Martin de Rada’s compaint letter against the extortions and unjust collection of tributes

The Augustinians and Guido de Lavezares

When the Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi died, a box of pliegos which contained the list of his successors was opened. The number one appointee was the former master-of-camp, Mateo del Saz but this had died in Mindanao in April, 1567. The next on the list was Guido de Lavezares, the treasurer of the expedition and companion of Legazpi since the day they sailed out of La Navidad. At the time of Legazpi’s death Lavezares was in Cebu as governor of the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines. Although of advanced age, (he was with the Villalobos expedition thirty years before), he was still quite strong and he had the wisdom and prudence gained through age and experience. He came to Manila to assume his post.

The Augustinians had by this time taken charge of the pacified sectors of the country. They had put up doctrinas or small settlements for recently Christianized Filipinos, and mission sites or reducciones for non-Christian natives. For their fast conversion the Holy See granted them certain religious exemptions and privileges.

As usual there were anuses from the soldiers, Spanish and Europeans – most of which fell under extortions and unjust collection of tributes. P. Rada on June 1, 1574 sent a letter of complaint to Governor LAvezares asking him to write to the King and give His Majesty a true account of what was being done in the Islands. P. de Rada himself sent the following letter to the Viceroy on June 24, 1574.

Martin de Rada: Defender of the Natives, his letter to the

One reason for the tribute is pirates

“My Lord – Your Lordship has requested my written opinion on the affairs of this land so that you may do whatever is necessary for the better service of God, of the King and of our conscience. I reiterate what I said yesterday in Oton. That it would be best to hold a meeting of all the priests here so that we may confer on the affair of this land and till then there should be no changes so that the Indians shall only pay a tribute of seventy gantas of rice and one blanket per head. You also know that many of the priests in their sermons, confessions and conversations, rightly objected to the tribute so that I feel that this meeting is necessary. All the priests here have told me that it is their opinion that Spaniards hve no right to these lands because although in general there may be many just motives for war still war may not be carried out without an express order from the King. And since the King has never ordered us to make war for in a letter addressed to the late Governor, which I have read, he says that he wishes us to act in friendship, it follows that any armed conquest made in these islands is unjust even though we may have had cause to make war. Furthermore, there has hardly ever been just cause for we have gone everywhere, soliciting friendship and tribute and even where tribute is promised we have made war when they do not give as much as we want and where tribute is refused we have burned and killed as is now the case in the towns of Camarines where the Indians for fear of us have fled to the hills for we have burned their houses and caused much damage. I will not speak of the towns that we have raided without warning, for what right do we have to subject them and to collect tribute from them, specially where we have s yet rendered them no service in exchange for their tribute? What right do we have to ask Ilocos to pay us three measures of gold without further parley? This we have also done in Camarines and Cuyo and in all other towns that are at some distance from our own. Is it not clear that this is not just? Hence, he who sends the soldiers, he who commands them, the soldiers themselves, those who share the booty with the soldiers, those who aided them and those who do nothing to stop them although they are able to do so are all guilty and are jointly and severally bound to restitution. As regards the Indian towns next to our own, although it is true that we protect them and preach the Gospel to them still they have their own grievances for we make use of them in our many voyages and whereas they were free they are now vassals. Furthermore, we do not give them as much protection as we should for there are as many pirates as before and they are subjected to raids from the Indians who are still not pacified. The fact that His Majesty ordered that the land be distributed is not good enough in conscience for His Majesty is ill-informed and many things were done against his will and even in those cases where we agreed that encomiendas should be given we did so only to avoid greater evils.

The Injustices of the Spanish soldiers according to Martin de Rada, 1st Prior Provincial of the New Augustinian Province

“Besides, the Indians now pay three measures of gold which is excessive as we who deal with them and are acquainted with their hardship well know for they are compelled to eat roots and hardly have clothing so that rather than pay tribute, they often destroy their houses and hide. In other cases, tribute must be collected by force of arms. Oftentimes, they hold the Indians prisoners to compel to pay. The priests are, therefore, of the opinion that under present conditions, each Indian should pay in food or clothing only to the value of one measure of gold as was done in new Spain. As time goes on, perhaps, they may give more. However, since they have already paid more that is due nothing further should be collected from them especially because we have acted without justice. Since you want my opinions, I believe that since we defend this land and reside here, Your Lordship and his Captains must send to the King true accounts of what has been done here and how we are collecting the tribute so that the King may do what is proper and in the meantime the tribute should be reduced and those of us who have something should share it with those who have nothing so that we may deserve this tribute. Your Lordship should protect the natives, doing justice, redressing their grievances and putting down the pirates and we in turn shall preach the Gospel. I sign this opinion in San Pablo, Manila, June 21, 1574.

