“In a small town where everyone knows everyone it is almost impossible to believe that one of your acquaintance could murder anyone. For that reason, if the signs are not pretty strong in a particular direction, it must be some dark stranger, some wanderer from the outside world where such things happen.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
All things have to begin somewhere; and the grandest works often require the most amount of people. Though we might think politicians as the scum of the earth, one must in the end participate in the political process if we want our voice to have weight. Otherwise, we are left helpless; others decide our lives for us, and those who do not cast their votes allow themselves to be enslaved by the whims of others. They are not aloof, they are not morally superior – the greatest shield of freedom is not a mighty army or a strong press; but a well-informed, well-motivated populace.
Also, Maria Clara will arrive tomorrow, so it is best we get these small-town antics over quickly.
Now, as we know San Diego’s actual rulers are the cura and the alferez, the religious and secular, and both of them self-righteous and prone to abuse how they the fear and veneration shown to them by the townsfolk. The other half of this situation is that real power means not having to bother with any trivialities. For this, the actual burden of governance is given to the local leaders.
Now the office of the Alcalde Mayor rules provinces. Below him are the Gobernadorcillios who rule small towns; and assisting him are four lieutenants – the Teniente Mayor (chief lieutenant), the Teniente de Policia (police lieutenant), the Teniente de Sementeras (lieutenant of the fields) and the Teniente de Ganados (lieutenant of the livestock). Below them are cabeza de barangays who handle the barangays and barrios, equivalent to the small villages that surround and make up townships.
The point of all this is that person over there – the Tiniente Mayor, Don Filipo Lino, leads what could be called a liberal party, if such a thing could exist, in San Diego. He is young, and wealthy, and well satisfied in his marriage, and we may return again to the Jeffersonian idea of the gentleman-farmer as the natural cultivator of social progress. He is nearly thirty in age.
Let us eavesdrop, shall we?
“The conduct of the gobernadorcillo fills me with disgust,” says Don Filipo to his friends. “It a foul scheme to put the discussion of expenses until the eleventh hour. Remember that we have scarcely eleven days left, and there is no time but to follow all dictates of the victor.”
“It does not matter,“ comes the reply. “We have all things prepared, just so that the old men do not have the majority.”
“I do not believe that will be necessary, for you see, I will instead be putting forth the plans of the old men.”
“What? Sir, what for do you abandon us at this hour?!”
“Listen,” he says in a low voice to the assembly of young men near him, “for I have just yesterday spoken with Old Tasio and Don Crisostomo.
The old man said this to me: ‘Your rivals hate you more than they do your ideas. Do you wish that a thing shall not be done? Then propose it yourself, and though it were more useful than an Bishop’s headdress, it would be rejected. But instead, once they have defeated you, have the least forward person in the whole gathering propose what you want; and your rivals, in order to humiliate you, will accept it.’ ”
“I understand now why you wanted me to speak after you.” speaks a young cabeza de barangay. “But what did Don Crisostomo say?”
“He said: ‘It is a good plan, as long as it is done quietly. I know nothing of local politics, so I do not dare interfere, but whatever happens afterwards, you can count on my support in carrying it through. I do wish to speak as well, but all other people have made their case.’“
“What does that even mean?”
“I do not care to guess, for he cuts a dangerous air.”
Another young barrio chief nods. “He is allied with the alferez now, it is said. He keeps a corpse like a trophy in his house. It might not be safe to draw him to our cause.” Oh come on! It has barely been two days. Will you people still keep on holding that over me five years from now?
“Well, whatever else, we need only our own wits and our own will. So I will propose the plan of our rivals and exaggerate it to the point of making it ridiculous! And hush- here they come, and with the schoolmaster!”
And so we all salute each other. Don Anastasio nods silently in greeting, and goes to join the group of old men. I demur from joining the group of this young men, but instead with the schoolmaster take a seat at outermost left wing of the front benches.
Soon enough arrives the Gobernadorcillo, a wispy and nervous old man named Bienvenido Barquero y Campos. Boatman, his surname means, and his ancestors must surely have grown through trade and owning a barge that goes up and down the Pasig River; or perhaps they made their wealth through building small boats, the banca used by fishermen and then expanding onto larger launches and sailcraft. It is also a common enough surname in Mother Spain, but wizened face and lightly tanned skin makes the degree of Spanish blood in his veins difficult to gauge. To me, that matters little – in this time, it is the most important.
The hubbub ceases. Everyone claims their seat as the old man crosses the room to sit in the armchair beneath the old painting of His Majesty, half hidden by faded old red curtains. King Ferdinand VII of course, Isabella II’s father, now fifty-four years dead. His decision about inheritance has killed so many. I wonder if he had good intentions to prove that his child would carry out his vision for the country more faithfully, of if he really just wanted to deny his brother the throne.
The Gobernadorcillo coughs four times, and begins to speak in a weak, croaky voice “Gentlemen – I have been so bold as to call you all to this meeting because – ahem! Ahuff! We have to celebrate on the twelfth of this month the fiesta of our very own patron saint, San Diego – cough! – but today is already the second, and – hugh!” Here his attempt was finally cut off by a fit of dry coughs.
A man of proud bearing stands up from amongst the elders, he is about forty years of age, this is the wealthy Capitan Basilio, a himself a former gobernadorcillio of the town, and an old rival of my father. He is the one who stated that after St. Thomas Aquinas had left, the world had made no progress, and that after he had left San Juan de Letran humanity had begun to retrograde.
Which one might consider nonsense, if one simply sees everything that has happened since the year 1200s; but consider that the Collegia San Juan de Letran was established by the Dominican friars, of which Aquinas was the very model, and in his life Saint Thomas refused being called philosopher. Philosophers; he saw as pagans “falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation”. To Capitan Basilio, all other arguments as chaff in the wind; he does not care to hear them.
