Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

Blumentritt and the Revolution

In the final analysis, everything was just a prelude, a preparation, perhaps a distraction - the arguments about religion and the denunciation of the position of power of the friars' orders, the work on the "Solidaridad", the publication of the books Noli me tangere and El Filibusterismo, the revision of the "Morga". In the background stood the question of what must be done, or what must happen to the Philippines. The question raised the alternatives, evolution or revolution, .befor'e nationalists and patriots of any color. To continue the fight with the pen and the word in order to force the Spaniards, finally, to reforms, concessions and representation in the Cortes, or to summon the people to take up arms to change the conditions by force? Each alternative certainly sparked off once again the chain of issues and problems with which revolutionaries in exile and in their native countries have coped ever since revolutions began. Was it expected that at some point in time the Spaniards would educate the Filipinos in order to prepare them for independence? Could one reckon with a colonial power giving up occupancy without internal and international pressures forcing it to do so? Who must decide when a colonized people is ready for self-government; who sets the conditions for it?

And the revolution? Where was the man, the men, capable of directing it? Under what conditions was an uprising promising? There were those who asserted that the masses must first be educated before they could be ready for the revolution. There were others, who spoke of, first of all, training an elite of the nation, who could assume leadership. It was also debated whether it should be a revolution from above, led by a small layer of enlightened intellectuals, or a mass movement from whose midst, created by the need of the hour, the brilliant workers and farmers would emerge at the top as leaders.

The question of the revolution presented itself to Ferdinand Blumentritt too, the civil servant loyal to the emperor, who, probably, indignantly refused to accept the problem in connection with his fatherland; then, however, was called upon to stand by his friend as helper and adviser on this matter. It was no wonder, therefore, that this subject matter should soon become a burning issue in the correspondence of the friends.

Rizal is constantly torn between hopefulness and desperation - a split personality. The liberal, intellectual thinker who does not hesitate to lay down laboriously the foundations which would lead his countrymen, in some distant future, to the goal. And he, stirred by news from his family in the Philippines, of injustice, persecution and brutality, nevertheless, loses his calm and sees salvation in the hasty solution by coup de main which puts an end to everything. Rizal keeps this conflict in check all his life: the evasion of the revolution, indeed the fear of it, and at the same time, the certainty of not being able to avoid this revolution.

Blumentritt's initial reaction, naturally, was to attempt to calm down his friend, to appeal to his reason, and above all, to warn him against imprudent actions. Blumentritt trusted fully the willingness of the Spaniards for reforms, specially at the early stages of his friendship and correspondence with Rizal. Even Rizal was averse to the idea of a separation of the Philippines from Spain and thinks of a peaceful solution, but writes: "it will not come to that; the peaceful struggle must remain a dream because Spain never learns from her former colonies in South America. Spain does not perceive what England learned in North America ... All that we are asking for are more concern, better instruction, better government officials, one or two representatives to the parliament, more security for us and our properties. Spain can certainly win the Philippines for herself forever, if Spain were more judicious ... "

Blumentritt is not shaken in his belief and two weeks later expresses his joy in a letter about a victory "of the arms of Spain and Christianity" against insurgent moslems on the island of Mindanao. And Rizal vacillates between reason and feeling: "I can assure you that I am not disposed to anything that concerns the conspiracy because I find it altogether too soon and risky. Yet if the government forces us to it, that is, if no more hope remains for us in this world other than to seek our destruction, when the Philippines would other than to seek our destruction - when the Philippines would prefer to die than to bear the misery, then I, too, shall share the fate of my countrymen".

Later, Rizal himself must urge his friend to caution and equanimity and not to commit himself too much in the fight for the Philippines and risk his position: "There is still time to call off the campaign. Your loss would be very great for the world and the Philippines. It is better that you live peacefully as you did before and take care of your health ... You are fighting for our fatherland, we too must do the same for you ... And I want to write your case for defence; I want to fight for you myself ... You take everything too seriously ... If only you can retain your position as professor. I do not know how it is in Austria."

Rizal requests Blumentritt to write a story about the Philippines. "I believe you are the only one who can write this story. You will be read as an impartial judge. You have no egoistic interests ... Austria does not have a colony. You need not change the truth for the Spaniards nor for the Filipinos." He adds that one would suspect hïm, Rizal, of prejudices; certainly Blumentritt can view the past more objectivety. Nevertheless, Rizal says that Blumentritt should not expect gratitude, because garlands and laurels are the "handiwork" of free nations.

