Philippine Nationalism



The latest episode went up two days ago, and because I was busy in the real world, I didn’t get around to announcing it here until now.  I also took an extra day to get the recording and editing finished.  The end result is the longest episode this podcast has produced so far, So I think you will find it was worth the wait.  For the first time in seven months, we will look at the Philippines.  Here you will hear how Spain lost its tight grip on the islands, and the development of Southeast Asia’s first modern nationalist movement.  The narrative will cover events in the 1700s and most of the 1800s, and end right before the United States got involved in the Philippines, the topic of the next episode.  And for the first time, you will hear my wife make a contribution!


(Transcript, added 06/06/2020.)

Episode 28: Philippine Nationalism

Greetings, dear listeners! Before I begin today’s narrative, two matters of geography have come to my attention, and I think I ought to straighten them out first.

First, now that word is getting out in the real world that I am a Southeast Asian expert, people are asking me what I think of North Korea, since we just had another war scare with the modern-day Hermit Kingdom. Well, I should make it clear that Korea is not part of Southeast Asia. In the Introduction to this podcast series, I listed the eleven countries that will be covered, in alphabetical order: Brunei, Burma (also called Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Did you hear Korea there? No, because Korea belongs to what I call Northeast Asia. The other parts of Northeast Asia are Japan, northeast China, and east Siberia. In the early 1950s, Americans thought the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam were two fronts in the same war; I didn’t know that kind of thinking was still around.

That being said, I do have opinions about Korea. One of them is a history-related pet peeve. The war fought on the peninsula from 1950 to 1953 is often called “America’s Forgotten War.” No it isn’t. Here in the USA we had the TV show “M.A.S.H.” producing new episodes for nearly all of the 1970s; that show was set in the Korean War, and it was on the air for three times as long as the Korean War lasted. The real forgotten war is the one Americans fought in Korea eighty years earlier, in 1871. I bet none of my American listeners have heard of that one. The Koreans I have talked to remember the first war, though. They call it Shinmiyangyo. For more than a hundred years the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland, displayed a big yellow and black flag that the Americans captured in the war; only in 2007 was it returned to Seoul. For more information about the First Korean War, look it up online, starting with the website about it,

The other issue is that on a few websites, I have heard that some people do not consider the Philippines part of Southeast Asia, because it is so far to the east. Well, the nearest neighbors of the Philippines are Malaysia and Indonesia, and no one says they aren’t Southeast Asian nations. What’s more, part of Indonesia, the Moluccas and western New Guinea, are even farther east. Personally I blame this misconception on the Disney attraction “It’s A Small World.” I went on that ride more than once when I lived in Florida, and the Walt Disney World version of “It’s A Small World” has just one doll representing the Philippines, a girl in a traditional dress, with the butterfly sleeves. However, she is not in the Asia room, where they have some dolls dressed like Thai or Cambodian dancers; she is in the Pacific room, next to dolls representing Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii! The Hong Kong Disneyland does better – they have two girl dolls standing in a hut, and singing the theme song in Tagalog.

<Insert song>

Yeah, like that. But I believe they are still in the Pacific room. Filipinos joke that there used to be a boy doll for the Philippines as well, but you don’t see him anymore because he got a job in Hawaii!

As you have probably guessed by now, today’s episode is about the Philippines. We’ve got some catching up to do; the last time we visited that archipelago was in Episode 14. In real time that was seven months ago! How long would that be in Internet time, four years? Therefore it’s time to talk about what has happened there. And since we have made it all the way to the end of the 1930s with Malaya and Thailand, I plan to devote the next episode to events in the Philippines during the early twentieth century, before moving on to another Southeast Asian country.