He is about forty years of age. He is the head of the conservatives in the town.
As we have seen earlier, the liberal Don Filipo is thirtyish. How much difference a decade makes! It is said that one’s own character is shaped most in what they experience through early adulthood, and how they finally have the power to grasp their place in the world. This would make Capitan Basilio’s formative years in the 1840s – a decade which begun with seeing Hermano Pule’s religious uprising crushed soundly. A triumph of the true religious order against the pagan corruption of its teachings! He is part of the principales, the aristocracy of these isles, educated before the reforms of 1863. The natives are superstitious and easily misled; one had to be twice as resolute.
Meanwhile, Don Filipo’s formative years would have been through the 1860s, and the secularization movement. Most importantly, the rule of the very liberal Governor-General Carlos Maria de la Torre in 1869; the opening of the Suez Canal, and the opening of the Philippines to foreign markets.
We stand up at the near same time.
Capitan Basilio looks almost bewildered at this sheer effrontery. I glance from the sniffling Capitan Jose Raul Barquero and to the side, belatedly noticing his presence. How odd we must look; young and old, all in black and all in white; we cannot be any more different or opposed to each other. I tilt my head to the side and smile.
For through all this, he is not an evil man. Perhaps a bit too pompous and self-important, but he does not hold grudges unnecessarily. More importantly, his daughter is a good friend of Maria Clara, so this is a bridge I shall not see burnt. “I beg your pardon, honorable gentleman, I did not mean to interrupt.”
“You! You are… Don Rafael’s son, are you not?”
“That I am, yes. Crisostomo Ibarra, home at last. And you are Capitan Basilio! Though I have been long gone from these shores, now I recall. I remember well your oratoric gifts, good Capitan – and I apologize again, for it seems you were about to speak, and as well you should be the first! I bow to the wisdom of my elders and betters in this matter.”
His expression relaxes slightly. “I do not choose to speak first because it does not make one take first place, nor does one by speaking last makes them the least, but in order to ask humbly among all the notable persons that are present here for permission. If you have something to say, Señor Ibarra, then I will confess to not some small curiosity and will instead beg of you,” he sweeps his arm in a flourish towards the others “my distinguished friends and great worthies of our humble town, to allow this youth to speak.”
“I did not stand up to make a speech, Capitan Basilio, but also to ask permission. If I may?”
With a puzzled frown he gestures to me and says “Then you have my leave,” before sitting.
“Oh, Capitan!” I speak sharply to the gobernadorcillio, he jerks back in surprise and boggles at me. “Pray forgive my impertinence. May I approach you?”
“… Wh- what? Why?”
“I respect you and your office, and I did see that you were coughing. Please excuse me, but it just so happens that I have remembered that I always carry with me some medicinal cough drops. A soft and chewy pastille, not a hard candy like what they prefer in the Americas and Britain.” I take out from my pockets a small brass container. “You seem a bit discomfited, it is my duty to make your life more comfortable.”
“He would interrupt us for that?” I could hear someone whisper. “It is clear he does not know the gobernadorcillo at all.”
“It is true then, he is attempting to flatter the conservatives.”
While another says “So someone still knows how to show respect? We shall see. It seems frivolous to me, but it is a step in the right direction.”
“He does not realize he is only shaming the Capitan Mayor further in drawing attention to his weakness. This is still showing the ignorance of youth.”
The Gobernadorcillo squints and reaches up with his hands as if to shield himself. He takes a deep breath and squeaks out – “It is- I mean, I am fine.” He wipes at his forehead with a handkerchief and adds “It is not necessary- carry on… the meeting, that is, Capitan Basilio…” his last words come out in an intimidated wheeze. He spasms in place as he tries to suppress his coughing.
“It troubles me to see you so ill at ease, sir, and so in this instance I pray again you forgive my discourtesy, but I insist. Quite soothing and harmless, I assure you.” I shake the little case and then open it. I motion to the schoolteacher Navidad to take one. “Please. It troubles me greatly.”
He glances to the others, looking for support; he receives only disinterest. Get on with it; they imply. The stillness has become loud and uncomfortable, I am looking like a fool standing here with my arm outstretched.
So I go ahead and ignore all propriety and simply walk to him. I lay down the case on the battered old wooden desk. He looks at with trepidation, noticing the big red (BR) on the upper face, and below it the words IBARRA PHARMA – and curving around the bottom half of the case SOOTHING MINT PASTILLES.
“Safe. Delectable. Effective.” I say with another smile.
He blinks at me repeatedly, not comforted at all. I am not sure why.
Surely this simple bit of kindness will not backfire on me yet again.
After that, the meeting went back on track as I had been forewarned by Rizal.
If anything, my interruption has given Capitan Basilio leave to make his opening speech even longer. “- and the previous Capitan, my venerable Don Valentin; my friend from infancy, Don Julio; and our celebrated captain of cuadrilleros, Don Melchor, and more personages whom for sake of brevity I must omit –
I am not among you the primus inter pares, but the first servant in truth,” What? But that is what prime minister directly translates into! He said it Spanish though; primera servidor. Thus he avoided any accusations of putting on airs while successfully praising himself in his own speech, taking full advantage of the ignorance of his peers. Such is the flower of eloquence in this era.
I tune out the rest of his words about imagining himself and the others as if in the midst of the Roman Senate; all as if taken from that happy pinnacle from whence humans might no longer return, and of Cicero who might have spoken in his place, who might in the end advise:
“-so I propose, in view of the short time left, and time is money as Solomon said, that concerning this important matter each one set forth his opinion clearly, briefly, and simply. I am finished.” He sits down.
