your fatherland) not merely for translation purposes for beginners in Latin!"

Blumentritt reproduces the text of the republican constitution in an appendix form which, even from today s modern view, shows that it can be considered as a highly democratic constitution. It provides for freedom of religion and separation of church and state, the inviolability of the person without court order, the civil liberties of opinion, press, assembly, demonstrations, the right to establish private education, etc.

In the commemorative volume of the Philippine Assembly mentioned at the beginning, Blumentritt is given a testimonial of absolute loyalty and integrity during the days of the revolution and the American occupation: "Great was his joy and his enthusiasm, when he saw the republican government of Malolos which laid down a republican constitution organized . . . And when a new conflict broke out . . . he put himself with full devotion on the side of the Philippines. He did not let his pen rest so he could prove our capability for a free and independent life before Europe and America. He fought against the injustices to which we were exposed on account of Washington, whose imperialistic policy, pushed by the republican party, provoked his vigorous protest."

Nonetheless there is no better proof, no higher distinction for his paramount position in the Philippine problem, for his knowledge and his reputation, than the fact that, in spite of his unmistakable political outlook, he was asked by both sides to be a mediator.

"At that time, Ferdinand Blumentritt was offered the position of arbiter by the USA and Spain in the disputes between the two countries. He had to decline the offer, however, because as an Austrian government official, the Austrian government in Vienna did not allow him to accept the position." (Leitmeritzer Heimatbote, (Leitmeritz Home Herald) January 1971). It even says in a report that consent to conduct the negotiations in Leitmeritz prevailed. Thus the Spanish-American war and the freedom of the Philippines might perhaps have been sealed by the "Peace of Leitmeritz".

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created: March 28, 1998
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger