Chapter 37: - Page 4 of 5

His Excellency

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Good, good, exclaimed his Excellency, seating himself and waving Ibarra to a chair. Let us enjoy a brief period of frankness. I am very well satisfied with your conduct and have already recommended you to his Majesty for a decoration on account of your philanthropic idea of erecting a schoolhouse. If you had let me know, I would have attended the ceremony with pleasure, and perhaps might have prevented a disagreeable incident.

It seemed to me such a small matter, answered the youth, that I did not think it worth while troubling your Excellency with it in the midst of your numerous cares. Besides, my duty was to apply first to the chief authority of my province.

His Excellency nodded with a satisfied air and went on in an even more familiar tone: In regard to the trouble you’re had with Padre Damaso, don’t hold any fear or rancor, for they won’t touch a hair of your head while I govern the islands. As for the excommunication, I’ll speak to the Archbishop, since it is necessary for us to adjust ourselves to circumstances. Here we can’t laugh at such things in public as we can in the Peninsula and in enlightened Europe. Nevertheless, be more prudent in the future. You have placed yourself in opposition to the religious orders, who must be respected on account of their influence and their wealth. But I will protect you, for I like good sons, I like to see them honor the memory of their fathers. I loved mine, and, as God lives, I don’t know what I would have done in your place!

Then, changing the subject of conversation quickly, he asked, I’m told that you have just returned from Europe; were you in Madrid?

Yes, sir, several months.

Perhaps you heard my family spoken of?

Your Excellency had just left when I had the honor of being introduced to your family.

How is it, then, that you came without bringing any recommendations to me?

Sir, replied Ibarra with a bow, because I did not come direct from Spain and because I have heard your Excellency so well spoken of that I thought a letter of recommendation might not only be valueless but even offensive; all Filipinos are recommended to you.

A smile played about the old soldier’s lips and he replied slowly, as though measuring and weighing his words, You flatter me by thinking so, and—so it ought to be. Nevertheless, young man, you must know what burdens weigh upon our shoulders here in the Philippines. Here we, old soldiers, have to do and to be everything: King, Minister of State, of War, of Justice, of Finance, of Agriculture, and of all the rest. The worst part of it too is that in every matter we have to consult the distant mother country, which accepts or rejects our proposals according to circumstances there—and at times blindly. As we Spaniards say, ‘He who attempts many things succeeds in none.’ Besides, we generally come here knowing little about the country and leave it when we begin to get acquainted with it. With you I can be frank, for it would be useless to try to be otherwise. Even in Spain, where each department has its own minister, born and reared in the locality, where there are a press and a public opinion, where the opposition frankly opens the eyes of the government and keeps it informed, everything moves along imperfectly and defectively; thus it is a miracle that here things are not completely topsyturvy in the lack of these safeguards, and having to live and work under the shadow of a most powerful opposition. Good intentions are not lacking to us, the governing powers, but we find ourselves obliged to avail ourselves of the eyes and arms of others whom ordinarily we do not know and who perhaps, instead of serving their country, serve only their own private interests. This is not our fault but the fault of circumstances—the friars aid us not a little in getting along, but they are not sufficient. You have aroused my interest and it is my desire that the imperfections of our present system of government be of no hindrance to you. I cannot look after everybody nor can everybody come to me. Can I be of service to you in any way? Have you no request to make?

Ibarra reflected a moment before he answered. Sir, my dearest wish is the happiness of my country, a happiness which I desire to see owed to the mother country and to the efforts of my fellow-citizens, the two united by the eternal bonds of common aspirations and common interests. What I would request can only be given by the government after years of unceasing toil and after the introduction of definite reforms.

His Excellency gazed at him for a few seconds with a searching look, which Ibarra sustained with naturalness. You are the first man that I’ve talked to in this country! he finally exclaimed, extending his hand.

Your Excellency has seen only those who drag themselves about in the city; you have not visited the slandered huts of our towns or your Excellency would have been able to see real men, if to be a man it is sufficient to have a generous heart and simple customs.

The Captain-General rose and began to walk back and forth in the room. Señor Ibarra, he exclaimed, pausing suddenly, and the young man also rose, perhaps within a month I shall leave. Your education and your mode of thinking are not for this country. Sell what you have, pack your trunk, and come with me to Europe; the climate there will be more agreeable to you.

I shall always while I live preserve the memory of your Excellency’s kindness, replied Ibarra with emotion, but I must remain in this country where my fathers have lived.

Where they have died you might say with more exactness! Believe me, perhaps I know your country better than you yourself do. Ah, now I remember, he exclaimed with a change of tone, you are going to marry an adorable young woman and I’m detaining you here! Go, go to her, and that you may have greater freedom send her father to me, this with a smile. Don’t forget, though, that I want you to accompany me in my walk.

Ibarra bowed and withdrew. His Excellency then called to his aide. I’m satisfied, he said, slapping the latter lightly on the shoulder. Today I’ve seen for the first time how it is possible for one to be a good Spaniard without ceasing to be a good Filipino and to love his country. Today I showed their Reverences that we are not all puppets of theirs. This young man gave me the opportunity and I shall soon have settled all my accounts with the friars. It’s a pity that some day or other this young man—But call the alcalde.

The alcalde presented himself immediately. As he entered, the Captain-General said to him, Señor Alcalde, in order to avoid any repetition of scenes such as you witnessed this afternoon, scenes that I regret, as they hurt the prestige of the government and of all good Spaniards, allow me to recommend to your especial care Señor Ibarra, so that you may afford him means for carrying out his patriotic intentions and also that in the future you prevent his being molested by persons of any class whatsoever, under any pretext at all.

Learn this Filipino word:

sumásala sa oras