Part 3

Philippine Mining in the 19th century

Compulsory labor

Proceeding to the consideration of the second means of accelerating the improvement of agriculture, viz., the distribution of the [373]natives, it will suffice to say that it would be equally easy to show that it is absolutely necessary rigorously to carry into effect, in the Philippine Islands, whatever the laws on this subject prescribed, otherwise we must give up all those substantial hopes entertained of the felicity of the colony. We are no longer in a situation to be restricted to the removal of ordinary obstacles, and the season is gone by in which, as heretofore, it entered into our policy to employ no other than indirect stimulants—in order to incline the Filipino to labor.

Admonitions and offers of reward no longer suffice; nor indeed have the advantageous terms proposed to them by some planters, with a view to withdraw the lower orders of the natives, such as the timauas and caglianes plebeians, from the idle indifference in which they are sunk, been of any avail.

Their wants and wishes being easily supplied, the whole of their happiness seems to depend on quiet and repose, and their highest enjoyment on the pleasure of sleep. Energy, however, and a certain degree of severity must be employed, if permanent resources are to be called forth, and if the progressive settlement of European families and the formation of estates proportioned to the fertility of the soil and capabilities of the country are to enter into the views of government.

In vain would grants and transfers of vacant and useless lands be made to new and enterprising proprietors, unless at the same time they can be provided with laborers, and experience every other possible facility, in order to clear, enclose, and cultivate them. Hence follows the indispensable necessity of appealing to the system of distributions, as above pointed out; for what class of laborers can be obtained in a country where the whites are so few, unless it be the natives?

Should they object to personal service, should they refuse to labor for an equitable and daily allowance, by which means they would also cease to be burdens to the State and to society, are they not to be compelled to contribute by this means to the prosperity of which they are members; in a word, to the public good, and thus make some provision for old age?

If the soldier, conveyed away from his native land, submits to dangers, and is unceasingly exposed to death in defence of the State, why should not the Filipino moderately use his strength and activity in tilling the fields which are to sustain him and enrich the commonwealth?

The undeveloped Philippines

Besides, things in the Philippine Islands wear a very different aspect to what they do on the American continent, where, as authorized by the said laws, a certain number of natives may be impressed for a season, and sent off inland to a considerable distance from their [374]dwellings, either for the purpose of agriculture, or working the mines, provided only they are taken care of during their journeys, maintained, and the price of their daily labor, as fixed by the civil authorities, regularly paid to them. The immense valleys and mountains susceptible of cultivation, especially in the Island of Luzon, being once settled, and the facilities of obtaining hands increased, such legal acts of compulsion, far from being any longer necessary, will have introduced a spirit of industry that will render the labors of the field supportable and even desirable; and in this occupation all the tributary natives of the surrounding settlements can be alternately employed, by the day or week, and thus do their work almost at the door of their own huts, and as it were in sight of their wives and children.

No legal obstacle to forced labor.If, after what has been above stated, the apparent opposition obstacle to which at first sight strikes the eye, in Law 40, Title 12, Book 6, speaking on this subject, and expressly referring to the Philippine Islands, should be alleged, no more will be necessary than to study its genuine sense, or read it with attention, in order to be convinced of its perfect concordance with the essential parts of the other laws of the Indies, already quoted in explanation and support of the system of distributing the laborers. The above-mentioned law does indeed contain a strict recommendation to employ the Chinese and Japanese, not domiciliated, in preference to the natives, in the establishments for cutting timber and other royal works, and further enjoins that use is only to be made in emergencies, and when the preservation of the state should require it.

It has, however, happened that, since the remote period at which the above was promulgated, not only all contracts and commerce have ceased, but also every communication with Japan has been interrupted, and for a number of years not a single individual of that ferocious race has existed in the Philippine Islands. With regard to the Chinese, who are supposed to be numerous in the capital, of late years they have diminished so much, that according to a census made by orders of the government in the year 1807, no more than four thousand seven hundred are found on the registers; and, if in consequence of their secreting themselves, or withdrawing into the interior, a third more might be added to the above amount, their total numbers would still remain very inconsiderable, and infinitely inferior to what is required, not only for the tillage of the estates, but even for the royal works.

Substitute laborers wanting.