He receives approving murmurs from his friends and glances over at me with a superior air. I nod in assent. Well done, for what it is worth. ‘Have I not spoken well? Ha!’ he silently conveys to the others in the gathering. He was still the first to speak, the first among equals, my words to the weak presiding Capitan did not count.
All that talk just to say: “Don’t waste words.”
There is a certain irony here, I can all but taste it, but I just cannot seem to identify why.
“Now, any one that might wish to speak may… (ahem) … may …” the gobernadorcillo attempts to say. As a renewed fit of coughing sends him doubling over, and he finally grabs for the cough drops. In between chewing, he coughs, but each cough weaker and weaker until finally he beams as it all stops. He pops a few more and chews contentedly, with his bushy mustache looking very much like a camel.
“Nyuu may du sho-“ he completes the thought.
And so Don Filipo stands up. “So then, with your permission Capitan, I now rise that I may present the very reason we have gathered here today – my estimate of expenses for the fiesta.”
“No!” the conservatives crow “this is not for you to decide! We will vote against it!”
“Gentlemen! Please! I have not yet made known the plan that we, the young men of our good town, bring here today. We are very certain it will be felt far superior to any plan our opponents will be capable of conceiving.”
This amazing presumptuousness, this arrogance of youth, so thoroughly irritates the old men to their very bowels that their hearts are ignited to present all opposition.
“Now, we have estimated that a sum of about three thousand five hundred pesos we shall be able to celebrate a fiesta that will eclipse in magnificence any that been seen before in our own or in the neighboring towns -”
“Humf! The town of Alaminos has five thousand, Biñan surely four thousand. Only three thousand five hundred in our own namesake’s festival? We are shamed!”
“Listen to me, gentlemen! Allow me this, and listen! I will convince you!” Don Filipo continues. “I propose we erect a theater in the middle of the plaza, to cost one hundred fifty pesos –“
“That will not be enough, it will take one hundred and sixty!” a conservative objected in reflex.
“Then write it down, Señor Director, we shall allocate two hundred pesos for the theater,” He gestures to the directorcillo, the town secretary. Don Filipo does not miss a beat. “I further propose that we contract a troupe of comedians from Tondo to make seven consecutive performances on seven nights! Seven performances, at two hundred pesos a night makes fourteen hundred pesos. Write down fourteen hundred pesos, Señor Director!”
Both elders and the youth stare up at Don Filipo with amazement, as one might behold a ship about to crash onshore. He proceeds heedlessly “I propose as well that we have magnificent fireworks; no little lights and fountains and pinwheels that so please the children and old maids, nothing of the sort! We want big bombs and immense rockets! We want to shake the night itself, we want to make such a sound as to frighten and deafen all who hear them! I propose two hundred of the big bombs at two pesos each, and two hundred of the big rocks at the same price. The pyrotechnics of Malabon shall provide.”
“Hmf, a two-peso bomb neither frightens nor deafens me, they should at least be the three-peso ones.”
“So be it, write down one thousand pesos for two hundred bombs and two hundred rockets.”
The schoolmaster leans aside and whispers to me “That’s one thousand two hundred pesos. With the fourteen hundred pesos from earlier… that gives two thousand six hundred pesos, already more than half of the proposed sum.”
“Plus the two hundred pesos for the theater itself, so two thousand eight hundred pesos,” I whisper back. “That leaves seven hundred pesos for the procession.”
But Don Filipo is speaking again “Moreover, that our visitors should see that we are a giving people with plenty of wealth, I propose that we appoint four hermanos mayors for the two days of the fiesta-” being the men appointed to direct the ceremonies, a position that carries great honor but also considerable expense, for he was also expected to shoulder a large share of the entertainments and feasting for the visitors; hence, the more, the lavish the celebrations, but also the lesser share of the honor “and that, each day, there shall be thrown to the lake two hundred fried chickens, one hundred stuffed capones rellenos, and forty roasted pigs, as was done by Sulla, a contemporary of Cicero, of whom our most scholarly Capitan Basilio has just spoken.”
“Like Sulla, yes, yes-” Capitan Basilio nods, flattered at the mention.
“I have no idea how much that is worth…” I whisper aside.
The schoolmaster replies “Another thousand, easy, but most of the cost will be borne by the hermanos mayor.”
The world-mind responds: [Census of the Philippine Islands: Taken Under the Direction of the Philippine Commission in the Year 1903, in Four Volumes]
· [Chickens: average price: 0.47 pesos]
· [Swine: average price: 5.40 pesos.]
I must have been more influenced by future inflation and ready sums than I had thought. So it turns out two hundred pesos is not a trifling sum.
Given that rellenos are mixed minced meats and vegetables within a crispy crust, their prices are not usually given over to statistics. Let us assume a peso for each, the big ones, rivaling a block of ham. So, four hundred chickens, two hundred rellenos, and eighty pigs… at least eight hundred fifty pesos consigned to the deeps rather than eaten to one’s joyful fill.
“And so they should hate him.” Oh if only I already had a submarine! Such an offering to the chtonian depths might yet grant me luck in turn.
Perhaps to put things into perspective, right now in 1887 the silver Peso is worth 0.78 US Dollars. Don Filipo was aiming to literally throw away $2,600 – or in 2015 dollars, about $69,000!
“Also, since many rich people will be attention and each will bring with them thousands of pesos and his best game-cocks, I propose that the cockpit be open for fifteen days, and that all the gambling houses be free to provide games of chance, like the yampong, and games of skill, like cards, and so in some manner we recover the expenses –“
“Enough! Enough!” the young men of the assembly begin to shout.
“And finally, that we should not forget the pleasures of the soul-“
This mention of spirituality could not mollify anyone, the din only escalates. The old men could no longer bear to hear Don Filipo flatter himself as having planned the whole fiesta, and fight over themselves to be the first to speak. The young men are dismayed, feeling that Don Filipo had betrayed them, and now ready to vote completely against him.
