Corruption by example

As long as the “Moros invade the provinces, the Indians [Indios] will resist paying tribute.” For obvious reasons, they themselves had to build the bulwarks, watchtowers, strongholds with forced labor and weapons in hand.  They felt aggrieved because as loyal subjects of the King of Spain, shouldn’t they be protected from invasions, at the very least?  Fernando de Viana, fiscal of the Royal Audiencia in Manila, sympathized with the indios and understood their fears, so he strongly recommended that, “…in these islands, some respectable forces are necessary, and with them must be punished the haughtiness and insolence of the Moros; with this example, the Indians will be encouraged, they will attend to their labors, they will regard with respect the affairs of His Majesty, and they will assuredly pay the tribute which may be imposed upon them, without danger of their revolting.”

Fiscal De Viana counseled that the reasons for the increase in tribute must be carefully explained to the indios. They should be made to understand that it is their obligation to pay their share of the expenses “…for their spiritual and temporal maintenance under the mild sway of our Catholic king and sovereign to which they would see themselves reduced if these islands should, for lack of military forces, pass over to another sovereign. “

This fiscal’s report was compiled in 1765, after the British invasion and occupation of Manila (1762-1764), which all but demolished the reputation of Spain.   “The Moros deride us and display their superiority compared to our weakness which certainly is ignominious to the Catholic arms, and to the reputation for the Spanish nation. When we had forces for punishing them, they were curbed and humiliated; since they have seen us as poor and weak, they treat us with greatest insolence…” The Captaincy-General of the Philippines made frantic appeals to the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) to increase its subsidy and to send 500 Mexican solders to reinforce the colonial army.

Fiscal De Viana went so far as suggesting that Spain should consider selling its far-flung possession, better than “…endure the ignominy of being discreditably deprived of these faithful vassals, with the loss of all that they have….” But he also said, “… the abandonment of these islands would be very pernicious, even laying aside religious motives which are powerful to the Catholic zeal of the Spaniards…” The English would surely come back to “…securely establish themselves for they have shown themselves eager and greedy for the advantages which the islands possess…” Referring to the archipelago, he said “…these islands are most fertile, abundant, and rich and the country most delightful in all India, so well suited for a flourishing commerce on account of their situation…” He said Filipinas is near China, Siam and Cochinchina, Celebes, Molucas, Borney, Vengala, the coasts of Coromandel and Malaver, Goa that have made British and Dutch companies very wealthy.

The incisive fiscal said that the indios should work more so they can pay more tribute and still live comfortably. After all, these islands abound with opportunities for becoming rich. He more than implied that the Indio is lazy. However, he derided his compatriots for giving the bad example: “The Spaniard does not go out of Manila where all are gentlemen; they regard it as unworthy to devote themselves to any other pursuit than commerce.” He said they swindle and beg for alms rather than work, they “ live in utter idleness,” loiter about, engage in gambling and other vices, are insolent in their mode of speech, and do nothing but gossip. They want to be rich, well dressed without working. Fiscal De Viana believed that if these “Spanish vagabonds who wander about Manila and environs were distributed to the provinces, they would trade therein, would marry Indian [indio] women for rank, become rich with some application and labor, and would thus furnish a good example to the Indians.”

Along with increasing tribute, the courts should “…check the robberies and malversations which during my time I have seen…for the robberies will be committed in greater number in proportion to the increase in the funds which will be handled.  Strict as is the obligation of the vassals to contribute to the expenses, or pay tribute, equally so is that of the sovereign to make proper distribution of what is contributed….” He said the king should appoint zealous, honest officials and punish severely those who are corrupt. He cited the alcaldes-mayor who are “loaded with debts,” aspire  “to become rich in a short time” by buying boat-loads of goods to send to Manila. “With better alcaldes, all the provinces would be well governed. For what is more melancholy than to give authority to persons who are incompetent, vicious thieves? How is a man of this sort to govern fifteen, twenty or forty thousand Indians  [indios]?”

Fiscal Franciso Leandro de Viana reported nothing but the inconvenient truth, it is no wonder that his insightful memorial was unceremoniously shoved under a stack of official documents, and never published.

(Source: Blair & Robertson, The Philippine Islands, and XLVIII)