"Come se gobiernan las Filipinas"
by Josť Rizal

Translated as "How One Governs in Filipinas"
Elizabeth Medina

Copyright 2003 by Elizabeth Medina. All Rights Reserved. Posted with the author's permission.
No part of this story may be reproduced in print without the author's written permission.

For some years now the future of those Islands has been worrisome, not only for its inhabitants, who are the greatest stakeholders, but also many peninsulars who, until very recently, were perhaps ignorant of their geographical location and the race that inhabits them, speaking in ethnographical terms.

All can see, all have a presentiment, all are convinced that things are in a bad way, that something over there leaves much to be desired. Some attribute it to one thing, others to something else. Even those who support the government that is in power there agree that there exist necessary evils, without suspecting in the least that they fall into a greatly absurd or a lamentably backward thinking. To tell a sick person that their illness is necessary and they shouldn’t try to combat it is to return to the primitive times of Medicine; it is to confess that one is helpless to do anything. Any doctor who tells their patient such a thing ought to advise them to consult other luminaries.

Even the friars, who benefit and govern the country, the very people who have the greatest interest in making everyone believe that everything there is working just marvelously; who ought to sustain that everything is perfect there, beyond improvement, heavenly, so that no one may disturb them in the productive nirvana that they’ve established there – these same friars agree that there are deficiencies there, imperfections, abuses, and that reforms are necessary and are imposed; it is just that they want a homeopathic treatment – extremely slow, like those doctors who, lacking patients, want to soothe and cradle a chronic illness so that they can keep charging fees and eat at the cost of the sick person and their suffering. And they have proven and demonstrated this in their writings.

In sum, all agree that the machine isn’t working as it should.

The causes that the bad government and slow death of that country’s life are attributed to, vary depending on who studies them. Most of those who went there as functionaries or governors, those men who perhaps have a bad conscience because they have not fulfilled the duty imposed on them by the salary they received, these men shout and lay the blame for everything on the indio, perhaps to distract the public’s attention toward some other object and thus their faults will not be discovered; perhaps to convince and make their conscience believe things that by themselves cannot be believed, the way many cowards infuse themselves with valor through speechifying, the way many liars do who end up believing their own lies after repeating them countless times.

In contrast (what a parados!), those who have conscienciously fulfilled their obligations and have done everything they had to and could, within the country’s perplexing administrative labyrinth, inhibited and threatened by a capricious tyrant, who, from one mail ship to the other, can propose their removal or send them back – these blame the disorganization on the system of government, the personnel, the lack of job stability in the positions, intrigue, etc.

The friars have another system: the country’s ills are all attributed by them to the Liberal ministers, who, because they are Liberals, must be ignorant. On the other hand, the little good that there is, they attribute to themselves. Retrograde ministers, or the ministers from their convent, who by the sole fact of being such are wise, neither do good nor evil – their correct action consists of consulting them and obeying them, and this is what they communicate in lengthy telegrams that the Manila newspapers who are loyal to them publish in big letters.

As for the Liberal peninsulars who are in Filipinas, they blame the friars for the backwardness of the islands, and in their case they have more reason, since, the islands being governed as they are by the convents, the fault of the malfunctioning must fall upon the latter.

However, these Liberals forget the part they play in the dysfunction – if they were to refuse to be governed and did not serve as instruments as often happens; if they were to refuse to make concessions concerning many things that offend their convictions out of fear of losing their appointment; if they had more fortitude, more faith in their ideals, if they studied the country more and set themselves the firm objective of ending the monastic guardianship that the country is vegetating in, then the friars would not be governing Filipinas, nor would modern ideas be asphyxiated the minute they touched the beaches of Manila.

The Filipinos in general blame their country’s malaise and misery on everything above – on the friar, and on all the centuries-old elements that do not stand out for their great character, for a manifest love for the country and her inhabitants, and for a more-or-less entrepreneurial initiative in the question of reforms. The Filipinos, like the Liberals we have spoken of – and to whom they are very similar – also forget the responsibility that falls on their shoulders in their current situation, since, if the saying is true that “where the boss is in charge, the sailor isn’t,” so is the other saying that each country has the government it deserves.