And I can only think, ‘Wow. Do I actually sound like this but all the time?’
I turn aside and ask. The utter lack of response from my companion seems enough of an answer. Well craps and sticks.
The gobernadorcillo sniffs, and makes as if to try and speak, and then only raises the brass can given him as to cover his face. He pecks at the pills within, one after the other, reminding me so much as someone munching on popcorn. No longer quite so overwhelmed by his own body, he still feels no courage in him to demand a return to order. He waits to for the tumult to peter out.
The captain of the town guards, Don Melchior, asks for permission to speak, and it is granted. But as the gathering focuses its entire attention upon him, he goes tongue-tied. Though Capitan Basilio had earlier pleaded that speeches be short and to the point, to say anything like it feels ridiculous. He sits back down again, confused and ashamed.
Fortunately, now it is Don Valentin who stands up – as mentioned earlier, the gobernadorcillio before this one – and his voice commands respect. “We cannot agree to what the Tiniente Mayor has just proposed, for it is so farcical as to be believed. What use have we for so many bombs and so many nights of the theater? It can only be desired by a young man, such as he, who can spend night after night listening to explosions without growing deaf. What for do we disturb the sleep of good folk and send children crying?
What need have we of four hermanos mayores? The visitors would go from house to house, and forget themselves. And what even is the meaning of those chickens and pigs thrown into the lake? Our visitors would only scorn us for wasting good food, and then we fast for the next six months, no! What have we to do with this Sulla and the Romans, that we should imitate their wastefulness? Have they ever invited us to any of their festivities? I certainly recall never having received any such thing, and as you can see I am already an old man!”
“The Pope lives in Rome!” Capitan Basilio prompts in a low voice.
“Ah, so I see. Then their festivals must be an observance of their fast, and the Pope must order them to throw their food in the sea, so that they will not be tempted to commit sin.” He calmly turns towards Don Filipo. “And yet, your plan for all of that is inadmissible, impossible, a complete foolishness! I have consulted here with the sensible men, and we reject it in totality! Is there one here who would speak otherwise?”
Not even the young men would protest, they shouted how much they concurred with this opinion.
“If that is what you feel, then I humbly withdraw my proposal.” Don Filipo sits down heavily, slouching in his seat.
And now that he is so resoundly defeated, a young cabeza de barangay asks for the floor. “I beg you excuse the boldness of one such as myself to speak before so many persons respected for their age, their produce, and their wise judgment in affairs, but as Capitan Basilio did request all to express their opinion, may his authoritative words excuse my insignificance.”
The old men more agreeably nod to each other, speaking of his modesty and sensibility. “A pity he does not know how to gesticulate well,” remarks Capitan Basilio.“But he is a young man and there is time yet. He hasn’t studied Cicero!”
The young man speaks “Gentlemen, if I do present to you any program or plans, it is not with the thought that you will find it perfect or accept it, but rather to show that we bow to the judgment of all, and that we wish to prove to our elders that our thoughts are the same as theirs, and that we take our ideas from those thoughts so eloquently expressed by our most esteemed Capitan Basilio.”
“Well spoken!” exclaims Capitan Basilio. “I would hear your words, young man.” The old conservative, while sitting, sweeps his arm around as to instruct the young headman how to make expressive gestures. He only succeeds in looking like trying to tread water.
“Thank you, thank you, señores. If you will permit, my plan is this… it is expected we make a grand spectacle, but spectacles such as these are already ordinary, seen many times before. Instead, we should seek to create programs that are uncommon, and endeavor so that money does not leave the town. This way, in some manner, it will be of benefit to all.”
And so he criticizes Don Filipo’s suggestions one by one. The Tondo theater, which would run one thousand four hundred pesos – what could they learn from a week of comedies? What about the kings of Bohemia and Granada, who ordered that their daughters heads cut off, or shot out of cannon, and the metal then smelted into a throne? “We are not kings, neither are we barbarians; we have no cannon, and if we should imitate those people, they would hang us in Bagumbayan!”
Wait, this refrain sounds eerily familiar. Life is imitative of art, correct?
People who [watch lurid plays] or [read salacious books] might be led into imitating the [perilous] contents within. People who [watch too much TV] or [play violent video games] might be led into imitating the [dangerous] activities they witness. Oh Lord. Really? I supposed we might reach all the way back into the Greek plays and find similar criticisms about the nature of entertainment there too.
There is a tingling at the back of my skull. [Googol] has additional information.
“That is a real method of execution,” I say aside to the schoolteacher. “Blowing from gun, in which the victim is tied to the mouth of a cannon, and then when the cannon is fired the hapless soul is torn into pieces going every which way. The nation actually most well known for this type of execution is not Bohemia nor Granada… but the British Empire.”
Navidad raises his brows. “Truly?”
When the British occupied Manila back in 1762 to 1764, those two years awakened the Filipinos to the eerie concept of a court system that actually functioned as intended and treated each case by its own merits, not through how well the judges might be influenced. In turn, many Sepoys, native Indian soldiers of the Army after the end of the Seven Years War in Europe decided to stay in the Philippines with their Filipina wives.
They are actually the source of the Filipino word ‘carinderia’ or ‘karihan’, an eatery serving meals buffet-style; fast food before the concept even existed. Not from ‘cariz’ or to look (or choose from prepared meals), but from ‘kari’, curry; and the new tantalizing but affordable tastes they introduced to the populace.
“The British Empire tends to use it as a punishment for native soldiers found guilty of mutiny or treason. The Great Rebellion of 1857 is perhaps the most notable, but just as recently as 1871 about 65 members of the Sikh Namdhari religious sect were executed in this manner.”