As, therefore, the Japanese have totally disappeared, and the number of Chinese is evidently inadequate to the wants of agriculture, it almost necessarily follows that the practice of distributing [375]the Filipino laborers, as allowed by the aforesaid laws of the Indies, under all circumstances, is the only alternate left. Even if, against the adoption of this measure, it should be attempted to urge the ambiguous sense of the concluding part of the second clause, it would be easy to comprehend its true intent and meaning, by referring to Law 1, Title 13, Book 5, which says:

“That, considering the inconveniences which would arise from doing away with certain distributions of grounds, gardens, estates, and other plantations, in which the Indians are interested, as a matter on which the preservation of those distant dominions and provinces depends, it is ordained that compulsory labor, and such distributions as are advantageous to the public good, shall continue.” After so pointed an explanation, and a manifestation so clear of the spirit of our legislation in this respect, all further comments would be useless, and no doubt whatever can be any longer entertained of the expediency, and even of the justice of putting the plan of well-regulated distributions in practice, as a powerful means to promote the agriculture, and secure to Spain the possession of these valuable dominions of the Indian Seas. ….

Manufactures….. It would be impossible to gainsay Don Juan Francisco Urroz, of the Philippine Company, in his detailed and accurate report to the managing committee in 1802, when he observes:

“That the Philippine Islands, from time immemorial, were acquainted with, and still retain, that species of industry peculiar to the country, adapted to the customs and wants of the natives, and which constitutes the chief branch of their clothing.

This, although confined to coarse articles, may in its class be called perfect, as far as it answers the end for which it is intended; and if an attempt were made to enumerate the quantity of mats, handkerchiefs, sheeting, and a variety of other cloths manufactured for this purpose only in the Provinces of Tondo, Laguna, Batangas, Ilocos, Cagayan, Camarines, Albay, Visaya, etc., immense supplies of each kind would appear, which give occupation to an incalculable number of looms, indistinctly worked by Indians, Chinese, and Sangleyan mestizos, indeed all the classes, in their own humble dwellings, built of canes and thatched with palm leaves, without any apparatus of regular manufacture.” Native cloth weaving.

With equal truth am I enabled to add, that the natural abilities of these natives in the manufacture of all kinds of cloths, fine as well as coarse, are really admirable. They succeed in reducing the harsh filaments of the palm-tree, known by the name of abaca, to such a degree of fineness, that they afterwards convert them into textures equal to the best muslins of Bengal. The beauty and evenness of their embroideries and open work excite surprise; in short, the [376]damask table-cloths, ornamental weaving, textures of cotton and palm-fibres, intermixed with silk, and manufactured in the above-mentioned provinces, clearly prove how much the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands, in natural abilities and dexterity, resemble the other people of the Asiatic regions.

It must nevertheless be allowed, that a want is noticed of that finish and polish which the perfection of art gives to each commodity;

but this lack is not strange, if we consider that, entirely devoid of all methodical instruction, and ignorant also of the importance of the subdivision of labor, which contributes so greatly to simplify, shorten, and improve the respective excellence of all kinds of works, the same natives gin and clean the cotton, and then spin and weave it, without any other instruments than their hands and feet, aided only by the course and unsightly looms they themselves construct in a corner of their huts, with scarcely anything else than a few canes and sticks.

Aptitude for, but no development of, manufacturing.

From the preceding observations it may easily be deduced that, although the natives succeed in preparing, with admirable dexterity, the productions of their soil, and therewith satisfy the greatest part of their domestic wants, facts which certainly manifest their talents and aptitude to be employed in works of more taste and delicacy, manufacturing industry is nevertheless far from being generalized, nor can it be said to be placed with any degree of solidity on its true and proper basis. Hence arise those great supplies of goods annually imported into the country, for the purpose of making up the deficiencies of the local manufactures.

