settled areas of the lowland Philippines. During the following decades, however, the colonial partnership began to break down. Tensions developed into what became a complex three-cornered contest between royal administrators, the secular hierarchy, and the mendicant orders.
A number of the quarrels between bishops and colonial functionaries concerned abuses connected with the encomienda system. As the Dominican Bishop Andres Gonzales of Nueva Caceres remarked in 1687, exactions under this system had become oppressive and unjust, as neither the feudal holders (or encomenderos) nor the royal officials had acted fairly towards the natives. Though the encomienda system was formally abolished at the beginning of the eighteenth century, colonial officials continued to enforce the institutional structures that had sustained it for their own private gain. The Franciscan Manuel Matos, since 1754 Bishop of Nueva Caceres, became a particularly outspoken critic of exploitation of native labour by abusive encomenderos and colonial administrators, unfair commerce (for example, the compulsory exaction of produce from the subject people, often without payment), arbitrary taxation, and the suppression of basic rights.
Since the colonial government in the Philippines showed little interest in remedying the abuses, the only recourse for the indigenous people was to turn to the 'paternal protection of the ecclesiastics, particularly their bishops'. But as Danilo Gerona has pointed out, few bishops paid serious attention to the colonial abuses, and those who did were not opposed to the colonial institutions as such. Their interventions were simply intended to mitigate the oppression. Nor was the church itself as a colonial institution free from corruption. Some friars were accused of leading a 'princely life' at the expense of the indigenous Filipinos, something the increasingly hostile colonial officials were quick to point out. The bishops, for their part, 'apparently saw the need to consolidate their powers in view of the relentless abuses perpetrated by colonial authorities and the constant challenge they posed to the hierarchy'.7
One of the controversies in the early Spanish regime that profoundly affected the course of Philippine history involved a dispute between the bishops and the friars over the issue of canonical visitation. Since few Spanish secular priests were attracted to the Philippines, the regular clergy, who had arrived prior to the creation of the dioceses, had been drafted to serve as parish priests. Their dual status created an unusual situation: as friars, they were subject to the authority of their respective provincials, but as parish priests, they were under the authority of the bishop. The friars claimed that they should be exempted from episcopal visitation because they had come to the Philippines
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