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Looking Back
Murder in 1719

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:30:00 10/15/2010

Filed Under: history, Conflicts (general), Churches (organisations), Government, Arts (general), Painting

CONFLICT BETWEEN Church and State has been around since Spanish colonial times. The governor general and the archbishop of Manila did not always see eye to eye. There are a handful of interesting episodes in Philippine history that should make their way into our textbooks and our consciousness. Unfortunately, some people prefer that children are not taught disagreeable things like: the use of ?Comfort Women? by the Japanese, the atrocities on civilians during the Philippine-American War, or even the negative aspects of the martial law years. Censorship occurs even in parts of our lives outside the authority of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).

In art, there have been groups against the realistic depiction of the human form. Nudity, even in the pastoral, sun-lit canvasses of Fernando Amorsolo, is an abomination to these people. Then you have censorship based on themes like violence and murder. This explains why one of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo?s masterpieces was kept from the public for most of the past century since it was painted.

Hidalgo (1855-1913) was trained in Europe and made his mark for ?academic? paintings depicting scenes from Ancient Rome. His 1884 work ?Virgenes cristianas expuestas al populacho? (Christian virgins exposed to the mob) was conferred a silver medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1884 where Juan Luna was conferred a gold medal for the ?Spoliarium.?

Hidalgo painted scenes from early Philippine history like ?The Defeat of Limahong? and the controversial ?La iglesia contra el estado? (The Church against the State) whose original title was deemed too controversial that he changed it to the more specific ?Assassination of Governor Bustamante.? This painting was never exhibited in Hidalgo?s lifetime, and was kept rolled up in the care of his family. On the prodding of then First Lady Imelda Marcos, the painter?s nephew Felipe Hidalgo allowed its first public exhibition in the National Museum in 1974. Then it remained rolled up in storage until 1989 when it was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum by National Artist Leandro V. Locsin. Then it was returned to storage, until the Locsin family decided to share this great painting with the public through a long-term loan to the National Museum where it now hangs in the same hall as Luna?s equally moving ?Spoliarium.?

Fernando Manuel de Bustillo Bustamante y Rueda was governor general of the Philippines from 1717-1719. He was not well-liked because he tried to increase government revenue by strict tax collection and by stopping the leakage from graft and corruption which, then as now, is a life-threatening job.

Then he got into a tangle with the Church over the issue of sanctuary. In those days, anyone who fled to a church for refuge was given sanctuary. This meant that the police could not forcibly take the person out of the church unless he or she was surrendered by Church authorities. To cut a long story short, the crisis led to Bustamante ordering the arrest and imprisonment of major religious personalities, including Francisco de la Cuesta, the archbishop of Manila then. Thus a crowd was mobilized into an early exercise of ?People Power? long before the events of Edsa 1986. The main difference is that Edsa saw little or no bloodshed at all. But in 1719 the church bells rang, the crowd moved and later turned into a mob that stormed the Governor?s Palace in Intramuros. It?s best to return to the primary source account in Volume 44 of what historians know as ?Blair and Robertson? to see what happened next on that bloody evening of Oct. 11, 1719:

?The Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians came out from their convents, each as a body, carrying in their hands crucifixes and shouting, ?Long Live the Church! Long Live King Felipe V!? They were joined by people of all classes and proceeded to the Church of San Agustin.

?The governor who was roused from his sleep and informed of the arrival of the mob sprang up and ordered the guards to keep back the crowd. He dispatched an order to the fort to discharge artillery at the crowd; but he was so little obeyed that, although they applied a match to two cannons, these where aimed so low that the balls were buried in the middle of the esplanade of the fort.

?Without opposition, this multitude arrived at the doors of the palace. As for the soldiers of the guard, some retreated in fear, and others in terror laid down their arms. The mob climbed up by ladders and entered the first hall, the halberdiers not firing the swivel-guns that had been provided, although the governor had commanded them to do so; [the governor] attempted to discharge his gun at a citizen standing near and it missed fore; then the governor drew his saber and wounded the citizen; the latter, and with him all the rest, at once attacked the governor. They broke his right arm, and a blow on his head from a saber caused him to fall like one dead.?

Bustamante?s son tried to intervene and was also killed that night. When Antonio Ma. Regidor commissioned Hidalgo to paint this scene from Philippine history, the mob became a pack of friars. Go see the painting in the National Museum; be moved, and think of other episodes in our history missing from our textbooks.

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