The Proto-Libertarian Legacy of the Philippines
The history of Filipino proto-libertarianism, which I call the « First Epoch of Filipino Liberty » (1812 – 1903) has never before truly been studied before. The difficulty lies in that the records of the time are almost entirely in either Spanish and Latin, languages which the average Filipino today has no familiarity with, save a few, whose political leanings are definitely NOT libertarian and so, do not recognize what they find.
We also have to contend with the fact that our understanding of historical events has been crippled for generations due to officially-mandated historical revision and sanitation for the pursuit of political goals and nationalist pride.
Compounded with this is the generation gap between libertarians. In the « Second Epoch » (19 December 2007 – present), a new generation of Filipinos have discovered libertarianism from American sources, particularly the presidential candidacy of Texas Rp. Dr. Ron Paul, rather than re-discovering our domestic pedigree.
Of the First Age, Filipinos at least recognize the characters and events of what we now call the « Propaganda Era » and the « Revolutionary Era » (1880’s onward) and not much else. The idea that liberty and the concept of the Filipino existed long before the birth of José Rizal will come as a surprise to most.
The 21 January 1899 is date that the Filipino libertarian community regards as a day of triumph. It was on this day that our proto-libertarian predecessors succeeded against all odds, including their own countrymen, in restoring the Philippine Islands to the rule of law. It is the date of the adoption of the constitution of first Philippine Republic. The first declaration of republican national sovereignty in Asia.
To the rest of our fellow citizens, mention of this date draws blank stares and not even the government affords it respect as a recognized holiday. ¿ How did this state of affairs come into being ?
The Dawn of Liberty
We begin eighty-seven years before, on 19 March 1812, when classical liberals in Spain adopted the Constitución de Cádiz and brought the ideas of (European) liberty to the Spanish Empire. It was the fourth such charter from the Age of Enlightenment (the first three being the US, France, and Poland). Like the American Revolutionary Congress, the Cádiz Congress was an assembly of citizens exercising their natural rights of sovereignty by resisting a foreign tyranny and occupation.
The 1812 Spanish charter was the grandfather of almost a third of our planet’s laws and a model for other liberal constitutions in Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Florida (then under Spanish rule), and Asia (At the time, the Philippines, Guam, Palau, and the Marianas were still one country, provinces of New Spain). It remained in force until 1814 when absolutist factions, viewing the new Provincial autonomies as a threat to their traditional positions of power, took control of the Spanish government.
In their defense, many Spaniards were alarmed to find that the fundamental law of the land was inspired by and partly based on the laws of their former occupiers, the French.
Spain experienced an era of revolution and counter-revolution and the policies of the empire began would be pulled in different directions as liberal, socialist, and autocrat factions fought for dominance and control of the government; imposing their own favored political visions upon the Spanish empire.
Absolutism reined from 1814 until 1820 when the 1812 Spanish charter was restored. It was once again repealed in 1823 when absolutism once again came to power. This factional politics, both civil and religious, insular and peninsular intertwined, spread out across the globe, resulting in confusion, frustration, and brushfires of revolution and nationalism.
Spain produced yet more constitutions, the Estatuto Real de 1834 political compromise which lasted until the 1812 Spanish charter was, for the final time, restored in 1836 and repealed the next year.
This seesawing between political extremes is the origin to why Filipinos today do not view constitutionalism, much less strict constitutionalism, as a viable political philosophy. In contrast to the conclusions about the nature of government that Americans arrived at from their experience of the North American Revolution of 1776, Filipinos learned totally different lessons about the nature and role of government from our revolution against Spain.
Today, most Filipinos, to say nothing of direct Charter Change advocates, see nothing wrong in changing or seeking to change the charter to suit their political whims and legalize their actions. « If the fundamental law of the will not permit something, then change it and proceed ».
This relativistic attitude was reinforced by the years of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan Era where then-dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos would first promulgate laws in order to protect any action he would take from redress. This was in contrast to the modus operandi of other dictators of the 60’s – 80’s whose actions could be clearly seen as arbitrary and heavy-handed.
