Chapter 12

The Spanish Priests Icon

March 20, 2022

The 2 provinces of Camarines form a long continent. Its principal frontage of shore facing to the north-east and to the south-west ; which is about 10 leagues broad in its middle. Its shores are indented by many deep bays.

From about the centre of its north-eastern shore there boldly projects the peninsula of Caramúan, connected with the mainland of Camarines by the isthmus of Ysaróg. The north-eastern portions of the two provinces contain a long range of volcanic hills; the southwestern principally consisted, as far as my investigations permitted me to discover, of chalk and coral reefs.

In the midst of the hills extends a winding and fertile valley, which collects the waters descending from the slopes of the mountain ranges, and blends them into a navigable river, on the banks of which several flourishing hamlets have established themselves. This river is called the Bicol. The streams which give it birth are so abundant, and the slope of the sides of the valley, which is turned into one gigantic rice-field, is so gentle that in many. places the lazy waters linger and form small lakes.

Beginning at the south-eastern extremity, the volcanoes of Bulusán, Albay, Mazarága, Yriga, Ysaróg, and Colási—the last on the northern side of the bay of San Miguel—are situated in a straight line, extending from the south-east to the north-west.

Besides these, there is the volcano of Buhi, or Malinao, a little to the north-east of the line. The hamlets in the valley I have mentioned are situated in a second line parallel to that of the volcanoes. The southern portion of the province is sparsely inhabited, and but few streams find their way from its plateau into the central valley.

The range of volcanoes shuts out, as I have said, the north-east winds, and condenses their moisture in the little lakes scattered on its slopes. The south-west portion of Camarines, therefore, is dry during the north-east monsoon, and enjoys its rainy season during the prevalence of the winds that blow from the south-west.

The so-called dry season, which, so far as South Camarínes is concerned, begins in November, is interrupted, however, by frequent showers; but from January to May scarcely a drop of rain falls. The change of monsoon takes place in May and June ; and its arrival is announced by violent thunderstorms and hurricanes, which frequently last without cessation for a couple of weeks, and are accompanied by heavy rains.

These fast are the beginning of the wet season proper, which lasts till October. The road passes the hamlets of Camálig, Guinobátan, Ligáo, Oas, and Polangui, situated in a straight line on the banks of the river Quínali, which, after receiving numerous tributary streams, becomes navigable soon after passing Polángui.

Here I observed a small settlement of huts, which is called after the river. Each of the hamlets I have mentioned, with the exception of the last, has a population of about fourteen thousand souls, although they are situated not more than half a league apart.

The convents in this part of the country are large, imposing buildings, and their incumbents, who were mostly old men, were most hospitable and kind to me. Every one of them insisted upon my staying with him, and, after doing all he could for me, passed me on to his next colleague with the best recommendations.

I wished to hire a boat at Polángui to cross the lake of Batu, but the only craft I could find were a couple of barotos about eighty feet long, hollowed out of the trunks of trees and laden with rice. To prevent my meeting with any delay, the padre purchased the cargo of one of the boats, on the condition of its being immediately unladen ; and this kindness enabled me to continue my journey in the afternoon. ·

If a traveller gets on good terms with the priests he seldom meets with any annoyances. Upon one occasion I wished to make a little excursion directly after lunch, and at a quarter past eleven everything was ready for a start; when I happened to say that it was a pity to have to wait three quarters of an hour for the meal.

In a minute or two twelve o’clock struck; all work in the village ceased; and we sat down to table : it was noon. A message had been sent to the village bell-ringer that the Señor Padre thought he must be asleep, and that it must be long past twelve as the Señor Padre was hungry. “Il est l’heure que votre Majesté désire.”

Most of the priests in the eastern provinces of Luzon and Samar are Franciscan monks, brought up in seminaries in Spain specially devoted to the colonial missions.

Formerly they were at liberty, after ten years’ residence in the Philippines, to return to their own country; but, since the abolition of the monasteries in Spain, they can do this no longer, for they are compelled in the colonies to abandon all obedience to the rules of their order, and to live as laymen.