All right. If you haven’t listened to Episode 14 yet, I recommend you do so, in order to learn how the Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire. With Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, Spain discovered the Philippines, and starting in 1565, Spain conquered the Visayas, the small islands in the middle of the archipelago, and Luzon, the big northern island. Because Spain ruled this area for more than three hundred years, most of today’s Filipinos have Spanish-sounding names; the long Spanish rule is also the reason why most of them are Catholic. Spain also claimed that it conquered Mindanao, the big southern island, but their grip on this area was never as strong as it was on the other islands, because the local Moslem community was implacable; they would never accept any government but their own. Indeed, the Moros, or Philippine Moslems, are causing the same trouble today, because they won’t accept the rule of other Filipinos, either.


I ended the Episode 14 narrative in the seventeenth century, because as I put it, the Spanish Empire was a hollow empire. A lot happened at the empire’s beginning, and a lot happened at its end, but we never hear of much happening in the middle. Part of this was because of the way Spain jealously guarded its colonies; for more than two centuries the colonies were kept isolated from the outside world. Ships leaving the colonies were only supposed to go to Spain or other Spanish colonies, and only Spanish ships could go to the colonies. In the New World, this led to smuggling and piracy, because Spanish ships could not supply everything the colonies needed. In the Philippines, the Spanish policy of mercantilism was more successful, because the Philippines were so much farther from Europe. The only ships allowed to go to the Philippines were the Manila Galleons, traveling to and from Mexico, and the Chinese ships bringing trade goods from the Asian mainland.

Back in Episode 14, I told you that the Manila Galleon traveled from Acapulco to Manila with its cargo holds full of Mexican silver, and went back to Acapulco with a load of merchandise made in China. These weren’t the cheap manufactured goods marked “Made in China,” that you will find in a modern-day Wal-Mart; these were fine silks, porcelain, and other luxury items. After Europe discovered tea in the 1600s, the galleon probably carried some tea chests as well; tea was an expensive commodity in Europe until the British started growing it on plantations in India. Therefore the Manila Galleon was a fine prize for pirates to snatch, and a target worth capturing if you were the captain of an enemy naval vessel in wartime. And we saw that Thomas Cavendish was the first privateer to capture the galleon, back in 1587, though his ships were too small to carry away the whole cargo.

Pirates weren’t the only hazard the galleons faced. They could also get stuck in the middle of the ocean where the winds didn’t blow, especially in the zone around the equator called the doldrums, and some were lost to storms. Moreover, since the journey each way took three months at a minimum, the crew and passengers suffered from a lack of food and fresh water, and diseases like scurvy, beriberi and dysentery. The seventeenth-century Italian traveler Gamelli Careri wrote that the trip was, quote: “enough to destroy a man, or make him unfit for anything as long as he lives.” End quote. Still, greed could be strong enough to overcome these hardships, and many rode on the galleon four, six, or even ten times. But while a few folks prospered greatly from this trade, Spain’s concentration of attention on it stunted the rest of the Philippine economy. And because most of the ships going to the Philippines only went to Manila, the rest of the archipelago went neglected. If you left Manila and traveled into the countryside of Luzon, or to the other Philippine islands, you would be in a place so remote, so isolated from the rest of the world, that it was a little like going to another planet.

Spain modeled Manila after Mexico City, with a grid of boulevards and plazas running from the grand cathedral and several other impressive stone buildings in the center of the city, a walled compound called Intramuros. The city grew rapidly; in 1780 the population was estimated at nearly 90,000, twice what it had been a century earlier, and it would pass a quarter million before Spanish rule ended. Of the residents, only three or four thousand were Spaniards. These folks were corrupted by their wealth, and made and lost fortunes on the galleon trade every year. Francisco Leandro de Viana, a member of the Audiencia, the colonial high court, said this about their obsession with money. Quote: “They consider unworthy any pursuit other than commerce, preferring to live in utter idleness rather than work in the provinces. They loiter about, gambling and indulging in other vices . . . and so Manila is a most abominable place, with its gangs, its malicious rumors and slanders, its sloth and licentiousness. Even the richest and busiest citizen spends ten months of the year with nothing to do.” End quote.