This domestic species of fascism, known to Filipino political theorists as « Constitutional Authoritarianism » was brilliant way to cloak dictatorial fiat in the guise of law and protected such acts from public opinion by using our cultural deference to authority against us. It took two decades for the public consciousness to recognize that this authority was illegitimate and that revolutionary change was needed.
As can be expected, the Provinces of New Spain, desiring stability and thoroughly sick of a new change of laws every few years, declared independence within the next decade or so. The new resulting Latin American republics and their constitutions may be considered the daughters of Cádiz, many of them taking to heart the lessons and errors of Spain and borrowing what worked from republics of France and the United States.
This experimental laboratory of liberty would later be of great importance to Filipino constitutionalists.
Liberty Arrives in the Orient
After the revolution La Gloriosa against Queen Isabelle II in 1868, liberals once again were in control of Spain and a year later produced a new liberal charter, the Constitución de la Monarquía española de 1869. Carlos María de la Torre y Nava Cerrada was appointed governor-general to the Philippines and proceeded to abolish censorship and extend to Filipinos the rights of free speech and assembly contained in the new Spanish constitution.
Filipino historians consider De la Torre the “most beloved of the Spanish Governor-generals” ever assigned in the Philippines. He was our version of Dr. Ron Paul and his integrity, both in office and in personal life, inspired future generations of Filipino liberals including José Rizal.
De la Torre was often accompanied by a certain liberal writer and poetess, María Gil y Montes de Sanchiz. De Sanchiz. The wife of a Spanish artillery officer, she often stood in official function in place of De la Torre’s wife who was invalid at the time. There have been accusations that she may have been the Governor-general’s mistress, but due to the political climate at knives with each other, it is possible that such accusations were nothing more than the usual political mudslinging. She was, after all scandalous to the social manners of the day and entirely alienated the women of Manila, liberal and absolutist alike due to her popularity with the men.
De la Torre’s most famous compatriot was a Spanish-Filipino civil libertarian and Doctor of Philosophy, Fr. José Apolonio Burgos y García (who, along with Fr. Mariano Gómez y Guard and Fr. Jacinto Zamora y del Rosario, would later be immortalized in the pantheon of Filipino hero-martyrs as Gomburza).
De la Torre reigned until 1871 when the political pendulum of Spain once more swung back towards absolutism and he was fired from his post. His successor Rafael de Izquierdo y Gutiérrez and his faction worked to undo all the liberal reforms of the last administration, taking away the political freedoms from the Filipinos, without understanding that liberty cannot just be taste-tested. Once a man has liberty, he cannot not have it. The blowback from this rollback of rights was the Cavite Mutiny which happened just ten months later; it’s suppression provided the Izquierdo administration with the excuse to finally round up the rest of De la Torre’s remaining compatriots along with other unfortunates falsely accused.
From this point on, the characters and history become familiar to the casual student of history.
What Has Been Expunged From the History Books
Ten years later, José Rizal decided to pick up where de la Torre left off. After an additional decade of studying Spanish liberalism (and unfortunately European socialism), Rizal organized the Liga Filipina in order to promote peaceful reform.
It was crushed almost immediately and the liberals and socialists split into two diametrically opposed organizations, the famous Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng̃ mg̃á Anak ng̃ Bayan (which advocated violent revolution and became the prototype for modern Filipino socialist insurgency) headed by Andrés Bonifacio y Castro and the smaller Cuerpo de Compromisarios (Corps of the Dedicated) headed by Adriano Numeriano y Resurreción.
The Cuerpo de Compromisarios is little known today to Filipinos, historian and layman alike. Unlike her more famous sister organization, the Cuerpo was composed of men understood that most Filipinos at the time were still politically immature to demand more than peaceful reform. Their objective was to faithfully continue the aims of the Liga Filipina. On the eve of war, the Cuerpo was the last bastion of proto-libertarianism in the country. A very prominent member of the Cuerpo was revolutionary luminary Apolinario Mabini y Maranan.