Rizal perhaps never expected Blumentritt to give up his fight. To that end he knew his friend well enough. On the contrary, attacks and provocations seem to kindle the spirit of the professor more and more. He is horrified at the discrimination against the colored people contained in the new Philippine penal code, on which he gets busy:
"The provision of the codigo penal stating that whoever is Indio or Mestizo is more severely punished, roused me intensely to indignation. It is tantamount then to saying that anyone who is not born a white is actually a latent criminal. This is a great injustice which seems even harsher and more unjust because it is found in a law."

In March of 1889, Blumentritt informs his friend that he is working on a memorandum of which he has already completed the following chapters:

1) Historical preface;
2) Filibusterism;
3) Nativism (inhabitants);
4) Quioquiapismo (Defamatory assaults on the Filipinos);
5) Civil crimes (Censorship or banishment of civil servants without knowledge);
6) Immorality, dismissal of government officials, provincial and municipal matters;
7) The Friars: The historical development of their power; and,
8) Are the friars really the mainstays of Spain?

Rizal is enthusiastic upon receiving the manuscript: "Your letters and manuscripts are like a cheer of a wise and old friend for us, the Filipino youth ... You alone give us strength and courage and you admonish us as well when we step out of line ... all of us Filipinos are very grateful to you for your love for our fatherland; we all agree (are of the opinion) that you are the best Filipino and do more than all of us together ..."

Blumentritt's courageous and indefatigable commitment to the Filipino cause seems so incredible to the Spaniards as well as to the Filipinos that many doubt his very existence or describe him as a front for the propagandists in exile, a version wliich perhaps was encouraged by the Spanish authorities, if not invented by them: "Only, many do not think that Ferdinand Blumentritt is an Austrian; many say that he is a Filipino who has already been in Europe for a long time but who never forgets his fatherland. Nevertheless, some believe that your articles are mine or Plaridel's (pseudonym of Marcelo H. del Pilar) and we are just using your name. I must write these people so that they will see and be ashamed: A foreigner is doing more for the Philippines than a Filipino himself ... It makes me happy to think that you have become the nightmare of the Peninsulares ..."

If necessary, then the courteous Blumentritt can become very thorough and resolute. He calls some of his adversaries "men who cannot hold their urine." He wants to write to the colonial minister and "ask him to clear the Spanish-Philippine postal service of the suspicion of having stolen any letters."

And if it is a question of defending "his" Philippines, then Blumentritt is willing to renounce everything, even titles, positions and honors. This Blumentritt proves when it comes to a conflict between him and the Royal Society of the Friends of the Country (Sociedad de los Amigos del Pais), an illustrious society of persons who distinguished themselves by their interest and knowledge of the Philippines. An all-out attack on Blumentritt is launched under the title "Blinded by Feelings" in two Madrid periodicals. The attacks culminate in the demand to expel Blumentritt from the Society. Blumentritt is one of three foreign honorary members of the Society (the other two are Ferdinand von Lesseps, who was in charge of the construction of the Suez Canal, and Prince Oscar of Sweden). Blumentritt would lose his honorary membership because, according to the view of some poliliticians, he turned out to be not an "amigo del pais", a friend of the country.

Rizal tries to console his friend with the remark that as a real friend of the country, he does not need the membership and the title of the Society whose members anyway are in most cases "enemigos" (enemies) of the country and not its "amigos". And, he, adds candidly: "If in your heart you are our amigo, the amigo of six million oppressed Malays, what should the Socieded matter to you?"

The consolation and encouragement were not necessary. Blumentritt was determined not to sell his loyalty to the Philippines for the honor of membership with the society, although the methods of his opponents occasionally embittered him now and then: "I can attack well, retaliate well but I dodge an attack very badly (retreat). What infuriates me is not the grossness and the attacks, but rather, their endless lying. These people lie and invent base acts; this is contemptible and deserves chastisement ..."

The professor announces that he will hand over a public statement on this matter because it is his desire to let everyone know that no title has any value for him, if he must "associate" with the enemies of the Philippines and be their friend for it. "I will not act dishonorably in order to receive honors!" He publishes a letter to the director of the Society, Federico Verdugo, in the Solidaridad in which he affirms his renunciation of the honorary membership. This incident, which stirred no little sensation in the circles of Madrid politicians, historians, scholars and even the royal court, contributed to the repute of Rizal's work and his group of Filipinos in exile.

