Phillipine Tax Resistance from the Revolt Against the Tribute to Today

In the course of an editorial in the Manila Standard Today, Francisco S. Tatad gave this summary of tax resistance history in the Philippines:

In , the provinces of Cagayan, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur rose in revolt over unjust taxes and the alleged abuses of tax collectors. In , several provinces, which had expected a reduction, if not an outright removal of taxes, refused to pay taxes to the Emilio Aguinaldo government. In , Cory Aquino threatened Marcos with civil disobedience after losing the snap presidential elections that February. However, she scaled down her call for civil disobedience to a mere boycott of the products of politically tainted “crony corporations.”

The action seems to be known as the “Revolt Against the Tribute,” the “Dingras Revolt,” or the “Ilocos Norte Revolt.” In my casual googling I’ve only found sketchy outlines of this revolt: apparently the fed-up people of the area killed six (or maybe twelve) would-be tax collectors, and the government, in order to quell the rebellion, pardoned the rebels and reformed the tax system.

The book Census of the Philippine Islands has some context for the revolt. The government of Spain had recently finished taking control of the Philippines, and had divided the islands up into repartimientos — “a royal grant by the King to a subject of a certain amount of land with its native population, with the right to collect from these the tributo and to enjoy under certain restrictions the benefits of their industry… large bodies of Indians were let out and worked practically as slaves… [under] the name encomiendas.” Many of these repartimientos and encomiendas were given as booty to members of the conquering Spanish military.

The restlessness of the natives under the system was shown in many ways. They frequently abandoned their villages, where the tributes and forced labor were exacted with rigor, for other regions or islands. This fact would explain in many cases the sudden decrease in population of certain shores and provinces after occupation by Spaniards.… Their grievances appear, also, in the frequent risings which occurred in . For example, revolts were almost continuous during the year . Governor Santiago de Vera, who arrived the following year, brought orders from the King for the reform of the system and punished certain encomenderos… but, in spite of reforms, in , the natives of Pampanga and those of Manila confederated with Mohammedan Malay traders from Borneo and planned to fire the city and destroy the Spaniards. Both coasts of the island of Sámar and the island of Leyte were again in disturbance. Here the Indians had been incensed by injustice in collection of tribute, which was paid in wax, the weight being determined with a false steelyard. They drove the encomendero from the island, and he narrowly escaped with his life, fleeing in a banca to the island of Cebú. Three years later, the island of Leyte rose again, and in , Cagayán flamed into rebellion, and in the town of Dingrás, Ilocos, the natives rose against the collectors of tribute and slew six Spaniards of the pueblo of Vigan.

The book quotes Philippine bishop Domingo de Salazar’s letter to the King of Spain in which he complained that natives were being tortured or sold into slavery for failure to pay tribute: “They even collect tribute from infants and aged and the slaves, and many do not marry because of the tribute, and others slay their children.”

David Prescott Barrows’s A History of the Philippines goes into a little more detail about the mechanics of the tribute. The local town leader was responsible for collecting it, and would be thrown in the stocks and tortured if he didn’t come up with the loot (if he tried to flee, they’d take his family instead). Barrows amazingly follows up his history up to this point by concluding:

Doubtless if we could see the whole character of Spanish rule in these decades, we should see that the actual condition of the Filipino had improved and his grade of culture had risen. No one can estimate the actual good that comes to a people in being brought under the power of a government able to maintain peace and dispense justice. Taxation is sometimes grievous, corruption without excuse; but almost anything is better than anarchy.

The tax revolt I’ve mentioned in an earlier Picket Line entry. I’ll have to do some research at some point into the use of tax resistance and/or boycotts of state-granted monopolies in the movement against the Marcos dictatorship later on.