Members of the Cuerpo were regarded by their revolutionary comrades as either misguided at best and unpatriotic at worst for holding to the idea to peaceful reform in a time of blood-lust. Membership soon dwindled away in the face of pakikisama (per-pressure). Even Mabini himself, seemed enamored of pursuing war and later ended up in high position in the government of Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy.
Adriano Numeriano Avenged
It isn’t by chance that most of the former Cuerpo wound up as administrators in Aguinaldo’s government. Resentment of Bonifacio’s actions from the La Liga split did play a large factor and the ideological differences of both sides would never make them friends.
Many accusations levied by Bonficio’s supporters, particularly among the radical left of today, include Aguinaldo’s so-called « betrayals », ranging from setting up a rival government (Magdalo) up to the execution of Bonifacio for treason are a result of the presence of the Cuerpo and their grievances towards the Katipunan’s policy of name-dropping during recruitment which lead to the imprisonment and execution of many innocent men.
Adriano Numeriano, president and founder of the Cuerpo was purposely implicated falsely with the Katipunan on direct orders by Bonifacio and was arrested along with fellow compatriots Domingo Franco, Moises Salvador y Francisco, Luis Enciso Villareal y Espiñas, Faustino Villaruel, and Francisco L. Roxas y Reyes. They were executed on 11 January 1897 and are counted among the Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan.
The remaining liberals of the Cuerpo (now known in the school history books as the Constitutionalists), though no longer an official organization, took their time and waited for an opportunity to save the country from the mess that was the War for Independence. After escaping Magdiwang-held territory, most of the refugees found work as trusted administrators for the Magdalo faction and unashamedly used their positions and personal influence to spread a desire for the return to liberal values among the rank and file. This quiet talk, from a position of weakness, took time to grow, but managed to bear much fruit with the isolation of the Magdiwang leadership culminating in the arrest order of Bonifacio on 27 April 1897.
Enemies to the Left, Enemies to the Right
By 23 June 1898, the refugees from Bonifacio’s extermination orders had become the “quiet influence” in the administration of the government and were able to quietly nudge Aguinaldo into abolishing the existing military dictatorship and plan for the reintroduction to civilian rule.
Just as they had earlier recognized the dangers of Bonifacio’s leanings towards indiscriminate killing, they began to acknowledge that it was the Filipino military (particularly the ‘showbiz personalities’ AKA national heroes) of Aguinaldo’s faction that had become the greatest threat to Filipino liberty, much more than the armies of Spain and the United States combined.
On 21 January 1899, the Malolos Constitution was promulgated. After seven months of wrangling, Felipe Gonzáles Calderón y Roca, influenced by the ideas of the Constitutionalists single-handedly wrote this charter over proposals by Mabini, Pedro Alejandro Paterno y de Vera-Hidalgo, and Mariano Ponce y de los Santos.
While the Malolos charter does have certain illiberal elements derived from its Civil Law pedigree and it’s grand-uncle, the French Constitution of 1791, it certainly is a new interpretation of the works and ideas of John Locke and Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, etc. and should be recognized as a hallmark of liberty.
Calderón was a pragmatic young lawyer who understood what the modern Filipino libertarians, the « Second Epoch of Filipino Liberty », wryly refer to as « Liberty with Filipino characteristics ».
The charter itself is very dry reading, void of unnecessary flourishes and appeals to rhetoric which was popular at the time. Practical workability rather than to strict adherence of ideology was a hallmark to his legal methodology.
Rather than imposing some abstract ideal, Calderón not only took into account what Filipinos wanted in a government, but what they would accept, and how they understood things.
For example, despite Calderón being a Freemason, he refused to place Masonic ideals into the new charter and in the debates for adoption, even championed the society’s chief enemy, the Catholic Church simply because most Filipinos were Catholic and were quite comfortable with the venerable institution while on the other hand, most Filipinos viewed Freemasonry as a suspicious fringe group.
Return to the Rule of Law
Calderón also had the leisure of studying how the children of the 1812 Constitution, the South and Central American republics had grown up and comported themselves. This allowed him to cherry pick the best features from these charters, particularly those which would apply best to the particular idiosyncrasies of the Philippine situation.
