Wed. May 19th, 2021
Photo/caricature courtesy by China Daily.

Writing in 1926, this author speaks of hope in the liberation of the people from the autocratic Spanish way of life through the practical application of the principle of equal justice and opportunity for all, in the cultivation and well-rounded development of the individual man being the source of all progress. Almost a hundred years hence, we see how this principle has been abused by the very Anglo-Saxon people who brought them to the Philippines swinging the pendulum to the extreme of liberal democracy that did not only fail to eradicate corruption but has deeply entrenched the stronghold of the oligarchies and their caciques. Nonetheless, it is still tremendously worthwhile as students of history, just as Jose Rizal has said – to view the past, avoid its pitfalls, and guide the human mind to a promise of eventual liberation.

By Pedro dela Lana

Pedro dela Lana

If there is any country on earth where the Latin and the Anglo-Saxon civilizations meet, if they do not actually blend, that country is the Philippines.

For more than three centuries, the Spaniards have exerted such a dominating influence upon the thoughts of the people of this country, that traces of former social and intellectual tendencies are still noticeable despite the rapid invasion here of American ideas.

In the religion of the Filipinos as well as in their methods and processes of thought, the influence of the old mother country is vividly felt. In many ways, this influence has been beneficent. Spain brought here the blessings of Christianity, and opened up the Filipino mind to new vistas of spiritual adventure and ethical romance.

She trained the Filipinos in the things of the spirit, almost completely neglecting the material side of the world, which has so much to do with our dealings with the rest of our fellow-men.

The Spanish conquistadores, while leaving behind them some refining and regenerating influences, nevertheless, cultivated in the natives the qualities of indolence, of parasitic dependence on others, of lack of self-reliance and initiative and aggressiveness which are indispensable at the present time to anyone hoping to survive in the midst of the complicated scheme of modern social relations.

In our estimate of Spanish influence in this country, we should not overlook the fact that there are two kinds of Spain-the noble and the mean, just as there are two kinds of America-the humanitarian and idealistic, and the sordidly materialistic and business-like.

There is that Spain of priestly rapacity and political bigotry, that Spain that seeks, or, at least sought to repress the individuality of races once under her control, but there is that other Spain of chivalric deeds and noble impulses, that spread the seeds of civilization throughout the world, the Spain that, through the indomitable spirit of her sons, enlightened continents and discovered uncharted seas, a nation that has given to the world men of lofty character and rare talent.

The latter Spain is the Spain of Cervantes, the Benaventes and Esproncedas, the land of the Barojas, the Galdos and Valle Inclans, men who left permanent imprints upon the thought and philosophy of the modern world. This latter Spain deserves the praise and sincere appreciation of mankind for her intellectual achievements and signal contributions to world culture.

Spain, however, in her long career in this country, extending over three centuries, was rather unfortunate in sending here men, who, instead of educating the Filipinos in the science of self-government, trained them, perhaps unconsciously, in the sinister and dangerous pastime of exploitation, “bossism”, and demagoguery.

She sent here some of the outstanding representatives of Spanish greed, and the influence of these men among the present caciques and politicians of this country, is indeed overwhelming.

The prevalence of usury among the principal landowners in the provinces; the unjust and unwarranted exploitation to which the poor tenants are subjected; the organized system of fraud under which the social underdog suffers,-all of these are mostly due to the mediaeval and undemocratic standards of thought and action introduced here by some of the Spanish rulers.

The system of usury so deeply rooted in our agricultural regions is one of the most condemnable which can be found anywhere. It is a system of extortion and robbery, pure and simple.

For the purpose of enlightening the general reader, the following details are given:

The big boss or owner of the hacienda gathers about him a number of poor farmers desirous of having some work on the farm. Each one of the men receives, for example, the amount of ten pesos for his current expenses from the boss. For this money, he signs a promissory note for twenty pesos plus one “oyon” of rice, valued at ten pesos, payable at harvest time, which is equivalent to a year. The poor ignorant “tao” does not even know what he signs, the document having been prepared beforehand by the owner of the land.

The former only realizes that the rate of interest is two hundred per cent when the time of payment comes. I have seen this system work in a number of provinces of central Luzon where I made a recent trip, and have exposed it in a letter to R. McCulloch Dick, editor of the Free Press, who reproduced my personal letter in his editorial columns.

The system appealed to me as the tragedy of tragedies which I hoped some day would result in a violent movement hastening the termination of this form of landlord rapacity. This method of extortion is common throughout all the provinces of the archipelago, and notwithstanding the laws against usury, the loan sharks in league with the politicos continue wrecking havoc and desolation in countless humble homes.

Yet, this notorious exploiter figures among the prominent citizens of the locality where he lives. He is welcomed in the social circles of his town and exerts a tremendous influence in local politics. He is exalted, honored and petted. Oftentimes, he is elected to important political offices.

Our local journalists and orators spend a whole lot of time vociferating against the land-grabbing foreign imperialist whose main crime, it seems, is to bring in more capital into the country, and thus embark on an enterprise of material’ development.

They denounce in ringing tones the foreign exploiter who, according to them, threaten the heritage of our posterity; they pray before the Throne of the Most High for the early advent of political liberty and the disappearance of the foreign financial vampire.

Yet, they remain dumb before the august figure of the vandal “within the gates,” the Filipino exploiter of his own countrymen whom Rizal condemned in his novels, the real enemy of Filipino liberty, far more odious, yet far more powerful than the combined hosts of imperialism and capitalism on the other side of the Atlantic.

It is argued that when we get our independence, we’ll “fix up” the cacique. But why not start “fixing him up” now that we are yet in the stage of preparation for an independent international personality?

The cacique is an outgrowth of the Spanish system. He has learned a whole lot from the former regime.

