Noli Interlude – The Lieutenant 01

Despite his advanced age and pure Spanish blood, Guevarra was only a Tiniente in the Guardia Civil, a fact which even the mestiza Doña Victorina felt safe to disdain. Even so, some people had to be wary, for this was a man who had the ear of the Governor-General himself. And so as the feast drew to a close he was asked to forgive Padre Damaso’s outburst.

Three in particular –

First; the priest’s outburst that it is the right of religion, and his right by extension, to cast out heretics. The government has no right to deprive him of this. This was a forgivable insult to the privileges of the ruling class, for it was the wont of priests to always complain. Excommunication was the one weapon the Church had against the instruments of state.

Second; his outburst calling the Governor-General the ‘Calamitous General’, referring to his campaign against Datu Uto in the Rio Grande in Mindanao and his combative stance against the monastic orders. This was a personal insult. His Excellency would simply shrug it off. Only old women cared for salacious gossip.

And third; his outburst that “What King? What nobody? For us there no king but the legitimate –“ was part of the rallying cry of the Carlist movement, refusing to recognize Ferdinand VII naming Isabela II as the heir instead of the nearest male heir, Don Carlos de Borbon, who felt robbed of his rights as the long-standing heir presumptive. This sparked a civil war that lasted 40 years and would continue to be the movement that carries Spanish traditionalist thinking even well into the next century.

Their movement would later be buoyed by the sweeping liberalization that nonetheless would lead Spain into losing all her colonies and ceasing to become a World Power upon the boots of the United States.

Now such talk, this was nothing short of treason.

But instead “I regret such a promise, the sherry had gone to my head as surely has it had gone to Padre Damaso,” Tiniente Guevarra replied. “I know how to keep my word when it does not stain my honor – I am not nor have ever been an informer! That is why to this day I only wear these two stars.”

Such a scrupulously honest man, and yet also powerless to stop the less orderly habits of others wearing the garb of the Guardia Civil. Thus for his face and his uniform, there would be many to think of him as only evil. Tiniente Guevarra did not make any lavish displays of devotion towards God, for he knew in his heart he avoided sinning, but then more would think this painted him less virtuous.

Tiniente Guevarra and Don Rafael Ibarra were kindred souls in this manner, who sought to harm none and did not ask much from God. God had placed them onto the Earth to struggle, but had also given each person the strength to overcome.

As the party wound down and the Tiniente prepared to leave, he was approached by Crisostomo Ibarra. “The hour grows late, sir. Would you mind I walked with you to your home?”

“As it is a weekday, I make the barracks my home. Even at my age I am still a soldier of Spain, young Ibarra. I am not so infirm as to need an escort through the streets.” His voice was only mildly chiding.

“No, no, I would never imply such of a veteran, Señor! I only mean that we could talk about our common interests while we walk.”

“And what would our common interest be, young Ibarra?”

“Justice. Justice and my father.”

Tiniente Guevarra sought Cristostomo Ibarra’s face for any signs of falsehood, and after a few moments assented.

———

They walked down the street known as the Sacristia in those times, because of the entrance to the Sacristy of Binondo Church that faced this street. In the future it would be known as Ongpin Street, for Don Roman Ongpin, the Chinese businessman that financially supported the Philippine Revolution and Aguinaldo’s army even during the American Occupation.

The night breeze through Manila was unusually cool. At that time, Manila was still called the Venice of the East, for its many canals and boats, when the word estero still meant a navigable estuary instead of a black and lifeless sewer outlet. The cobbled streets were empty of people, and only weakly lit by the orange glow of street lamps.

“I can hardly believe that you know so little about your father’s matters.”

“If I had only known, I would have abandoned everything to rush home. But in the last letter from him that I had received… he told me he was not going to write to me further for some time, for he would be very busy. He blessed me and only urged me to continue my studies… ” Ibarra’s voice hitched “He blessed me, and told me not to give any mind, that my studies would be the most important task I could do this life. It has been a year…”

“Well then, it seems he wrote that letter before he died.  Soon, it shall be a year since we buried him at his hometown.”

“He wrote that letter in prison, and I was *ignorant*.  Capitan Tiago has said he would speak of the details of my father’s death only on the morrow, but discreetly I have learned he died in prison. Why was he in prison? I cannot believe my father would ever commit a crime.”

The old man stroked at his graying goatee and after a while spoke “While in truth, a man such as your father is wealthy enough never to need to resort to any misdeeds, even as he was loved and respected by many, such wealth also invited the hatred and envy of many.

We Spaniards who have come to the Philippines are not as we should be. Instead of living as examples to follow, we soon find ourselves corrupted in the country. Here the dregs of the peninsula can come, made easy by the shortness  and cheapness of transport, and find themselves petty rulers. A man so willing to participate in favoritism and fraud can easily find himself wealthy and respected beyond what he could ever gain in the homeland for his own lack of useful ability.

Your father had his own rigid code of morality, and it was this that made him many enemies among the Spaniards and the natives.”

Tiniente Guevarra recounted the conversations he had with Don Rafael. The man did not go to confession, for he believed that recounting one’s sins to a priests and paying for alms and masses and having the priest bless him with forgiveness was not sufficient contrition and would not absolve anyone of sin. He would prefer to redress the hapless widows and crying orphans left by, for example, a murder. It was foolishness to try and salve sins in any way except than to pay it to the ones injured.

