Reaction: Responding to the challenges of the conquista (Manila Times Walking History)
By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua
August 8, 2020
COLLECTING our ancestors together and making them submit to the reduccion policy to become part of the pueblos was not only about easier political control. Proposed by a friar, it was started in these islands but was adapted as a policy throughout the Spanish Empire, including Latin America, and became known as the “Leyes de las Indias” (Laws of the Indies) to bring our ancestors back to the bosom of the Holy Mother Church.
Indeed, there were civil authorities ruling the colony from among the Spanish-born peninsulares sent to the Philippines like the governor-general or the alcaldes mayores of the provinces for a term of a few years. But it was the parish priest who was supreme in his influence because he could stay in a town for decades. To be fair, not all of the friars were bad but when things turned bad, they became an easy target as the most hated symbol of the conquista, that later patriots like Marcelo H. del Pilar would write about the “Monastic Supremacy in the Philippines.” That some friars enjoyed absolute power and corrupted it absolutely did not help matters.
During most of the 333 years of Spanish colonization, the lowland indios who were colonized under the reduccion were subjected to some economic policies that made life harder for them. The “tributo” was a tax in cash or in kind demanded from people whose land just happened to be in a pueblo or one Spaniard’s “encomienda,” which was a land grab. “Polos y servicios” was mandatory labor on government projects or in the building of the galleon ships for 40 days in a year; it was said that although one was fed, he rarely got paid despite having a budget for it. “Bandala” was a quota of a certain produce imposed on a province that the farmers could only sell to the government, yet he did not get the payment in full, while other needs like food had to be bought from the government for a higher price. One example of such an arrangement was the tobacco monopoly in the northern Philippines. It became lucrative to the regime, but it brought down the livelihood of Ilocanos. Such hardships made them thrifty and created industries that were keen on preserving things, especially food.
What sustained the colony financially for two centuries was the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico, which was known as the Vice Royalty of New Spain, under whose jurisdiction the Philippines fell. With the products from Southeast Asia being shipped from Mexico to other parts of Latin America and to Seville, Spain — the Spanish Crown trade route became the longest trade route in the world and was a precursor to globalization. Yet, it was only the Spaniards and the Chinese middlemen who benefited financially from the trade. It was so bad that some indios who worked on the galleons escaped and jumped ship in America never to return. They were known as the “Manila Men.”
In reaction to these terrible economic impositions, there were about 100 revolts that broke out throughout the archipelago. Datus joined babaylanes in rejecting the Catholic faith and went back to the mountains such as in Leyte. At times, babaylanes, male and female, led the revolts themselves in Samar, Bohol and Panay, destroying churches and killing friars before going back to their old ways. In the Ilocos, Diego Silang and his wife Gabriela Silang, an Itneg, consolidated the lowlanders and the highlanders in rising up against the Spaniards, coinciding with the British Occupation of Manila from 1762 to 1764. Most of these revolts failed and their leaders were brutally and mercilessly executed. Some were fed to crocodiles, some hanged and shot; their bodies were also quartered and parts of them hung on bamboo stilts on street intersections. Yet, the revolts went on, with one revolt led by Dagohoy, which lasted for 85 years controlling some areas of Bohol.
Despite the socio-political and economic nature of these revolts, some of the expressions were cultural and religious, showing a yearning to go back to the old order and faith, demonstrating pakikipagkapwa, kapatiran and bayanihan. But historians pointed out that they failed because they demonstrated that these were limited only to their locality. Despite being in one territory under the conquista, imagining Filipinos as one nation still had to happen nearly three centuries after the conquista began. But that does not mean our ancestors slept.
Not all things were bad, some say. They point to the Spanish cultural legacies that are still with us today, such as the innovations in agriculture and transportation: the wheel, the plow, new kinds of crops and livestock, and food. Also, the factory, paper and printing, the Roman alphabet, the calendar and clock, the charting of the Philippine Shape, and the arts of painting and architecture. But I see it more as Filipinos appropriating these and making these our own. Despite the cultural confluence, colonialism will always be wrong and evil.