Chapter 20: - Page 4 of 6

The Arbiter

(English version of “El Filibusterismo”)

But nevertheless, from lack of encouragement and of opposition, his enthusiasm gradually waned. He did not read the newspapers that came from Spain, because they arrived in packages, the sight of which made him yawn.  The ideas that he had caught having been all expended, he needed reinforcement, and his orators were not there, and although in the casinos of Manila there was enough gambling, and money was borrowed as in Madrid, no speech that would nourish his political ideas was permitted in them.  But Don Custodio was not lazy, he did more than wish—he worked.  Foreseeing that he was going to leave his bones in the Philippines, he began to consider that country his proper sphere and to devote his efforts to its welfare.  Thinking to liberalize it, he commenced to draw up a series of reforms or projects, which were ingenious, to say the least.  It was he who, having heard in Madrid mention of the wooden street pavements of Paris, not yet adopted in Spain, proposed the introduction of them in Manila by covering the streets with boards nailed down as they are on the sides of houses; it was he who, deploring the accidents to two-wheeled vehicles, planned to avoid them by putting on at least three wheels; it was also he who, while acting as vice-president of the Board of Health, ordered everything fumigated, even the telegrams that came from infected places; it was also he who, in compassion for the convicts that worked in the sun and with a desire of saving to the government the cost of their equipment, suggested that they be clothed in a simple breech-clout and set to work not by day but at night.  He marveled, he stormed, that his projects should encounter objectors, but consoled himself with the reflection that the man who is worth enemies has them, and revenged himself by attacking and tearing to pieces any project, good or bad, presented by others.

As he prided himself on being a liberal, upon being asked what he thought of the Indians he would answer, like one conferring a great favor, that they were fitted for manual labor and the imitative arts (meaning thereby music, painting, and sculpture), adding his old postscript that to know them one must have resided many, many years in the country.  Yet when he heard of any one of them excelling in something that was not manual labor or an imitative art—in chemistry, medicine, or philosophy, for example—he would exclaim: Ah, he promises fairly, fairly well, he’s not a fool! and feel sure that a great deal of Spanish blood must flow in the veins of such an Indian. If unable to discover any in spite of his good intentions, he then sought a Japanese origin, for it was at that time the fashion began of attributing to the Japanese or the Arabs whatever good the Filipinos might have in them.  For him the native songs were Arabic music, as was also the alphabet of the ancient Filipinos—he was certain of this, although he did not know Arabic nor had he ever seen that alphabet.

Arabic, the purest Arabic, he said to Ben-Zayb in a tone that admitted no reply. At best, Chinese!

Then he would add, with a significant wink: Nothing can be, nothing ought to be, original with the Indians, you understand! I like them greatly, but they mustn’t be allowed to pride themselves upon anything, for then they would take heart and turn into a lot of wretches.

Learn this Filipino word:

náhuli sa kamáy