He sought to efface himself with good deeds and in some way to compensate the evil that was done by his own grandparents. The wealth of the Ibarras was gained in blood and unfair dealings, much like other new Spanish colonists who, freed from the censures of the peninsula and seeing that the brown-skinned peoples were powerless before them, soon gained an appetite for abuse and aggrandizement.  Indeed, it could even be said that it was the marriage to a wealthy mestiza, that it was that indio blood that tempered the blood of Ebarramendia into Ibarra, down but two generations producing a Don Rafael Ibarra who tried to live virtuously amidst the great wealth and debts owed to his family.

Such a life however also made him appear more aloof and arrogant, and lacking mutually beneficial friendships with the players in the game, upon seeing weakness how enemies suddenly bored out like worms from the woodwork!

“There was a man who was going around collecting dues from vehicles. He was a Spaniard, an ex-artillery man expelled because of his brutality and ignorance. But as a Spaniard, he too had Our Prestige to consider, and was not allowed to perform undignified manual labor. He did not know how to read or write, and to the indios a Spaniard who was not literate was a unique figure of laughter derision. They would give him papers unintentionally upside-down, and he would sign blank spaces with scrawls representing his signature, and knowing he was being made fun of did not improve his mood any whit.

At that time he was turning over and over a paper he was given at the shop, trying to make sense of it, and a troop of schoolboys passed by and laughed pointing at him. He lost his patience and chased after them, all the while the boys while fleeing shouting merrily ‘ba be bi bo bu’, for even they understood the phonetics behind letters. Blinded by anger, he threw his cane , and happened to hit and wound the head of one of them. He caught up with the boy and began kicking him into the ground and none watching had the courage to intervene.

It so happened that your father was passing by. Indignantly he took hold of the collector’s arm and began to scold him. Seeing red, the collector made as to hit your father, but with his own strength your father gave him no chance. Some say he hit the collector, some say he merely pushed him away; but what happened is that the man tottered back and fell, hitting his head upon a stone. Your father took the wounded child and took him to the courthouse. Of the fallen ex-artillery man he gave no mind, but he died soon after.”

“I see,” said Ibarra, “if it is accidental, then it cannot be murder, for murder requires intent. Yet a man has died, and I believe that my father would not consider it right that he simply be given leave for his money.” The young man looked pensive, and Gueverra wondered if his kindness would be superior even to his father, for with the slight scowl on his face the young man seemed to find his father’s actions lacking.

Would he have seen it fit to try and save both?

“Indeed, for as soon as your father was put into prison, enemies came out and rained calumnies upon him. He was accused to being a subversive and a heretic. Now, being called a heretic is bad enough in a province where the alcalde makes a show of being pious- but a subversive is worse than even killing three tax collectors who do not know how to read or write. Everyone deserted him, and they collected his papers and books and used them against him no matter how tenous the connection.

He was accused to subscribing to the Correo de Ultramar, and of newspapers in Madrid, of sending you to Swiss Germany; of having in his possession papers, letters and photograph of a priest sentenced to death-“ perhaps one of the three priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, accused of being part of the 1872 Cavite mutiny, they were executed through garrote, a slow and torturous end “and I don’t know what else. His character they even impugned for wearing the barong despite his heritage as a peninsular – even humility and frugality became a sin in their eyes!

Had your father been anyone else, he would have soon been released. But his wealth, his confidence in justice and the hatred of anything not lawful lost him his cause. At your father’s behest I approached a famed lawyer, and though he took charge brilliantly and masterfully the case, the accusations and false witnesses were without number. As he cleaned one for their contradictions, another would appear.

The accused your father of having unjustly appropriated large tracts of land, that he had rapport with the tulisanes for the protection of his crops and animals, and many demanded from him indemnification for damages and losses, that they would no longer have to pay to him the debts they owed. Such was the matter gone so embroiled that even the alcalde had to leave his post, and his replacement who was reputed to be righteous stayed only one month, and the his successor loved good horses too much.”

The Tiniente raised his gnarled hands to the air and shook it at the moon. “And yet – and yet – when it was all about to come to close and he was about to be acquitted of the false charge of being an enemy to the motherland… the suffering, the frustration, the sight of so many liars and ingrates corroded his health… and he died there, alone, with no one to tend to him.”

The old man went silent. They had walked far. They were in sight of the barracks.

“I should have been here,” said Ibarra.

“You had no way to know, and your father did not want you to know. Young Ibarra, in this you are blameless. And I must warn you, not to be unwise. For in the face of the law, no one is responsible for your father’s death… instead, they would mock you, for if truly he was an innocent man, he should have survived.

There is no one you can accuse, and to pursue each false witness would tie you up in court even more, such a greater waste of good money I cannot say exists.”

Juan Crisostomo Ibarra nodded. “I know. How I know! There is no justice in the courts, and vengeance is no justice.”

“I cannot tell you what to do. You must ask Capitan Tiago for the details, now I must see if anything has happened here in my absence. Be well, young Ibarra!” They clasped hands, and bade each other farewell.

Ibarra stood alone by the streets for a long while, long enough that a passing robber might consider him a fair mark – even more so since he was within proximity of the Guardia Civil, for in that time no greater brigand existed in those islands.


Back | IndexNext

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *