The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al
Public Domain Books
[Camarines.] No favorable change in the weather was expected in Albay before the month of January. It stormed and rained all day. I therefore determined to change my quarters to South Camarines, which, protected from the monsoon by the high range of hills running along its north-eastern boundary, enjoyed more decent weather. The two provinces of Camarines form a long continent, with its principal frontage of shore facing to the north-east and to the south-west; which is about ten leagues broad in its middle, and has its shores indented by many bays. From about the center of its north-eastern shore there boldly projects the Peninsula of Caramuan, connected with the mainland of Camarines by the isthmus of Isarog. The north-eastern portion of the two provinces contains a long range of volcanic hills; the south-western principally consisted, as far as my investigations permitted me to discover, of chalk, and coral reefs; in the midst of the hills extends a winding and fertile valley, which collects the waters descending from the slopes of the mountain ranges, and blends them into a navigable river, on the banks of which several flourishing hamlets have established themselves. This river is called the Bicol. The streams which give it birth are so abundant, and the slope of the sides of the valley, which is turned into one gigantic rice-field, is so gentle that in many places the lazy waters linger and form small lakes.
[A chain of volcanoes.] Beginning at the south-eastern extremity, the volcanoes of Bulusan, Albay, Mazaraga, Iriga, Isarog, and Colasi–the last on the northern side of San Miguel bay–are situated in a straight line, extending from the south-east to the north-west. Besides these, there is the volcano of Buhi, or Malinao, a little to the north-east of the line. The hamlets in the valley I have mentioned are situated in a second line parallel to that of the volcanoes. The southern portion of the province is sparsely inhabited, and but few streams find their way from its plateau into the central valley. The range of volcanoes shuts out, as I have said, the north-east winds, and condenses their moisture in the little lakes scattered on its slopes. The south-west portion of Camarines, therefore, is dry during the north-east monsoon, and enjoys its rainy season during the prevalence of the winds that blow from the south-west. The so-called dry season which, so far as South Camarines is concerned, begins in November, is interrupted, however, by frequent showers; but from January to May scarcely a drop of rain falls. The change of monsoon takes place in May and June; and its arrival is announced by violent thunderstorms and hurricanes, which frequently last without cessation for a couple of weeks, and are accompanied by heavy rains. These last are the beginning of the wet season proper, which lasts till October. The road passes the hamlets of Camalig, Guinobatan, Ligao, Oas and Polangui, situated in a straight line on the banks of the river Quinali, which, after receiving numerous tributary streams, becomes navigable soon after passing Polangui. Here I observed a small settlement of huts, which is called after the river. Each of the hamlets I have mentioned, with the exception of the last, has a population of about fourteen thousand souls, although they are situated not more than half a league apart.
[Priestly assistance.] The convents in this part of the country are large, imposing buildings, and their incumbents, who were mostly old men, were most hospitable and kind to me. Every one of them insisted upon my staying with him, and, after doing all he could for me, passed me on to his next colleague with the best recommendations. I wished to hire a boat at Polangui to cross the lake of Batu, but the only craft I could find were a couple of barotos about eight feet long, hollowed out of the trunks of trees and laden with rice. To prevent my meeting with any delay, the padre purchased the cargo of one of the boats, on the condition of its being immediately unladen; and this kindness enabled me to continue my journey in the afternoon.
[The priests’ importance.] If a traveller gets on good terms with the priests he seldom meets with any annoyances. Upon one occasion I wished to make a little excursion directly after lunch, and at a quarter past eleven everything was ready for a start; when I happened to say that it was a pity to have to wait three-quarters of an hour for the meal. In a minute or two twelve o’clock struck; all work in the village ceased, and we sat down to table: it was noon. A message had been sent to the village bell-ringer that the Señor Padre thought he must be asleep, and that it must be long past twelve as the Señor Padre was hungry. Il est l’heure que votre Majesté désire.