“Barbaric!” Navidad mutters. “But if it is for treason and mutiny, then the traitors would die of cannon either which way.”
The cabeza de barangay continues “and what do we learn from those princesses who mingle in battles, and scatter thrusts and blows about in combat, or who wander alone in through mountains and through valleys to be seduced by mystical creatures?” He shakes his head sadly. “Our nature is to love sweetness and tenderness in a woman, and it is most vile to us those who raise their hands to a woman- be they a prince or a countryman! And who would not shudder at taking the blood-stained hand of a maiden, even should it be stained by the blood of a giant, or a Moro, whom we all abhor?
Rather than give plays that offer no merit to our people, would it not be a thousand times better to give representation of our customs, that we may encourage our better qualities and correct our vices and defects?”
Murmurs of “That’s right” and “I should have thought of that” fill the room. He is asked, how he might accomplish this. It was one thing to offer an idea, but ideas are cheap; a man is known by his actions.
“Very easily,” he replies. “I have brought with me two dramas, which I feel sure the good taste and recognized good judgment of our most respected elders will find agreeable and entertaining. The first is entitled ‘The Election of the Gobernadorcillo,’ being a comedy in prose in five acts, written by one among those present here.
The other is in nine acts for two nights and is a fantastical drama of a more satirical nature, entitled ‘Mariang Makiling,’ written by one of the best poets of the province.”
Mariang Makiling. Satire. Ohh ho ho ohohoh no. This does not bode well. Normally, this would not be a problem. But now I, a supernatural existence, sits among you. People, you no longer can be sure she does not exist. You are not safe.
“Seeing as the discussion of preparations for the fiesta have been postponed, and fearing that there would not be enough time left, we have secretly secured actors and had them learn their parts. We did this not in presumption that our plan is the best and sure to be accepted, but because we sought to present such a display for the honor and delight of our great leaders. With a week of rehearsal, we hope there will be enough time to learn all their lines thoroughly, and introduce to volunteers parts that they may place. This, gentlemen, besides being a novel, useful, and reasonable, also has the advantage of being economical. We shall not need costumes, our wear as in our daily lives will already be suitable.”
“I will pay for the theater!” Capitan Basilio shouts excitedly.
“How much will this cost?” asks an obstinate of the old guard.”A week to learn lines, what sort of actor needs that much time? Why can we not hire a troupe?”
“Being volunteers who serve at the pleasure of this gathering, the actors ask for no pay other than a place of honor at the fiesta table. Though you might find it fit to doubt their skill, but never their heart. It is a theater of our own citizens, and shall present to visitors that we have talents of our own! They will surprise you!”
“Then, if your play needs soldiers, and guards, I shall lend you mine!” Don Melchior speaks eagerly.
“And – and – if an old man is needed…” another stammers, puffing out his chest.
“Accepted! Accepted!” the assembly cries. Don Filipo goes pale, and his eyes fill with tears. He grimaces, overcome with emotion, at the speaker. The old men think ‘He is crying from being so thwarted, then we should support this plan!’ and their voices add to din.
The young man continues his speech: “A fifth of the money collected may be used to distribute a few prizes, such as to the best school child, the best herdsman, farmer, fisherman, and so on. We can arrange for boat races on the river and lake and for horse races on shore, we can raise greased poles and also have other games in which our country people can take part.
I do concede will that because of our old established customs, we must have fireworks. Fire wheels and fire castles are very entertaining, but I do not think we need very many bombs as proposed by our previous speaker. Instead, with two bands of musicians, we will have sufficient loud merriment – and so avoid the usual quarrels of musicians who come to enliven a fiesta; but who often behave like fighting-cocks, thereafter to leave often poorly paid, underfed, and at times even bruised and wounded.
And with the left-over money, we might begin the construction of a small schoolhouse, for it is a sad state of affairs that our children should study in the cura’s stable.” The speaker nods towards the schoolmaster in attendance. But as I sit behind Navidad, our eyes accidentally meet, and he suddenly goes stiff with fright.
He looks away and concludes “Such are the outlines of my plan; the details can be worked out by all. I thank you all for listening, I am finished.”
Murmurings of pleasure run through the hall, for almost everyone agreed with this youth’s plan. Those who still objected to innovations were bid to direct their attention to Don Filipo; best to adopt it for the time being, and humiliate him.
As order was restored, all now turn to the gobernadorcillo. His approval is the only thing lacking for this unanimous, audacious plan. He wipes at his heavily perspiring face and neck with his handkerchief. In the end, he stammers out in a weak voice “I also agree, but-“
“But what?” asks Capitan Basilio.
“It is all so very agreeable, that is to say, I don’t agree… I mean, yes, I do agree-” he repeats himself and rubs at the back of his head“But the cura, you see… the cura wants something else.”
“Who is it that pays for this fiesta, ourselves or the cura? Has he given even a single cuarto for it?!” a penetrating voice cuts through the floor. It is Old Tasio, disdainfully sitting there with both palms over his cane, as a king might lean on his royal scepter.
“What does the cura want?” asks Capitan Basilio.
“Well, the padre wants six processions, three sermons, three high masses, and if there is any money left, a comedia from Tondo with songs in the intermissions.”
“But we don’t want that,” the youths and some of the old men complain.
“The curate wants it,” repeated the gobernadorcillo,. “I’ve already promised him that his wish shall be carried out.”
“Then why for what reason did you have us assemble here?”
“F-for the very purpose of telling you this!”
“Then why didn’t you tell us so at the start?!” protests
“I wanted to tell you, gentlemen, but Capitan Basilio spoke and I haven’t had a chance.” He sighs and looks down at the brass pillbox. It is empty. He speaks more firmly than before “The curate must be obeyed.”
Don Filipo stares at him dully. “The curate must be obeyed,” he repeats, and collapses his elbows onto his knees that he might rest his face on his palms.