Under the Spaniards were a part-Chinese middle class; the Spanish term Mestizo was applied to them, and also to those who had part-Filipino, part-European ancestry. But the vast majority of Manila’s population were natives doing menial jobs; they were packed into bamboo shacks on the city’s periphery, where they suffered from flooded streams and swamps, fires, and epidemics of cholera and smallpox.

The Spanish mercantile system began to crack in the eighteenth century. However you feel about the use of force to resolve conflicts, you have to admit that some wars in history are dumber than others, and one that keeps appearing on lists of stupid wars is the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In 1731, off the coast of Florida, the Spaniards intercepted a British merchant ship, the Rebecca, carrying a cargo of sugar from Jamaica to England. Jamaica was a British colony by this time, but the Spanish captain, Juan de León Fandiño, was an uncommonly touchy fellow, and he accused the Rebecca’s captain, Robert Jenkins, of smuggling to Spanish colonies. Of course Jenkins denied this, so Fandiño cut off his ear, and threatened to do the same thing to King George II. Here are his words, quote: “Go, and tell your King that I will do the same, if he dares to do the same.” End quote.

Jenkins returned to England, with his ear pickled in a jar of rum. In his book “Small Parts in History,” Sam Llewellyn described the captain’s return as follows. Quote: “On arrival he took it [meaning the ear] to the King, who promised to do something about it, presumably in order to get rid of Jenkins who must have been no oil painting.” End quote. I guess that means even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t have improved the looks of Captain Jenkins; all Jenkins could do was wear a wig to cover the scar where his ear used to be. Most history texts covering the incident assert that Jenkins was kept waiting until 1738, and then when he appeared with his ear before Parliament, his testimony outraged those who heard it, so that they declared war on Spain soon afterwards. Unfortunately, we don’t have a detailed record of that meeting, so we don’t know what was said, or if Jenkins really grossed them out by showing his ear. It does seem strange to me that it would take seven or eight years for the amputation of an ear to become the excuse for war; tempers would have cooled by then, and except for Captain Jenkins, most people probably wouldn’t have remembered the incident.

Overall the war was inconclusive. Britain captured the Spanish fortress of Porto Bello in Panama, but suffered defeat when it tried to take Cartagena in Colombia and St. Augustine in Florida. Spain in turn retaliated by invading Georgia from Florida, but that campaign failed, too. Meanwhile in Europe, a big war broke out, the War of the Austrian Succession, between Austria and Prussia. Britain entered that war on Austria’s side, while Spain chose to ally itself with Prussia, so from 1742 onward the War of Jenkins’ Ear was just an overseas sideshow for the War of the Austrian Succession. That war went on until 1748, before it also ended in a draw.

All right, what did the Philippines have to do with this? Well, during the war any Spanish ship or colony became fair game for the British Navy, and that included the Manila Galleon. In 1742 Britain sent six ships under Commodore George Anson around Cape Horn, to raid the Pacific coast of Spanish-ruled South America. The loot gained here was small, because the squadron had lost three of its ships by this time, and they missed the Manila Galleon. However, once they were done, they crossed the Pacific, got some badly needed repairs in Canton, and waited around for the Manila Galleon of 1743. They intercepted and captured this galleon, the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, off the Philippine island of Samar; since this was the ship headed west from Mexico, it carried 1,313,843 silver pieces of eight. I couldn’t find in any of my sources how much this was worth, but by running the current price of silver through a calculator, I came up with $25 and a quarter million in US dollars. Wikipedia claims that the British ships captured by Spain in the Atlantic were worth more than the galleon, but to me that sounds like “sour grapes” reasoning, an attempt to curb enthusiasm over Anson’s achievement. After the Philippines, Anson returned to England by continuing to sail west, circumnavigating the globe in the process. Although Anson’s expedition lost more than nine tenths of its men to disease, and only one of the ships made it back, London considered the mission a success, because of the captured Manila Galleon and its treasure. The share of the treasure that Anson got to keep made him rich for the rest of his life.