From the American allies-turned-enemies, by way of Florida, came the notion that democracy and republicanism are two different competing forms of government. And so, like the Constitution of the United States, the word democracy is not found anywhere in this republican document.
From the situation in the South and Central American republics, Calderón saw many presidencies becoming military dictatorships in all but name since there was so much power attached to that office.
This mirrored conditions in 1898 and unless Calderón worked quickly to end it, Filipinos might forever live under the shadow of a possible military junta.
The solution came in I what I term the « semi-Directorial form of government ». Unlike our current presidential form of government (and the parliamentary form which Filipinos then were shedding blood to escape and are today shedding money to promote) where the President is the sole holder of executive power, the office of the chief executive under the Malolos charter was constrained from acting unilaterally by another constitutional executive agency, the collegial Consejo de Gobierno, in which lay the power of executive veto.
The Consejo de Gobierno, as conceptualized by Calderón, wasn’t merely an executive cabinet of presidential appointees like what exists presently. Each Secretary had exclusive executive portfolios and were technically of equivalent rank with the President within that specific sphere of duty. This concept was taken from from several Latin American countries as well as the the Swiss Bundesrat.
Of note, the Swiss structure of confederacy was of particular interest in the Central Visayas where the República Cantonal de Negros and the Republica Federal Filipina Canton de Isla de Negros Oriental used it as the model of autocephalous government. It is also one of the models used by the United States to frame their federal government.
The Consejo de Gobierno existed as a check on expanded government because it strictly listed seven constitutional portfolios (Foreign relations, Interior, Finance, War & Marine, Public Instruction, Communications & Public Works, and Agriculture, Industry, & Commerce) with no provision for further expansion of the bureaucracy which is common today.
This safeguard is easily explained since due to the structure of veto over the Office of the President, no President would wish to have more bosses over him.
As a final prevention against possible military rule and supremacy, the President had no power to call for martial rule even in emergencies. In Calderón’s estimation, marital rule didn’t work as planned in the Roman Republic so there would be no reason for it work here.
The Marcos Dictatorship of 1972 – 1986 proved Calderón’s choice right. Temporary sundering of liberty by use of the military can very easily become a permanent thing. This is a threat Americans now face in the post-9/11 era.
Critics of Malolos Are Ignorant of History
An oft mentioned peculiarity of the Malolos charter is that the enumeration of rights takes over a quarter of the document. For those whose only interaction with constitutionalism stems from familiarity with the American model, they will find it odd that a huge part of the charter concerns the rights of the citizenry to an almost micromanaging detail. It is also very unfortunate that this fact is sometimes seen by Filipinos as proof that the Malolos charter held little liberal value other than an enumeration of grievances.
This ignorance resulting from nationalistic history rewriting is nothing new. Most Filipinos today have grown up knowing nothing about the 1869 Constitution of La Gloriosa which De la Torre brought with him. That charter featured an extensive enumeration of rights to be protected by State and was universally appreciated by Filipinos only thirty years before; it’s guaranteed freedoms still in living memory in 1899. ¿ So why wouldn’t Calderón reproduce it for the charter of the new nation ?
In 1899, ordinary Filipinos wanted a gigantic list of rights to be guaranteed by the government because of their experience with watching their political freedoms being restored and abolished due to the anarchy in Spain.
The origins of this dismissive attitude towards the Malolos constitution lie in Vol. I of the 31 January 1900 « Report of the Philippine Commission to the President ». Then U.S. President William McKinley, already showing signs of irrational and unstable behavior, was looking for a way to justify to the American people the necessity to occupy another sovereign nation.
Amazingly, the Commission concluded to McKinley’s relief, that the usurpation of Filipino sovereignty was really a form of humanitarian action and that foreign occupation was a moral imperative.
« [T]he peoples of the Philippine Islands […] do not, in the opinion of the Commission, generally desire independence. Hundreds of witnesses testified [that] an independent sovereign Philippine state was at the present time neither possible nor desirable. […] They need the tutelage and protection of the United States. »
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 82-83. 1900.