“The curate must be obeyed, or he will tell the alcalde about us and have us jailed…” the old men morosely comment.
“Well then, obey him, and run the fiesta yourselves,” the young men exclaim, rising from their seats. “We withdraw our contributions!”
“E-everything has already been collected!” the gobernadorcillo replies quickly. He rises from his seat at well and prepares to flee.
Don Filipo slaps at his knees, rises, and approaches the official. To him he says bitterly, “I sacrificed my pride in favor of a good cause; you are sacrificing your dignity as a man in favor of a bad one, and you’ve spoiled everything.”
All the others in the assembly grudgingly and grumblingly make to depart.
And then there is only laughter.
Who is this ass, that he would take hilarity in such misfortune? Where is this sound coming from? Oh, wait. That is me.
Wait, no. Agh!
“Ahahaha.” Stop. “Angels above!” I shout. “How I have missed this! In Germany- which as you might know are mostly Protestants – though even in their Roman Catholic regions, they do not have fiestas as that we furnish.
Gentlemen! I beg of you, do not leave yet! Could you allow me a chance to speak, and perhaps that we do not leave this hall with bad feelings? Perhaps there is still a way for all of us to achieve mutual satisfaction – you, me, the cura, all of us.”
“Oh, Don Crisostomo. I have almost forgotten.” The gobernadorcillo looks at the empty tin of cough drops in his hand. He tries to return it to me, then sheepishly reconsiders giving me back only trash. “Would you happen to have more of these?”
“I do own a pharmacy in Germany. I have several boxes more at my house, for distribution at our local pharmacies.”
“You own a pharmacy, Don Crisostomo? In Europe?” Navidad echoes.
“…. yeeeees, but that is not important right now.”
“Everyone, everyone, let him speak!” Capitan Basilio shouts. He speaks to me with a chiding tone “Don Crisostomo, we find ourselves bound to a festival that is once again common and ordinary. Everything has already been decided for us, all we need to do is follow. What more needs to be said?”
“Gentlemen, you are being made to spend on command. There is a word we all know for a man who toils with no reward for his labor. I understand that with this, you might feel no enthusiasm in you to attempt to excel.
And yet, what if, I ask you – go and be excellent anyway? Could you make such a festival the best that San Diego had ever seen?”
“We could, but it would only please the cura! What good is it for us? It is not what we wanted, we want no part of it!” the young men shout.
“True, but think of this. Your plan is not accepted. But it is not the end of the world. There is always next year.”
“And then the next year, and the year after that,” Old Tasio snorts. “Don Crisostomo – hoping for that which may never come avails us not. The powerful, seeing their wishes obeyed so simply without complaint, treat it as what the people also desire; and so seek never to relax their hold.”
“I understand, but my friends, without your labor, what can be done? Orders are orders, but without the actual accomplishment of the task, one might as well be shouting at the air. And no! I do not mean by this that you boycott the event.
It is, after all, the feast of our patron. We live on the shores of Laguna de Bay, so of course we require regattas, and lights over the waters. And if we must have boats, then they should be beautiful boats.” I make as if I am stacking bricks. “You must already have realized that most of the festival will be devoted to this display, as you have done year after year. Your plan, which I laud and also wish to see accomplished, rewards the townsfolk well for their own labors both physical and spiritual.
It seems to me that this is a matter of three insufficiencies. The first: there is not enough money to do both as the cura demands and what you wish should happen. The second: there is not enough time to do both in equal measure. And the third: there is not also enough passion to attempt both with excellence.
Gentlemen, I would have you know that I was most impressed, very impressed indeed, but the ideas you have brought forth. This servant of yours only wishes to help in whatever small way to see it happen. To this ends, I propose… to solve two of these three problems, if you would care to seek to accomplish both of these goals to a mutual satisfaction.”
Don Filipo shrugs. “So, what plan do you have to solve our problems, Don Crisostomo?”
“Don Filipo, the budget for the fiesta is still three thousand five hundred pesos, is that right?”
He glances at the gobernardocillo from the corner of his eye; the older man flinches. “Thereabouts, I believe.”
“Then, if you will permit, I will double it. May the town budget for the feast of San Diego de Alcala be seven thousand pesos.”
This does not calm them. The young men only scowl, and further whisper “A puppet of the friars” and “he follows in the footsteps of Captian Tiago.” Someone whispers “But it is said that the children have long been promised to each other?”
“He seeks to claim all the notoriety for paying for the fiesta! That shameless cad!”
“Can you afford this?” Capitan Basilio asks. “Young man, it is the worst of habits to be too free with your money! No, I would dissuade you from this instead; be like your father and be more mindful of your own worth, and thus shall you build riches for your family rather than die poor.
As Cicero said, magnum vectigal est parsimonia – men do not understand what a great revenue is frugality!”
Others murmur “Yes, yes, we will not be part of this folly.”
“I do not dispute this wisdom. Yet, non quia difficilia sunt non audemus, sed quia non audemus, difficilia sunt, Capitan Basilio.” I reply. “It is not because we dare that things are difficult, but because we do not dare that things are difficult. This was said by Seneca, that great Roman mind born in the same year as our Lord, Jesus Christ.
My inheritance is not only from San Diego; I am given what I have that I might improve the lives and manners of my countrymen. Gentlemen, I do not wish to set myself above you; my wealth buys no virtue, nor expectations of loyalty. I wish to help, because I see in you greatness!
And also, I am being extremely selfish in this, not generous to a fault. I wish to see your dramatic arts realized, but also the best of your artisty in decorations and celebrations. I have brought with me from Europe a camera – several cameras, actually – and I wish to take pictures, many many pictures.”
