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The truth about the encomienda (FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES’ 3rd anniversary special)

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I didn’t know that my accidental discovery of La Laguna province’s foundation date was going to dance with controversy. Instead of receiving magnanimity from the powers that be, it was, sadly, received with vehement opposition.

First, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) contended that 28 July 1571 should not be recognized because on that date, La Laguna was founded not as a province but as an encomienda. I told them that it should not be made an issue. There is no question that La Laguna —now referred to simply as Laguna— did not begin as a province on that date, but the NHCP had overlooked what a foundation date really is. My argument is really simple: when La Laguna came into being. Not as a province per se, but as La Laguna itself.

Up to now, nobody knows exactly when La Laguna became a province. Ron Yu, the editor of the coffee table book that I’m writing about the province, theorized that it could have been 1581 when Bay was made the first capital of La Laguna (many in the provincial capitol, including yours truly, agree with him). But the problem is that there is no exact date. Nevertheless, whether we have an exact date or not, it will NEVER negate the fact that La Laguna already existed prior to 1581. Oddly, concerned individuals over at the NHCP either fail to understand this or they simply don’t want to accept it.

In the end, when they could no longer withstand the strength of the logic of what a foundation date really is, one of them found a loophole: that it would be unpatriotic if Lagunenses will choose La Laguna’s foundation as an encomienda simply because this system connoted slavery! Yes, this gentleman mentioned the word slavery. And he crumbled right before my very eyes.

But did the encomienda really connote slavery? Let us first study the background of the problem.

What is an encomienda?

In elementary and high school classes, Filipino students are generally taught that an encomienda was a piece of land given to a Spaniard for a certain period of time. Included on that land are the indios (natives) who were the original settlers. The receiver of the encomienda is called an encomendero. The encomendero had the right to exploit the natives for labor but without enslaving them.

Unfortunately, it is hardly taught that an encomienda was a quid pro quo affair. What is hardly taught these days is that it was the duty of the encomendero to:

1) protect the natives from tribal enemies
2) to educate them, i.e., to teach them the Spanish language, and
3) to indoctrinate them into the Christian faith.

To wit, an encomienda was a legal system employed by the Spanish crown during the colonization of the Americas to regulate Native American labor. And this system was later applied to the Philippines.

Hardly slavery.

In this scheme, the Spanish crown grants the encomendero a specified number of indios (for a limited time period) for whom they were to take responsibility by accomplishing the aforementioned duties. That is why it is called an encomienda in the first place: it is from the Spanish verb “encomendar” which means “to entrust”. In return, the encomendero could extract labor from their wards in the form of labor, gold (if available), or other products (mainly agricultural produce). There was, therefore, a mutual obligation from both encomendero and indio.

What should be firmly noted in this system is the existence of the aforementioned mutual obligation between the encomendero and his subjects. In the first place,there would be no encomienda at all without either of the two parties involved. At the onset, pre-Philippine societies were not yet organized into township communities, i.e., they were not yet set up in a way the Spaniards had wanted them to be. These communities were small and scattered. Many were forest dwellers. And those living in river and lakeshore communities were not as compact as well. Naturally, it took some time and effort for an encomendero to organize the indios in his encomienda in order for the mutual obligation to materialize. Thus, it is safe to say that the encomienda served as the prototype (or it laid the groundwork) for the reducción, at least in these islands.

Important note: this is not to say that the encomienda preceded the reducción. In the early years of Spanish rule, both encomienda and reducción have taken place at the same time. But in Laguna, this seemed to have been the case.

To wit: the distribution of land during the early years of Spanish rule had to start somewhere, and that was done through the encomienda system. The encomendero was also required to support the missionaries and to train the indios assigned to him how to grow various crops and raise farm animals. Through the encomienda system, the indios learned modern farming methods. Through the encomienda system, the carabao was imported from Vietnam to facilitate rice farming. All this stimulated modern agriculture.

This is not to say that the encomienda system was perfect. Did it become corrupt? Yes, but not to the extent which ultranationalist anti-Hispanics wanted it to appear in our minds. True, abuses and corruption did take place (that is why the friars later on opposed it). But which regime on Earth at any point in history was considered heaven? And if we are to compare the encomienda system to our modern political landscape, the encomenderos of yore would have looked like saints compared to our politicians today.

