Noli Interlude: The Governor-General 01


The Governor-General in this time was Emilio Terrero y Perinat.

Mexico had ever been the jewel of Spain’s crown, but an appointment to the Philippines had its own virtues. Usually Governor-Generals went from Cuba, to a much more restful post in the Philippines, before retiring to Spain.

The Philippines was Spain’s fortress of Catholicism in Asia, and from Manila the Governor-General ruled the entirely of the Spanish East Indies. These comprise the Islas Filipinas, the Carolinas, and the Marianas, and Palau, parts of Sulawesi, and outposts in Taiwan. With them Spain can look at the British in the eyes and claim that the sun likewise never sets on the Spanish Empire!

Damnable tea-drinkers.

Terrero stared out the window and the placid blue waters of the Pasig River, its water lilies and rickety wooden boats floating. Manila’s Thames. Manila was hardly a restful posting.

Emilio Terrero had also participated in the dispute between Spain and Germany of the ownership of The Carolines, which set Manila scrambling thinking that an invasion of the Philippines was imminent. This was not a completely unfounded fear, for the British had conquered the Philippines once before, and occupied the city of Manila for two years from 1762-1764.  The prestige of Spain was no protection anymore.

In Madrid however, the fear and outrage were stronger, and even Bismarck was taken aback by the reaction and put it to the Pope to arbitrate the dispute. It was settled in both their favors, for though Leo XIII decided ownership in favor of  Spain, Germany was also granted free trading rights through all the Carolines and the right to establish a naval station.

Emilio Terrero remembered it more as a farce. The cruiser Velasco showed up at Yap, the largest island in that scattered little archipelago. They prepared a landing party to raise the Spanish flag in the morn, but woke up to find that a German gunboat, the Itlis, had snuck in through the night and then at break of dawn had already raised their flag. In this manner, claiming Yap and most of the Carolines for Germany!

Their reasoning was that the Spain had already abandoned its claim over the past hundred years, only returning because someone else had decided to see valuable what they had long discarded.

The captain, under orders to withdraw if anything untoward happened, withdrew back to Manila and the Governor-General awarded them medals for avoiding battle.

In Spain, even as the Liberal party called for King Alfonso XII to declare war, the monarch refused to take the step further into Spain’s suicide. Meanwhile, Bismarck himself hardly called a collection of coral reefs worth any losses.

Statesmanship prevailed. Both countries had saved face, and when he received word Terrero had to sigh in relief.

He came to the Philippines of a Carlist mind, but seeing the ways of its priests and their resistance to progress, he found himself becoming more and more liberal and in favor of the natives. Spain’s power dwindled day by day, dallying in the colonies instead of working together to strengthen the Empire was not helping.

Though the Lieutenant Guevarra had made good on the promise not to tell, the rumor of Padre Damaso’s insult still Governor-General’s ears. That Carlist sentiment, which he would have not minded but several years ago, now only left him bone-weary.

“How do you know of this?” he asked his aide that morning.

“From Laruja, who mentioned it at the newspaper office.”

The Governor-General merely smiled. “Women, and men who wear skirts, do not cause offense. I intend to live in peace in the time allotted to me. I know he has been making fun of my orders, and when I asked for that friar’s transfer as punishment he was instead given a much better town. Such is friar business!”

“But it is not just that which so excited Laruja. He has stated, it was ‘the most interesting dinner I have had in these islands in years’ and intends to write about it. That wealthy Capitan Tiago hosted that dinner to welcome a young man coming home from Europe, whom has just finished his studies. Laruja was most impressed with the youth, and said – Spain would be most blessed to have him at her service.

He made it even clearer that, even with his little influence, he hopes that even Your Excellency would meet this young man, for his conversation would be most enlightening. He has left this letter, to which he admits having penned in a hurry before sleeping, such was his excitement.”

“Is this young man a Mestizo or a Criollo?”

“A mestizo, Your Excellency.”

