Noli 2.3 Ibarra in Town

“… the very appearance of the word ‘‘oriental’’ as a serious geographic or cultural term triggers alarm bells for any American academic. The late Edward Said’s Orientalism argued that the word ‘‘oriental’’ is a fundamentally pejorative term for certain parts of the non-Western world, not only indicating that they are inferior but also justifying Western colonization or domination of them.”
Peter A. Lorge, The Asian Military Revolution: From Gunpowder to the Bomb

The carriage hired from Manila is still by the roadside. The driver gives us a mildly baleful gaze as we approached. A short rest only gives the horses enough time for their muscles to cramp up. He is rubbing at their sides while they drink a soggy mixture of water and oats from buckets. They whinny in complaint as he takes away the buckets and tosses the contents over the bushes. The buckets return to the hooks under the carriage.

Philippine work horses are more exactly work ponies, a relatively small but hardy breed. Do not mock Asian horses too much though; for contrary to what you might expect, the Mongols did not conquer the largest land empire the world had ever seen on fearsome destriers. Mongolian cavalry were a smaller breed made for endurance than carrying a man in full armor.

Gentle, patient, long-suffering horses like these. “Back to town, kapatid na cuchero”, brother driver “then after that you are free to do as you desire. You will have a bonus for waiting, worry not.” I say to him as we enter the carriage.

Old Doroy reaches over to offer him the cigar he’d offered earlier to the gravekeeper. With an obliged nod, he takes it and put it into his pocket.

“Do you think I have been unfair?” I ask Old Doroy once the carriage has started moving. It should not take more than a few minutes to get back to town. Were it not for the conditions of the roads, human-powered pedal bicycles could do it faster. “After all, he was but a poor man that suffered enough for having to deal with my father’s remains.”

The old servant shakes his head. His eyes are unexpectedly clear. “The choice to disrespect such a good man by throwing his corpse into the waters was his alone. As you said, Sir Ibarra, he could have done anything else just as easy that would have allowed us to recover his bones. He lied about having it done anyway to the friar that ordered him to do it. So in the end it did not even matter! Such a shiftless man!”

But even such a man might break through into tomorrow. We shall see. “I regret it now, because that is a very poor order – that the man tried to carry out anyway. An order born of mindless spite. I would hope that, if I were to make such an inconvenient command,  you would at least tell me of the difficulty in having it done.”

“It is not my place to ask why, only to do all I can to make it so, Don Ibarra.”

“Well I would still rather have you raise and objection, than to have you make a promise, try, and give up halfway.”

“I would never!”

“You would not, but what about your employees?”

“I will make sure they will fear the punishment for any failure.”

“I would rather not have wasted my time – punishments will not bring it back. Do not bother me with inconsequential problems, Señor Doroy, but soon enough I will ask of you to carry out orders that will seem to make no sense. Orders that require secrecy. Orders that I do not actually care how you carry them out, only that they are done.

The first among this is to build a cadre of intelligent, determined people – people unlike that gravedigger, who works only under threat of pain. As we have seen, if you are already in pain, the power of the command diminishes. You will find for me such men that will work on retainer, who will not make trouble even if they are paid to sit around in for weeks in between moments of high activity, men who will not be missed should they… disappear.”

“Don Crisostomo. It…” he pauses. “No, I cannot say I can do this so easily. I am a merchant. While I do know how employ workers, I do not know how select such people as you want. I am old, forgive me, I am already an old man who cannot learn new things, and such strange work is beyond me. I could however, assign my own children to this task, if you would allow.”

“And then you would be responsible for their results. I see nothing wrong with nepotism when the parent can control the actions of their child, and thus feel secure in their competence for the task. How likely do you think this chance would be used to put up people they know for easy money? There are also consequences for carelessness, are you sure you would have your own blood be subject to them?”

He slumps. “My children are good honest men and I have sent them to study in good schools. They have been great help in the business. But I do not know, Don Ibarra, what punishment would you give? It is… impossible, I think, to succeed in choosing good workers all the time. What kind of work do you mean? Men who would be so happy to face death for money… I do not know if they can be trusted.”

And that is why no one trusts the Guardia Civil.

“Good, good, your continued unwillingness to simply make a promise and trusting it to work out by itself continues to impress me, Señor Doroy.” I lean out the carriage window to see that we have arrived near the town center.

“I will amend my orders, then. First, take this.” I reach behind my back and toss him another pouch of money. “Pay the cuchero double the payment that is expected. Have this carriage bring you to the Ibarra domicile and tell its caretaker of my arrival.