(SGD. Fray Martin de Rada)

Lavezares wrote to the King on the 17th of July, 1574, giving his own opinions on the tribute. The letter gives a picture of conditions in the country a few years after the conquest, and also a brief but interesting history of the first explorations from island to island prior to the landing at Cebu.

You Majesty – I believe that when Father Martin de rada, Provincial of the Augustinians, wrote his opinion on local affairs and on the tribute paid by the natives, he did so having in mind only the service of God and the good of our consciences. However, even the best minds sometimes err either through excessive zeal or even through ignorance. I would like to point out a number of things in his opinion, which I believe would cause grave damage to our interests here. On the basis of your letter borne by Captain Juan de Isla he holds Your Majesty to be ill-informed. This is an error on his part because what you say in your letter is merely what you said before when you first had news of our affairs. You were advised that the late Governor Legazpi entered into friendly terms with the natives. Thus when we first landed in the island of Ibabao, the Indians came and we made friends with them and we gave them food, merchandise and other things without asking from them anything in return. The same was done in the Calayan River where Captain Andres de Ibarra and Fr. Diego de Herrera went. We made peace and we took nothing from them. As a matter of fact, although a number of the natives of Ibabao killed Francisco Gomez and one other Spaniard, even then, we did not make war on them. Legazpi went from island to island inviting the natives to be our friends and waged war on no one. Thus in Bohol the principal natives came willingly to our vessels and promised to be your vassals. From Bohol, we sent Captain Juan de Isla and the said Father Provincial to Butuan. From Butuan they went to Cebu where they parleyed with the natives from the ships but the natives showered arrows on the vessels. Seeing this, Father Andres de Urdaneta told the men that since the Cebuanos were apostates, it was lawful to make war on them and so we did.

                The Governor then built his capital in Cebu and while there, many of the Indians of the surrounding islands and even those of Cebu itself agreed to be Your Majesty’s vassals without the need of war but merely by speaking softly and giving them presents of clothing, merchandise, food and other things. When these friendly Indians were later raided by other Indians we protected them. All these we have repeatedly told Your Majesty.

                Fr. Rada states that we have no just title to this land. We are not lawyers. All we know is that we have come here in obedience to your order. That is sufficient for us.

                As far as the robberies and damages are concerned, we are not to be blamed because on repeated occasions the natives have made war on us especially in Manila. When Martin de Goite first came to Manila he entered into a treaty of friendship with the Rajahs of Manila. However, despite this, the natives tried to finish him off for no reason at all and they fired at his vessel with five or six cannons so that the Spaniards in self-defense were compelled to attack the town. We later burned it purely for our own safety. The very natives have later admitted that it was they who began hostilities.

                It is true that we have raided towns but we have done so only in the case of such towns as revolted against Your Majesty’s authority for it was necessary to humble their pride for the greater safety of the friendly Indians. While obviously excesses were committed this should not be held against all of us because your Governors have in every case tried to conform to your Majesty’s order. And it is the natives who are be blamed for the damages caused for they have made war on us with ambushes and stratagems and if we went about unarmed, they could capture us and torture us to death, so that it is necessary for us to be always ready to use force. Before we came here, the natives were prone to kill each other for light motives and we have to adapt ourselves to these conditions. I agree that it is only fair that the natives be protected and dealt with justly and so we defend all friendly towns near us not only from external raids but even from internal troubles. Hence, peace and order have improved greatly and the natives may now trade without hindrance or fear of robbers. Whereas, there used to be banditry, now there is security and the pirates have been pushed back to those parts where we are not. These pirates do little harm for we capture and punish them and even now some of them are our prisoners here in this City so that as time goes by the damages they cause shall diminish.

Ilocos and Camarines are rich in gold

We have collected large amounts of gold as tribute in Ilocos and Camarines without benefit to the natives but you must understand that in order to eat we need to be supported by the natives. Furthermore, we cannot protect them unless they first pay tribute. Even then, we only get what they are able to give without hardship and they pay in much coin or merchandise as is available to them so that some provinces supply us with food, others with wax, others with whatever they have. Ilocos and Camarines have paid their tribute in gold because they more of god than of clothing and food which are harder to come by there than elsewhere so that those natives prefer to pay their tribute in gold rather than in food or supplies. So far we have not settled those provinces because we lack men. And even so, Captain Juan de Salcedo is now in Ilocos and has founded a town there with a priest to preach to the natives. We have not yet settled Camarines because we discovered the land only a short while ago but we shall settle there as soon as possible.

