Chapter 12b

The Spanish Governors Icon

March 18, 2022

The difference in the position of the priests to that of the Government officials is seen in their respective dwellings.

The casas reules of the priests are generally small, ugly, and frequently half-ruined habitations, are not suited to the dignity of the chief authority of the province.

The conrento, on the contrary, is almost always a roomy, imposing, and wellarranged building.

In former days, when governorships were sold to adventurers whose only care was to enrich themselves, the influence of the minister of religion was even greater than it is now.*

Legentil, in his “Travels in the Indian Seas” says: “The monks are the real rulers of the provinces.. Their power is so unlimited that no Spaniard cares to settle in the neighbourhood.. The monks would give him a great deal of trouble."

The following passage from the General Orders, given by Legentil, will convey a clear idea of their former position :

“ Whereas the tenth chapter of the ordinances, wherein the governor of Arandia ordained that the alcaldes and the justices should communicate with the missionary priests only by letter, and that they should never hold any interview with them except in the presence of a witness, has been frequently disobeyed, it is now commanded that these disobediences shall no longer be allowed; and that the alcaldes shall make it their business to see that the priests and ministers of religion treat the gobernadorcillos and the subaltern officers of justice with proper respect, and that the aforesaid priests be not allowed either to beat, chastise, or ill-treat the latter, or make them wait at table.”

The former alcaldes, who, without experience in official business, without either education or knowledge, and without either the brains or the moral qualifications for such responsible and influential posts, purchased their appointments from the State, or received them in consequence of successful intrigues, received a nominal salary from the government, and paid it tribute for the right to carry on trade.

Arenas considered this tribute paid by the alcaldes as a fine imposed upon them for an infringement of the law; “for several ordinances were in existence, strenuously forbidding them to dabble in any kind of commerce, until it pleased his Catholic Majesty to grant them a dispensation.” The latter sources of mischief were, however, abolished by royal decree in September and October, 1844.

The alcaldes were at the same time governors, magistrates, commanders of the troops, and, in reality, the only traders in their province.* They purchased with the resources of the obras pias the articles required in the province ; and they were entirely dependent for their capital upon these endowments, as they almost always arrived in the Philippines without any means of their own.

The natives were forced to sell their produce to the alcaldes and, besides, to purchase their goods at the prices fixed by the latter.† In this corrupt state of things the priests were the only protectors of the unfortunate Indians ; though occasionally they also threw in their lot with the alcaldes, and shared in the spoil wrung from their unfortunate flocks.

Nowadays men with some knowledge of the law are sent out to the Philippines as alcaldes; the government pays them a small salary, and they are not allowed to trade. The authorities also attempt to diminish the influence of the priests by improving the position of the civil tribunals; a state of things they will not find easy of accomplishment unless they lengthen the period of service of the alcaldes, and place them in a pecuniary * St. Croix.


position that will put them beyond the temptation of pocketing perquisites.*

In Huc’s work on China I find the following passage relating to the effects of the frequent official changes in China ; from which many hints may be gathered :

“The magisterial offices are no longer bestowed upon upright and just individuals, and, as a consequence, this once flourishing and well-governed kingdom is day by day falling into decay, and is rapidly gliding down the path that leads to a terrible and, perhaps, speedy dissolution. When we seek to discover the cause of the general ruin, the universal corruption which too surely is undermining all classes of Chinese society, we are convinced that it is to be found in the complete abandonment of the old system of government effected by the Manchu dynasty.

It issued a decree forbidding any mandarin to hold any post longer than three years in the same province, and prohibiting any one from possessing any official appointment in his native province. One does not form a particularly high idea of the brain which conceived this law: but, when the Mantschu Tartars found that they were the lords of the empire, they began to be alarmed at their small numbers, which were trifling in comparison with the countless swarms of the Chinese; and they dreaded lest the influence which the higher officials would acquire in their districts might enable them to excite the populace against their foreign rulers.

“The magistrates are allowed to remain only 1-2 years in the same province. They lived there like strangers, without making themselves acquainted with the wants of the people they governed. There was no tie between them.

The only care of the mandarins was to amass as much wealth as possible before they quitted their posts; and they then began the same game in a fresh locality, until finally they returned home in possession of a handsome fortune gradually collected in their different appointments.