I stretch out my arms and make the old photographer’s gesture, a viewfinder box in between by index and middle fingers. I squint through it with one eye. “This is the celebration of San Diego, these are its men. Words about the lavishness of a feast and unique qualities of Filipino festivals are vague and easy to forget; but you, Capitan Basilio, you, Capitan Valentin, you, you, our most esteemed gobernadorcillo, you, our elders who drive our culture, you, our youth who carry out its missions – good people! Let your works be commemorated not just in this province but through all nations!
A book need not be made only of words, these days you can make a book out of pictures. This is my selfish wish, gentlemen. I ask for no honors, my contributions are very little, not even worth mentioning. Much more precious is your time, and your efforts. Allow to me to soothe your concerns if just from this one corner, that you might better work wonders in another.
Never let it be said that ‘Ibarra paid for this festival’, oh no, never ever! Let the pictures stand as proof; these are the people who made the greatest contributions. And at the end of it, the cura too. Everybody wins, everybody gets what they want,”
Reluctantly Old Tasio says “And well one might also try to say Audentes fortuna iuvat – fortune favors the bold. You have wealth, so are you so greedy now for fame, young Ibarra?”
I shrug. “Fame is transient, I am about all the opposite of that. I repeat, I require no honors for this. No one owes me anything; I only humbly ask that you allow me to take photographs. Do not think of me so kind. If you shy away from the camera, I will chase you! I commemorate the victors.”
Capitan Basilio frowns, as if caught between considering me an ally or an opponent. “Seven thousand pesos for a fiesta… it would allow us to do more than our neighbors.”
“But to pay half, nonsense!” an old man speaks. “I will add more, we will accept no more than a third.”
“Gentleman, I deeply respect your positions, so I beg you to tolerate my impudence. Whatever the group may raise, I will double it. The grander the celebrations, the better for the pictorial. You could make it so grand Padre Salvi could choke on it, if you so want.”
One of the young men chuckles. “If he wants to spend, then let him spend! I will take his money.”
Don Filipo then notes “That is only one of our problems you promised to solve, Don Crisostomo. If we accept this proposal, then what of the other two?”
“Ah, good, yes, thank you for bringing it back to our attention, Don Filipo. The second problem, time, is more difficult to solve. We could achieve it perhaps by hiring more hands, but it is not one I am qualified to say. No, I am sorry to say that they say ‘time is money’ because money can only buy time with great difficulty. I am of no help here, you know your people best.”
“It is good that you understand your limits, money is no panacea. So, this leaves the third – how do you propose to motivate us? You have said we would be photographed, but that is not good. There are those of us who would prefer not to have our faces be shown all over, what of modesty and honor! No, it might even be said as an insult to think we would be led by mere lure of fame!” says Capitan Basilio.
“You are correct, Capitan, and that is why I must ask forgiveness again for my selfishness. No, for motivation, I beg for each of us to do our best – that we may not be shamed in the face of our neighbors, our rulers, and foreign visitors.
If what I have heard is correct, then Capitan Tiago plans to invite his Excellency, the Governor General Terrero himself, to his home and enjoy our festival. I too have sent out letters for some foreign diplomats and industrialists, that they might be hosted and entertained in our town, and afterward we might discuss our common interests.
I beg you, I truly beg of you, forgive my presumptuousness. At the worst, they would see just another fiesta, nothing any more memorable than any they have already experienced before in these shores. But you – today, you have presented to me the seeds of something great.
So this, I hope, shall ignite your passion. It is not just Padre Salvi’s approval you must gain. Exceed even his expectations, and greater shall be your merit. But if you fail… ah, to fail, we might find that another mediocre festival might not be so bad; only you have to live with the knowledge you have chosen not to do any more than the minimum required!
They would not insult us, saying that it is the blood of the Indios that makes one lazy, for the minimum is not worth mentioning at all. Only you will know, rather than take up the challenge, the test was avoided. You would lose face only in the next year, or in the next fiesta of the nearest other town.”
“Are you are insulting us right now?!” one of the young barrio chiefs shouts out, but from behind his fellows. “We should not be ashamed of being made to keep pretenses. You can keep your money, if you will just benefit for doing nothing!”
“No, I am not, because I know you will not fail. Seven thousand pesos and eleven days – what can you do with this? Friends! Let me see it, demonstrate to all who will come for our fiesta, your creativity, your insight, your power! Like in the plan proposed before, let everyone who works hard finally gain the recognition they so deserve!
The task before you is not easy. I offer no insult; but do not think I also plan on being nothing more than a leech! I do not wish to help only by giving money; day after tomorrow I too will be returning to Manila; what should I procure? Who should I contact? Who even are the artisans? I can hold a paintbrush as well as anyone, and craft paper flowers. We must all hurry! I know you can do this. Are we going to do this or not?
That is all I wanted to say about this matter. I am finished.”
I put my arms to my sides and bow. When I sit, however, my eyes are directed towards Don Filipo. He still looks uncertain.
After a while, he says “What you have all presented is better than my plan, I admit. I cannot dare to stand in your way now… do as you see fit.”
Much more enthusiastically, Capitan Basilio says “I approve! I approve! We shall do it all! We can have a stage built, but I fear that the people might not see the play so favorable compared to the actors from Tondo. So we should have them present it first.”
”By the way, might I say something about that?” I interrupt.
“What now, Don Crisostomo?”
“Well, if the people are not charged for seeing a play presented by our own citizenry, they might think; then what is so difficult about the theatrics of the city? Hiring a troupe costs for each show, but encouraging our own actors can be done any time. We could have this sort of thing done more than once, and rewards offered for the best new talent and new writers. You, all of you here, you might not realize what dramatic qualities are hidden inside you!