Spain and Britain had a rematch twenty years later, with the Seven Years War, and this time Britain did much better. If you’re an American, you have heard this war called the French and Indian War. In 1759, the same year that Britain took Canada from France, Spain was persuaded to enter the war on the French side, and again the British Navy added Spanish colonies to its list of targets worth attacking. In 1762 the British captured the galleons going both to and from Manila, but worse was to come. Next, a fleet of fifteen ships and 2,000 men sailed from Bengal, Britain’s colony in India, and they reached Manila on September 23, 1762. The most recent governor of Manila had died in 1759, and his replacement had not arrived yet, so the local archbishop, Manuel Antonio Roja, was in charge. Because communications between Manila and the rest of the Spanish Empire were so bad, Roja did not even know that Spain was at war. To defend the city, there was a garrison of almost 600 Spanish soldiers, and up to 10,000 natives armed with spears and bows were available. With no instructions from Spain on what to do, the Spaniards fought half-heartedly for twelve days, and then Roja surrendered Manila to the British on October 6. This was a violation of Spain’s chivalric code of conduct, but Madrid forgave him. As one senior Spanish official put it, Roja was, quote: “an imbecile rather than a traitor . . . who unfortunately had been assigned tasks for which he lacked both the intelligence and the valor.” End quote.

The British made no effort to conquer the rest of the Philippines, but simply stayed in Manila until the war ended, and gave it back to Spain in 1764. Even so, their easy success showed the Filipinos how weak Spanish rule over them really was. That led to a few peasant revolts in rural Luzon, and uprisings from the always belligerent Moros on Mindanao and in the Sulu islands. Most of all, for the first time, Filipinos got to see what other Europeans were like. During the brief period when the British ruled Manila, they allowed free trade between it and the outside world, and when the Spaniards saw the boom that caused for the local economy, a few of them realized that reforms were badly needed; Spain’s hold over the islands was doomed if the old system remained.

One of the first who called for reform was Pedro Murillo Velarde, a Jesuit who said around 1700 that the Spaniards were “like visitors to an inn,” who come and go without leaving evidence of their presence. He recommended the establishment of government-controlled companies to develop agriculture, industry and commerce. None of the reforms proposed got off the ground until a reform-minded king, Charles III, was crowned in 1759, and a reform-minded governor, José de Basco y Vargas, arrived in 1778. Of these, the biggest successes were the growing of tobacco and sugar cane, which greatly increased the colony’s income because these were cash crops, but the conversion of rice fields to grow the new crops caused a shortage of rice in some areas, forcing the importation of food for the first time in Philippine history. Foreign merchant ships were also allowed to come to Manila, provided that the cargoes they brought came only from China and India.

The first American ship to visit Manila was a freighter named the Astrea, in October 1796. The captain was a brilliant young man from Salem, Massachusetts, twenty-three-year-old Nathaniel Bowditch, who spoke six languages, was an expert in mathematics and astronomy, and over his lifetime he published two dozen books. He loaded his ship with nearly four hundred tons of sugar to take back to New England; sugar and molasses were products that Americans could not get from the Caribbean at that time, because Britain would not allow ships from its rebellious former colonies to go there until after the War of 1812. His impression of the laidback life in Manila was described in detail in Stanley Karnow’s book on the Philippines, “In Our Image,” and that paragraph is good enough that I will read it here. Quote:

<Read pages 59 & 60.>

End Quote.

The Manila Galleon trade ended when Spain’s Latin American colonies began their wars for independence in the early nineteenth century; now Spain no longer had a place on the eastern shore of the Pacific for the galleons to sail to. The last eastbound galleon sailed from Manila to Acapulco in 1811, and the last galleon going west sailed in 1815. To replace the Manila Galleon trade, Spain now allowed free commerce between Manila and the nations of Europe.

