The first electoral law of the Spanish Empire, contained in the Decree of 29 January 1810, called for representatives from Las Islas Filipinas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Chile, Venezuela, in short, from all of Spain’s colonies in America and Asia to join the Cortés, that is, the Spanish parliament. The Philippine representative was Don Ventura de los Reyes who together with other delegates signed the hallmark Cadiz Constitution of 1812.
In the 1812 Cadiz constitution, the colonies of Spain were given the status of provinces, these were no longer overseas possession but were considered integral parts of the Kingdom of Spain where all its peninsular laws applied
Unfortunately, the constitutional monarchy that the 1812 constitution put in place lasted only until 1814, when King Fernando VII returned to the throne and abrogated all liberal measures and initiatives. The political life of Spain was a dizzying pendulum!
In 1820, when the constitutional regime was restored, the Cortés once again called for representatives from Spain’s dominions in America and Asia. This time an over- enthusiastic Philippines sent as many as 17 delegates, among them, Mariano Pimpin, Vicente Posadas and Eulalio Ramirez. They all participated in law-making sessions for one stimulating year, 1822-1823, after which the monarch, Fernando VII, intervened yet again, sweeping away all vestiges of the liberal dispensation. As soon as Fernando VII breathed his last, the constitutional regime resurrected and the Cortés convened and summoned delegates from America and Asia. The Philippines was represented by two Spanish mestizos, a Brigadier Garcia Gamba and Señor Juan Francisco Licaros.
Strangely enough, during that Cortés a law which had been secretly discussed took effect on 12 April, disallowing overseas delegates to take their seats, even if they were already in Spain. From then on, colonies were to be governed by “special laws” so the delegates were not allowed to take their seats and sent home. The “special laws” turned out to be the Laws of the Indies, the very same enforced by Kings Philip II, the III and Charles II. The Cortés affirmed that due to distance, moral and physical differences of populations it would be impossible to apply the laws of the Peninsula on the colonies (even if these have been upgraded to provinces). The Ministry of War was the culprit.
Cuba and Puerto Rico protested vehemently and recovered their rights to representation in subsequent Cortés, but the Philippines never did, and it was not only because our delegates suffered humiliation in silence.
In 1890, during a parliamentary session, the delegate from Granada, Señor Calvo Muñoz, presented an amendment restoring the Philippine representation to the Cortés. There were several objections which the Minister of Overseas, Manuel Becerra Bermúdez, explained: It was untimely; it was better to be prudent to avoid “radicalism”. He did say that the Philippines should not forever remain a military barracks or a convent, but for reasons not of its own making, the Philippines had not yet reached that degree of “civilization, culture and wealth”. Did ignorance bring about poverty or poverty, ignorance”? The good Minister Becerra confessed he did not know. He did say that he was not about to discuss whether the intelligence of the native was equal to that of the European. There were no ayuntamientoss in the Philippines, he pointed out, no “civilized towns”, but promised that his Ministry would work resolutely to solve those inadequacies so the Philippines could again be represented in the Cortés. After all, continued the Minister, “those who pay ought to have the right to vote”. Since the Peninsular government was about to work in that direction, Mr. Calvo Muñoz was asked to withdraw his amendment about the Philippines.
The next topic in that session’s agenda was assimilation. The Philippines was once again excluded on the pretext that slavery still existed in the islands, although It was a different kind. The word “slave” equated with “laborer”. The latter still enjoyed physical, personal freedom but may just as well be a slave because the fruits of his labor were not his, nor could he freely select type of work or negotiate his wages. These laborers were not citizens. Before the inhabitants of the islands can achieve that status, local governments must be established and education should be secularized and extended to all. That was the task of the Ministry of the Overseas, according to Señor Becerra.
Jose Rizal must have read the records of the 6 March session of the Cortés so he refuted Minister Becerras arguments in the 28 February 1890 issue of “La Solidaridad”. He said that the Ministry of Overseas had indeed instituted myriad reforms, but most failed because of “great opposition found along its path.” Becerra expressed his doubts about the intelligence of the native and lamented the reign of misery and ignorance not because he lacked compassion but because he was talking like a lawyer who did not want his projects to be stunted on unfertile ground. Besides, it is true that representation in the Cortés could be dangerous, if controlled by unscrupulous people
On the other hand, the natives have to be saved from total ignorance before it is too late, Rizal said, and there are people of intelligence in the Philippines, “but they do not show themselves; a complete idiot has a greater chance of living in peace.”
With a hint of sarcasm, Rizal said the only rostrum available to his compatriots is the confessional. That is why freedom of the press is essential; it is the inseparable weapon of parliamentary representation. A free press can watch over the efficacious application of reforms while delegates to the Cortés can defend them. When public opinion is not suppressed, certain dastardly acts can be exposed and prevented, like “ bought” uprisings, simulated acts of violence calculated to instill fear in people and annul the benefits of reforms.
He attacked Minister Becerra’s argument of the “timeliness” of Mr. Calvo’s amendment. Rizal enjoined Becerra not to postpone for another day what he can do today.