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The story behind the assassination of Fernando Manuel Bustamante

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Earlier today, in Palacio de Malacañán‘s official Facebook page, the below post was published:

#todayinhistory — On August 9, 1717, Fernando Bustamante y Rueda assumed his post as the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines. He stirred trouble with the religious orders and also with the archbishop, which lead to his assassination by mob.

I just find it irritatingly odd that instead of commemorating the reforms and projects of the Bustamante administration since today is the anniversary of his installation as Gobernador-General de las Islas Filipinas, Malacañán’s Facebook handlers found time to instead harp on the governor-general’s assassination. Shouldn’t they have, instead, posted the above info on the anniversary of his death which falls every 11th of October (1719)? Because it’s more timely that way. And is the assassination the only thing our historians remember about Bustamante? Furthermore, how much do we even know about his character?

The said Facebook post has garnered several shares already, not to mention eliciting another round of those now classic “frailocracy at its finest” and “Padre Dámaso” comments. Open-minded people will then start to wonder if the said post was meant to make people not really to remember but to  “keep on hating”. And when you ask these anti-Catholic bashers (deplorably, many of them are Catholics themselves) what’s the real score behind the assassination, they will not be able to provide a decent answer.

So what’s the real story behind this infamous scene in our history? Let us now hear it from historian extraordinaire, Nick Joaquín:

What’s often cited against the 18th century are grisly happenings like the killing of Governor Fernando Manuel Bustamante — happenings that seem to indicate a priest-ridden society still groping about in the Dark Ages.

Bustamante was a reform governor (1717-1719) with good intentions but a violent temper. He used the militia to terrorize the public. He filled the jails to overflowing but his prisoners were not all government crooks he had caught; some were people who merely disagreed with him. When he jailed the archbishop of Manila, it provoked a demo.

Angry mobs marched to the palace waving banners and crucifixes and yelling: ‘Church, religion, and king!’ They were met on the palace stairway by Bustamante, who wielded a gun in one hand, a sword in the other. ‘Death to the tyrant!’ shouted his visitors, rushing up the stairs. The governor plunged his sword into the first body to approach him and then could not pull out the sword fast enough to drive back those who were surrounding him. He was cut down with dagger and spear. A son of his who came to his rescue was likewise stabbed to death.

The mob then stored Fort Santiago and released the imprisoned archbishop. The prelate would assume the governorship, as interim head of state. He decreed a pension of a thousand pesos for the family of Bustamante but the widow rejected it.

Me, Juanito, and Krystal at the foot of the massive EL ASESINATO DEL GOBERNADOR BUSTAMANTE Y SU HIJO, an oil on canvas completed in 1853 by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo y Padilla, at the National Museum (photo taken on 10/30/2012 by my wife).

Out-of-school Nick had poured over first source materials and had made researches in various libraries and archives. He had spent so much of his time in such places more than any schooled historian that I know of. And since Spanish was his language, it was easy for him to decipher the “encrypted stories” about our country’s oft-misunderstood past. That is why the PhDs and the MAs of the world fear and respect him. And that is why I trust him more about the Bustamante story more than anyone else’s version of it, most of which are twisted anyway.

To continue, the cause of Bustamante’s assassination was not exactly done out of religious sentiments. In a time when there were still no senators nor congressmen, when the political climate was still different, it was actually the Church who served as the “opposition” against a form of governmental setup that had all the potentials of turning into a dictatorship. Although violent and bloody, the demo against Bustamante was our country’s first dealings with democracy.

The happening is ugly but what caused it can be equated with the system of checks and balances, a beautiful feature of democracy. Because of the distance of Manila from Madrid, the Spanish kings were persuaded to grant their Philippine royal governors almost absolute powers. In effect, the executive was also the legislative and the judiciary. He headed army and navy. And he was answerable only to the king.

Against this potentate, the only checks and balances were provided by the Church, principally the friars, who served as the opposition. The opposition was sometimes “holy”, as in the friars’ campaign against the abuses of the encomenderos, and sometimes “unholy”, as in this killing of Bustamante — though we should remember that, before the fatal demo, the governor had called out and sicked his vigilantes in public.

So much slur has been thrown at those hated Spanish friars. Bashers don’t even think that if such events did not happen, who would have stopped potentially abusive government leaders? To wit: it was the opposition (friars) who acted against the majority (encomenderos) on the continued implementation of the corrupted encomienda system. And how come I don’t see anyone praising the friars for this? Why the double standard?

Anyway, good ‘ol Nick concluded Bustamante’s assassination story with this…

…the point here is not interference between Church and State, but the natural feud between government and opposition. It’s like the clash between King Henry II of England and Archbishop Becket, with the difference that in the Philippine case it was the King Henry who got slain.

Just a piece of advice: read widely and think critically to avoid bashing benightedly.

8 responses »

  1. Pingback: Padre Damaso and the Online Bashers | Judica me, Deus

  2. Wow that is nice in fact I commended you and the Maestro Nick for shedding light on this subject.

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  3. Congratulations and kudos to José Mario “Pepe” Alas for bringing out the truth behind the so-called assassination of Governor General Bustamente. As usual it is the English mis-educated PINOY historian that usually continues with the unfair and deliberate distortion of events in our history with the only aim of painting black the Spanish friars. At his late age, it is about time we outgrow this kind of stupid, lying and utterly useless kind of propaganda that maskquarades as “Philippine history”. Let us take note. Those who dislike the idea of teaching Spanish to the Filipino of today is from the US WASPos and their vile local lackeys who distort our history and culture.
    -Guillermo Gómez Rivera

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  4. Thanks for the enlightening post. This painting has always been overshadowed by the Spoliarium which shares the same hall, but in my last visit I finally took more notice of it and wondered about the circumstances behind the assassination. The guide practically hailed Bustamante as a hero and martyr for standing up against abusive friars to his death, so this take by no less than Nick Joaquin is an eye-opener.

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  5. There is documentary evidence that Bustamante was not killed by the friars but by his treasurer who was involved in a corruption case. He took advantage of the tumult to kill the governor-general.

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  6. John Christian Canda

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