In the south, a silly incident happened on Basilan, a small island next to the western tip of Mindanao. The Dutch had tried to take Basilan in 1747, but together the natives and the Spaniards had driven them off. In 1844 the French foreign minister sent a squadron to Vietnam, to protect Vietnamese Catholics from persecution. We saw this squadron in Episode 25; it was the one that would rescue a French missionary, Dominique Lefèbvre, the first time he was arrested. The squadron commander, Jean-Baptiste Cécille, also sent a corvette, the Sabine, to the Sulu Sea, to look for an island that would make a suitable naval base, so that French vessels in Southeast Asian waters would no longer have to depend on the hospitality of Portuguese, British, or Dutch outposts. If everything worked out, the island could also become a commercial center, like Hong Kong, the new British port on the Chinese coast. The expedition was kept secret to prevent a hostile British reaction. Officially Basilan belonged to the sultan of Sulu, and all islands in the Sulu Sea were part of the Philippines, but Spain was so weak that nobody worried about Spanish objections. When the ships arrived at Basilan, in October 1844, five French sailors went ashore and were kidnaped; two were killed, while the other three were ransomed. A gunboat was borrowed from the Spaniards at Zamboanga City, and used to bombard the fort of the offending datu or chief, but the Europeans had to withdraw when the tide went out. The French returned in early 1845, with flat-bottomed boats they had gotten from Manila, and this time the chiefs of Basilan agreed to submit to French rule if they were paid 100,000 piastres, or 500,000 French francs, in six months. The adventure became public, however, when the fleet returned home. Spain protested, declaring that Basilan had just submitted to Spanish rule in February 1844. Meanwhile Britain was amused, and the French were so embarrassed that they never sent the promised cash. The French prime minister repudiated the whole undertaking, declaring that Basilan could not be used as a base and was too far east to help French shipping in any case.

By the way, I checked when I did the research for this episode. And no, the failure at Basilan is not what persuaded the French to conquer Vietnam instead.

By this time, Spain had decided that it needed to restate its claims in the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean had been completely explored, and other Europeans were staking claims, starting with Britain colonizing Australia. Besides the Philippines, the Spanish claim included Easter Island on the other side of the Pacific, the tiny islands in the South China Sea, and most of Micronesia (the Mariana, Palau, Caroline and Marshall Islands). Guam was the only one of these islands Spain had done anything with. Except for Easter Island, all these islands were organized with the Philippines into a single territory, called the Spanish East Indies. However, in Micronesia this did not mean Spain was doing anything different; the Micronesians were affected more by the whalers, missionaries and merchants who visited them in the following years. Then in 1874, Spain announced its claim to Micronesia one more time, based on three arguments:

1. Spain was the first European nation to send ships there.
2. The pope had awarded most of the Pacific to Spain in 1494,
and 3. Spain had tried to convert this whole area to Catholicism, though it only succeeded in the Philippines.

The Spanish claim was in the news again in 2015 and 2016, when the Philippines presented old maps made in the Spanish era, that show the South China Sea as Spanish territory. You have probably heard of the ongoing South China Sea dispute, where China is claiming nearly all of the sea and its islands, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are claiming parts of it. The issues are that the South China Sea is a good place for fishing, there may be oil underneath it, and trillions of dollars worth of commerce pass through the sea every year. China has raised the stakes by enlarging one of the islands and building a military base on it. Of the maps in question, the oldest and most important one was published in 1734 by Pedro Murillo Velarde, the Jesuit mentioned previously; it is a map of the Philippines and according to it, one of the islands in the South China Sea, Scarborough Shoal, is part of the Philippines. The reasoning behind the Philippine claim is that whoever owns the Philippines today should own the South China Sea islands, too. The United Nations court at the Hague subsequently ruled in favor of the Philippines, but China has not backed down yet, though Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is willing to negotiate with the Chinese over this matter.

Those who prospered the most from the opening of Manila to free trade were the Chinese Mestizo merchants. Over the next few decades the introduction of the steamship and the digging of the Suez Canal brought down the cost of shipping. In Episode 21 we talked about how this affected Southeast Asia, and the Philippines was affected the most, probably because Spain had succeeded in replacing part of the native culture with its own.