Second, take this,” and I hand over to him a ruby signet ring, showing an emblem () “This is the new symbol of the Ibarra company. Show this to the caretaker and others as a symbol of my trust. Tell them to break out the wine, and have the cooks butcher a pig for lechon kawali and adobo sa asin. May you be served in that house as if it is your own. Please, be at ease and rest for a while before your trip back to the city.

In Manila, only show this to the desk of Fonda de Lala, and be served with all the comforts as if due to myself. I have with them reserved a room for an entire year, and their parlor will be open at no personal expense to all those who carry this symbol of my trust.

And third,” I say as I place my hand on the side of the carriage, “Consider your salary doubled. We will discuss what you must do to advance my father’s business later.”

“Don Ibarra!” the custodian cries out in alarm.

I speak past him “Right here, driver. This is fine.”


The carriage stops by the doors to the church. Such are towns in the Philippines that the church, plaza, and government hall, often face each other, forming the town center. The market is often a good distance away.

I step off, for this carriage is not an enclosed carriage with doors and walls. We would have been out of luck were it raining and windy. I bid Old Doroy and the coach-driver a good day, and they clatter off further down the road, kicking up dust in their wake. Doggol peers mounfully at me from the back, but little dog your little legs are not meant for these poor dirt roads.

I chuckle. And so you see why everything all but stops when in rains here in the Philippines. Dusty when sunny, muddy when rainy, those who take paved roads for granted do not understand how taxes buy civilization. When it is too damn hot half the year and too damn rainy in the other, why be so surprised when the natives feel unenthused to go out and work?

Horse carriages simply cannot be made to keep going as a car would, when the rains are strong.

Boats… boats can, as long as it is close to shore. Horses can get sick, motor engines cannot. Of this moment, the Philippines is a maritime economy – in that other world, it would take much assistance from the Americans, blasting through mountains and pouring mountain-loads of tar and asphalt to start with a national highway. In this one – even my own miraculous wealth would be a drop in the bucket to the effort required. Thirty pesos, three hundred, three thousand pesos, all insignificant sums! No longer am I allowed to think of mere silver and gold as wealth – to me, the only true wealth is access to strategic resources.

Of this moment, because sea transport is still the most reliable way of moving people and goods from place to place, the Philippines exists as a collection of loosely connected local economies. Each province is known for only a certain type of export good, and must produce most of their own food.

No good roads for it. Ships? Refrigeration? Of this moment, refrigerated ships already allow for massive hauls of beef from South America to the American and European larders. We have none, though there are good pastural highlands in North Luzon. The Philippines now and then gets an ice ship to Manila for luxury dining, nothing in the order of industrial solutions. Provinces do little to feed each other. Provinces ask little from each other. We have more trade with outside nations than each other. The only exception being the flatlands of Luzon, and its tiny little railway with its tiny little steam locomotive.

In this time we are fully a hundred years backwards everyone else.

In this time, each province distrusts each other, each island a fief unto itself. We are not a nation.

Only one thing unites us.

I look up at the stone walls and the bell tower of the church.


The San Diego church is small, but it is not humble. Its high vaulted ceilings are painted white, but pleasingly offset by crossed wooden beams. Bats and swallows nest in its recesses. The floor is made of colored tiles in repeating patten that draws the eye, like an Escher illusion yearning to break free.

Four rows of hard uncomfortable pews sit its nave, while to the left and right await closed-off confessional booths. Closer to the main altar space, the church branches off into a cross as is the norm for churches in this country; here are alcoves for the saints and a wooden body of Christ sealed in a glass coffin. Here too are the more comfortable pews for the town elite, and a padded chair for the alcalde and other dignitaries. Look there, the altar beyond three raised steps, its slab draped over with a red cloth. The cross is silver, the effigy of cunningly carved white wood being even more luminous unpainted. It is ensconced within a cunningly carved reredo, with overlapping archs and pillars in a neo-classical style, a temple within a temple. Above the crucifix, dominating the tabernacle, is a painting of souls being tormented and burning in Hell, with the saints watching with pitiless equanimity from above.

Its high windows are too small for stained glass illumination, here casting thin ribbons of sunlight into a nearly soundless citadel. One could almost believe the outside world has no power over the sanctity of this space. The cares and pains of the outside world stop; here you shall find peace.

It is also peculiarly empty.