[Franciscan friars.] Most of the priests in the eastern provinces of Luzon and Samar are Franciscan monks (The barefooted friars of the orthodox and strictest rule of Our Holy Father St. Francis, in the Philippine Islands, of the Holy and Apostolic Province of St. Gregory the Great), brought up in seminaries in Spain specially devoted to the colonial missions. Formerly they were at liberty, after ten years’ residence in the Philippines, to return to their own country; but, since the abolition of the monasteries in Spain, they can do this no longer, for they are compelled in the colonies to abandon all obedience to the rule of their order, and to live as laymen. They are aware that they must end their days in the colony, and regulate their lives accordingly. On their first arrival they are generally sent to some priest in the province to make themselves acquainted with the language of the country; then they are installed into a small parish, and afterwards into a more lucrative one, in which they generally remain till their death. Most of them spring from the very lowest class of Spaniards. A number of pious trusts and foundations in Spain enable a very poor man, who cannot afford to send his son to school, to put him into a religious seminary, where, beyond the duties of his future avocation, the boy learns nothing. If the monks were of a higher social grade, as are some of the English missionaries, they would have less inclination to mix with the common people, and would fail to exercise over them the influence they wield at present. The early habits of the Spanish monks, and their narrow knowledge of the world, peculiarly fit them for an existence among the natives. This mental equality, or rather, this want of mental disparity, has enabled them to acquire the influence they undoubtedly possess.
[Young men developed by responsibility.] When these young men first come from their seminaries they are narrow-brained, ignorant, frequently almost devoid of education, and full of conceit, hatred of heretics, and proselytish ardor. These failings, however, gradually disappear; the consideration and the comfortable incomes they enjoy developing their benevolence. The insight into mankind and the confidence in themselves which distinguish the lower classes of the Spaniards, and which are so amusingly exemplified in Sancho Panza, have plenty of occasions to display themselves in the responsible and influential positions which the priests occupy. The padre is frequently the only white man in his village, probably the only European for miles around. He becomes the representative not only of religion, but of the government; he is the oracle of the natives, and his decisions in everything that concerns Europe and civilization are without appeal. His advice is asked in all important emergencies, and he has no one whom he in his turn can consult. Such a state of things naturally develops his brain. The same individuals who in Spain would have followed the plough, in the colonies carry out great undertakings. Without any technical education, and without any scientific knowledge, they build churches and bridges, and construct roads. [Poor architects.] The circumstances therefore are greatly in favor of the development of priestly ability; but it would probably be better for the buildings if they were erected by more experienced men, for the bridges are remarkably prone to fall in, the churches look like sheep-pens, and the roads soon go to rack and ruin. I had much intercourse in Camarines and Albay with the priests, and conceived a great liking for them all. As a rule, they are the most unpretending of men; and a visit gives them so much pleasure that they do all in their power to make their guest’s stay as agreeable as possible. Life in a large convent has much resemblance to that of a lord of the manor in Eastern Europe. Nothing can be more unconstrained, more unconventional. A visitor lives as independently as in an hotel, and many of the visitors behave themselves as if it were one. I have seen a subaltern official arrive, summon the head servant, move into a room, order his meal, and then inquire casually whether the padre, who was an utter stranger to him, was at home.
The priests of the Philippines have often been reproached with gross immorality. They are said to keep their convents full of bevies of pretty girls, and to lead somewhat the same sort of life as the Grand Turk. This may be true of the native padres; but I myself never saw, in any of the households of the numerous Spanish priests I visited, anything that could possibly cause the least breath of scandal. Their servants were exclusively men, though perhaps I may have noticed here and there an old woman or two. Ribadeneyra says:–"The natives, who observe how careful the Franciscan monks are of their chastity, have arrived at the conclusion that they are not really men, and that, though the devil had often attempted to lead these holy men astray, using the charms of some pretty Indian girl as a bait, yet, to the confusion of both damsel and devil, the monks had always come scathless out of the struggle.” Ribadeneyra, however, is a very unreliable author; and, if his physiological mistakes are as gross as his geographical ones (he says somewhere that Luzon is another name for the island of Cebu!), the monks are not perhaps as fireproof as he supposes. At any rate, his description does not universally apply nowadays. The younger priests pass their existence like the lords of the soil of old; the young girls consider it an honor to be allowed to associate with them; and the padres in their turn find many convenient opportunities. They have no jealous wives to pry into their secrets, and their position as confessors and spiritual advisers affords them plenty of pretexts for being alone with the women. The confessional, in particular, must be a perilous rock-a-head for most of them. In an appendix to the “Tagal Grammar” (which, by-the-bye, is not added to the editions sold for general use) a list of questions is given for the convenience of young priests not yet conversant with the Tagal language. These questions are to be asked in the confessional, and several pages of them relate exclusively to the relations between the sexes.