Thus, the Filipinos who were getting rich at this time admired the culture of the mother country. And with the cost of transportation coming down, many Mestizos could now afford to send their children to colleges in Europe. In college these students found that there is a tremendous difference between the way Europeans handle politics at home and in the colonies. In Europe an Asian student was accepted as a social equal, since there were not enough Asians living in Europe to create trouble, but in the Far East the Europeans always made sure that their Asian subjects knew they were second-class citizens. The well-to-do Filipinos resented that they were almost as wealthy as the Spaniards, but enjoyed no political rights at all. They were joined by Criollos, Spaniards who were born in the Philippines but had full-blooded European ancestry; as in Latin America, Spain reserved the best jobs for Europeans born in Spain, so the Criollos were left out. It was in the Philippines, the country that had been the most Westernized by Europeans, that Southeast Asia’s first modern nationalist movement arose.

The earliest Filipino grievance was against the Spanish clergy, since these were only Spaniards most Filipinos ever saw outside Manila. The priests ruled their congregations like little kings, and being a long way from home, the priests didn’t let their vow of celibacy keep them from taking local girls as mistresses, thereby increasing the Mestizo population. Today a lot of Filipinos who have part European ancestry can trace it to one of these priests. The clergy jealously resisted any attempt to take away their power; they especially opposed the ordination of Filipinos. Their argument was that Filipinos didn’t want to become priests because they felt a calling to the ministry, but because it would advance their position in society; a native who became a priest stopped being a servant of the Spaniards and became a master over other Filipinos.

The Napoleonic Wars and the Latin American revolutions interrupted transportation between the Philippines and Spain, so when vacancies appeared in the local churches, Manila was forced to appoint natives to fill them. However, the king of Spain during this time, Ferdinand VII, was an ultraconservative. How conservative was he? He was so conservative that he even brought back the Spanish Inquisition for a few years. I bet you weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition!

<Monty Python clip>

Anyway, once peace returned, Ferdinand began to remove the native priests from their parishes. Their appointment was just an emergency measure, after all. Tensions rose over this, and some Spanish clergymen who had been born and raised in the Philippines joined those calling for reform; they now saw themselves as Filipinos first and Spaniards second, just as many Englishmen in the American colonies regarded themselves as Americans after 1776.

The first leader, Pedro Pelaez, was the Mestizo son of a Spanish official. A brilliant theologian, he had risen to the rank of vicar capitular, or governor over the churches of Manila, the highest rank attained by a Mestizo priest. He launched a campaign to nationalize all churches in the Philippines, but shortly afterwards, on June 3, 1863, an earthquake struck Manila and buried him in the ruins of the main cathedral. His enemies called the earthquake an act of God, inflicted to stop the priest. Meanwhile in the south, the Spaniards had gained enough control over Mindanao to declare the whole island pacified in 1860, so Spain’s position must have looked secure. But the truth of the matter was that they had put a lid on a pot of discontent, and to continue the metaphor, you could say that the development of nationalism was causing the temperature of the pot to rise, meaning that Spain could only keep the lid on for so long.

In 1869 Madrid appointed a new governor, General Carlos Maria de la Torre y Navacerrada. He was sympathetic to the reformers, so under him there was hope that the disputes between Spaniards and Filipinos could be resolved peacefully. However, Madrid soon decided that his appointment was a mistake, and two years later replaced him with a hardliner, General Rafael Izquierdo y Gutiérrez. This governor announced when he stepped off the boat in Manila that he would rule, quote: “by the sword and the cross.” Unquote. His first move was against native soldiers. He considered officers born in the Philippines to be untrustworthy, even if they were full-blooded Europeans, and started replacing them with officers born in Spain. He also told the soldiers in the Engineering and Artillery corps that they would now have to pay taxes they had been exempt from previously, and that in the future they would be required to perform forced labor.