There should at least be an altar boy or two around somewhere, cleaning and preparing for All-Saint’s Day. Through the silent church I walk, I do not raise my voice to ask hello. With no one to see, I cross even the normally forbidden sanctuary, the altar area, and past it to the two doors on either side.

These lead to the rectory, where the parish priest should actually live, though in practice he would partake of meals cooked enthusiastically at the nearby convent. In contrast to the church just a few short steps away, it is much humbler, lived-in structure. Its floors sag, its stone walls are rough and cold. Here amidst smaller rooms for the live-in sacristan personnel and visiting lay brothers rule the sacristan mayor as a petty chief, and less it be said that upon his hands the offertory box holds no security.

Hola!” I now call out, “Is anyone here?”

No answer.

Such an eerie silence.

Seeing no point to hanging about like a thief, I leave the place.


I squint at the sky past the wooden cross topping the tower.

God, it is hot.

Another thing I regret is wearing a black suit while in the Philippines. No wonder dark clothes are a fashion statement for the wealthy; only an idiot would go out in the day in this outfit. Even Capitan Tiago wears white, and the papers call him the Rothschild of the Philippines.

I sit on a stone bench under the shade of a tree and watch the passers-by. They glance at me, but quickly move past where I rest, as if I am a magical dwarf looking for someone to cast a spell upon. Only a tied-up carabao nearby dares to meet my gaze, it does so with the calm dignity of emperors.

One thing that can be said for the main streets of this time, is that they are wide. On either side of the plaza San Diego, which is little more than an expanse of cobblestones and grass, are townhouses with thick stone walls for the first floor and a second floor made out of wood, with shingled roofs. These homes are quite earthquake-proof, resistant to storms, though to fire they are helpless. They are like small castles, though their fence walls for their gardens are bamboo.

Like most things in the Philippines the development of these architectural styles is born of lessons usually best learned through calamity. Stone houses, as in Europe, became the choice of the resident Spanish because of how Manila in 1583, without houses and churches main primarily of wood, were devoured by fire.

The walled city of Manila then grew to boast hundreds of stone houses, until a series of earthquakes then reduced much of it to rubble. It was thence mandated the buildings be limited to two storeys, with wooden posts that better were better adaptive to shaking ground than stone pillars, and walls always at least one-fifth thick compared to its height. Roofing may be made high, but primarily of light construction.

Thus – and here I spread open my arms as if stretching out and look from side to side – we have this scene, lacking the heights and graces of cities in Europe, nor the slender elegance of other wooden structures in Asia. A brute but practicable style well suited to withstanding calamity.

Some distance away are the tiendas, the shops, owned mainly by the Chinese. Dealers in rice and sugar, retailers in hot bowls of ginger-infused arroz caldo and candies and alcohol, and loudly shouting broken Tagalog when they speak. They have patterned their homes upon the elite of the town, though made of wood and brick rather than ponderous cut stone. The lower floor mainly serve as shopfronts and warehouses, not for servant living quarters and the calesa. San Diego also has a Chinese village, it is closer to the docks, where laborers constantly move bags and parcels onto boats for shipping across Laguna de Bay and up the Pasig River.

The wealthy of this town are landowners, and for them such petty mercantile pursuits below their concern. The Filipino natives prefer the predictable exchange of labor and raw goods for money, not the small bit by bit toil of merchants who have to haul and measure and in their attempts to eke out the best profit appear as cheats and misers.

Those Chinese who have married Filipinos and become mestizo de sangley, and embraced the Catholic faith in its totality live as their half-Spanish neighbors do, and rarely show any sympathy for the people from whom they sprung.

Laguna knows of this tragedy. A visit by Chinese mandarins on May 23, 1603 led the local Spanish authorities to believe that it was an attempt to check their defenses in preparation for an invasion; for at this time the Chinese outnumbered the Spanish ten-to-one. The Archbishop and priests of Manila fanned distrust of the Chinese residents in the parian area of Manila, which later erupted into the Sangley Uprising.

The Governor General of that time, a certain Luis Pérez Dasmariñas, famously stated that the Chinese were cowards, and the twenty-five Spaniards were enough to conquer all of China. He led failed invasions of Cambodia and Mindanao, and during this rebellion his head and the heads of his men were cut off by the rebels and mounted on poles in Manila.

A combined force of Spanish, Filipino and Japanese troops eventually suppressed the rebellion, with about twenty thousand Chinese massacred in the aftermath. The Administrative Commissioner of Fujian, Xu Xue-ju, petitioned the Emperor for a punitive invasion several times. He received only a letter that stated among other reasons of not going to war to such a distant place as Luzon, that merchants were “common folk not worth waging a battle for”, and that “these merchants by going to Luzon had abandoned their families and familial ties”.

