Chapter 20: - Page 2 of 6

The Arbiter

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

He had come to Manila very young, with a good position that had enabled him to marry a pretty mestiza belonging to one of the wealthiest families of the city.  As he had natural talent, boldness, and great self-possession, and knew how to make use of the society in which he found himself, he launched into business with his wife’s money, filling contracts for the government, by reason of which he was made alderman, afterwards alcalde, member of the Economic Society [1] councilor of the administration, president of the directory of the Obras Pias,[2] member of the Society of Mercy, director of the Spanish-Filipino Bank, etc., etc. Nor are these etceteras to be taken like those ordinarily placed after a long enumeration of titles: Don Custodio, although never having seen a treatise on hygiene, came to be vice-chairman of the Board of Health, for the truth was that of the eight who composed this board only one had to be a physician and he could not be that one.  So also he was a member of the Vaccination Board, which was composed of three physicians and seven laymen, among these being the Archbishop and three Provincials.  He was a brother in all the confraternities of the common and of the most exalted dignity, and, as we have seen, director of the Superior Commission of Primary Instruction, which usually did not do anything—all these being quite sufficient reason for the newspapers to heap adjectives upon him no less when he traveled than when he sneezed.

In spite of so many offices, Don Custodio was not among those who slept through the sessions, contenting themselves, like lazy and timid delegates, in voting with the majority.  The opposite of the numerous kings of Europe who bear the title of King of Jerusalem, Don Custodio made his dignity felt and got from it all the benefit possible, often frowning, making his voice impressive, coughing out his words, often taking up the whole session telling a story, presenting a project, or disputing with a colleague who had placed himself in open opposition to him.  Although not past forty, he already talked of acting with circumspection, of letting the figs ripen (adding under his breath pumpkins), of pondering deeply and of stepping with careful tread, of the necessity for understanding the country, because the nature of the Indians, because the prestige of the Spanish name, because they were first of all Spaniards, because religion—and so on.  Remembered yet in Manila is a speech of his when for the first time it was proposed to light the city with kerosene in place of the old coconut oil: in such an innovation, far from seeing the extinction of the coconut-oil industry, he merely discerned the interests of a certain alderman—because Don Custodio saw a long way—and opposed it with all the resonance of his bucal cavity, considering the project too premature and predicting great social cataclysms.  No less celebrated was his opposition to a sentimental serenade that some wished to tender a certain governor on the eve of his departure.  Don Custodio, who felt a little resentment over some slight or other, succeeded in insinuating the idea that the rising star was the mortal enemy of the setting one, whereat the frightened promoters of the serenade gave it up.

[1] The Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País for the encouragement of agricultural and industrial development, was established by Basco de Vargas in 1780.—Tr.

[2] Funds managed by the government for making loans and supporting charitable enterprises.—Tr.

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