The governor’s harsh behavior prompted 200 Filipino troops at Cavite, a fort just outside of Manila, to plot an uprising. We only have records from the Spanish government about this mutiny, but it looks like the mutineers expected Filipino soldiers inside Manila to join them in a general revolt once they started it. What we know is that it was ill-timed and badly planned. The Filipina girlfriend of one of the Spanish soldiers involved in the plot tipped off the commander of the Cavite garrison, so loyalist soldiers knew something was going on. Then on the night of January 20, 1872, when the conspirators saw some fireworks set off, in celebration of a local holiday, they took it as the signal to begin the uprising. They managed to kill the Spanish officers in the fort, but a regiment armed with cannon was immediately sent from Manila to storm the fort.

Many mutineers were promptly executed, and Governor Izquierdo used the uprising as an excuse to arrest thirty Filipino lawyers, writers and priests who had called for reform. Most were jailed or exiled to distant islands, but the worst punishment fell on three priests, who were accused of starting the whole business. These priests were Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora; all three were born in the Philippines, though Burgos was a full-blooded Spaniard. There was no evidence that they actually had been involved in the plot, though previously Burgos and Gomez had strongly supported reform. As for Zamora, he was mainly known for indulging in card games and cockfights; his only involvement was that he had worked with Burgos in the Manila cathedral. The official transcript of the Inquisition-style trial was never published, but what is known suggests that the whole thing was a travesty of justice. On February 17, 1872, the priests were taken to Manila’s central park, now called the Luneta, and as a crowd of forty thousand Spaniards and Filipinos watched, they were given a sentence you would have expected from the Inquisition – death by garroting. Here each victim was tied in a chair as a metal collar was fastened around his neck, and then the collar was tightened with an iron screw until his neck broke. The priests were then buried in a common, unmarked grave; it is believed that the bones of one of the priests were just discovered in 2016. The Archbishop of Manila refused to defrock the priests, because they had not broken any Church laws, and today’s Filipinos see them as the first martyrs in Philippine politics. Often they refer to the priests as GOMBURZA, a word made by combining their last names.

Now we are up to the most important Philippine nationalist, Jose Rizal y Mercado. If I was a Filipino, I would probably devote an entire episode just to him. Filipinos call Rizal the national hero, and I saw his museum in Manila when I visited the Philippines in 1985. I will read you what Stanley Karnow said in his book about the early years of Rizal’s life. This is a long quote, so get ready. Quote:

<Read Rizal quote>

End quote.

As you can see, Rizal proved he was the equal of any Spaniard by becoming a true Renaissance man, excelling in every subject he tried. For the rest of his life, Rizal would dress not like a native, but in stylish European suits. He chose fiction as the way to express his political views; his first novel, Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”), accurately depicted life in the Philippines, with venal priests, corrupt Spanish officials, and ignorant, servile natives. The message was simple: without reforms, a revolution will erupt, and “the defenseless and innocent will suffer most.” A sequel, El Filibusterismo (“The Subversive”), continued the same theme, and this book was dedicated to Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, the three martyred priests. Both books were banned by the Spanish regime. In 1892 Rizal came home and tried to turn his ideas into action by founding a political party, the Liga Filipina. It wasn’t a revolutionary group, and Rizal never called for independence from Spain, but the Spaniards smelled sedition. The party was outlawed and Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, a town on Mindanao, where he worked as a doctor for the next four years.

Spain’s treatment of Rizal convinced his followers that reform was not the answer; only complete independence would do. One of them, Andres Bonifacio, founded a radical secret society with a tongue-twisting name. This is the longest Filipino name I expect to deal with in this podcast, and I asked my wife to get in front of the microphone and pronounce it for me. Meet Leive Kimball. Here she is:

The society was called Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan.

Thanks, Honey! That long name means the “Exalted and Most Honorable Society of the Sons of the People.” Modern-day Filipinos shorten it to Katipunan or KKK.