The national spirit makes heard its first screams like a newborn. Before there was only the sentiment of the family or tribe; barely, just barely, that of the region. In consequence, senseless measures did not provoke strong protests from public opinion, but only among those whose relatives were more-or-less directly harmed. As far as the country is concerned, each Filipino thinks in this way: let her fend for herself, save herself, protest, fight – I will do nothing, I’m not the one who has to fix things; I’ve got enough on my hands with my interests, passions and caprices. Let others take the chestnuts out of the fire, and then we can eat them. The Filipinos seem not to know that triumph is the child of struggle, that joy is the flower of many sufferings and privations, and that all redemption presupposes martyrdom and sacrifice. They believe that by moaning and groaning, then sitting with their hands folded in their laps and letting things follow their course, they have done their duty. Others, it’s true, try to do a bit more and offer pessimistic or discouraging advice – they recommend doing nothing. There are, however, those who begin to see clearly and who do as much as they can.

The foreigners, among whom we place in the Chinese in the front line, laugh at everything that happens and take advantage of the lacks and defects of the governed and the governors, to use them. They are the happiest ones – they come over when they want, they stay as long as they please, and they leave when it’s convenient for them to do so. They are not bound by any duty toward the country, nor do they care whether the Government is more or less responsible, or the people more or less enslaved. Like the locust they strip the fields without bothering about the sower or the land. The saddest of all is that there are peninsulars and Filipinos who are like locusts in their manner of thinking and acting.

We believe that everyone is, in part, right. The parties can pass the buck to each other, the peninsulars to the Filipinos, the Filipinos to the peninsulars, the friars to the Liberals and the Liberals to the friars – we believe that even the Chinese themselves have a right to laugh at the Government and the country; it is finally a justice that we all deserve – but above all these instances of meanspiritedness, above this awful disconcertment, there is the principle that the Government in its origins is vice ridden, defective, absurd, uncommitted.

Yes indeed! Upon analyzing the manner of government, we find from the beginning a gross error, with a barbarous institution which is the Colonial Ministry.

This is the center that must govern countries, sometimes over three thousand leagues away, with populations, climates and customs that are diverse and different from those of the region where the Colonial Ministry is found, and it must be led and made to function by a man – precisely an apprentice in the art of statesmanship, who perhaps for the first time is entrusted with the fate of his fellow human beings. Think of a man who until that moment has been nothing but a frustrated individual, treated amid winks and malicious smiles, who from one day to the next suddenly has power over the destiny of nine million persons, a power that his other colleagues who are sharper and have more prestige, do not have, and you tell me if such a rapid promotion would not turn his head to the point of making him commit nothing but idiocies. And add to this the painful thought that the men who enjoy such trifles, for the most part have never been in the countries they must govern, nor are they familiar perhaps with their geographical location, nor have they ever been concerned with them, and you tell me what luck must befall such people as will be ruled over by them. Tell a man this: for you to be the Minister of the Colonial Office is the same as to govern the moon or the inhabitants of Saturn, with the sole advantage that from the Ministry you can see the planets, but not Filipinas.

Sometimes we end up with an apprentice to the office of minister, a man of conscience and reason, and as such he wishes to study the appointment he has been given – that is, if he is spared of the fear of crisis in the little free time left him after he finishes ordering retirements or appointments. But study and learning require many months, during which time the eight or nine million inhabitants would envy the good luck enjoyed by hamsters in the laboratories of great doctors – the eight or nine million must suffer all the experiments, sicut in anima Vili [Roughly translates as: according to the brutish whims] of the apprentice minister, and they can give thanks to God if, in the course of such experiments, the apprentice operator, like anyone who is unsure of what they will do and who listens to opposing opinions, does and undoes, cuts and sutures, injects or draws blood – forcing the poor patient to become unsure of when they must be having a fever, a reaction, etc. etc.

But what usually happens is that we find ourselves already with an apprentice minister who already has a mind of his own – a mind not to learn anything or do anything new. It will be worse to rock the boat, he tells himself; if the mechanism hasn’t exploded until now, let’s not start acting like mechanics and ruin everything. He has succeeded in continuing up to here – why shouldn’t be go on until a crisis develops? “I’ll never be Colonial Minister again.”

It must be admitted that such men are very honorable and proceed with all conscience. The fault does not lie with them, but with the one who puts them in such a tight spot. All the good that they can do is, in effect, to do nothing. When they leave their post, they’ll have a clean conscience and their hearts will beat normally. They have fulfilled their duty: nemo dat quod non habet.