It is great that you esteemed colleagues have suggested this, presenting our own dramas. I think everyone deserves a chance to discover more about themselves. This is why I could not help myself, to see this bud trampled underfoot before it has a chance to grow. It is wonderful, truly wonderful! You are amazing!”
The cabeza de barangay from before beams and happily whispers to his friends. Don Filipo hides his face, that no one should see his smile.
“The play – does it need an old man?” asks one of the elders.
“It… it requires four?” the young man who proposed it answers. I can see that he is already frantic about the need for rewriting.
“Seven thousand pesos! Don Filipo, do not even think of trying to throw this food into the lake!” another says.
“No, no, I have learned my lesson. Let me have some lechon too.”
The assembly now collects into groups, grouping each person by their mutual interests. The gobernadorcillo stands apart, looking lost. He looks towards the door. I clap the schoolmaster on the shoulder and bid him to join the discussion in my stead.
“Capitan,” I nod in greeting as I sit on the desk. His attention is momentarily drawn again to the empty can in his hand. Furtively, like a shamed schoolboy, he puts it away into his pockets.
“Don Crisostomo. T-thank you.” He frowns at all the people who have their backs turned to him. “I am not sure the cura will like this…”
“He will have the minimum he has demanded, and more besides. Look at them, young and old, united in one common purpose. If he forbids this… well… unhappy townsfolk are less eager to place alms on the daily mass.”
He sighs. “Things are not so simple, Don Crisostomo. The cura… you do not understand, how powerful his office his. Look at me, I am gobernadorcillo, but I am not like Don Valentin over there or Don Basilio… they will not call me Capitan Banquo after this. If the cura says no to the name put forth by the luminaries of the town, then no one can be gobernadorcillo. If you are excommunicated…”
“I understand. It is hard, balancing so many things that people want, and they blame you for it. But I think you are stronger than you give yourself credit for, Capitan.” I smiled and look towards the distance. “It is not my youth that makes me unafraid of Padre Salvi, nor my wealth. It is because I have contacts, and influences, that he cannot even begin to comprehend.”
“I wish I had your confidence. Ah, such is luck. I am already an old man, none of this has happened to me. Becoming gobernadorcillo has not given me any power or security, I wish I had never been chosen by Capitan Valentin at all! Do this, do that, why have you done this, why have you not done that! As if I have a choice in the matter at all!”
“You are always being threatened or lectured to, Capitan? How unfortunate.” I point towards his predecessors. “They held their office with a mighty hand and a mandate, but all you need is to keep from rocking the boat and capsizing, in this matter you have also been trying to protect people.”
“I am afraid… I fear you are here to disturb the peace of this town, Don Crisostomo.” He pats at his pockets. “I do not wish to be involved, señor – please do not ask anything of me. Do not cultivate my favor, it will bring you nothing of worth.”
“There is plenty of worth!” I interpose. “You are a more worthy man than you might believe, Capitan Banquo. You only want to be done with this- ” and here I wave over at the assembly still talking, but some already leaving to return home and speak to others about their preparations “this aggravation. I understand.
I will ask of you no favors. But once you leave your post, know this – you might call on me, and I will provide for you a place – a place where there are few people and few noises, some authority that you would not need to walk or fetch things, but nothing demanded of you – a place that is cool and comfortable, and a task that pays well without having to go into meetings or to make hard decisions. Yet it will not be boring either, always there will be new faces, and new conversations. Day after day, the most that will be expected from you to make it the same as the day before.”
The gobernadorcillo shrinks into himself. “You are a little devil indeed. Such a place sounds too good to be true.”
“Yet it exists.”
“Go on then, tell me your temptation.”
“You are who you are, so how could it be anything less? A ship. A pleasure ship. A veritable mansion upon the waters – sailing from Laguna to Legaspi, from Cebu to Batangas.
You might fear that pirates might be too much excitement, but you will be provided with enough men to keep you well protected. And the beauties of our nation and the wealth of foreign shores, all first to flow between your fingers. You will be safe, you will be well cared-for, and you will be able to rest easy.”
“I- no, it is interesting, but I get seasick easily.” He looks so very crestfallen now.
“There are remedies for that. But imagine it, Capitan Banquo. Not a functionary, not an errand-man, but freedom.”
He winces. “No, it is too much. I do not want anything… I do not wish to be involved.”
“Señor Ibarra, please.”
“The Capitan Banquo.”
“I know nothing of seakeeping! The real capitan of the vessel will only demean me silently in his heart…”
“Some of the greatest steamship lines are not actually owned by sailors, you know, this is not very much a hindrance. You are made for more than this Capitan Banquo.” I pat his shoulder, and he further shrinks into himself, then slowly uncoils like bound wire. “Someday, you will see… a horizon before you… and you are free, free from this trap of land and politics.
I will ask from you nothing; nor shall I obviously ply you with gifts that might have those powers above you, feel vindictive.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Nothing.” I shrug and continue, “To be more precise, all I require for you is to do nothing. Only that for the next year, you do not stand in my way.”
“Hieeee…” he sucks in his breath.
“I will seek to make your remaining time as gobernadorcillo as comfortable as possible.”
The old man is sweating heavily, and shakily wipes at his face and forehead. With uncommon swiftly, he leaps from his side of the table. “T-thank you, Don Crisostomo, but I really ought to be going.” The old man swiftly makes his way to the door, almost shoving away the young notables in his way.
Their eyes widen at the strange terror in the gobernadorcillo’s face. Then, eerily and as one, they turn their heads towards me. What.
Seriously, people what. What do you think I was saying? I was just trying to be helpful.
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*AN: This single-story building is probably very close to the image of the public hall as written by Rizal. Also, you are looking there at the main means of transport at the time. Not horses, oh no, that’s only for rich city folk. Behold the great Filipino supercar. Carabaos.
100% biofuels. Such green. Much fighting global warming.