Perhaps this was the signal for Blumentritt to engage seriously in the analysis of the revolutionary situation after Rizal had already told him the prediction of a friend who had just come from the Philippines: In case the conditions did not change "a major revolution would take place before 10 years lapse."

Thus, Blumentritt resorts to the pen in order to grapple with the issue of the revolution for his friend. True to his principle: "A politician must, above all, be able to maintain an imperturbable equanimity. Impulsive politics is nothing more than a glare of fire - a minute of light and then the dark night again," begins the Leitmeritzer once more and requests Rizal not to get involved in a revolutionary agitation because whoever stages a revolution must at least have the probability of a success for himself, if he does not want to encumber his conscience with blood spilled in vain. Blumentritt infers his first maxim from this: Whenever the people would rise against foreign rule, a colony against the mother country, the revolution could never be victorious by its own strength:

"The American Union became free because France, Spain and Holland allied themselves with it; the Spanish Republics (in South America) became free because a civil war was raging in the mother country and England and North America furnished them with weapons;

The Greeks became free because England, France and Russia supported them;

Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria became free through Russia; Italy became free through France and Prussia; Belgium through England and France ... "

On the other hand, where the peoples relied on their own power, they lost; they were defeated by the rabble of soldiers of the legitimate authority: the Italians in 1830,1848 and 1849; the Poles in 1831, 1845 and 1863, the Hungarians in 1848 to 1849, and the Irish in 1868. If a revolt broke out in the Philippines now, then it could only end in a tragedy.

Blumentritt enumerates the most essential factors to provide arguments in support of his view: The insular situation alone which makes any revolution without a navy is hopeless. With limited ammunition, the insurgents would not last five weeks. There are still too many fraileros (the people loyal to the friars) among the Filipinos. And for this reason, the professor concludes that a revolution would only lead the intelligentsia to the slaughterhouse and even aggravate the pressure of tyranny.

In the last and most important part of his analysis Blumentritt explains the four pre-requisites which in his opinion are necessary for the success of an anti-colonial revolution:

Firstly, if a part of the fleet and the army insurrects (revolts);

secondly, if the mother country is involved in a war;

thirdly, if money and munitions are sufficiently available; and

fourthly, some foreign power supports the mission officially or secretly ... "

This manual of the revolution is an unusual document even for Blumentritt because here he dissects a problem with which he has never occupied himself before, as a layman, as a civil servant and as an abstract scientist. As a pedagogue and ethnologist he had no opportunity of familiarizing himself either in theory or in practice with the substance and content of a revolution. At best, his knowledge is limited to what could be read in history textbooks about the European revolutions of the l9th century. From where did Blumentritt get his knowledge about the anti-colonial revolution, which at the time of writing his treatise had not begun anywhere yet?

Certainly, Blumentritt did more than just gain principles for this revolution: within 10 years, Blumentritt's foresight would be proven sumptions and developments named by Blumentritt: Large elements of the army switched over to the side of the insurgents; Spain was involved in a serious war with the USA; apparently there was enough money and war materials for the revolutionaries from the donations of the wealthy Filipinos, perhaps of the liberal Spaniards and European friends too; the ammunitions were taken away from the vanguished and - fourth and last point - the foreign power, the United States of America, which supported the revolutionaries, was present too. If the revolution ultimately did not triumph despite the fact that all requirements for its triumph were met, then it was because the USA broke its word and did not fulfill its promise to give the republic freedom. Rather she set herself up as the new colonial power.

Yet, which picture really presented the revolutionary situation of the Philippines? Upon which facts, documents, conjectures and analyses on the Philippines could Blumentritt rely for the preparation of his work?

As can be seen in the history of anti-colonial uprisings, the spark of unrest and destabilization in the Philippines came from the outside. The island empire had been cut off from the outside world up to the middle of the l9th century, much longer than the Spanish colonies of South America, whose liberation wars naturally had an effect on the Philippines. The constant change of regimes and governments in the mother country leave their mark on the colonies. From 1834 up to 1862, there had been four constitutions, 28 newly elected Parliaments, the change of 529 ministers in Spain. These events would really shake the foundation of the Spanish monarchy and its colonial empire in the next 20 years.

Between 1835 and 1897, the Philippines were ruled by fifty governor-generals, each one with aI1 average term of office of fifteen months. This was so, because depending on the political situation in the mother country, liberal-progressive and reactionary-conservative governors relieved one another, accompanied by the corresponding measures, or their termination by a successor of a different mind, which increased the disorder and insecurity in the administration and in the populace.

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created: February 25, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger