Non-Spanish, Non-Catholic Defenders of the Friars
The many good and enduring accomplishments of the Friars did not escape the attention of foreign visitors and historians. Many of them wrote favorable of the friars and defended them from the unjust treatment and comments that were heaped on them by critics. I would cite here praises for the Friars written bu non-Spaniards many of whom are not Catholics.
“With no oither arms but faith, the Religious Orders pacified and civilized the Philippines archipelago,” write Frenchman Jean Mallat who stayed in the Philippines for 6 months in the 1790 and traveled to many places in the islands.
Yale Historian, Edward Gaylord Bourne, in his introduction to the monumental 50 volume Blair and Robertson’s THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS praised the friars zeal and charity. “…it was the spirit of kindness, Christian love and brotherly helpfulness of the missionaries that effected the real conquest of the islands is abundantly testified by qualified observers of various nationalities and periods, but the most convincing demonstration if the ridiculously small military force that was required to support the prestige of the Catholic King. The standing army organized in 1590 for the defense of the country numbered 400 men.”
Sir John Bowring, a former Governor of Hong Kong, in his book on his travel and official visit to the Philippines in 1850 wrote his admiration for the intimate unity of natives and the Friars, and the absence of a caste in the country. “I have met the Friars who were the object of special respect and affection, and in fact they merited it as guardians and restorers of peace in the family, and as protectors of the children in their studies, and moreover for the labors they undertook in the welfare of their respective pueblos.”
The German Naturalist Jagor in his book “A Traveler in the Philippines”, “Spain belongs the glory of having raised to a relatively high grade of civilization, improving greatly their condition, a people which she found on a lower stage of culture distracted by petty wars and despotic rule. Protected from outside enemies, governed by mild laws, the inhabitants of those splendid islands, taken as a whole, have no doubt passed a more comfortable life during recent centuries than the people of any tropical country whether under their own or European rule.”
Frederick Sawyer, a British businessman who lived in the Philippines for many years including the decades of 1890’s, in his book “The Inhabitants of the Philippines Islands” heaped praises on the friars accomplishments in the Philippines. “Let us be just, what British, Dutch and French colony, populated by natives, can compare with the Philippines as they were in 1895,” he concluded his defense of the friars and Spanish rule.
In the first decades of the American rule when the Friar lands was a burning issue, Stephen Bonsal, a Protestant correspondent of the New York Tribune wrote an article in the North American Review defending the Friars. He mentioned the Friars role in the education of the natives, the churches, roads, bridges, and villages they built, the commercial plants they introduced, their work in agricultural extension, their services as soldiers. On the 10 million valuation of the Friars lands, Bonsal wrote: “There are half a dozen foreign firms in Manila without the knowledge of the people and the islands which the Friars possess, who have made as much as this out of the Philippines within the decade.” He did not cover up that the Friars, being men, had been swayed by human passions at times and, therefore they are not without stain. Nevertheless, his overall judgment of the Friars will be echoed by historians who cares to dig the truth. “But when time has calmed the controversy to which the termination of their mission in its medieval shape has given rise, it will be seen that under their guidance a large portion of the Filipinos have reached at much higher stage of civilization than has been attained by other branches of the Malay family under other circumstances and in another environment. I believe the work of the Friars is recorded in the golden book.”
It will surprise many Filipinos that during the American period, the most outspoken and spirited defenders of the Friars were American journalists Walter Robb and Percy Hill who were not Catholics. Robb came to the Philippines as a teacher but later gravitated towards journalism and became the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce. He wrote many articles about the Friars’ accomplishments in that history-minded publication.
On the other hand, Percy Hill came here with the invading army in the Philippine American war. He became a school teacher for a few years and then settled to a farm in Nueva Ecija where he became a big rice farmer. All the while, he wrote about the Philippines during the Spanish era. He wrote many articles on the Friars’ work in Northern Luzon, and was ahead of William Henry Scott and other historians in praising Fr. Juan Villaverde’s mission in Ifugao country.
Both Robb and Hill based their history articles on their readings of history in the National Library. Both are fluent in Spanish unlike today’s history writers whose articles are recycled history from shallow and distorted sources in English.
Undated article written by chemist and historian, Pio Andrade Jr. He sent this article to me last week. Posted here with his permission.