“Laruja is a notorious writer who has traveled through much of Asia, it is unexpectedly high praise. Do you have the letter?”

The aide bowed slightly and took out the folded paper from his breast pocket. Terrerro held it in his hands and weighed if he had the time to indulge. Reading the letter, he skipped past the usual honorifics and read what had driven Laruja to dare presume upon his goodwill –

“Why submarines, of all things?”

“Because it is the confluence of disciplines. Metallurgy, electrics, training and resolve! Also, it is a refutation of the idea that math is useless. If you fire off a torpedo, of course you do not aim at where the enemy is, but where it could be. And for this you need to know trigonometry! Let them scoff at mathematicians no more. Knowledge that builds upon other knowledge is just the best. The best!”

To which I asked “But if as you said, if Battleships are a man’s romance!, then why do you want to sink them?”

“Because battleships are the dragons of the waves!” he replied. “Why would I not want to claim the glory of lancing one?

When warships slug out against each other with shot and trust in their armor, so fight they with sword and board. But the torpedo is the long lance – timing, precision, and devastating destruction!”

Governor-General Terrero could not help but to smile, more honestly this time. “’Battleships are a man’s romance?’ What a foolish child, but I cannot fault his enthusiasm.” He looked out towards the sea again. ”It is a pity he is not full-blooded, what this child could have done if born in the Peninsula.”

Tererro y Perinat thought of the Pacific Squadron, which were a collection of obsolescent cruisers and gunboats; half stationed in Subic Bay to the north and the other in Jolo far to the south. If the Germans had decided to attack in 1885, there was little resistance the fleet could muster against the more modern ships of its rivals. Most likely, they would have been forced to cower in the bays, behind mines and adding the weight of shore guns.

They would have been completely inutile in preventing the enemy from making landings anywhere on the islands.

Yet –

“The torpedo boat can be shot, the mine does not move and is a hazard to your own shipping besides, but the mere threat of a submarine in the shallows forces a whole fleet to think twice!”

I have heard somewhat of Issac Peral, though I do not know him. This notion does have the ring of plausibility to me. We already have torpedo tubes in many cruisers and gunboats. There is no need to convince anyone about the usefulness of the torpedo. To say that it is more cost-effective to build a submarine than a battleship for defense is one thing, but a submarine cannot threaten another nation and its interests as well as warships.

In a time of war, sneaking into an enemy’s port is a slow and difficult enough action for surface ships, that if a submarine captain is so adept at avoiding mines he deserves to have that shot.

Yet that idea… that it is only useful for defense… for deterrence against attack from a wealthier power… does not inflame tensions as much.

He rubbed at his chin. “I agree with Laruja. This is very unexpected insight. I can tell he has taken pains to remember this Ibarra’s words. It is perhaps too insightful.”

We played a little game, using overturned wine glasses, which he called ‘Sink the Battleship’.

“Ping. Ping,” he motions “you are moving here at eight knots, your target is moving at cruise speed of fifteen. But you are here because this inlet is predictable. This could be Gibraltar, this could be the Gulf of Mexico or the Red Sea, it does not matter.

What is most important is that you can fire a torpedo submerged. You have four torpedoes. Now the question – do you choose to maneuver in front of the ship, wait for it to pass you by, or slowly but stealthily attempt to strike it asides for maximum damage?”

“Understand the terror –“ he said to us who stood around the table. “If they see you first, you cannot escape; if you miss, they will run you down. You could dive underwater and be safe, but at four knots for however long your battery and air lasts, it might just be a slower and more torturous death.

A torpedo boat commander has speed on his side, he rushes forth without armor in hopes of striking a mortal blow before fleeing. But a submarine captain, though you might think him dishonorable in not fighting in bare sight, can only be the bravest of men. In the cold and in the dark, there is only the purest expression of trust. In God, in your fellows, in the engineers and the technological expertise of your nation, and in your own instincts. Against him there is no defense.

With one perfect moment, he is the slayer of dragons.