« The masses of the Filipino peoples, including practically all who are educated or who possess property, have no desire for an independent and sovereign Philippine state. »
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 93. 1900.
In order to silence detractors of the war back home, of whom the famous author Mark Twain counted himself as, the Commission assured them that Filipinos didn’t mind being ruled by Americans:
« Abstract speculators may commiserate the Philippines for being under the sovereignty of another power—for not being absolutely independent and self-governing—but if this is an evil the Filipinos have not resented it, […] In their consciousness it is not political privileges and franchises, but personal and civil rights and liberties, which occupy the foreground. Of course this is far from saying that the Filipinos are not keenly alive to the importance of home rule, or do not desire large participation in the government of the archipelago. »
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 86-87. 1900.
Of their examination of the Malolos charter, it was found to be deficient in terms of workability, at least to the American estimation.
« Scarcely does that constitution in a dozen lines establish a republic with three coordinate branches of government than it hurries into the field of the rights of the Filipinos, which covers more than one-fourth of the entire document. »
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 85-86. 1900.
This [is a] complex system, which violates so many of the vital principles laid down by Hamilton and Madison in the Federalist, […] It will take time and require visible demonstration to convince the inexperienced Filipinos of the superiority of the American method of a strong executive who shall be completely independent of the legislature.
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 92-93. 1900.
Similarly, our aims for independence were dismissed as tantrums and of no real concern.
« This certainly is no scheme of independence. It is a statement of grievances, a demand of reforms, and, by implication, a bill of rights. »
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 84. 1900.
« The programme of that insurrectionary movement […] was a brief statement and nothing more. ».
– Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, vol. 1, p 93. 1900.
With such opinions being had by the victors of the Philippine-American War who were also the architects of the Filipino education system, it is not surprising that such “facts” have been consumed and regurgitated by generation after generation of schoolchildren. Filipino libertarians have an uphill battle showcasing our proto-libertarian past when the well of academics has been poisoned against our forerunners.
« Please read the Malolos Constitution, Most of it is about the rights of the accuse and Jus Loci and nothing else, nothing moe [sic] »
– Disparaging quote from a self-proclaimed voluntaryist with nationalist leanings, 23 July 2011.
The dissolution of the First Republic also meant the end of the « First Epoch ». The new colonial administration became a showcase for progressivism and socialist democratic ideas and had little use for political theories outside those sanctioned by the US colonial government. Many of the ills Americans complain of today such as prohibition of recreational pharmaceuticals and the income tax was born in the laboratory of the Philippine Islands before being applied to the American mainland.
For those of us who subscribe to libertarianism today, 21 January 1899 is a measure of success that we seek to one day surpass as we discover our proto-libertarian roots; the answers to many of today’s social ills stemming from suppression of questions from the 19th century.
Appendix A: Constitutional timeline of of the Philippines
Date in effect
|1.||Constitución de Cádiz||1812 – 1814||Spanish||Origin of Filipino liberty. Ventura
de los Reyes, a 70-year old Creole (1/4th Filipino) merchant and the first notable Filipino free-trade advocate is elected as the delegate to the Cortes de Cádiz.