[Superiority over government officials.] As the alcaldes remain only three years in any one province, they never understand much of its language; and, being much occupied with their official business, they have neither the time nor the desire to become acquainted with the peculiarities of the districts over which they rule. The priest, on the other hand, resides continually in the midst of his parishioners, is perfectly acquainted with each of them, and even, on occasion, protects them against the authorities; his, therefore, is the real jurisdiction in the district. The position of the priests, in contradistinction to that of the government officials, is well expressed by their respective dwellings. The casas reales, generally small, ugly, and frequently half-ruined habitations, are not suited to the dignity of the chief authority of the province. The convento, on the contrary, is almost always a roomy, imposing, and well-arranged building. In former days, when governorships were sold to adventurers whose only care was to enrich themselves, the influence of the minister of religion was even greater than it is now. 
[Former legal status.] The following extract from the General Orders, given by Le Gentil, will convey a clear idea of their former position:–
“Whereas the tenth chapter of the ordinances, wherein the governor of Arandia ordained that the alcaldes and the justices should communicate with the missionary priests only by letter, and that they should never hold any interview with them except in the presence of a witness, has been frequently disobeyed, it is now commanded that these disobediences shall no longer be allowed; and that the alcaldes shall make it their business to see that the priests and ministers of religion treat the gobernadorcillos and the subaltern officers of justice with proper respect, and that the aforesaid priests be not allowed either to beat, chastise, or ill-treat the latter, or make them wait at table.”
[Alcaldes formerly in trade.] The former alcaldes who, without experience in official business, without either education or knowledge, and without either the brains or the moral qualifications for such responsible and influential posts, purchased their appointments from the State, or received them in consequence of successful intrigues, received a nominal salary from the government, and paid it tribute for the right to carry on trade. Arenas considered this tribute paid by the alcaldes as a fine imposed upon them for an infringement of the law; “for several ordinances were in existence, strenuously forbidding them to dabble in any kind of commerce, until it pleased his Catholic Majesty to grant them a dispensation.” The latter sources of mischief were, however, abolished by royal decree in September and October, 1844.
[Their borrowed capital.] The alcaldes were at the same time governors, magistrates, commanders of the troops, and, in reality, the only traders in their province.  They purchased with the resources of the obras pias the articles required in the province; and they were entirely dependent for their capital upon these endowments, as they almost always arrived in the Philippines without any means of their own. The natives were forced to sell their produce to the alcaldes and, besides, to purchase their goods at the prices fixed by the latter.  In this corrupt state of things the priests were the only protectors of the unfortunate Filipinos; though occasionally they also threw in their lot with the alcaldes, and shared in the spoil wrung from their unfortunate flocks.
[Improvement in present appointees.] Nowadays men with some knowledge of the law are sent out to the Philippines as alcaldes; the government pays them a small salary, and they are not allowed to trade. The authorities also attempt to diminish the influence of the priests by improving the position of the civil tribunals; a state of things they will not find easy of accomplishment unless they lengthen the period of service of the alcaldes, and place them in a pecuniary position that will put them beyond the temptation of pocketing perquisites. 