For the sake of argument, let us say that the encomienda was filled with nothing but hardship and suffering for our indio ancestors. Should we still consider 28 July 1571 as La Laguna’s foundation date? Of course. In the case of La Laguna and 28 July 1571, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should come to mind. “The thing speaks for itself.” It doesn’t matter anymore if the encomenderos were drunkards or rapists. What is written on paper (i.e., the chart where the foundation date of La Laguna appears) should still be recognized and respected and should not be mixed with opinionated bull.

It’s like this: suppose that a man was the product of rape, why should he be disallowed to celebrate his birthday?

Anyway, back to the encomienda. The creation of provinces did not happen overnight. It had to evolve. And it did evolve from the encomienda. And even if the encomienda system did not become corrupt, it would have been abolished, nay, replaced in the first place. The encomienda was the basis for the creation of provinces. If not for the encomienda, there would have been no provinces in the first place.

In closing, subscribing to the leyenda negra will never do us anything good at all. Hating everything that Spain did to us only harms all the more. Ultranationalism is the problem here. It leads us to blind hatred. Attacking our Spanish past is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. For good or for worse, the encomienda is part of our history, and is already history. It helped create modern Filipino society.

But to these NHCP historians, the encomienda system was bad, bad, and bad. The Spanish colonization of the Philippines was bad, bad, and bad. It makes me wonder why one of them still uses the surname Encomienda. He should change it to, perhaps, Lapu-lapu or Gat Páñguil.

Or Datu Putî.

Aw, shucks. Good vibes, Pepe… it’s FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES‘ third birthday today! 😀

16 responses »

  1. When the ilustrados, despite being creoles, decided to pin our national identity to the indio, they were simply following the tunes of the times. The Americans pinned their identity to the indian brave, the Mexicans to the Aztec. What they failed to realize is that centuries from then, the belief system that will be brought about by their revolution would make Filipinos think they are indios.

    The encomienda system was actually the feudal system (political system of military alliances) and manorial system that prevailed the structure of the world when the conquistadores arrived in the islands. According to a historial writer named Nakpil, it is said that even Spain wasn’t “Spain” when the conquistadores landed in the Philippines but rather the Kingdom of Castille and Aragon, the future nation of Spain that will still within it’s medieval ages. And in this feudal system, the serf wasn’t a slave of the manor but rather working the Lord’s estate in exchange for military protection, food, clothing and shelter. The Feudal System (or encomienda system) was the response to the Dark Ages when money and commerce ceased to exist. Sustenance all came from the manor and life revolved around it when the first Europeans landed in the islands.


  2. Bravo Pepe bravo.Ya era hora que aguien educara a esos politicos ignorantes que estan en permanente borrachera ideologica americanizada.


  3. The truth about the encomienda system:IT IS USED TO EXPLOIT THE NATIVES BY BRAINWASHING THEM. There are some Hispanistas feeling wannabe who are suffering from Stockholm syndrome—OPEN YOUR MIND PEPE TO THE TRUTH!


  4. It can be argued that encomienda was used to exploit labor and further expand Spanish control but we need to look into the transformation that took place during that period. The Spaniards along with the Indio later on built communities that thrived at the end of the nineteenth century. We’re also looking at the beginnings of the transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming. While it can be argued that there were abuse and cruelty, these were never prevalent, otherwise, the natives would never been converted. Also, we have to look back and understand that of all people, it was the Spaniards that halted slavery. And we’re not talking of them possessing slaves and giving them up, we’re talking of native Filipinos being forced to give up theirs.


  5. The Philippines was not a conquered nation. The Spanish didn’t come with an vast army like what most Filipinos think. The Philippines evolved from the feudal kingdoms that dotted the islands. In the feudal fashion that governed global structure then, the Castillians entered into military alliances with the Rajahs, often following the local custom of “sanduguan”. The Castillians intermarried with the nobility (Maharlika) for political purposes, a practice common in feudal Europe. Among those born out of this political marriages was Agustin de Legazpi, grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and nephew of Lakandula. With the introduction of European feudalism to the islands, the kingdoms simply evolved into encomiendas. The rajahs became vassals of the King of Castille and Aragon by promising the nobility protection from the “the most powerful king in the world”. Throughout the Spanish era, the Maharlika (prehispanic nobility) never lost their estates or status. To this day, Manila High Society bears the names of Pangilinan (PLDT), Macapagal, Soliman, Gatmaitan, Liwanag, etc.