Preparing for violent revolution, Bonifacio’s men stole guns from the Spanish armories and sharpened their spears and machetes, also called bolos; in Manila they printed tracts on a newspaper printing press. To get the support of wealthy Filipinos, Bonifacio forged their signatures on the movement’s membership lists, incriminating them in the eyes of the Spaniards and putting them in a position where they had no choice except to rally behind the Katipunan. On August 29, 1896, Bonifacio declared war on Spain, but once the war started he proved to be a poor general. However, one of his lieutenants, twenty-seven-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo, was a genius at guerrilla warfare. Aguinaldo became an immediate hero, leading the Filipinos to an uninterrupted series of victories.

Jose Rizal denounced the uprising; he always thought peaceful solutions were best. Nevertheless, the Katipunan made him its honorary president, and the Spaniards used the uprising as an excuse to get rid of him. In 1896 he volunteered to go to Cuba, as a doctor to treat a yellow fever epidemic, and the governor-general, who was sympathetic to him, gave him and his common-law wife, Josephine Bracken, permission to leave Dapitan. However, the boat they were riding to Cuba made a stop in Barcelona, Spain, and there he was arrested, sent back to Manila, and accused of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. A sham of a trial followed, where fifteen witnesses were coerced to testify against him. Rizal was found guilty of all three charges, and sentenced to death. At dawn on December 30, 1896, Rizal was married to Josephine in a simple ceremony performed by a Jesuit who claimed he had persuaded Rizal to rejoin the Catholic Church. Two hours later he was marched to the Luneta park and shot by a firing squad, on the same spot where the three reformist priests had been executed 24 years earlier. He was thirty-five years old.


At some point during his last days, Rizal composed a long poem in Spanish, Mi ultimo adios, a farewell to the world. He concealed it in an alcohol stove in his dungeon cell, and let his sisters know he had hid something there. Six years later, in 1902, a US congressman, Henry A. Cooper, read the poem before Congress, to show them the Filipinos were not savages that needed civilizing. Eyes moistened as the members heard the verses, and then they passed the bill Cooper had introduced, the Philippine Organic Act of 1902. This was the first step in establishing self-government for the Philippines, and its passage convinced Americans that they had freed the islands from the injustices of Spanish rule – but more about that in the next episode. The poem has fourteen stanzas, and here is the first one. Quote:

“Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,
Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,
With gladness I give you my life, sad and repressed;
And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,
I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.”

End quote.

Like most guerrilla wars, the Katipunan rebellion had the most success in the countryside. But in 1897 the war became a stalemate. No place outside of Manila was safe for Spaniards anymore, but the Katipunan was losing its ability to continue fighting, as supplies of food, water, ammo and medicine were running out. The Katipunan also suffered from internal disputes, resulting in the execution of Bonifacio after he and Aguinaldo quarreled over who would lead the Philippine government after independence. The result was a negotiated settlement between both sides. In return for 800,000 pesos, Aguinaldo agreed to end hostilities, disband the rebel government, and go abroad. The rebels laid down their arms, Aguinaldo moved to Hong Kong, and Spain promised reforms at some time in the future. That might have been the end of the whole matter, but a few months later the United States Navy arrived on the scene.

Here is where I will end the narrative for this episode. We have one more Western nation that will come to Southeast Asia and acquire a colony – the United States of America. The next episode will tell how the Americans did that, and continue our narrative about the Philippines, up to the end of the 1930s. So join me when that episode comes out, in mid-September 2017. That episode will complete our history narrative of Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century, so does anyone want to party like it’s 1899?

If you enjoyed this episode, I would greatly appreciate a donation. You can make one by going to the bottom of this episode’s page, and click on the Paypal button. Donations start at one US dollar. If you can’t afford to contribute at this time, you can still help by writing a review or rating the podcast, on iTunes or wherever you listen to it. “Like” the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page, if you are on Facebook, so you won’t miss any announcements, or see what I have to share. My most recent message posted a link to the YouTube video I made, when I went to see the Great American solar eclipse last week. Last but not least, don’t forget to tell your friends who might be interested in listening. Once more, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


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