03 August 2016

Spanish-Style Corruption Arrives in 16th Century Philippines, Including Batangas

Image credit: Putok Do You Know the Truth?

Previous Chapter

(Chapter X of a Batangas Historical Series)

After Miguel de Loarca’s pseudo-census of the Philippine Islands, Spanish documents for all intents and purposes went silent in the 1580s on anything that had to do with what would over time become the Province of Batangas. This was likely by no means deliberate and more due to politicking between the Spaniards themselves, often to the detriment of the native Filipinos or the Indians as these were referred to by the conquerors.

We assume that the conditions in the islands as described in the documents that the Spanish wrote in the decade, particularly those done by the clerics, were true as well in Bombon, Balayan, Batangas and other pueblos that the Spaniards set up and administered since their arrival in Luzon in 1570.

By 1580, Francisco de Sande had been replaced as Governor by Gonçalo (Gonzalo) Ronquillo de Peñalosa. The latter, whilst still in Madrid, had proposed to Felipe II, the Spanish King, that he would go to the Philippines at his own expense and take with him 800 men.1 The King accepted the proposal, which also meant that de Sande had to return to Nueva España.

De Peñalosa was governor only until 1583; and the first year of his governorship was marked by intrigue. In a letter date June 1582, he complained to Felipe II:

“Moreover, I have heard news in regard to Captain Graviel (Gabriel) de Ribera (Rivera in other documents), who was the attorney of this city; he was one of Doctor Sande's chief enemies, and most accused him in his residencia2, as will appear by his own deposition therein. On the way from here to Mexico, he became an ally and confederate of the said Doctor Sande; and together, with false reports and some witnesses who were tools of the said doctor, they preferred many charges against me in that royal Audiencia.3

De Ribera, who had arrived with Miguel López de Legaspi in the islands, wrote scathingly about de Peñalosa in a letter to the King, “The islands have been settled for twenty years, and have enjoyed peace and quiet. The appointment (of de Peñalosa) may have been a very lawful one, but it should not be forgotten that it is injurious to the said islands and their advancement. God alone can remedy the abuses perpetrated every day, for, as is well known by your Highness, they are beyond any other remedy – inasmuch as Don Gonzalo has carried out no part of the agreement he made with his Majesty.4

The arrival in 1581 of the newly-appointed Bishop Domingo de Salazar was a further complication for de Peñalosa. In de Salazar, the native Filipinos found a champion who was willing to expose the abuses of Spanish governance in the islands. These abuses, presumably, were prevalent even in Batangas.

It was de Salazar who reported these excesses to Felipe II and the Royal Audiencia in Nueva España. Upon de Peñalosa’s arrival, de Salazar wrote, there were only three or four alcalde-mayores in the country. The new governor proceeded to appoint more until there was a total of sixteen, who were mostly his own protégés. While the position of alcalde-mayor was created to perform administrative and judicial functions as explained in the previous chapter, those appointed by de Peñalosa used the position for their personal gains.

De Salazar described the prevalent corruption, which was also likely happening in Bombon and Batangas which, as mentioned in the previous chapter, were under one such alcalde-mayor:

“As they (the alcaldes-mayores) came poor (from Spain), and as the salaries are small, they have taken away the Indians – as all affirm, and it is common talk – at the time for harvesting rice; and they buy up all other provisions, and many profit by selling them again. In this way everything has become dear, because, as they have forbidden the Indians to trade and traffic, they sell at whatever price they wish.”

The natives were also often taken forcibly from their own homes to act as oarsmen when there were expeditions arranged. These oarsmen were paid very little, if at all. Most of the time, the payments due to them were divided by their village officials, presumably the alcaldes-mayores and their cohorts, between themselves. De Salazar described one time when de Peñalosa sent an expedition to Borney; and the payments due to the oarsmen who were taken from Bombon, amounting to two thousand pesos, were again split between these officials.

As a consequence of these excesses, many natives died of hunger. Moreover, the abuses placed in jeopardy the Spaniards’ efforts to convert the natives into the Christian faith. De Salazar lamented the situation:

“...that the Moros have come to these islands from that of Burney to preach the law of Mahoma, through which preaching a large number of pagans have turned Moros. Those who have received this vile law keep it with much pertinacity, and there is great difficulty in getting them to leave it. Moreover it is known that the reason which they give – to our shame and confusion – is that they were better treated by the preachers of Mahoma than they have been and are by the preachers of Christ.5

Encomiendas, de Salazar elaborated, were awarded as per decree with the condition that the natives we instructed “in the matters of our most holy faith.” This condition was frequently ignored; and the primary interest of officials was the extraction of tributes from the natives. De Salazar wrote, “…the only care that they have for that (the instruction in the faith) is, that the encomendero takes with him eight or ten soldiers with their arquebuses and weapons, orders the chiefs to be called, and demands that they give him the tributes for all the Indians of their village.”

Perhaps the root of the Spanish corruption could best be explained by an unsigned document probably written in 1582 which seemed to imply that government positions were “saleable” and from which “some gain may be derived.” The document even gave an insight about how the corruption worked in actual practice:

“The alcalde-mayor, who goes there for a year or two, takes with him his own alguacil6 and clerk, appointed by himself. The lawsuits which take place before them are seldom made public; and they can keep the fines forfeited to the royal treasury – which are not slight, for they fine the natives even for treading the ground. They keep neither archives nor record of anything, so that his Majesty is ill served in their office; the natives suffer, and the officials condemn themselves.7

This same document intimated that the “province” of Bombon, Balaian (Balayan) and Mindoro, with a population of twenty thousand Indians, was among the three most important in the country. The other two were Pampanga and La Laguna de Bai (Bay).

Notes and references:
1 History: Discovery and Progress by T. H. Pardo de Tavera in the “Census of the Philippine Islands, Taken under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903, Volume I.” Washington, 1905.
2 At the end of an official’s term, he is required to stay “in residence” for a month or two, during which grievances might be brought up against him before an appointed official.
3 Letter from Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa to Felipe II, from the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume V: 1582-1583.” June 1582.
4 Complaints against Peñalosa, by Gabriel de Ribera, 1583, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume VI: 1583-1588.”
5 Descriptions of Spanish corruption from “Affairs in the Philippine Islands” by Fray Diego de Salazar 1593, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume VI: 1583-1588.”
6 An officer of the court; a sheriff.
7 Report on the Offices Saleable in the Philippines, by unknown author (1582?), as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume VI: 1583-1588.”

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