The assimilation issues

Seventy-eight frustrating years had passed since the promulgation of the 1812 Cadiz.

Constitution which stipulated that colonies and overseas possessions should be considered as provinces, integral parts of Spain, the Metropolis. As provinces, these territories would be ruled by the current laws of the peninsula, no longer by the ancient Laws of the Indies. Natives who were considered colonial subjects of the King of Spain would become citizens with the same rights as the Peninsulares, like electing   their representatives to the Cortés (Parliament). Native voices should be heard through those who lived in the colony and were directly affected by whatever misfortunes or benefits that existed there.  Governors- General and other colonial bureaucrats and officials had short tenures, never long enough to see what was palpably wrong in the Captanía-General de Filipinas and why reforms withered on the vine. The friars of the religious orders who claimed to be holding up the empire were biased sources of information.

That was why assimilation was a crucial issue, the battle cry of colonial subjects. It has also been misunderstood my contemporary Filipino historians, specially those who use Marxist methodology.   By clamoring for assimilation, 19th century Filipinos did not   discard their nationality or natural identities, they did not aspire to be Spaniards, they merely wanted to be treated equally.  And why not?  They were loyal to the King of Spain or to whoever it was at the helm of the government there. The natives were conscripted to fight Spain’s battles within the archipelago and in the Asian region where Spanish missionaries wanted to harvest souls in surrounding heathen kingdoms. The natives produced the resources that fed Spain’s international trade and commerce. Despite all that, there were numerous obstacles, never overcome, for Capitania-General de Filipinas to be assimilated as a province with equal rights and representation in the eyes of the law.  Unfortunately, Spain, supposedly the Mother Country, was imploding slowly, but with certainty, what with internecine wars between royalists and constitutionalists, liberals and conservatives. By 1821, Mexico won its anti-colonial independence movement as most of Spain’s colonies in South America. All the precious jewels were plucked from the crown,  only Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines remained.

When liberal elements held sway in Spain, fresh winds of hope would blow through the Philippine archipelago. Liberal-minded Governors-General would be sent here, but they never stayed long enough to enforce and implement the colony’s demand list which included reforms in education (secular and based on science) and  in the economic and sociopolitical sectors.  In the 15 October 1890 issue of “La Solidaridad”, Marcelo H. del Pilar wrote the lead article titled, “Governor Jovellar.” Don Joaquin Jovellar y Soler  was a military man who twice served in Cuba in the 1870’s. He was   the 103rd Governor-General (or Captain-General) of the Philippines, from 1883 to 1885; before that he had a brief stint as Prime Minister of Spain from 12 September to 2 December 1875.  One of the kings of Spain made him senator for life. From its tone, the lead article attacked ex-Governor-General Jovellar for presenting himself as an authority about the Philippines, just because he was Governor-General for two years.  He must have been interviewed by an important newspaper about the Philippine demand for assimilation, which he never approved of to begin with, even if he was known to be a liberal.  Apparently, Jovellar made statements critical of the Coalition Government’s (in Spain) inclination to   assimilate the Philippines.  Del Pilar said that Jovellar presents himself as the sole authority just because he was Governor-General of the Philippines for 2 years.

Del Pilar reminded the readers of “La Solidaridad” of how Jovellar ended his term in the Philippines; his words of farewell were: “People of the Philippines: I have not governed you effectively, but certainly with justice.” (Habitantes de Filipinas: No os he gobernado con acierto, pero si con justicia.”) His rule will never be forgotten, del Pilar wrote with a dash of sarcasm.  Apparently, Jovellar’s reputation preceded him so everyone was overjoyed that the incoming Gov-General was an energetic liberal, an able and learned politician. He was welcomed with fireworks; Manila was bedecked for the greatest fiesta ever; parades filed under  beautiful arches proclaiming,” God Rewards the Good Ruler, the Country Praises Him”.  In contrast, his departure was dismal. No one praised him.   Manila was silent as a tomb.

The problem with Gov-Gen. Jovellar was that he fell into a bottomless pit of imagined conspiracies, simulated rebellions (mostly inspired by the friars) which filled the colony’s prisons with the most respectable and peaceful-loving inhabitants. They were falsely accused, victims of vile intrigues. Del Pilar wrote: “If to make the accusations stick, tortures of the medieval period were used– augmented and perfected by the use of electric devises of modern times—it is because a sense of justice!” To say that Jovellar was a disappointment is an understatement. By bringing up his case, del Pilar reminded the readers that the clamor for assimilation remained alive.