They were only birds of passage. What did it matter?

The morrow would find them at the other end of the kingdom, where the cries of their plundered victims would be unable to reach them. In this manner the governmental policy rendered the mandarins selfish and indifferent. The basis of the monarchy is destroyed, for the magistrate is no longer a paternal ruler residing amongst and mildly swaying his children, but a maraụder, who arrives no man knows whence, and who departs no one knows whither.

The consequence is universal stagnation ; no great undertakings are accomplished; and the works and labours of former dynasties are allowed to fall into decay. The mandarins say to themselves, Why should we undertake what we can never accomplish? Why should we sow that others may reap?'

They take no interest in the affairs of the district; as a rule, they are suddenly transplanted into the midst of a population whose dialect even they do not understand. When they arrive in their mandarinates they usually find interpreters, who, being permanent officials and interested in the affairs of the place, know how to make their services indispensable; and these in reality are the absolute rulers of the district.”

There are 3 classes of alcaldeships, each with 3 year terms:

  1. Entrada
  2. Ascenso
  3. Termino (vide Royal Ordinances of March, 1837)

Interpreters are especially indispensable in the Philippines, where the alcaldes never by any chance understand any of the local dialects.

In important matters the native writers have generally to deal with the priest, who in many cases becomes the virtual administrator of authority. He is familiar with the characters of the inhabitants and all their affairs, in the settlement of which his intimate acquaintance with the female sex stands him in good stead.

An eminent official in Madrid told me in 1867 that the then minister was considering a proposal to abolish the restriction of office in the colonies to 3 years.*

  • The law jiniting the duration of appointments to this short period dates from


The dread which caused this restriction, viz., that an official might become too powerful in some distant province, and that his influence might prove a source of danger to the mother country, is no longer entertained.

Increased traffic and easier means of communication have destroyed the former isolation of the more distant provinces.

The new customs laws, the increasing demand for colonial produce, and the right ceded to foreigners of settling in the country, will give a great stimulus to agriculture and commerce, and largely increase the number of Chinese and European residents.

Then at last, perhaps, the authorities will see the necessity of improving the social position of their officials by decreasing their number, by a careful selection of persons, by promoting them according to their abilities and conduct, and by increasing their salaries, and allowing them to make a longer stay in one post.

The commercial relations of the Philippines with California and Australia are likely to become very active, and liberal ideas will be introduced from those free countries. Then, indeed, the mother country will have earnestly to consider whether it is advisable to continue its exploitation of the colony by its monopolies, its withdrawal of gold, and its constant satisfaction of the unfounded claims of a swarm of hungry placehunters.*

English and Scotch colonial officials:

  • are carefully and expressly educated for their difficult and responsible positions
  • obtain their appointments after passing a stringent examination at home
  • are promoted to the higher colonial offices only after giving proofs of fitness and ability.

What a different state of things prevails in Spain!

A Spaniard gets an appointment either from:

  • his personal capacity and merit, or
  • series of successful political intrigues.*

A secular priest in the Philippines once told to me why he became a priest. One day, when he was a subaltern in the army, he was playing cards with some comrades in a shady balcony. His friends observed a peasant tilling the fields under the hot sun and explained how he was a donkey toiling and perspiring while they are lolling in the shade.

The happy conceit of letting the donkeys work while the idle enjoyed life made such a deep impression on him that he determined to become a priest. This is the same idea that drives so many gentlemen to become colonial officials.

The little opening for civil labour in Spain and Portugal, and the prospect of comfortable life in the colonies, have sent many a starving caballero overseas.

the earliest days of Spanish colonisation in America. There was also a variety of minor regulations, based on suspicion, probibiting the higher officials from mixing in friendly intercourse with the colonists.

The exploitation of the State by party, and the exploitation of party by individuals, are the real secrets of all revolutions in the Peninsula.

They are caused by a constant and universal struggle for office. No one will work, and everybody wants to live luxuriously.

This can only be done at the expense of the State, which all attempt to turn and twist to their own ends. Shortly after the expulsion of Isabella, an alcalde’s appointment has been known to have been given away three times in one day.