They are aware that they must end their days in their new home, and regulate their lives accordingly. On their first arrival they are generally sent to some priest in the province to make themselves acquainted with the language of the country; then they are installed into a small cure, and afterwards into a more important one, in which they generally remain till their death. Most of them spring from the very lowest class of Spaniards. A number of pious trusts and foundations enable a very poor man, who cannot

afford to send his son to school, to put him into a religious seminary, where, beyond the duties of his future avocation, the boy learns nothing. If the monks were of a higher social grade, as are some of the English missionaries, they would have less inclination to mix with the common people, and would fail to exercise over them the influence they wield at

present. The early habits A village clock.

of the Spanish monks, and A hollowed tree-stem struck with a pendent log.

their narrow knowledge of the world, peculiarly fit them for an existence among the natives. This mental equality, or, rather, this want of mental disparity, has enabled them to acquire the influence they undoubtedly possess.

When these young men first come from their seminaries they are narrow-brained, ignorant, frequently almost devoid of education, and full of conceit, hatred of heretics, and proselytish ardour. These failings, however, gradually disappear; the consideration and the comfortable incomes they enjoy developing their benevolence.

The insight into mankind and the confidence in themselves which distinguish the lower classes of the Spaniards, and which are so amusingly exemplified in Sancho Panza, have plenty of occasions to display themselves in the responsible and influential positions which the priests occupy. The padre is frequently the only white man in his village, probably the only European for miles around. He becomes the representative not only of religion, but of the Government;

he is the oracle of the Indians, and his decisions in everything that concerns Europe and civilisation are without appeal. His advice is asked on all important emergencies, and he has no one whom he in his turn can consult. Such a state of things naturally developes his brain.

The same individuals who in Spain would have followed the plough, in the colonies carry out great undertakings. Without any technical education, and without any scientific knowledge, they build churches and bridges, and construct roads.

The circumstances therefore are greatly in favour of the development of priestly ability ; but it would probably be better for the buildings if they were erected by more experienced men, for the bridges are remarkably prone to fall in, the churches look like sheep-pens, and the roads soon go to rack and ruin.

I had much intercourse in Camarines and Albay with the priests, and conceived a great liking for them all. As a rule, they are the most unpretending of men ; and a visit gives them so much pleasure that they do all in their power to make their guest’s stay as agreeable as possible. Life in a large convent has much resemblance to that of a lord of the manor in Eastern Europe. Nothing can be more unconstrained, more unconventional.

A visitor lives as independently as in an hotel, and many of the visitors behave themselves as if it were one. I have seen a subaltern official arrive, and, without inquiring of the major-domo if he could have a room, order his dinner at once ; after which he contented himself with carelessly inquiring if the padre, who was an utter stranger to him, was at home.

The priests of the Philippines have often been reproached with gross immorality.

They are said to keep their convents full of bevies of pretty girls, and to lead somewhat the same sort of life as the Grand Turk.

This may be true of the native padres; but I myself never saw, in any of the households of the numerous Spanish priests I visited, anything that could possibly cause the least breath of scandal.

Their servants were exclusively men, though perhaps I may have noticed here and there an old wo’nan or two.

Ribadeneyra says :-“ The Indians, who observe how careful the Franciscan monks are of their chastity, have arrived at the conclusion that they are not really men, and that, though the devil had often attempted to lead these holy men astray, using the charms of some pretty Indian girl as a bait, yet, to the confusion of both damsel and devil, the monks had always come scathless out of the struggle.” *

Ribadeneyra, however, is not an over-reliable author; and, if his physiological mistakes are as gross as his geographical ones (he says somewhere that Luzon is another name for the island of Cebu !), the monks are not perhaps as fireproof as he supposes. At any rate, his description does not universally apply nowadays.

The younger priests pass their existence like the lords of the so:l of old; the young girls consider it an honour to be allowed to associate with them; and the padres in their turn find many convenient opportunities.

They have no jealous wives to pry into their secrets, and their position as confessors and spiritual advisers affords them plenty of pretexts for being alone with the women.† The confessional, in particular, must be a perilous rock-a-head for most of them.

In an appendix to the “ Tagal Grammar" (which, by-the-bye, is not added to the editions sold for general use) a list of questions is given for the convenience of young priests not yet conversant with the Tagal language.

These questions are to be asked in the confessional, and several pages of them relate exclusively to the relations between the sexes.

  • St. Croix says that in his day the priests’ households consisted wholly of young girls. A Franciscan who lived near the Lake of Bay kept twenty of them, and had a couple of them always at his side.

The alcaldes remain only 3 years in any one province. They never understand much of its language; and, being much occupied with their official business, they have neither the time nor the desire to become acquainted with the peculiarities of the districts over which they rule.

The priest, on the other hand, resides continually in the midst of his parishioners, is perfectly acquainted with each of them, and even, on occasion, protects them against the authorities ; his, therefore, is the real jurisdiction in the district.