In Huc’s work on China I find the following passage, relating to the effects of the frequent official changes in China, from which many hints may be gathered:–
[Similarity with Chinese conditions.] “The magisterial offices are no longer bestowed upon upright and just individuals and, as a consequence, this once flourishing and well-governed kingdom is day by day falling into decay, and is rapidly gliding down the path that leads to a terrible and, perhaps, speedy dissolution. When we seek to discover the cause of the general ruin, the universal corruption which too surely is undermining all classes of Chinese society, we are convinced that it is to be found in the complete abandonment of the old system of government effected by the Manchu dynasty. It issued a decree forbidding any mandarin to hold any post longer than three years in the same province, and prohibiting any one from possessing any official appointment in his native province. One does not form a particularly high idea of the brain which conceived this law; but, when the Manchu Tartars found that they were the lords of the empire, they began to be alarmed at their small numbers, which were trifling in comparison with the countless swarms of the Chinese; and they dreaded lest the influence which the higher officials would acquire in their districts might enable them to excite the populace against their foreign rulers.
[Unidentified with country.] “The magistrates, being allowed to remain only a year or two in the same province, lived there like strangers, without acquainting themselves with the wants of the people they governed; there was no tie between them. The only care of the mandarins was to amass as much wealth as possible before they quitted their posts; and they then began the same game in a fresh locality, until finally they returned home in possession of a handsome fortune gradually collected in their different appointments. They were only birds of passage. What did it matter? The morrow would find them at the other end of the kingdom, where the cries of their plundered victims would be unable to reach them. In this manner the governmental policy rendered the mandarins selfish and indifferent. The basis of the monarchy is destroyed, for the magistrate is no longer a paternal ruler residing amongst and mildly swaying his children, but a marauder, who arrives no man knows whence, and who departs no one knows whither. The consequence is universal stagnation; no great undertakings are accomplished; and the works and labors of former dynasties are allowed to fall into decay. The mandarins say to themselves: ’Why should we undertake what we can never accomplish? Why should we sow that others may reap?’... They take no interest in the affairs of the district; as a rule, they are suddenly transplanted into the midst of a population whose dialect even they do not understand. [Dependence on interpreters.] When they arrive in their mandarinates they usually find interpreters, who, being permanent officieals and interested in the affairs of the place, know how to make their services indispensable; and these in reality are the absolute rulers of the district.”
[Importance of interpreters in Philippines.] Interpreters are especially indispensable in the Philippines, where the alcaldes never by any chance understand any of the local dialects. In important matters the native writers have generally to deal with the priest, who in many cases becomes the virtual administrator of authority. He is familiar with the characters of the inhabitants and all their affairs, in the settlement of which his intimate acquaintance with the female sex stands him in good stead. An eminent official in Madrid told me in 1867 that the then minister was considering a proposal to abolish the restriction of office in the colonies to three years. 
[Fear of officials’ popularity.] The dread which caused this restriction, viz., that an official might become too powerful in some distant province, and that his influence might prove a source of danger to the mother country, is no longer entertained. Increased traffic and easier means of communication have destroyed the former isolation of the more distant provinces. The customs laws, the increasing demand for colonial produce, and the right conceded to foreigners of settling in the country, will give a great stimulus to agriculture and commerce, and largely increase the number of Chinese and European residents. Then at last, perhaps, the authorities will see the necessity of improving the social position of their officials by decreasing their number, by a careful selection of persons, by promoting them according to their abilities and conduct, and by increasing their salaries, and allowing them to make a longer stay in one post. The commercial relations of the Philippines with California and Australia are likely to become very active, and liberal ideas will be introduced from those free countries. Then, indeed, the mother country will have earnestly to consider whether it is advisable to continue its exploitation of the colony by its monopolies, its withdrawal of gold, and its constant satisfaction of the unfounded claims of a swarm of hungry place-hunters. 
[Different English and Dutch policy.] English and Dutch colonial officials are carefully and expressly educated for their difficult and responsible positions. They obtain their appointments after passing a stringent examination at home, and are promoted to the higher colonial offices only after giving proofs of fitness and ability. What a different state of things prevails in Spain! When a Spaniard succeeds in getting an appointment, it is difficult to say whether it is due to his personal capacity and merit or to a series of successful political intrigues.