    Having said this, there was no such thing as Spanish or Filipino during the era of encomiendas. Both conquistador and maharlika exploited the serfs or the alipins, your modern day indio. In the modern context of a “nation”, we butchered our own indios. The Spanish didn’t exploit Filipinos but rather the “mayayaman” (conquistador and maharlika) exploited the “mahihirap” (alipin or indio). By the time of Rizal, the war wasn’t between races but rather the reactionaries to progression and the progressives. His characters in Noli Me Tangere consisted of peninsulares, creoles and indios on both sides. On the good side was Crisostomo Ibarra the creole, Elias the indio, Teniente Guevarra the peninsulares while on the bad side was Damaso the peninsular, Victorina the indio, and that peninsular tax collector who couldn’t read.


  6. It is written with logic and common sense. Pepe Alas was looking for a founding Date of Laguna and he found it. But since it was founded as an “encomienda” some “historians” dont want the date because to their mind the ENCOMIENDA is something repugnant.

    I will copy here sopme notes about the Encomienda taken from a book called SOBRE UNA RESEÑA DE LA HISTORIA DE FILIPINAS, UST Press, Manila, 1906. In its Chapter two it says and I copy:

    “Tratándose de encomenderos, nos place citar la Ley 1, Titulo IX, LIbro VI de la Recopilación (de las Leyes) de Indias que dice: “El motivo y origen de las encomiendas fue el bien espiritual y temporal de los indios, y su doctrina y enseñanza en los artículos y preceptos de nuestra santa fe católica, y que los encomenderos los tuviesen a su cargo y defendiesen a sus personas y haciendas procurando que no reciban ningún agravio”…(página 11, op cit)

    Y en la La Ley III del mismo Libro y Titulo se ordena: “Los encomenderos negligentes y descuidados en poner la debida y necesaria diligencia y cumplir su obligación, no procurando ni teniendo ministros para la doctrina y administración de los Sacramentos a los indios de sus encomiendas y que no han provehido suficientemente sus iglesias y ornamentos al culto divino necesarios, ni han satisfecho a los ministros su trabajo, según lo exprsado en las leyes de este libro, declaramos que, además de haber estado y estar en culpa muy grave, son obligados a restituir….”

    “Y declaramos que los encomenderos deben pedir y procurar con toda diligencia ministros religiosos o clérigos, cuales convenga, y proveerlos de convenients estipendios para su congrua sustentacfión, y de lo necesario al culto divino, ornamentos, vino, cera al parecer y disposición del diocesano…

    A part of the Explanatory Note of these legal provisions on the Encomienda says: “De todo lo cual resulta que los deseos de los manarcas españoles, al repartir en encomiendas las tierras conquistadas, NO ERAN tanto PARA PREMIAR el valor y méerito de los conquistadores, cuando atender como soberanos y PROTECTORES al BIENESTAR de los mismos INDIOS. Los encomenderos al hacerse cargo de sus encomiendas contraian la obligación de mantener los pueblos de su demarcacfión en la obediencia debida al Rey y sus representantes; debian defenderlos de la tirania de los caciques (nativos), civilizarlos e instruirlos enla verdadera religiónpor medio de los Padres Misioneros a quienes los dueños de las encomiendas habian de mantener y asistir a sus expensas.”

    Of course there were abuses on the part of a few encomenderos with the padres misioneros in open oposición to such abuses and in defense always of the native Indio. That is why, nobody should say these abuses were general because in reality, these abuses WERE NOT GENERAL in nature among ALL the encomenderos. That is why Padre Concepción in his “Historia General de Filipinas” writes: “No faltaron hombres justos entre los encomenderos…saliendo en defensa de los padres misioneros, sin los cuales no dudaban afirmar que ninguno seria capaz de recoger los frutos de sus encomiendas sin la ayuda de los padres misioneros….”

