Chapter 4c

Colonial Taxation Policy Icon

April 18, 2022

It was fortunate that the Philippines had no precious stones or costly spices. In the earlier days of maritime traffic, it was difficult to export the many Philippine agricultural products.

This made conquering the entire islands not worth it. The few Spaniards easily made money in the commerce with China and Mexico, that their haughtiness held themselves aloof from all enterprises which would have imposed the severest labour on the natives.

Ocean travel was dangerous and wearisome. Their too large possessions in America already imposed an exhausting man-tax. This made it difficult to maintain a strong armed force in the Philippines which had to be assisted by the monastic orders, whose missionaries were taught to employ extreme prudence and patience.

The Philippines were thus principally won by a peaceful conquest.

The taxes laid on the natives were so trifling that they were not enough for the colonial administration.

The difference was covered by yearly contributions from Mexico. The extortions of unconscientious officials were by no means conspicuous by their absence. Cruelties, however, such as were practised in the American mining districts, or in the manufactures of Quito, never occurred in the Philippines.

Uncultivated land was free. It was at the service of any one willing to make it productive ; if, however, it remained untilled for 2 years, it reverted to the crown.*

*As a matter of fact, productive land is always appropriated. In many parts, land is difficult and expensive to purchase. Near Manila, and in Bulacan, land has for many years past cost over 150 thalers an acre.

The only tax which the Indians pay is the poll-tax, known as the “Tributo,” which originally, 300 years ago, amounted to 1 dollar for every pair of adults, and in a country where all marry early, and the sexes are equally divided, really constituted a family-tax.

By degrees the tribute has been raised to 216 dollars. An adult, therefore, male or female, pays 13’s dollar, and that from his 16th to his 60th year. Besides this, every man has to give 40 days’ labour every year to the State.

This vassal: age (Polos y serricios) is divided into ordinary and extraordinary services : the first consists of the duties appertaining to a watchman or messenger, in cleaning the courts of justice, and in other light labours; the second in road-making, and similar heavier kinds of work, for the benefit of villages and provinces. The little use, however, that is made of these services, is shown by the fact that any one can obtain a release from them for a sum which at most is not more than three dollars.

No personal service is required of women.

In other countries, with an equally mild climate, and an equally fertile soil, the natives, unless they had reached a higher degree of civilisation than that of the Philippine islanders, would have been ground down by native princes, or ruthlessly plundered and destroyed by foreigners.

In these isolated islands, so richly endowed by nature, where pressure from above, impulse from within, and every stimulus from the outside are wanting, the satisfaction of a few trifling wants is sufficient for an existence with ample comfort.

Of all countries in the world, the Philippines has the greatest claim to be considered a lotos-eating Utopia.

The traveller whose knowledge of the dolce far niente is derived from Naples, has no real appreciation of it. It only blossoms under the shade of palm-trees.

These notes of travel will contain plenty of examples to support this.

One trip across the Pasig gives a foretaste of life in the interior of the country. Low wooden cabins and bamboo huts, surmounted with green foliage and blossoming flowers, are picturesquely grouped with areca palms, and tall, feather-headed bamboos, upon its banks.

Sometimes, the enclosures run down into the stream itself, some of them being duck-grounds, and others bathingplaces.

The shore is fringed with canoes, nets, rafts, and fishing apparatus. Heavily laden boats float down the stream, and small canoes ply from bank to bank between the groups of bathers. The most lively traffic is to be seen in the tiendas, large sheds, corresponding to the Javanese harongs, which open upon the river, the great channel for traffic.

They are a source of great attraction to the passing sailors, who resort to them for eating, drinking, and other convivialities; and while away the time there in gambling, betel chewing, and smoking, with idle companions of both sexes.

Sometimes a native may be seen floating down the stream asleep on a heap of cocoa-nuts. If the nuts run ashore, the sleeper rouses himself, pushes himself off with a long bamboo, and contentedly relapses into slumber, as his eccentric raft regains the current of the river.

One cut of a pruning-knife easily detaches sufficient of the husk of the nuts to allow of their being fastened together ; in this way a kind of wreath is formed which encircles and holds together the loose nuts piled up in the middle.

The arduous labours of many centuries have left as their legacy a perfect system of transport; but in these islands man can obtain many of his requirements direct from the hands of nature, and procure for himself, with proportionately trifling labour, a large amount of comfort.

Off the island of Talim, in the great lake of Bay, my boatmen bought for a few cuartos several dozens of fish quite 12 inches long. Those which they couldn’t eat were split open, salted, and dried by a few hours’ exposure to the heat of the sun on the roof of the boat.

When the fishermen had parted with their contemplated breakfast, they stooped down and filled their cooking-vessels with sand-mussels, first throwing away the dead ones from the handfuls they picked up from the bottom of the shallow water.

Nearly all the dwellings are built by the water’s edge. The river is a natural self-maintaining highway, on which loads can be carried to the foot of the mountains. The huts of the natives, built upon piles, are to be seen thickly scattered about its banks, and particularly about its broad mouths. The appropriateness of their position is evident, for the stream is at once the very centre of activity and the most convenient spot for the pursuit of their callings.

At each tide the takes of fish are more or less plentiful, and at low-water the women and children may be seen picking up shell-fish with their toes, which practice has enabled them to use as deftly as their fingers, or gathering in the sand-crabs and eatable seaweed.

The river-side is a pretty sight when the men, women, and children are bathing and frolicking in the shade of the palm-trees; when the young girls are filling their water-vessels, large bamboos, which they carry on their shoulders, or jars, which they bear on their heads : and when the boys are standing upright on the broad backs of the buffaloes and riding triumphantly into the water.

It is here too that the cocoa-palm most flourishes, a tree that supplies them not only with meat and drink, but with every material necessary for the construction of their huts and the manufacture of the various articles in use amongst them.

While the greatest care is necessary to make those growing further inland bear even a little fruit; the palm-trees close to the shore, even when planted on wretched soil, grow plentiful crops without the slightest trouble.

Has no palm-tree been ever made to blossom in a hothouse ? Thomson* mentions that cocoa-trees growing by the sea-side are wont to incline their stems over the ocean, the waters of which bear their fruit to desert shores and islands, and render them habitable for mankind. Thus the cocoa-tree would seem to play an essential part in the ocean vagabondage of Malaysia and Polynesia.

Close to the cocoa-trees grow clumps of the stunted nipapalms, which only flourish in brackish waters ;t their leaves * “Travels in the Indian Archipelago.”

† In Buitenzorger’s garden, Java, the author observed, however, some specimens growing in fresh water.

furnish the best roof-thatching. Sugar, brandy, and vinegar are manufactured from their sap. Three hundred and fifty years ago Pigafetta found these manufactures in full swing, but nowadays they seem to be limited to the Philippines. Besides these, the pundanus-tree, from the leaves of which the softer mats are woven, is always found in near proximity to the shore.

Towards the interior the landscape is covered with rice-fields, which yearly receive a fresh layer of fertile soil, washed down from the mountains by the river, and spread over their surface by. the overflowing of its waters; and which in consequence never require any manure.

The buffalo, the favourite domestic animal of the Malays, and which they keep especially for agricultural purposes, prefers these regions to all others. It loves to wallow in the mud, and is not fit for work unless permitted to frequent the water.