There are others (and they are the fearsome ones) who, without the goodwill of the first, nor the modesty of the second, but with the ignorance that is common to both, want to spend their months of apprenticeship doing many things and proceeding from the start with truly phenomenal aplomb. These gentlemen often derive inspiration from the aims of a party. They allow themselves to be guided, imposed upon, directed, and they believe they achieve much by removing some from office, naming others, annulling royal decrees, their predecessors’ resolutions. They believe they are somebody, when in reality they are nothing but agents and obedient servants. These happy mortals leave power content and satisfied, believing they have been great governors.

Nevertheless, there have been ministers who made up for their lack of practical knowledge with their perspicacity; who untangled intrigues with the rectitude of their character; divined evil and thought of combating it. The names of two or three of these ministers are remembered, and Filipinas laments that many of their reforms have gone no further than being projects.

Out of so many ministers that we have had, only one it seems has visited the colonies – we are not very certain. We know of none who, before taking office, has declared himself informed of the affairs of the colonies. There was one instance in which the position was offered to a distinguished gentleman, and he declined and honorably stated that he knew nothing about the colonies. And note that the most insignificant employee who has been in the colonies claims to be informed of everything, to be a complete expert, and can submit four or five programs where one is lacking! That gentleman had the courage – courage is needed to admit one is ignorant, in a country where the very last barber knows who to make a critique of a situation, and this courage says a much in favor of that aristocrat’s honesty; but have the others who were offered such a tempting position had the same valor?

Following the Minister of the Colonial Office there is the Captain General of Filipinas, the autocrat, the viceroy, the only Spaniard who holds greater power on earth apart from the king himself, and also the least responsibility of all. To rule over eight million submissive, obedient and docile subjects; to be lord of lives, reputations and property, have gold, much gold, favorites, sycophants; the power to commit with the greatest disingenuousness the greatest mistakes or injustices, not make reparation for them but preserve them to prevent any loss of prestige; palliate them, sugarcoat them and make excuses for them with the most appropriate phrases of a general sort (reasons of state, in the interest of good government, etc.) – man, what more do you want? Isn’t it a beautiful first prize awarded by the Spanish lottery every three years, and won without spending a single dime? What is needed to win it then? To be perhaps the best Spaniard in the Peninsula, to be given – like the president of the United States – the votes of all, to be considered the wisest, the most prudent, the most virtuous, the most honorable of all? Because so much power and so much good fortune given to just one man, must presuppose the possession of qualities little less than divine, and comparable merits. A man who deigns to decide the fate of his fellows must be fair, like God, and like Him, incorruptible and infallible. To govern peoples he neither knows nor understands, he must possess brilliant talent and extraordinary knowledge. To govern over such different entities, to delimit interests found and remedy all the evils of a people, he must be a man whose hair has turned gray in the course of his career as a statesman, informed of the laws and customs of the country. To appear on behalf of a nation that he intends to colonize and who, by giving them civilization, he wants to make forget the loss of their freedom and independence, he must have authentic prestige, deep moral convictions, great love for humanity, exquisite tact and a most delicate prudence.

Well – all this is illusion, heavenly music!

That position, the highest that man can hold on earth, because all it has are real rights and zero responsibilities – for that position to be occupied, it is enough to be an army general or, at most, a captain general.

It requires nothing more than purely military knowledge.

°Bah! At times, for reasons of high politics, it is occupied by those who, at Court, might be an obstacle to the purposes of certain public men, or those who, having provided great services to certain causes or parties, demand a good recompense. Sometimes not even this is necessary – it’s enough to promise this or that powerful religious order to serve their interests, for the order to work so that the man will be chosen.

Given that the evil is imbedded in such huge and principal roots, what can we expect but that the sap will be bad, the tree rachitic and the fruit bitter? What can happen to a man whose head changes every two months, and whose will does not belong to his body? And such a regime will continue because it is enough for us to critize it for them to leave it unchanged, because it is necessary to maintain prestige and routine, and because the appearances of knowledge are preferable to true science. Bah! To correct themselves is equivalent to confessing their error, and they would rather die before confessing. In the same way a man afflicted by a monomania first convinces himself that the entire world is screwed up before he will admit the possibility that he is ill, and will die blaming everything and everyone except himself – so too are certain predestined governments. Carry on with business as usual, and to hell with the colonies!

published in
La Solidaridad 45 (15 December 1890).

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