|1814 – 1820||Ferdinand VII restores absolutism in Spain.|
|Constitución de Cádiz||1820 – 1823||Spanish||Liberal restoration.|
|1820 – 1834||Ferdinand VII restores absolutism in Spain.|
|2.||Estatuto Real||1834 – 1836||Spanish||Political compromise in the Carlist War.|
|Constitución de Cádiz||1836 – 1837||Spanish||Reinstated due to military coup d’état.|
|3.||1st Constitución de la Monarquía española||1837 – 1845||Spanish||Absolutist constitution.|
|4.||2nd Constitución de la Monarquía española||1845 – 1869||Spanish||Reformist constitution.|
|5.||3rd Constitución de la Monarquía española||1869 – 1876||Spanish||Constitution of La Gloriosa, exposes Filipinos to personal liberty.|
|6.||4th Constitución de la Monarquía española||1876 – 1931||Spanish||The last Spanish constitution of the Philippines.|
|7.||Estatuto por la Liga Filipina||1892||Filipino||Not a national constitution, but significantly historical to Filipino libertarians. Written by José Rizal.|
|8.||Karatilya ng̃ Katipunan||1892 – 1896||Filipino||Written by Andres Bonifacio (?).|
|9.||Evanglista Constitution||1896 – ?||Filipino||n.d.|
|10.||Constitución de Biac-na-Bató||1897 – ?||Filipino||Taken directly from the Cuban Jimaguayú Constitution of 1895.|
|11.||Pagtatatag ng̃ Pamahalaan sa Hukuman ng̃ Silang̃an||1898 – ?||Filipino||Written by Emilio Jacinto y Dizon.|
|12.||Constitution of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Central Luzon||1898||Filipino||Written by General Francisco Makabulos as a charter for his insurgent government created in the aftermath of violations to the peace treaty signed at Biac-na-Bató.|
|13.||Organic Decree of 23 June 1898||1898 – 1899||Filipino||Creation of a temporary military dictatorship.|
|13.||Constitution of Mariano Ponce y de los Santos||1898 – ?||Filipino||Failed proposal written in Hong Kong.|
|14.||Spanish sovereignty and Philippine Autonomy program||1898 – ?||Filipino||Dated 19 June 1898. Pedro Paterno’s treasonous proposal for home rule under either Spain or the United States.|
|15.||Constitutional Program of the Philippine Republic||1898 – ?||Filipino||Apolinario Manbini’s failed proposal competing with the Malolos Constitution.|
|16.||Constitución Política||1899 – 1903||Filipino||Malolos Constitution. Winning proposal written by Felipe Gonzáles Calderón y Roca.|
|17.||Proposed Constitution for the Island of Negros||1901||Negrense||Establishment of a separate republic encompassing Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor. Based on the Swiss Confederation.|
|18.||Philippine Organic Act of 1902||1902 – 1916||American|
|19.||Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916||1916 – 1935||American|
|20.||Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth||1935 – 1946||American|
|21.||Constitution of the 2nd Philippine Republic||1943 – 1945||Japanese||Imposed by the Japanese Imperial Forces and supported by Filipinos still fighting the American War.|
|22.||Constitution of the 3nd Philippine Republic||1946 – 1973||American||Essentially the Constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth.|
|23.||Kilusang Bagong Lipunan Constitution||1973 – 1986||Filipino||Constitutional Authoritarianism.|
|24.||Freedom Constitution||1986 – 1987||Filipino||Provisional in the wake of the 1986 EdSA Revolution.|
|25.||Constitution of the Philippines||1987 –||Filipino||Our constitution today.|
References and other further reading
- Calderón, F. (1907). Mis memorias sobre la revolución filipina: segunda etapa, 1898 á 1901. Manila: Imp. de el Renacimiento.
- De Viana, A. (n.d.). Saga of the Philippine Reform Movement. Manila: National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
- Gedacht, J. (2006). Strange Career of American Colonial Schools Industrial Education and the Philippines, The.
- Guevara, S. (1997). Laws Of The First Philippine Republic, The (Reprint Ed.). Manila: National Historical Institute.
- Harper’s Weekly. (1899). Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain. New York: Harper & Brothers Pub.
- Majul, C. (1999). Political and Constitutional Ideas of the Philippine Revolution, The. Manila: Univ of Philippines Pr.
- Malcolm, G. (1926). Constitutional Law of the Philippine Islands. Manila: The Lawyers co-operative Pub. Co.
- Malcolm, G. (1951). First Malayan Republic: The Story of the Philippines. Boston: Christopher Pub. House.
- Palafox, Q. (n.d.). Cádiz Constitution of 1812 and the Reform Movement, The.
- Payne, S. (1973). A History of Spain and Portugal, v. 2. Wisconsin: Univ of Wisconsin Pr.
- Reyes, R. (2008). Love, Passion and Patriotism: Sexuality and the Philippine Propaganda Movement, 1882-1892. Washington: Univ of Washington Pr.