Improved methods and machinery needed.The regular distribution or classification of the assemblage of operations which follow each other in graduation, from the rough preparation of the first materials, till the same have arrived at their perfect state of manufacture, instead of being practiced, is entirely unknown. The want of good machinery to free the cotton from the multitude of seeds with which it is encumbered, so as to perform the operation with ease and quickness, is the first and greatest obstacle that occurs; and its tediousness to the natives is so repugnant, that many sell their crops to others, without separating the seeds, or decline growing the article altogether, not to be plagued with the trouble of cleaning it. As the want of method is also equal to the superabundance or waste of time employed, the expenses of the goods manufactured increased in the same proportion, under such evident and great disadvantages; for which reason, far from being able to compete with those brought from China and British India, they only acquire estimation in the interior, when wanted to supply the place of the latter, or in cases of accidental scarcity.

Scanty exports.

The only manufactured articles annually exported from the Philippine Islands are:

  • 8,000-12,000 pieces of light sail cloth
  • 200,000 pounds of abaca cordage assorted
  • 600 carabao hides and deer skins
    • These can scarcely be considered in a tanned state/ for, although the Royal Company, from the time of their establishment, long continued to export considerable quantities of dimities, calicos, stripes, checks, and coverlids, as well as other cotton and silk goods, it was more with a view to stimulate the districts of Ilocos to continue in the habit of manufacturing, and thus introduce among the inhabitants of that province a taste for industry, than the expectation of gain by the sale of this kind of merchandise either in Spain or any of the sections of America.

At length, wearied with the losses experienced by carrying on this species of mercantile operations, without answering the principal object in view, they resolved, for the time being, to suspend ventures attended with such discouraging circumstances.

Need of encouragement

Notwithstanding so many impediments, it would not, however, be prudent in the government entirely to abandon the enterprise, and lose sight of the advantages the country offers, or indeed, to neglect turning the habitual facilities of the natives to some account. Far from there existing any positive grounds for despairing of the progress of manufacturing industry, it may justly be presumed that, whenever the sovereign, by adopting a different line of policy, shall allow the unlimited and indistinct settlement of all kinds of foreign colonists, and grant them the same facilities and protection enjoyed by national ones, they will be induced to flock to the Philippine Islands in considerable numbers, lured by the hope of accumulating fortunes in a country that presents a thousand attractions of every kind.

Many will preferably devote themselves to commerce, others to agricultural undertakings and also to the pursuits of mining, but necessarily some will turn their attention and employ their funds in the formation of extensive manufactures, aided by intelligent instructors and suitable machinery.

The newly-introduced information and arts being thus diffused, it is natural to expect they will be progressively adopted by a people already possessing a taste and genius for this species of labor, by which means manufacturing industry will soon be raised from the state of neglect and unprofitableness in which it is now left.

Internal commerce handicapped.

The circulation of the country productions and effects of all kinds among the inhabitants of the provinces, which, properly speaking, constitutes their internal commerce, is tolerably active [378]and considerable. Owing to the great facilities of conveyance afforded by the number of rivers and lakes, on the margins of which the Filipinos are fond of fixing their dwellings, this commerce might be infinitely greater, if it was not obstructed by the monopoly of the magistrates in their respective districts and the unjust prerogative, exercised by the city, of imposing rates and arbitrary prices on the very persons who come to bring the supplies.

Nevertheless, as the iniquituous operations of the district magistrates, however, active they may be, besides being restricted by their financial ability, regularly consist of arrangements to buy up only the chief articles, and those which promise most advantage, with least trouble; as that restless inquietude which impels man on, under the hope of bettering his condition, acts even amidst rigor of oppression, a certain degree of stimulus and scope is still left in favor of internal trade.

Inter-island traffic.

Hence it follows, that there is scarcely an island or province, that does not carry on some traffic or other, by keeping up relations with its neighbors, which sometimes extend as far as the capital; where, in proportion as the produce and raw materials find a ready market, returns suitable and adequate to the consumption of each place, respectively, are obtained.

If, however, it would be difficult to form an idea, even in the way of approximation, of the exchanges which take place between the various provinces, a task that would render it necessary to enumerate them, one by one, it is equally so to make an estimate of the total amount of this class of operation carried on in Manila, their common center.

Situated in the bottom of an immense bay, bathed by a large river, and the country round divided by an infinite number of streams and lakes descending from the provinces by which the capital is surrounded, the produce and effects are daily brought in and go out of suburbs so extended in a diversity of small vessels and canoes, without its being possible to obtain any exact account of the multiplicity of transactions carried on at one and the same time, in a city built on so large a scale.


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