Ping. Ping. Slowly you stalk the beast.”

“Why do you make that sound? Ping, ping, like the ringing of a bell?”

“Have you ever heard a whale sing? Why do they make that bassy groan? Why do the dolphins chitter? It is not just because they are happy.” Here he tapped the side of filled wine glass and showed us the spreading wave. “Because sound travels as a wave. The Swiss Jean-Daniel Colladon, 1841, Lake Geneva, sound travels over four times faster in water than it does in air.

And it bounces.  

If you hear a return echo, you will know you are about to run into something. You will know you are about to run aground. I have tested this. In a month, you may seek me out in Laguna, where I will demonstrate this for you with a most cunning device for underwater navigation.”

The Governor-General lifted the letter closer to his eyes. Lowering it, he glared at his aide. “Where is this Ibarra now?”

“With forgiveness, Your Excellency, it is said he is bound to San Diego for All Saints Day. There may be time to stop him, if it is your wish.”

“No… no, that would be too unmannerly. Let him be, until after the fiesta days. My curiosity is piqued, but to meet with myself as the representative of the Crown is meant to be a rare honor. This youth, if he is a charlatan or a spy, I will never forgive him.”

Tererro furrowed his brows. Who should he send in his place? If he were to send a representative of the Navy, already he could foresee that they might find Ibarra an insult – but if Ibarra could convince such a man of his good intentions, then there would be little to fear of his loyalty and usefulness to Spain.

On the other hand, a personal supporter would mean an invitation to prove himself worthy of the government’s favor, an approach likely to garner much more enthusiasm.

He thought back to those crewmen on the San Quentin and the Manila, who in their dallying for the formal ceremony allowed Germany to steal the moment from Spain. These islands bred sloth.

He scowled. His time was short. The priests all made noises here and in Spain about his liberal rule of the islands. He was a Mason, thus they would always be intractable to his reforms. He considered the letter in his hands again. He too could over-reach to his detriment.  Ah, if only he could be so tyrannical as they complained, if he were allowed to make this land as productive for Spain as he believed it could be… if only he could be sure his successor would not so easily overturn whatever reforms he cared to make.

After the dispute in the Carolines had been resolved peaceably, Spain had appointed Señor Posadillo over the Carolines island of Ponapé, or Isla Ascension in her maps. Capuchin friars were sent there to compete with the American Protestants for the native souls. How in July would he find that Posadillo had sent to him in Manila the chief American missionary, a Mr. E. T. Doane, as a prisoner!

Governor-General Terrero’s dull disbelieving gaze could not get any more jaded. This was not something that would ever make him happy, what had Posadillo expected? Terrero had to abase himself and apologize, and sent the American missionary back to Ponapé. There only to find that Posadillo had gone and compelled the chiefs to serve him as menials, for the natives to be formed into gangs and work as convicts, teachers were forbidden, and the priests all attempting to coerce the natives to accept their religion.

So much for trying to advance the glory of Spain.

In this life, he had nothing but to meet haughty idiots one after the other. He was in the end proud have to served Alfonso XII, but the king died tragically early just before the age of 28, soon after the Carolines affair. Now the king in Spain was officially Alfonso XIII, a one-year-old boy, with his mother Maria Christina of Austria serving as regent. The vultures circled. There would be no relief for him in the motherland.

He stared out past the waters, to the opposite bank, the only view to soothe his eyes but a thin park framed by a lightly wooded area. Malacañang was supposed to be only the governor-general’s summer home, when the heat became oppressive in Intramuros during the summer. Yet not since the earthquake of 1863 had the Government House been rebuilt, forcing Governor-Generals to perform official functions within this summer palace.

He closed his eyes and imagined looking past districts of Paco, and Malate, and into Manila Bay, past the ships at anchor to the empty horizon.

And from a distance, he could almost hear –

Behold you, the field upon which I grow all the… f—s… I may give. As you can see, it has become barren.

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