Translator’s Introduction - Page 8 of 31

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 communication with the mother country became cheaper, quicker, surer, so that large numbers of Spaniards, many of them in sympathy with the republican movements at home, came to the Philippines in search of fortunes and generally left half-caste families who had imbibed their ideas.  Native boys who had already felt the intoxication of such learning as the schools of Manila afforded them began to dream of greater wonders in Spain, now that the journey was possible for them.  So began the definite movements that led directly to the disintegration of the friar régime.

In the same year occurred the revolution in the mother country, which had tired of the old corrupt despotism.  Isabella II was driven into exile and the country left to waver about uncertainly for several years, passing through all the stages of government from red radicalism to absolute conservatism, finally adjusting itself to the middle course of constitutional monarchism.  During the effervescent and ephemeral republic there was sent to the Philippines a governor who set to work to modify the old system and establish a government more in harmony with modern ideas and more democratic in form.  His changes were hailed with delight by the growing class of Filipinos who were striving for more consideration in their own country, and who, in their enthusiasm and the intoxication of the moment, perhaps became more radical than was safe under the conditions—surely too radical for their religious guides watching and waiting behind the veil of the temple.

In January, 1872, an uprising occurred in the naval arsenal at Cavite, with a Spanish non-commissioned officer as one of the leaders.  From the meager evidence now obtainable, this would seem to have been purely a local mutiny over the service questions of pay and treatment, but in it the friars saw their opportunity.  It was blazoned forth, with all the wild panic that was to characterize the actions of the governing powers from that time on, as the premature outbreak of a general insurrection under the leadership of the native clergy, and rigorous repressive measures were demanded.  Three native priests, notable for their popularity among their own people, one an octogenarian and the other two young canons of the Manila Cathedral, were summarily garroted, along with the renegade Spanish officer who had participated in the mutiny.  No record of any trial of these priests has ever been brought to light.  The Archbishop, himself a secular[5] clergyman, stoutly refused to degrade them from their holy office, and they wore their sacerdotal robes at the execution, which was conducted in a hurried, fearful manner.  At the same time a number of young Manilans who had taken conspicuous part in the liberal demonstrations were deported to the Ladrone Islands or to remote islands of the Philippine group itself.

This was the beginning of the end. Yet there immediately followed the delusive calm which ever precedes the fatal outburst, lulling those marked for destruction to a delusive security.  The two decades following were years of quiet, unobtrusive growth, during which the Philippine Islands made the greatest economic progress in their history.  But this in itself was preparing the final catastrophe, for if there be any fact well established in human experience it is that with economic development the power of organized religion begins to wane—the rise of the merchant spells the decline of the priest.  A sordid change, from masses and mysteries to sugar and shoes, this is often said to be, but it should be noted that the epochs of greatest economic activity have been those during which the generality of mankind have lived fuller and freer lives, and above all that in such eras the finest intellects and the grandest souls have been developed.

[5] Secular, as distinguished from the regulars, i.e., members of the monastic orders.

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