When he occupies a prominent post in the government, he becomes a real menace. His predominance accounts for the present prostitution of the administration of justice in many provinces, the approval of class legislation by the Philippine legislature, and the numerous acts of favoritism by those in charge of the executive branch of the provincial governments, which have oftentimes necessitated the interference of the Central government.

This cacique, when engaged in politics, is fond of preaching on equality, liberty, justice, independence and other high-sounding topics before uncritical mobs, when he himself is a notorious scoundrel unworthy of the consideration and attention of decent men, a being contemptible in the eyes of God and man.

He is hypocritical, superficial, uneducated and mean, yet all-powerful and influential in his own locality. He delights in noble oratory, but also in the art of exploiting and oppressing his fellow-men financially and otherwise.

There is a peculiar importance attached to the political positions in the municipalities throughout the archipelago. Many times, the candidates for municipal presidencies, positions which pay only one hundred pesos a month in first-class municipalities, lavishly spend thousands of pesos just for the sake of landing the posts.

Just why they do it, is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary man in the street. Some say they do it for patriotic motives, others maintain that the candidates are after the honor that goes with the job.

There is a strange idea here regarding public offices and established reputations, which is not only funny but also entirely ridiculous.

There is that idea here that simply because a man is in office, he is automatically converted into an extraordinary mortal, inaccessible to the rest of humanity, a man “beyond good and evil,” who must be respected and adored.

This idea has been fostered here by the national leaders of the people, who have erected themselves into the mentors of the masses, the modern Moseses to lead them to the promised land.

But aside from this Don Quixote attitude of the elected public official, there is also a practical consideration that goes with it; there is that prestige attached to the position, which enables him to prey upon the unsuspecting public.

The story of improvised rich men, of officials who have become rich overnight, is the history of men who utilized the offices they occupied for purposes of personal enrichment and aggrandizement, of graft and bribe-getting, which would require a Brann to portray in letters of glowing fire.

These caciques, however, will continue in power as long as there is not an awakened public sentiment and a courageous public opinion against them; as long as the percentage of illiteracy is not reduced; as long as false standards of personal worth and national decorum prevail in the high councils of the land.

This apparent tolerance of injustice which has lasted for many years; this serene contemplation by a patient public of the abuses perpetrated upon the masses by the ruling classes, and that philosophic calm which has always characterized the Oriental in moments of intense moral struggle, received a severe jolt upon the arrival of the Americans, and the inculcation upon the minds of the younger generation of Anglo-Saxon ideas and ideals together with the enunciation of certain principles of square deal which greatly counter-balanced the autocratic tendencies of a former administration.

The process of the social evolution, however, since the advent here of the new civilization, has been slow and painful. The implantation of the public school here has materially improved conditions, but has not completely eliminated certain archaic ideas and insane moral codes, which continually limit and repress the liberties of the individual man.

In the face of present conditions in this country, political, economic, social and otherwise, it would seem that the only salvation of the people lies in the practical application of the principle of equal justice and opportunity for all, which is the very essence of Anglo-Saxon culture, in the cultivation and well-rounded development of the individual man which “after all is the source of all progress. (ia/SPH)

Editor’s Note:

Written almost a century ago, we are reprinting the opinions of Pedro dela Lana, one of the less known and unsung heroes of the Second World War.

Not through the blast of a rifle but through his facile pen.

In a short biography written by Armando J. Malay, Pedro worked as a reporter at age 18 and drifted the mainstream press, namely Manila Times, Manila Daily Bulletin, El Debate, Philippine Herald, Philippine Free Press and the American Weekly.

Perhaps for being a staunch critic of Senate President Manual L. Quezon appearing mostly in The Independent, which he edited, Governor General Leonard L. Wood appointed him representative of Bukidnon and Agusan in the lower house of Philippine legislature.

Besides working as a reporter and an editorial writer, it was as a columnist and a book author that Pedro dela Llana was best known.

He authored two books. “Book of Comment and Criticism (1926) and “Ada” a graphic of the late Librada Alino, founder of Centro Escolar Senoritas now a university, and co-authored two books with F. B. Icasiano (editor of the Sun Tribune Magazine), “Quezon in His Speeches” and “Philippine Commonwealth Handbook.”

His novel “The Politician “is unpublished.

Dela Lana reconciled with Quezon after he was elected President of the Commonwealth and edited the Malacanang Palace News Digest from December 1940 to July 1941.

But Pete was more than just an appendage in the Malacanang Palace press office. He was a confidential agent, sporting badge No. 33 with colorful espionage missions in tow. He even ended up in jail coming to the rescue of a seven-year old boy who was being abused by Manila police officers.

The fiery newspaperman was not cowed. He spoke contemptuously of the conquerors and collaborators, went on publishing an anti-Japanese publication called The Flash.

His fortune turned sour, however, when he decided to evacuate to Ilocos Sur, where civilians cowered between two terrors: Japanese invaders and Filipino guerrillas who indiscriminately tortured civilians. Dela Llana could grumbled against the abuses perpetrated by Filipinos on their own countrymen, so he was suspected of being pro-Japanese.

 One day in late 1944, in the nearby town of Baugen, the guerrillas led him to a freshly dug pit and began hacking and clubbing him to death.

His wife Antonia would file a case after the war. The US Army fully exonerated Pedro dela Llana ruling the accusation he was spying for the Japanese as false and that his execution was carried out without the benefit of a full military trial.

One of the main facts revealed during the trial was that Pedro had worked directly for General Douglas MacArthur writing the “Flash Propaganda” which was an underground newspaper exposing Japanese activities in various provinces.

Antonia de la Llana was awarded the full widow’s veterans pension and her husband’s reputation remained intact as a courageous and dedicated journalist whose sole purpose was to always write the truth for the benefit of his countrymen.

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