    It was the 1905 National Census book, in two volumes, written and published under the then American Military government that RE-WROTE the history of the Spanish Encomienda here in RP to blacken Spain before the unwary new generations of Filipinos just to justify their own take-over of these Islands from the Filipinos who organized the 1898 República de Filipinas under Presidente Emilio Aguinaldo. That explains why the mention of Laguna as being initially founded as an encomienda triggers oposition from preent day historians who should know better and not rely on the American 1899 invaders’ “willful revision” and “deliberate distortion” of RP history. It is about time that the true history of the Filipino people known by present day Filipinos from their original sources and not rely upon the American “war propaganda” that is being made to pass today as the history of the Filipino nation. Guillermo Gómez Rivera


  7. Hi, Mr. Alas, nice information to learn about here. Anyway, we heard that you were blocked or suspended from facebook, is that true?? We heard stories that you tried to illegally take over a group and then harassed users there…because I received a lot of complaints about you


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  9. This was extremely helpful to me! I’m doing a debate and I’m a ”con”, and I thought it was impossible to find facts about the Encomienda System not being a form of slavery! But I have found it and I’m overfilled with Joy! Thank you!


  10. Alfred Simbulan Sr.

    Let’s get the historical facts straight. No more cover ups! We live in the age of information. Its time to know about our past as they happened.

    The Encomienda System was a Slave Patent. its jurisprudence is traceable to Pope Nicolas V when he issued Papal Bull Dum Diversas. in 1452. Today US Supreme Court Jurisprudence has termed this Papal Bulls along with other similar Papal Bulls as the “Doctrine of Discovery” and countries like Britain, Canada and Australia still use this as basis in settling aboriginal and ancestral claims).

    At any rate, Dum Diversas directed Portugal to seek, conquer and confiscate all lands, properties that were non-Catholics and to “enslave their people in perpetual slavery”. Spain and eventually all major European Powers (Portugal, Britain, France, Sweden, Germany). followed this directive. This Papal Bull ushered the period of Colonialism from the 14th to the 19th Century in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

    To codify this, Spain issued El Requiremento 1513, which was to be read to all non-Catholics before they were enslaved (never mind if they didn’t understand Spanish). To put in practice the Vatican order, lands and people conquered in Northern, Central and Southern America and eventually in the Philippines was divided among the conquerors who were categorized into four: the Crown, the Conquestadores and Civil Servants, the Religious Orders and the native leaders who assisted them. Those who were given this special privilege of being granted slave patents were called the encomienderos.

    Because Spanish Crown looked at this undertaking as instructions from God, as they were now the new Chosen people of God (the popes decreed that Jews had lost this distinction for killing Jesus Christ and also ordered their perpetual persecution…to live in ghettos, wear distinctive clothes, pay special taxes and tributes etc) they worded the Encomienda System euphemistically. The “assignment of slaves” to an encomiendero was called the “assignment of souls” which they were to save by converting them to Catholicism and instructing them in religion. In return they could do anything with these slaves to enrich themselves and to satisfy their sexual urges. Non-royal encomienderos were given three lifetimes with these privilege allowing their sons and grandsons to be encomienderos before all the descendants of the slaves they owned returned to the king.

    The encomienda system turned out to be disastrous in the Americas. In a span of only 50 years, 80 percent of all American natives died (from brutalities and European disease) forcing Spain and European powers to kidnap and ship through African Chieftains and Slave Raiders 15 million African Slaves using the Spanish Asiento System. Only 10 million African slaves reached the Americas. The other half died in the voyages where they were packed like sardines or in the slave collecting forts where they were domesticated with the whip and terror to obey. The most celebrated case was in Hispanola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) where Columbus was made the Governor and chief encomiendero. Of the 3 million souls assigned to him and his men barely 100 survived after 40 years. Documents of his brutality have recently been rediscovered in the Spanish archives. At any rate the Encomienda system was applied in the Philippines where 35 percent of the population died in only a span of 30 years based on Spanish Census. It was finally abolished in the 17th century in favor of the hacienda/corporate farming system which was also brutal and exploitative. Spanish Friars managed to own 166,000 hectares of these haciendas in Central Luzon, Rizal, Manila and Southern Tagalog making them the main target of the Philippine Revolution..

    I hope you do not believe me and check out the historical facts. I am confident, you will reach the same conclusions and have a deeper understanding of our past.


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