A second massacre happened in 1639, as relations with the mainland normalized and soon Chinese workers again flooded the shores to pick up the labor shortage created by the previous massacre. The abuses of the Spanish overlords ignited the workers to rise up, and it is somewhere around here – not in Calamba, which does not exist as much as Rizal does not – that the uprising began and soon grow to consume all of Laguna. The alcalde mayor and several priests were murdered, churches and municipal buildings were burned, and twenty-two towns through Laguna were either raided or set afire by the Chinese rebels. They were harried over the course of a year into the mountains, and over twenty thousand of them were slain.

And so these peaceful roads have been washed by torrents of rain and blood. Yes, two hundred years have passed, but the memory is long. Many intermarried and assimilated, like those of Rizal’s own ancestors, to finally be safe and be mostly free from the extortionate taxation and duties levied upon pure-blooded Chinese.

In this era, everything is decided by blood.

Ah, it is damned hot day.

Across the main street is the town hall, a structure far less cared for by the townsfolk. A long hall roughly fifteen meters long and eight wide, its whitewashed sides scribbed with charcoal graffiti, and inside a pitiful armory of old flintlock guns, narrow bolos and sabers, the weapons of the cuadrecillos. Equivalent to the town police, they go around barefoot. Their function has more or less been replaced by the military Guardia Civil, of which the alferez commands from his barracks closer to the edge of town.

And since we know that Laguna is perpetually distrustful of its Chinese workers and merchants, the garrison here is no surprise.

What strikes me most about this scene is what is missing.

Almost uniformly across the nation in the future that is your Philippines, the multipurpose concrete plaza in front of the town hall which doubles as a basketball court. If lacking anything to do, the youths may at least spend their time in harmless sports instead of gambling and drinking. If not dribbling a ball, then kicking it, or slapping it around, or to wheel about with skateboards.

Since I have not the authority nor public goodwill to have that paved over, I will have to pour concrete for a utility park elsewhere. It is but limestone, gravel, and sand, how difficult could it be?

Basketball has yet to be invented. Mothers will perhaps decry playing on hard concrete, here falling down while playing football will hurt more; leave deeper, bloodier gashes on their skin. Yet this is a time when children are fearless, those puckered scars would be badges of pride.

Perhaps instead of dirt football.. street hockey, with the proper padding?

No, as interesting it would be to have to re-invent rollerskates, I doubt it would be in the common folk’s price range.

Volleyball? Tennis? American Football? Oh. Sepak Takraw. Only replaced with arnis as the national sport in 2009. Woven balls of rattan would be cheap and easy to distribute.

I glance back towards the road leading into the Chinese area. With a paved area over there, it would be much easier to set up bleacher seats and food stalls all around. The cockfighting ring is too narrow for general purpose activities. I could sponsor a martial arts competition, maybe?

After harvest season, people will seek to spread over their rice onto my pavement for drying – for this also, I can charge them some small sum.

Maybe it is not too late to put aside being a media mogul and become the Concrete King? Instead of submarines, let me be obsessed with roads. Roads and dynamite…

No, it is too late. Sad.


Oh, what is this?

Approaching the church are two young men in the blue garb of the Guardia Civil. They are armed. Their skin is dark, and only a little disgruntled at being sent out under this mid-afternoon sun.

“Hello there, you men!” I call out in Tagalog as they approach. “What moves you in such a hurry on this fine day?”

“How is it any business of yours, señor?” one replies.

The other jabs him with an elbow for being so stupid as to disrespect a wealthy-looking fellow. “Before we answer, might I ask – who are you señor, and if you have business here at the church?”

“I am Don Crisostomo Ibarra, freshly returned from Europe. I am here waiting to pay my respects to Padre Salvi. And you-?”

They hesitate. If you were identifiable, you were accountable. Like the Spartans and their face-covering helmets of old, it was this that allowed them to act with impunity among their Helots. After a while, comes the reply “I am Berto, this is Juan.”

Excellent to meet you, gentlemen. Now, if you would indulge my curiousity?”

“A robbery has been reported.”

“Yes, I have heard gossip about that. Two children, two missing doubloons, it hardly sounds worth your time.”

“No, Señor Ibarra,” Berto replies. “A new robbery. Now they say nearly two hundred pesos are missing from the offering box, and the children are none to be found.”

Oh for fuchs’ sake.

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