Part 6b

Coconut wine

Buyo monopoly unsatisfactory

The government is anxious to derive advantage in aid and support of the colony, from the great use the inhabitants make of the buyo, many years ago determined to establish the sale of the bonga, its principal ingredient, into a monopoly, either by hiring the privilege out, or placing it under a plan of administration, in the form in which it now stands.

Both schemes have been tried, but neither way has this branch been made to yield more than $30,000; indeed the annual proceeds usually have not exceeded $25,000. In 1809, the total amount of sales was $48,610, and deducting from this sum the prime cost and expenses of administration, the net profit in favor of the treasury was equal to no more than $27,078 or upwards of 125½%.

In 1780, the privilege of selling the bonga was let out at public auction for the sum of $15,765 and this, compared with the present proceeds, clearly shows that, although the increase has not advanced equally with the other branches of the revenue, it is far from having declined. It must nevertheless be confessed, that on the present footing on which it stands, the smallness of the proceeds is not worth the trouble required in the collection, and even if the amount were still greater, it could never serve as an excuse for the oppression and violence to which this monopoly frequently gives rise.

Hardships on areca-nut planters

As the trees producing the bonga are not confined to any particular grounds, and indiscriminately grow in all, the plan has been adopted of compelling the Filipinos to gather and bring in the fruit, raised on their lands, to the depot nearest the district in which they reside.

There they are paid from two, two and one-half, three and three and one-half reals per thousand, according to the distance from which they come: and, in order to prevent frauds, the surveyors belonging to the revenue go out, at certain times of the year, to examine the bonga plantations, and the trees being counted, they estimate the fruit, that is, oblige the proprietor to undertake to deliver in two hundred nuts for each bearing tree, whether or not, [407]hurricanes deteriorate or destroy the produce, or thieves plunder the plantations, as very frequently happens.

In case deficiencies are proved against him, he is compelled to pay for them in money, at the rate of twenty-five reals per thousand, the price at which the king sells them in the monopoly-stores. Besides, the precise condition of delivering in two hundred bonga nuts, according to the stipulations imposed upon him, presupposes the previous exclusion of all the injured or green ones; and although the ordinary trees usually yield as many as three hundred nuts each, great numbers are nevertheless spoiled. If, to the adverse accidents arising out of the storms and robberies, we add the effects of the whims or ill-humor of the receivers, it is not easy to imagine to what a length the injuries extend which befall the man who has the folly or misfortune to become a planter of this article.

Folly of monopoly plan.On the other hand, as in the conveyances from the minor to the larger depots, frauds are frequently committed, and the heaping together of many millions of nuts inevitably produces the fermentation and rapid putrefaction of a great number of them, it consequently follows that the waste must be immense; or if it is determined to sell all the stock laid in, without any distinction in quality and price, the public must be very badly served and displeased, as in fact too often happens. Since, therefore, the habit of using the buyo is still more prevailing than that of tobacco, when suitable supplies cannot be had in the monopoly stores, the consumer naturally resorts to the contraband channels, although he encounters some risk, and expends more money.

It is also very natural that the desire of gain should thus lead on and daily expose a number of needy persons, anxious by this means to support and relieve the wants of their families. Returning, however, to what more immediately concerns the grower, I do not know that the oppressive genius of fiscal laws has, in any country of the globe, invented one more refinedly tyrannic, than to condemn a man, to a certain degree at least, as has hitherto been the case, to the punishment of Tantalus; for the law forbids the Filipino to touch the fruit of the tree planted with his own hands, and which hangs in tempting and luxuriant abundance round his humble dwelling.

Its modification desirable

It would be easy for me to enumerate many other inconveniences attending this branch of public revenue, on the footing on which it now stands, if what has already been said did not suffice to point out the necessity of changing the system, as those in authority are anxious that the treasury should gain more, and the king’s subjects suffer less. The strong prejudice entertained against this source [408]of revenue, the inconsiderable sum it produces, and the complicated form of its organization, have in reality been sufficient motives to induce many to become strenous advocates for the total abolition of the monopoly. I do not, however, on this account see any reasons for altogether depriving the government of a productive resource, as this might soon be rendered, if it was placed under regulations less odious and more simple in themselves.

