At the time of the Spanish American War, 1898, the colonial government in the Philippines was administered by a Governor-General, invariably selected in Spain. The place was used to reward crown favorites who could return home after a few years of service with enormous fortunes wrung from natives and foreign immigrants alike by a system of taxation that savored of blackmail and confiscation. The Governor-General had a junta or cabinet composed of the Archbishop of Manila, the Captain-General of the army and the Admiral of the navy stationed in the colonies. The administrative power lay with the Governor-General and the Archbishop, and the religious orders of the Spanish Catholic Church were the practical controllers, under their superiors, of the fortunes and the fate of every locality and village that Spanish power had been able to subjugate to its iron rule.
The first permanent settlement of the islands had been made by the missionaries, and Philip II. had conferred upon the succession of these peculiar and most rigorous powers of civil and religious government. The result through four centuries was the acquisition of vast wealth by the religious orders, the possession of well-defined incomes from monopolies and collections, and the perfection of a system of espionage that deprived the inhabitants of refuge from the rapacity of the conquerors. The persistence and intolerance of the system had been secured by excluding all native-born persons from appointment under either the civil or church branches. All civil servants and priests were native-born Spaniards sent out for the purpose of taking their instructions from those already adept in oppression, and ambitious to surpass their predecessors in the fortunes to be accumulated for the home churches or by the court favorites who returned to Spain to dazzle the supporters of the crown with the glories of a short term abroad in the service of their country. The trying climate of the Philippines, which is tropical, subjected to violent monsoons, seasons of drenching rains, and an almost intolerable heat lasting from March to July, has made it necessary to change continually the Spanish administrators.
From the Governor-General down to the private soldier, five years was the average length of service possible, so that the native population, estimated at from 8,000,000 to 15,000,000 in numbers, was always under the rule of transient strangers, having no continuing interest in their welfare. There have been, of course, individual instances of honorable and just governors. Among those recognized in recent times was General Blanco, who was afterwards selected to establish the weak experiment of autonomistic government in Cuba. It was, however, the rule, under the very nature of the colonial system, that temptation to oppress, rob, and enslave the natives was held out to every administration in succession, and such temptations are not long resisted by those appointed over uncivilized and ignorant people.
The population of the Philippines was especially difficult to hold in orderly government. Naturally a heterogeneous mass, the problem of assimilating the different tribes and races would have been one difficult to accomplish by the most patient and industrious government, with years of application. The fiercest and most primitive savages inhabit the scattered islands, sometimes two or more antipathetic races occupying the same island and ceaselessly waging war against each other and the government alike.
A historical writer in the French Revue des Deux Mondes had described the condition of the endless conflict in the archipelago in a manner to exhibit the spirit of Spanish colonial government as it is displayed in the capital of Manila and in the restless and unconquered provinces. There, as in Europe and America, Spain set upon every locality she occupied the indelible mark of her sinister and unchanging intolerance and pride. In Manila, as well as in Mexico, Panama, and Lima, was the severe and solemn aspect, the feudal and religious stamp, which the Spaniard impresses upon his monuments, his palaces, his dwellings in every latitude. Manila appeared like a fragment of Spain transplanted to the archipelago of Asia. On its church and convents, even on its ruined walls, time has laid the sombre, dull-gold coloring of the mother country. The ancient city, silent and melancholy, stretches interminably along gloomy streets, bordered with convents whose flat facades are only broken here and there by a few narrow windows. It still preserved all the austere appearance of a city of the reign of Philip II. But there was a new city within the ramparts of Manila, sometimes called the Escolta, from the name of its central quarter, and this city is alive with its dashing teams, its noisy crowd of Tagal women, shod in high-heeled shoes, and every nerve in their bodies quivering with excitement. They are almost all employed in the innumerable cigar factories whose output inundates all Asia. The city contained 260,000 inhabitants of every known race and color.
From Manila throughout the archipelago the religious fanaticism of the Spaniards radiated, coming into collision with manners, traditions, and fanaticism fully as fierce as those of Spain -- that rooted in the fatalism of the Mussulman. At a distance of 6,000 leagues from Toledo and Granada, the same ancient hatreds have brought European Spaniard and Asiatic Saracen into the same relentless antagonism that swayed them in the days of the Cid and Ferdinand the Catholic. The Sulu archipelago on account of its position between Mindanao and Borneo, was the commercial, political, and religious centre of the followers of the Prophet, the Mecca of the extreme Orient. From this centre they spread over the neighboring archipelagoes. Merciless pirates and unflinching fanatics, they scattered terror, ruin, and death everywhere, sailing in their light proas up the narrow channels and animated with implacable hatred for those conquering invaders, to whom they never gave quarter and from whom they never expected it. Constantly beaten in pitched battle, they as constantly took again to the sea, eluding the pursuit of the heavy Spanish vessels, taking refuge in bays and creeks where no one could follow them, pillaging isolated ships, surprising the villages, massacring the old men, leading away the women and the adults into slavery, pushing the audacious prows of their skiffs even up to within 300 miles of Manila, and seizing every year nearly 4,000 captives.
