Crime and professions, 1919 | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Crime and professions, 1919

/ 05:30 AM September 06, 2019

I still cannot understand how the unreformed and unrepentant convicted rapist Antonio Sanchez almost walked out of prison recently. He was serving out multiple life terms; to a layman, that meant one sorry physical lifetime wasn’t enough for the heinous crime he committed. Yet he was processed for “good conduct,” even if he had not paid the indemnity due the family of his victims, and that was affirmed and added to by the Supreme Court. He was also caught with prison contraband twice, first for a TV set and second for “shabu” (crystal meth) hidden in an image of the Virgin Mary!

Life is truly unfair, and the system warped indeed. Reading up on Sanchez made me wonder if the crime situation was simpler a century ago. Many years ago, I read the published work of Dr. Sixto de los Angeles, who should be considered the Father of Philippine Forensic Medicine.


I first came across De los Angeles while researching on the mysterious remains of Andres Bonifacio, which were believed to have been found in Maragondon, Cavite, in January 1918. An assortment of bones that included a skull and mandible was examined by De los Angeles and two other colleagues at the Philippine General Hospital in April 1918. Their report described the victim and gave an estimate of gender, age, ethnicity and probable cause of death. De los Angeles cautiously stopped short of authenticating the bones as those of the Katipunan Supremo. The bones “disappeared” sometime in 1926, never to be seen again, because these would not have withstood closer scrutiny.

When I first laid my hands on De los Angeles’ work, I was attracted by the photographs of men lying on their backs holding strings, meant to illustrate the trajectory of a bullet. But it was his conclusions that were worth considering, because he listed specific causes of crime in the Philippines, such as: the mental constitution of Filipinos, which was said to be different from other nationalities; the amok, the origin of the phrase “to run amuck,” believed to be a Filipino or Asian trait that made them behave uncontrollably, disruptively or even murderously (when Juan Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law in a sensational case that rocked Paris in September 1892, one of the routes taken by his defense lawyer was that being an Asian, he was prone to “amok”); moral insensibility; an inclination to gambling; superstition; alcohol and opium use; and pauperismo, or poverty.


The doctor had a mass of data to support his conclusions. The most fascinating was a list of occupations of 2,520 criminals before their imprisonment as of Dec. 31, 1916. Except for a handful who could not be classified, the list included: 1 abogado/lawyer, 632 barbers, 515 obreros jornalero/laborers, 146 carpenters, 131 tenderos/shopkeepers, 108 escribientes/clerks, 82 cocineros/cooks, 51 comerciantes, 46 agricultores/farmers, 44 cocheros/coachmen, 40 sastres/tailors, 39 lavanderas/laundrywomen, 38 soldados/soldiers, 31 estudiantes/students, 29 marinos/sailors, 27 maquinistas/machinists, 27 sirvientes/servants, 24 panaderos/bread-makers, 19 tabaqueros/tobacco growers, or sellers, 17 pescadores/fishermen, 16 butchers, 16 musicos/musicians, 13 pintores/painters, 13 police (and 2 secret police), 10 telefonistas/telephone operators, 9 zapateros/shoemakers, 7 gardeners, 6 sombrereros/hatmakers, 6 sorbeteros/ice cream vendors, 5 bootblacks, 5 chauffeurs, 5 zacateros/grass vendors, 4 priests, 3 municipal treasurers, 3 despachadores/dispatchers, 3 relojeros/ watchmakers, 3 tenedores de libros/bookkeepers, 3 litografos maquinistas/lithographic press workers, 2 vendedores de periodicos/newspaper sellers, 2 soap makers, etc.

Reading the above list can be distracting not just for the Spanish terms, but for the fact that some professions sound quaint to us in the 21st century. Why are there six sorbeteros and only one abogado? How come there was only one of the following in prison: administrador, commercial agent, agrimensor/land surveyor, bordadora/embroiderer, cajero /cashier, calcetero/hosier, cigarero/cigar-maker, cirujano/surgeon, concejal/councilor, contador de cuentas/accountant, farmaceutico/pharmacist, engrasadores/greaser, impresores/printer, sanitary inspector, electrical inspector, milkman, periodista/journalist, portero/watchman, plantadora/planter, sillero /chair-maker, telegrafista/telegraph operator and vacunador/vaccinator?

Is one’s profession related to crime? Can the minute crime data for 1919 provided by De los Angeles, while now stale, still be of some use to help us understand and perhaps solve crime today?

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonio Sanchez, crime, criminals, Dr. Sixto de los Angeles, forensic medicine
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