I nevertheless agree, that the perfect monopoly of the areca fruit, or bonga, is impracticable, till the trees, indiscriminately planted, are cut down, and, in the same way as the tobacco plantations, fresh and definite grounds are laid out for its cultivation, on account of the revenue. I am further aware that this measure is less practicable than the first; for, independent of all the other obstacles, it would be necessary to wait till the new plantation yielded fruit, and also that the public should consent to refrain from masticating buyo in the meanwhile, a pretension as mad as it would be to require that the eating of salt should be dispensed with for a given number of years. But what difficulty would there be, for example, in the proprietors paying so much a year for each bonga tree to the district magistrate, the governor of the nearest town, or the cabeza de Barangay, or chiefs of the clans into which the natives are divided, in the same manner as the Filipino pays his tribute? Tree-tax preferable.The only one I anticipate is that of fixing the amount in such way that, at the same time this resource is made to produce an increased income of some moment, it may act as a moderate tax on an indefinite property, the amount of which, augmented in the same price, may be reimbursed to the proprietor by the great body of consumers. It is not in fact easy to foresee or estimate, by any means of approximation, the alteration in the current price of the bonga, that would result from the indefinite freedom of its cultivation and sale, especially during the first years.

Although, for this reason, it would be impossible to ascertain what proportion the impost on the tree would then bear with regard to the value of the fruit, the error that might accrue would be of little moment, as long as precautions were taken to adopt a very low rate of comparison, and a proportionably equitable one as the basis of taxation. Supposing then that the price of the bonga should decline from twenty-five reals, at which it is now sold in the monopoly stores, to fifteen reals per thousand, in the general market, and a tax of one-fourth real should be laid on each tree valued at two hundred bonga nuts, it is clear that this would be equal to no more than 8½%; or, what is the same, the tax would be in the proportion one to twelve with the proceeds of each tree, and the more the [409]value of the fruit was raised, the more would the rate of contribution diminish.

It ought at the same time to be observed that, under the above estimate, that is, supposing the price of the article to remain at fifteen reals, the 8½% at which rate the tax is regulated, would not perhaps exceed five or six per cent on a more minute calculation; in the first place, because at the time of making out the returns of the trees, Exception of immature and aged trees.those only ought to be set down which are in their full vigor, excluding such as through the want or excess of age only yield a small proportion of fruit; and in the second, because in the numbers registered, the trees would only be rated at two hundred although it is well known they usually yield three hundred, in order by this means the better to avoid all motives of complaint. In this point of view, and by adopting similar rules of probability, it seems to me that the government would not risk much by an attempt to change the present system into a tax levied on the tree itself, on a plane similar to the one above proposed; more particularly by doing it in a temporary manner, and rendering it completely subservient to the corrections subsequent experience might suggest in this particular.

Difficulty of estimating probable revenue.

The difficulty being, in this manner, overcome, with regard to the prudent determination of the rate at which the proprietor of the bonga plantations ought to contribute, let us now proceed to estimate, by approximation, the annual sum that would thus be obtained. As, however, this operation is unfortunately complicated, and in great measure depends on the previous knowledge of the total number of trees liable to the tax proposed, details with which we are at not present prepared, it is impossible to come at any very accurate results. All that can be done is to endeavor to demonstrate, in general terms, the great increase the revenue would experience by the adoption of the new plan, and the real advantage resulting from it to the contributors themselves, all which may be easily deduced from the following calculation.

Let us assume that:

  • the consumers of buyo in the entire Philippines do not exceed 1 million
  • each one makes use of 3 bongas per day
    • At the end of the year, this would then amount to 1,095,000,000 nuts.
    • We divide this by 200, at which the product of each tree, one with another, is rated, and the result will be 5,475,000 trees.

Greater, however, than at present.

This number being taxed at the rate of one-fourth real, would leave the sum of $171,093.75 and deducting therefrom the $25,000 yielded by this branch under its present establishment, together with $5,132 equal to three per cent paid [410]to the district magistrates for the charges of collection, we should still have an annual increase in favor of the, treasury equal to $140,961.75.

It might be objected that, in this case, the proprietor, instead of receiving, as before 2.5 reals for every 1,000 bongas. He would have to disburse 1.25 reals to pay 0.25 real for each tree. It, at first sight, seems to produce a difference not of 1.25, but of 3.25 reals per 1,000 against him.

Though in reality far from this being the case, if we take into consideration the deficiencies the sworn receiver usually lays to his charge, the fruit he rejects, owing to its being green or rotten, and the many and expensive grievances he is exposed to in his capacity of grower; it will be seen that his disbursements under these heads frequently exceed the amount he in fact has to receive. Tax only a surcharge ultimately paid by consumer.