Early Filipino customs in the Visayas

In so far, as the alleged excessive tribute is concerned, please note also the provinces here differ in wealth, some being rich and some poor, some abound in farmers, others in merchants, others in mines and others in robbers. With this in mind, the late Governor Legazpi assessed the tribute of the towns around Manila Bay at two bushels of palay and one colored blanket, two yards long and one yard wide per year or if they so prefer to give three measures of gold or such other equivalent merchandise as they may want to give. In fact, this tribute amounts to six reales of silver every year for a measure of gold is worth two reales or at most two and one-half reales. Your Majesty will see that this tribute is moderate for it does not amount even to one-half of that paid by the Indians of new Spain and this is the tribute levied on the Muslims here for they are men of means with farms and merchandise and wealth, so that in four days they may earn enough to pay the tribute for one year.

Expensive cost of living: Reason of the demand of tribute

The Indians have many sources of income and thus they have much gold and jewels so that the principal natives wear on their person in jewels alone ten to twelve thousand ducats of gold aside from their lands, slave and mines and even the individual Indians carry on their persons bracelets of gold, so much so that even slaves wear jewels. It is false to say that the poverty of the Indians is such that they have to eat roots. The truth is that is their custom on certain months to eat camotes[1] and sago-bread and that it is not because they lack the means but because they eat all kinds of food and they would rather spend their time drinking in feasts than in walking four leagues out of town to buy rice[2]. Even then, this happens only in some of the Visayan Islands. Please take into account also that sometimes the natives, as a sign of mourning, abstain from eating rice so that in certain parts of the Visayas they other grains, fish, pork, chicken and many varieties of liquors. That does not mean that they are poor for they have gold, slaves and land and while they have less than natives of Luzon it is because they work less. We have taken this into account so that the Visayans only pay one-half bushel of palay and one grass blanket for their tribute and we have assessed every province in accordance with their means. So far, their tribute is so moderate that it can be easily paid because with our coming the natives are more prosperous than ever.

                It is not true as Father Rada says that a tribute of one measure of gold is sufficient. Even now we find it hard to live with a tribute thrice as large especially those of us who are entitled to collect tribute from only three hundred Indians or even five or six hundre Indians. Only those are well-off who are entitled to collect a thousand tributes. Things here are very expensive. A pair of shoes is worth one-half tael of gold which is equivalent to the tribute of eight Indians. A shirt is worth six pesos and everything else is worth twice as much as in New Spain, so that if the Indians pay only one measure of gold which is two reales for their tribute we would be unable to live here. Take note of the fact that the natives are wealthier than those of New Spain for they have clothing, silk and cloth of gold, fine porcelain, spears, pottery, daggers, bells, earthenware and other chattels as well as food that comes from irrigated lands as well as wines that they manufacture from palms and nipa as well as wax, gold and cotton from which they make blankets. Also, the Chinese bring them silk, porcelain, perfumes and iron, so that it is easy for the natives to pay their tribute, and if some of them refuse to pay it, it is not because of a lack of means but rather of a lack of wish to do so. It sometimes happens that when some of the Indians are drunk, they threaten us and refuse to pay tribute. If some of them go about without clothes it is not because of lack of clothes because they have clothes.

Consequently, although the Father Provincial and other priests may have a good intention their opinion, if followed, would prejudice these lands and the natives because if tribute is not paid, the Spaniards will go about stealing as they used to do. It is best for all concerned that tribute be paid, thus we have now greater security and trade is benefited.











Before me, Fernando Riquel

One of the first critics of LAvezares was also an Augustinian, P. Francisco de Ortega, OSA. This friar who so held Legazpi ni sich high esteem could only find weakness in Lavezares. On the 1st of June, 1573 he wrote a parecer to the Viceroy Martin Enriquez in Mexico telling His Excellency:


[1] If he was talking about customs, in Cebu this is still popular in the month of November or the celebration of the All saints day. And even in Holy Week, root crops are basically cooked. Is this how the missionaries adopted to the custom of the early Filipinos?

[2] Is this a typical custom of Filipinos that they prefer to drink maybe alcohol, which tuba is already available?

Source: Maza, R. Morales. Augustinians in Panay. Iloilo: University of San Agustin Press, 1987. pp. 84-95.