What we call human rights today, Isabelo de los Reyes, Sr., father of the late Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Church, called natural rights. He wrote a lot about such rights, and he wrote with special passion because he himself and been victimized by the colonial government’s scandalous abuse of these rights.

A few days after Rizal’s execution, Don Belong’s house was entered in the middle of the night without warrant, and he was arrested at his dying wife’s bedside without court warrant order; he was then imprisoned without due process, held incommunicado in solidarity confinement without benefit of council, detained for five months in Manila; deported to Spain in leg irons, and held prisoner another five months in Barcelona – all without trial or conviction of any crime. And although he was not tortured like many of his cellmates, he was at lease a victim of other men’s torture, for it was Malacañang’s policy to torture prisoners until they signed dictated confessions implicating other persons. So Don Belong himself had been falsely implicated by the forced confession of a 60-year-old Filipino priest beaten into submission in the Vigan Seminary.

One of Don Belong’s strongest statements on human rights appears’ not in any of his political tracts, but in his La Region del Katipunan, his first book after his release in January 1898. This is because Don  Belong considered human rights not civil rights but divine rights.  He believed that true religion requires “loving, love of Mankind, Labor, and Science.” And he believed that lack of liberty results not from impotence, but from cowardice. This is what he said:

In the Philippines, whenever they call at our door, our hearts pound in terror for it seems sure that they come to carry us off to deportation or to the cemetery; despite our absolute innocence, or no to violate our wives and daughters in our very presence or to destroy or despoil the fruits of long years of workhard saving.

Oh, death is a thousand times preferable to this sort of life full of anxiety and injustice. And yes, so long as there are foreign masters over our people, it will always be like this.

And this same thing happened in all the countries ofEuropeand of the whole world wherever there was cowardice in the people. For if the people, who constitute the greater majority refuse to suffer injustice, how could tyrant fail top be confined within the limits of justice?

We must therefore have the courage to defend the natural liberties, which God has given us, if we do not wish to bequeath to our son’s slavery fraught with cruelties and villainy, and of the abuse of their persons and wives and our wives and daughters.

Don Belong wrote these words in July 1898 soon after General Aguinaldo had declared nationalIndependenceback in thePhilippines. Don Belong was hoping against hope that theNorth Americainvaders who had just landed would recognize it, too. But he had already predicted, a month before the War actually broke out, thatAmericawould invade the archipelago and that Filipino forces would not be able to resist without Spanish aid. It is in this context that we must read Don Belong’s next words:

Whether our national independence is achieved or not, we must exert ourselves and force our rulers, whether our own or foreign, to recognize our individual liberties, both freedom of expression, conscience, and assembly, and all those rights of a free man, and the inviolability of the home, correspondence, and personal liberty so long as no delict or crime is proved against us.

Two years laters, when President Aguinaldo was penned up on the East Coast of Luzon in Palawan and a new empire was overrunning Filipino soil, Don Belong understood an aspect of human rights and liberty he had not thought of before. On November 10, 1900, he published an article in his own paper, Filipinas ante Europa, called “Now begins our economic slavery.”

The imperialists need to open new railroads, bridges and highways for their military plans (Mr. Taft says explicitly that they will be constructed “for military purposes”) and to cure their numerous ailments like dysentery and anemia due to impoverished Philippine climate, they need to establish a summer resort in the mountainous region of Benguet; naturally many thousands are needed for these projects, which the Treasury of the United States ought to bear since, after all, it is they who need these military highways and sanitarium.

But as always happens, all the benefits are for the master, and all the sacrifices for the slave; consequently, the Filipino people will be the ones to pay for all this; and as soon as the cow gives more milk, it ill have to cover the cost of the Army and Yankee employees, too.

A few months later, Aguinaldo took the oath of allegiance to the United States, armed struggle ceased in Northern Luzon, and guerilla leader Gregorio Aglipay surrendered, joined the Federal Party, and accompanied American Governor Taft on a tour of the Ilocos. Don Belong therefore closed out his interests in Madrid, printed the last issue of Filipinas ante Europa, completed a translation of St. Mark’s for the British Bible Society, and headed home to see if economic slavery could be mitigated by training his sights on new targets. He arrived in Manila on Thursday, October 14, 1901, and was interviewed by the Manila Times that same evening. The results were published on October 19 under the heading, “Interview with the Filipino agitator and editor de los Reyes.” Included was the following exchange.

When queried as to what he believed are the real desires of the majority of the intelligent Filipinos regarding the policy to be pursued and the form of Government to be adopted for the Philippines, Señor Reyes was emphatic in declaring for absolute independence… As to what returnAmericashould have for all the money and life which have been expended he, he suggested large concessions… As to the question of coaling and naval stations and certain forts for theUnited States, Señor Reyes was in doubt whether these might be compatible with the Filipinos’ ideas of complete independence.

Many of Don Belong’s countrymen did not see the connection between human rights, economic slavery, and foreign military bases.


Author: WILLIAN HENRY SCOTT,  history professor at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary,Quezon City.

This article was first published in the WHO magazine,Nov. 17, 1979. Vol. 11. No. 33.


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