The Real Philippine-Spanish Friendship

June 30th is declared to be «Filipino-Spanish Friendship Day». There has been circulation all over social media of the oil on canvas painting by the utopian dreamer Juan Luna. It consists of a woman in red with a laurel wreath in her hair representing Spain pointing to a distant chimerical horizon to a woman in native dress who in turn looks longingly to that eternally wishful horizon. Nothing can be more devoid of supernatural symbolism than such ephemeral frivolity.

The truth of the matter is that the real Filipino-Spanish friendship already took place. It was called «Las Españas» (the Spains). The Philippine Archipelago is as Spain just as Castile and Aragón are. So were all viceroyalties such as New Spain (México/Méjico), Perú, Río de la Plata, and New Granada.

The true friendship between them was nothing other than the true christian coexistence between different peoples under one catholic monarch where there was a recognition of the true Church as the one and only means of salvation and catholic unity was the ground of true social order.

We can safely say that the epitome of Philippine Christian civilisation and real brotherhood, where the Reign of Christ the King was realised, took place in the 17th Century. The situation in the Philippines at the end of the 17th century was very positive and the progress experienced by the country was great. The Filipinos were happy and full of encouragement. This optimism is accurately reflected by the Augustinian missionary, Martínez de Zuñiga, in his Estadismo:

«The Spanish domination has brought very few burdens to these Indians, and has freed them from many misfortunes… After their conquest their happiness and their population have increased, and it has been very useful for them to have been subject to the king of Spain in everything that concerns the body; I say nothing of the advantages of knowing the true God and finding themselves in proportion to procuring eternal happiness for the soul because now I am not writing as a missionary, but as a philosopher (Cfr. J. Martínez de Zúñiga, Estadismo de las Islas Filipinas, p. 73)».

Those responsible for this progress, who had radically changed the country, were the Spanish missionaries. Ordinarily, they were the only representatives of the Spanish government in the provinces. Knowing the people and the language, they enjoyed a great reputation. Their prestige was the prestige of Spain. Tomás de Comyn, at the beginning of the 19th century, speaks of the well-being and tranquility of the country and of the agents responsible for it:

It happens in fact that since the parish priest is the consoler of the afflicted, the peacemaker of families, the promoter of usefulness in the islands, the preacher and example of all that is good; since freedom shines in him, and the Indians see him alone in their midst, without relatives, without traffic, and always busy in his greatest promotion, they get used to living happily under his paternal direction, and they give him their complete trust (Cfr. Thomas of Comyn, State of the Philippine Islands, Manila, 1877, pp. 147-148).

Tomás de Comyn again praises the achievement of the friars in the Philippines, and the work they were doing when he visited the country at the beginning of the 19th century:

Go to the Philippine islands, and you will be amazed at the vast countryside of spacious churches and convents; at the splendor and pomp of divine worship; at regularity in the streets, at cleanliness and even at luxury in costumes and houses; schools of first letters in all the villages, and very skillful inhabitants in the art of writing, to open roads, to built bridges of good architecture, and the punctual fulfillment in most of the provinces of good government and police work; all the combined work through sleepless nights, apostolic works and accentuated patriotism of the ministers. Walk through the provinces, and you will see towns of five, ten and twenty thousand Indians peacefully governed by a weak old man, who opens his doors at all hours and sleeps peacefully in his room, with no other magic and no other guards than the love and respect he has been able to instil in his parishioners (ibidem).

The truth is not only based on quotes from authors. It is justified in itself, but in order to get to know it, one has to analyze sources from the past. One more quotation, this time from an Englishman, reaffirms not only the work of the missionary in the Philippines during the Spanish period, but also the prestige that they still enjoyed well into the 19th century:

The degree of respect the «padre» has among the Indians is indescribable. It approaches almost adoration. And the father has earned it by his own hand… One must accept, to his honor, that the conduct of these reverend fathers justifies and gives title to the trust they enjoy. The «padre» is the only defense against the mayor’s oppressions. The «padre» protects, advises, consoles, denounces and defends his flock. He has often been seen, hunched over by the passing of years and illness, leaving his province, beginning a long and dangerous journey to Manila to present himself as an arbiter for the happiness of his people with all the means at his disposal (An Englishman Remarks on the Philippine Islands, 1819-1822, p. 211).

All this was possible because of the fostering of true friendship among nations by means of true supernatural charity and solicitude for souls which was exhibited by the first king of the Philippines. When discouraged by his advisers who did not approve the Spanish intervention in the Philippines due to its high cost and low benefit, finding nothing that would compensate for such a great work, King Philip II replied: «But there are souls».—Pero hay almas.

In another instance, the true supernatural spirit that moved Philip II can be found in the answer he gave to those who advised him to abandon the Philippine Archipelago, in view of the little revenue they brought to the Crown. He said:

«For the conversion of only one of the souls that are there I would willingly give all the treasures of the Indies, and if they were not enough I would add those of Spain. Nothing in the world would make me consent to cease sending preachers and ministers of the Gospel to all the provinces that have been discovered, even if they are barren and sterile, for the Holy Apostolic See has given to us and our heirs the apostolic commission of publishing and preaching the Gospel. The Gospel can be spread through these islands, and the natives can be drawn from the worship of the demon by making known to them the true God, in a spirit alien to that of temporal greed».

Juan Carlos Araneta,
Círculo Carlista de Felipe II de Manila.