The Philippines Under Spanish Rule

3 March 2017

As a crown colony, the Philippines was administered by the Council of the Indies. Even so, the Spanish officials in the Philippines were appointed by the King of Spain, who issued Royal orders and decrees dealing with the proper administration of the colony. In 1863, the Philippines, as a colony, was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Colonies or Overseas Ministry (Ministerio de Ultramar). In order to make the administration of the Philippines efficient, the Overseas Ministry was advised and aided in its work by the Council of the Indies.

The Central Government In organizing the central government of the Philippines, the Spanish authorities saw to it that they would be guided by their experience in Mexico and South America. Consequently, many features of the government established in these countries were adopted in the Philippines. Like Mexico and Spanish America, the Laws of the Indies were applied in the Philippines. Some Spanish laws were likewise adopted, like La Novisima Recopilacion, Leyes de Toro, And the Siete Partidas. Thes laws,as well as the Laws of the Indies, were humane, however, most of them were not even enforced in the Philippines.

The Spanish colonizers organized a highly centralized form of government. By this, it meant that the central or national government was so powerful that almost everything had to be done with its knowledge and consent. The central government was headed by governor and captain-general, or governor-general, who was appointed by the King of Spain. As governor-general, he was the King’s official representative in the colony. He possessed vast executive, legislative, and judicial powers. There were, however, only two branches of government: the executive and the judicial.

There was no legislature or congress because the laws for the Philippines were made by the Spaniards in Spain and, to a certain extent, by the governor-general himself. He issued orders with the force of law, which were called superior decrees. On the other hand, decrees or orders coming from the king of Spain were called Royal decrees or orders. The governor-general was the president or the presiding officer of the Audencia. He was also the vice-royal patron in the Philippines. As the King’s representative, he could appoint minor officials in the government, including the parish priests.

He was also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Combining all these powers, the governor-general was truly a powerful official. This power was best shown in the right of cumplase bestowed upon him by the King. The cumplase was the right of the governor to suspend the operation of a Royal decree or order relative to the Philippines if in his opinion, he said order or decree would not be beneficial to the administration of the country. The usual formula in exercising the right of cumplase was “I obey but do not comply”. The Audencia

The judicial powers of the government were exercised by the Audiencia and the lower courts. The Audencia was established in the Philippines in 1583 to administer justice to the aggrieved people in the colony. Governor Santiago de Vera was its first president. The Audiencia was the highest court insofar as civil and criminal cases brought before the Audiencia by the governor. In the absence of a governor or when he could not perform his duties, the Audiencia exercised political and administrative powers. It also audited the finances of the government.

Some powerful persons in the colonial government were against the Audiencia because the population of the Philippines was still small to justify having an audiencia. Also, the natives were very poor. This being the case, the Audiencia was a financial burden to the king of Spain. Because of this opposition, the Audiencia was abolished in 1589. In its place, a council composed of 400 members headed by governor-general was created. This council, however, was unsatisfactory to many because of its many members. So the King ordered the re-establishment of the Audiencia in 1595.

However, it actually carried out its function in 1598 when it was inaugurated. Local Government Under the central government was the provincial government. Pacified provinces, which were already recognizing the authority of Spain, were governed by civil provincial governors. Those that were not yet fully pacified and conquered were ruled by military officers. The provincial governor was called alcalde mayor . He was appointed by the governor-general. His salary was small but he could collect a part of the tribute to increase his income. What made him rich and powerful was the right given to him to engage in trade.

This right was called indulto de comercio . In almost all cases, the provincial governor abused this power so that he committed graft and corruption. It was later abolished in 1844 because the alcalde mayor abused his power to the extent of scandalizing the Spaniards. Another anomalous practice was the provincial governor’s role as judge of the province. Since many abuses were committed by the governor-judge, in 1886, the King ordered that the provincial governor should remain as judge only. Another man was appointed as provincial governor whose main duty was to administer the province.

Under the provincial government was the municipal government. The town or municipality, composed of several barrios, was headed by the gobernadorcillo (little governor), also called capitan municipal or simply captain. Today, he is called mayor. The gobernadorcillo was elected by thirteen electors who were prominent in the town. Six of these electors were former cabezas de barangay ; six were actual cabezas de barangay, and the thirteenth elector was outgoing capitan. The one selected as gobernadorcilo had to be approved by the Spanish friar-curate. If approved, his name to the office of the governor-general in Manila for final approval.

The capitan was aided in the administration of the town by deputies called tenientes, a chief of police, and subordinate officials called aguaciles. The City and its Government During the first century of Spanish rule, there were only two cities: Cebu and Manila. As conquest and settlement continued, the Spanish officials created one city after another. By the seventeenth century, the Philippines had six cities : Cebu, Manila,Vigan, Nueva Sigovia (now Lal-lo Cagayan), Arevalo (now part of Iloilo City), and Nueva Caceres (now Naga). The city, then and now, was the center of social, commercial, religious, and cultural life.

Its government was different from that of the town. It was called ayuntamiento, equivalent to today’s city hall, and consisted of two alcaldes, twelve regidores (now called councilors), a chief of police, a city secretary, and few other lesser officials. Each barrio or barangay of the town was headed by cabeza who did not receive any salary. However, he was considered a member of the taxes collected in his barrio. Also, he was considered a member principalia or the aristocracy, together with the town mayor and other municipal officials. As a former maharlika, who ruled the barangay as datu. at, or lakan, they given economic and political privileges.

Residencia and the Visita Because of the abuses committed by many Spanish officials, who were sent to the Philippines, the King and ministers of Spain introduced two institutions: Residencia- was the public investigation and trial of outgoing colonial official in order to ensure whether they had committed abuses in the performance of their duties. Visita- was a secret investigation of an official’s conduct as a public servant. Its purpose is to ensure that the official will work honestly and efficiently as he was expected to do.

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