Between the Malay creese and the Castilian carronade the struggle was unequal, but it did not last the less long on that account, nor, obscure though it was, was it the less bloody. On both sides there was the same bravery, the same cruelty. It required all the tenacity of Spain to purge these seas of the pirates who infested them, and it was not until after a conflict of several years, in 1876, that the Spanish squadron was able to bring its broadsides to bear on Tianggi, a nest of Suluan pirates, land a division of troops, invest all the outlets, and burn the town and its inhabitants, as well as the harbor and all the craft within it. The soldiers planted their flag and the engineers built a new city on the smoking ruins. This city was then protected by a strong garrison.
For a time, at least, piracy was at an end, but not the Moslem spirit, which was exasperated rather than crushed by defeat. To the rovers of the seas succeeded the organization known as juramentados. One of the characteristic qualities of the Malays is their contempt of death. They have transmitted it, with their blood, to the Polynesians, who see in it only one of the multiple phenomena and not the supreme act of existence, and witness it or submit to it with profound indifference. Travellers have often seen a Kanaka stretch his body on a mat, while in perfect health, without any symptom of disease whatever, and there wait patiently for the end, convinced that it is near, and refuse all nourishment and die without any apparent suffering. His relatives say of him: "He feels he is going to die," and the imaginary patient dies, his mind possessed by some illusion, some superstitious idea, some invisible wound through which life escapes. When to this absolute indifference to death is united Mussulman fanaticism, which gives to the believer a glimpse of the gates of a paradise where the excited senses revel in endless and numberless enjoyments, a longing for extinction takes hold of him and throws him like a wild beast upon his enemies. The juramentado kills for the sake of killing and being killed, and so winning, in exchange for a life of suffering and privation, the voluptuous existence promised by Mohammed.
The laws of Sulu make the bankrupt debtor the slave of his creditor, and not only the debtor, but the debtor's wife and children are enslaved also. To free them there is but one means left to the husband -- the sacrifice of his life. Reduced to this extremity, he does not hesitate -- he takes the formidable oath. From that time forward he is enrolled in the ranks of the juramentados, and has nothing to do but await the hour when the will of a superior shall let him loose upon the Christians. Meanwhile the panditas, or Mohammedan priests, subject him to a system of excitement that will turn him into a wild beast. They madden his already disordered brain, they make still more supple his oily limbs, until they have the strength of steel and the nervous force of the tiger or panther. They sing to him their impassioned chants, which show to his entranced vision the radiant smiles of intoxicating houris. In the shadow of the forests, broken by the gleam of the moonlight, they evoke the burning and sensual images of the eternally young and beautiful companions who are calling him, opening their arms to receive him. Thus prepared, the juramentado is ready for everything. Nothing can stop him, nothing can make him recoil. He will accomplish prodigies of valor, borne along by a buoyancy that is irresistible, until the moment when death seizes him. He will creep with his companions into the city that has been assigned to him; he knows that he will never leave it, but he knows, also, that he will not die alone, and he has but one aim -- to butcher as many Christians as he can.
When to such natural antipathies of race and religion are added the iron oppression which Spain has always laid upon peaceful commerce and production, it will be seen that the colonies were in perpetual unrest and that the colonial authorities had little sympathy from even the most peaceful classes. The native Spaniards resident in the country never exceeded 10,000 in number, except on a few rare occasions when large bodies of troops were sent out for specific service. There were about one hundred thousand mixed descendants of Spaniards, who were held in contempt by the natives of Spain, as Spaniards of Cuban birth were regarded in Cuba. These 10,000 Spaniards were the civil servants and religious orders, and the favored owners of concessions in manufacturing and planting that conferred monopolies. About 4,000 were soldiers garrisoning Manila and the arsenal forts at Cavite, situated upon a point eight miles south of Manila in the bay and intended to render the defence of the city unquestionable. In addition to the soldiers there were 2,000 sailors and marines, manning a squadron of fourteen war-ships and gunboats. When war with America was begun these forces were just recovering from the hardships of a fierce revolution, headed by General Emilio Aguinaldo, a native half-breed of great popularity and activity. After bloody uprisings for independence, without money, arms, or supplies, the Spanish had resorted to their usual tactics of bribing the leaders and massacring the disordered followers, duped into surrender by promises of amnesty. The hatred of the natives was still fierce and only awaited opportunity and leadership to blaze with renewed fury.
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