Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A fatal religious procession

A religious procession turned political rally is what I saw this month. I see no end in the debate of this for now. Religion and politics is a volatile mix and more so in the Philippines and among Filipinos - we who lived three hundred years under the church bells or bajo delas campanas. The turn of events last Friday, reminded me of one story from our colonial history. The first version of this story was an account written by Ninothcka Rosca. And since the first time I read it has never left me. And coincidentally it would seem that this event also occurred in October. This is the tale of Marshal Fernando de Bustamante y Bustilo. Governor General Busatmante was assigned by Philip V of Spain to the Philippines to straighten-out the financial deficit in colonial coffers of Manila, its silver and coin were described as a pittance - upon arriving and assuming his post in the month of August 1717. Bustamante discovered a paltry amount of silver and gold in the government coffers and several promissory notes. Corruption was rampant among the officials. He promptly collected taxes and imprisoned officials suspected of corruption. He was effectively doing his task, during the first six months he was able to build up the treasury to 230,671 - this increased to 293,444. Residents of Manila unused to what seemed to be the "due diligence" and tax-collecting efforts of Bustamante sought patronage or protection from the other Ecclesial power in the colony - the Archbishop of Manila and the head of the Religious Orders. Several prominent persons sought sanctuary and it was granted. One of them was a person by the name of Don Antoniode Osejo y Vasquez, a notary public, who took along with him the records of his office - including the protocols of 1717, 1718 and 1719. These records must have been very important because the Royal Audiencia issued to decrees ordering the Church to give back the records. What were in these records I wonder? Archbishop Francisco dela Cuesta initially promised to return the said documents but later changed his mind. He believed that the decrees violated the law of Sanctuary and the Royal Audience that issued the decree was illegal since Bustamante had sacked the old one and appointed (in some cases reappointed) the new one. Things were at a standstill. To complicate things more, the Governor General receive word that the Clergy and a number of citizens were conspiring to depose of him. Bustamante issued a call to arms to all Spanish citizens and placed in jail the Archbishop and all the heads of the Religious Orders. Then October 17 came. The streets of Manila were still. The church bells of the Walled city were still tolling but they were playing dirges. In the households enormous candles were lighted and prayers were uttered. This was the unsettling silence before the storm. The 19th of October just before dawn the gates of the convents of Saint Francis, Saint Dominic and Saint Dominic were flung open and a stream of religious persons and people who had sought sanctuary went out and started a procession towards the Palace of Governor General. They were chanting, "Long Live the Church" along the way. Some were carrying torches other religious symbols like cross and some carried instruments of death. Along the way other people joined them. Soon they reached the Palace; the Palace Guards were unable to stop them. The Governor General met them sabre bared near the grand staircase. Then the mob became deadly. Someone struck Bustamante with a machete - it broke his right arm. The Governor General's son attempting to help his father was immediately dispatched - he was dead on the floor. Then someone gashed the head of Bustamante with a sabre. The mob roped and dragged him down the stairs. One can just imagine what other indignities Bustamante suffered at the hands of that mob. A member of the mob saw that Bustamante was still breathing and stabbed him twice. Meanwhile, a part of the mob went to the dungeons and released the Archbishop and the Heads of the Religious Orders. All were freed; no one was left behind the jail. Surprisingly Bustamante was still alive. Those who took pity on him laid him down one of the sofas in the Palace. A doctor was called for. The Governor General died before the doctor came. The Te Deum was heard all over Manila. Archbishop became the acting Governor General. He ordered the preparation and sending back of the late Governor General and his families' remains to Mexico, expenses paid for from the disposition of Bustamante's property. There was of course an investigation but because of the distance between Mexico and Madrid from the Philippines nothing came of it. Everyone was exonerated and Bustamante was left as an odd footnote in the colonial history of the Philippines. A tragic figure in colonial politics and religion. Except for two things a novel written by one of the country's national hero and a painting by a national artist. Padre Burgos was a mestizo who became involved in the struggle between native secular priests and religious orders for the control of parishes around the country. Father Burgos was the philosophical father of Paciano, Jose Rizal and the other Filipino nationalists. Along with two other priests he was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny. Their life was put at an end by the execution device called the Garrotte, a seat equipped with a metal band that is used to strangle or break the neck of the victim. Burgos wrote a novel called La Loba Negra; the tale was about a mother and daughter who scoured the Philippines killing friars; according to the story they were the wife and daughter of Governor General Bustamante out for revenge. Records though point out that Bustamante's wife died before he became Governor General; but what of his daughter? Although the tale seems to be similar to another story I read about a witch in Mexico who had a passion for literally picking up priests while flying on her broomstick and dropping them. Then there is Felix Hidalgo, a contemporary of Juan Luna and Jose Rizal who was as critically acclaimed as Luna and recognised as one of the Philippines National Artists. His most controversial painting is a mural depicting the Assassination of Governor Bustamante by friars. The painting is said to be in the National Gallery of Art in Manila. However, the only place I have seen the painting is in the pages of a glossy history book. Juan Luna's Spolarium is a classic but for me this mural by Hidalgo is the most chilling scene of murder in art. ----------------------------------------------- Rosca, Ninothcka. "Gothic Death of a Governor". Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation. v5 1240-1242


Post a Comment

<< Home