Who was Pi y Margall?

Who was Pi y Margall?  There is a street in Sampaloc named after him and when last I saw the sign,  the name was misspelled. Not even the City Administrator could tell whether Margall  was a famous or an obscure Spanish colonial official, or someone’s birth place in a god-forsaken corner of Spain. None of us pronounced the name correctly; apparently, the double “ll” is pronounced “i”, so it is Margai.

Francesc (Francisco) Pi y Margall   is totally unknown in Sampaloc, but when the young Jose Rizal arrived in Spain in 1882, the old philosopher-politician, 34 years his senior, was an eminent political philosopher known for his progressive, liberal policies.

During his exile in Dapitan, Jose Rizal revealed to the Spanish military commander, Ricardo Carnicero, that he had met Pi y Margall and during their frequent talks about the Philippine condition, inexplicable events had taken on meaning.  Pi y Margall also shared his analysis of the protean socio-political  events in Spain.  After all, Pi y Margall was one the presidents of the short-lived Spanish Republic. I wonder how the Comandante Carnicero reacted to that, the pieces of the Rizal puzzle must have fallen into place and he must have suddenly understood why the mild-mannered doctor  was banished to Dapitan. Definitely, it was not only because his two novels had infuriated the friars. Rizal was arrested a few days after he inaugurated La Liga Filipina, a mutual benefit society for Filipinos. Both Church and State must have sniffed the influence of that odious socialist, anarchist, Pi y Margall.

Margall was a president of the short-lived First Spanish Republic in 1873. He was the founder of the Federal   Republican Party and identified himself as a liberal, socialist and anarchist.  In 1868, when Jose Rizal was only 7 years old, Spain had its own revolution on September 19, after decades of war over royal succession, turmoil between liberals and conservatives, nobles and incipient bourgeoisie. Queen Isabella II was deposed by a military coup and this heralded a Sexenio Democrático. Spanish intellectuals and political leaders who had fled to France returned with liberal and anarchist ideas, many under the influence of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. One of them was Pi y Margall. A Constituent Cortes was convened to draft a new constitution and Margall was elected as one of the framers. To the horror of monarchists and the church, the constitution stipulated the separation of Church and State. Although considered a worthy successor of the Cadiz 1812 constitution, it did not give Spain’s remaining colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico and Filipinas) the right to be represented in the Cortes and were left under the Laws of the Indies.

Margall ‘s program of government was, in fine:  separation of State and Church, laws for regional autonomy in Spain and overseas territories, establish labor and capital commissions to regulate working conditions and fix minimum wages, regulation of child labor, of working days and  negotiations, free and obligatory public education, sale of uncultivated state and latifundios to fund agrarian reforms. Margall recognized the industrial backwardness of Spain and of its manufacturing industries, as compared to other countries in Europe, and its being deeply in debt to English bankers.  The form of government he envisioned was a federal one and to solve social problems he advocated the formation of a “civil society” which is a system of local communities and industrial associations bound to each other by mutual interests rather than by laws, by arbitration in case of conflicts, rather than litigation in courts of justice.

Significantly, the 1883 Constitution respected the “volition” of the regions (in the peninsula and overseas) to come together and on their own  decide whether  or not to join  the Spanish Federation. In   this context, they would have to work together to achieve their common objectives.

That constitution supported the autonomy of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Filipinas; these colonies could  join the Federal Republic of Spain, or if their people wished, to go it alone and become independent. Margall was perhaps the only Spanish politician who supported the independence of the last 3 colonies. Consequently, he believed there was no need for a Spanish-American War.

According to Rizal’s Spanish biographers, he and Pi y Margall enjoyed playing chess; the venerable old man opened his library to the young Filipino who borrowed books he could not afford to buy, especially  tomes by Proudhon. That was how important Pi y Margall was to the formation of Rizal’s socio- political ideas, fleshed out in the La Liga Filipina.  Let us hope no one in the new dispensation of  the City of Manila changes the name of that street just because they do not know Pi y Margall’s connection to the Philippines, or because it is hard to spell and pronounce his name.

(source: George Aseniero, “From Cadiz to La Liga: The Spanish context of Rizal’s Political Thought” Asian Studies, vol 49.no. 1 2013. Asian Center, UP)