If, in addition to this, we bear in mind that, on condition of seeing himself free from guards and a variety of insupportable restrictions, constituting the very essence of a monopoly, he would in all probability gladly pay much more than the tax in question, all the doubts arising on this point will entirely disappear. Finally, considered in its true light, we shall not find in the measure above described anything more than a very trifling discount required of the proprietor from the price at which he sells his bonga, and which, as already noticed, ultimately falls on the consumer alone.

Estimate conservative.The moderate estimate I have just formed ought to inspire the more confidence from its being well known that the use of the buyo is general among the inhabitants of these Islands. The calculation, as it now stands, rests only on one million consumers, for each of whom I have only put down three bongas per day, whereas it is customary to use much more; nor have I taken into account the infinite number of nuts wasted after being converted into the buyo, a fact equally well known. Indeed, as the object proposed was no other than to prove the main part of my assertions, and I trust this is satisfactorily done, I have not deemed it necessary to include in the above calculation a greater number of minute circumstances, nor attempt to deduce more favorable results, which, with the scope before me, I was most assuredly warranted in doing.


In a word, from the concurrence of the facts and reasons above adduced, the following propositions may, without any difficulty, be laid down.

  1. The increase of revenue produced by the reform in question, would in all probability exceed $150,000 per annum
  2. The Filipinos would soon comprehend, and gladly consent to a change of this kind in the mode of contributing of which the advantages would be apparent
  3. The persons employed in the old establishment, might, with greater public [411]utility, be applied to other purposes
  4. The civil magistrates would not be harassed with so many strifes and lawsuits, and so many melancholy victims of the monopoly, and its officers would cease to drag a wretched existence in the prisons and places of hard labor in these Islands.

Cockpit licenses

The cock-pit branch of the revenue is hired out by the government, and the license is separately set up at auction for the respective provinces.

Its nature and regulations are so well known that they do not require a particular description, the general obligations of the contractors being the same as those in New Spain. Perhaps the only difference observed in this public exhibition in the Philippine Islands consists in its greater simplicity, owing to its being frequented only by the natives, the whites who are present at this kind of diversion being very few, or indeed none.

Inconsiderable income

The cock-pits are open two days in the week, and the lessees of them receive half a real from every person who enters, besides the extra price they charge those who occupy the best seats, the owners of the fighting cocks, for the spurs, stalls for the sale of buyo, refreshments, etc. Notwithstanding all this, and although cock-fighting is so general and favorite an amusement among these people (the rooster may justly be considered as the distinctive emblem of the Filipino) the annual proceeds of this branch are inconsiderable; although it must be acknowledged that it has greatly increased since the year 1780, when it appears the license was let at auction for only about $14,000 owing, no doubt, to the exclusive privilege of the contractors not having been extended to the provinces, as was afterwards gradually done.

Provincial cockpit revenue.The total sum paid to the government by the renters of this branch, according to the auction returns in 1810, amounted to $40,141 in the following order for the provinces:

Tondo $18,501 Cavite 2,225 La Laguna 2,005 Pampanga 3,000 Bulacan 6,900 Batangas 2,000 Pangasinan 1,200 Bataan 1,050 Iloilo 1,600 Ilocos 600 Tayabas 400 Cebu 360 Albay 300 Total $40,141

Possibilities of increase

The causes, to which the increase that has taken place within the last twenty-five or thirty years is chiefly to be attributed, have already been pointed out, and for this reason it would appear that, by adopting the same plan with regard to the fourteen remaining provinces, of which this captaincy-general is composed, hitherto free from the imposition of this tax, an augmentation might be expected, proportionate to the population, their circumstances, and the greater or lesser taste for cock-fights prevailing among their respective inhabitants.

At the commencement, no doubt, the rentals would be low, and, of course, the prices at which the licenses were let out, would be equally so; but the experience and profits derivable from this kind of enterprises would not fail soon to excite the competition of contractors, and in this way add to the revenue of the government. This is so obvious that I cannot help suspecting attempts have, at some period or other, been made to introduce the establishment of this privilege, in some of the provinces alluded to; at the same time I am persuaded that, owing to the affair not having been viewed in its proper light, seeking on the contrary to obtain an immediate and disproportionate result, the authorities have been too soon disheartened and given up the project without a fair trial.

All towns and districts murmur, and, at first object, to taxes, however light they may be; but, at length, if they be not excessive, the people become reconciled to them. The one here proposed is neither of this character, nor can it be deemed odious on account of its novelty. The natives are well aware that their brethren in the other provinces are subject to it, and that in this nothing more is done than rendering the system uniform. I, therefore, see no reason why the establishment of this branch of revenue should not be extended to all the points of the Islands. At the commencement, let it produce what it may, since constancy and time will bring things to the same general level.


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