America, Spain and the Philippine Census of 1903

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Sep 22 2018 05:47 PM

Respite from political commentary--how about a little bit of history?

It is a historical fact that when the metropole (the parent-state of a colony) over “Las Islas Filipinas” still resided in Madrid, there were laws and policies fashioned towards a more enlightened and progressive governance over the territories and subjects of Spain in the “Ultramar” (Overseas). It was supposed to have happened for the Philippines in the   latter half of the 19th century, but for the friars. 

Reforms, in reaction to human demands as well as to be in step with the modernizing world realities were indeed promulgated by the Crown of Spain. Unfortunately, distance and time--from the metropole to the colony--allowed the ecclesiastical and civil authorities  to set aside, disregard and disobey Royal decrees and dicta. The consequence for the ill-governed was an attempt at reform, first. And, failing that, ultimately there ensued rebellion, revolution and loss of the colony, eventually happening over time.

Such political gestation was impeded and frustrated by the personal and parochial interests mostly those of the “frailocracy.”  As a matter of fact, myriad historical instances where in most pueblos the power exercised by the ‘paroquia’ overshadowed that of the ‘tribunal!’ The reforms for human progress were inimical to the friars' personal and parochial interests, regarded by the cassocked villains an affront to their unabated exercise of power. Hence, there was concerted resistance to and disregard for whatever benevolence the Spanish Crown may have intended for her subjects. 

It appears that “Las Islas Filipinas” was not alone in this predicament. Such also was the situation prevailing in the Spanish colonies of  the Americas. The fruits of their reforms, achieved through rebellion, antedated the Philippine story. But throughout the Spanish colonies, most notably in the Philippines, there evolved a phrase social scientists refer to as “obedezco pero no cumplo.”  (I obey but I do not comply). Such was the apt description of the then prevailing local colonial attitude towards the rules of the Crown.  

Soon after the Americans came, to defeat Spain but also to frustrate the revolutionary and nationalistic aspirations of mostly the Tagalogs, there developed  incrementally endearment and admiration for the new occupiers, as instance upon instance of change continued to manifest attractively, within a considerable extent of the body politic. The advent of the “Americanista” had arrived.

The sudden removal of oppressive sacerdotal  authority over the people, concomitant with the total obliteration of “obedezco pero no cumplo” with America’s coming to Philippine shores, I would like to posit, was the unexpected and surprising epochal change that became highly welcome, accepted, embraced and admired by the oppressed Filipinos.

There was an unaccustomed display of efficient obedience, compliance and implementation by both the military and civil authorities to America’s declared “benevolent assimilation” and policy of attraction. Such was the intent as  formulated by President William Mckinley, the fact of which was impressedly communicated as widely as possible to the people. The people witnessed and experienced America. An apparent delight ensued.

The  installation of new municipal governments wherever feasible, with leadership chosen from the ranks of local principalia, along with the opening of schools, with American soldiers taking up classroom duties, were the most noticeable displays of American civic activism.   With the populace as the obvious beneficiaries,  knowing it and feeling it, a happening unencountered up to that time, cannot but inevitably dawn upon the Filipino that indeed a monumental political paradigm change has descended upon them. And that they were participants! An innate sense of gratitude on the part of the Filipino was naturally, equally on display.

I wish to think that the taking of the first modern day and scientifically organized census of the Philippines by the American administration in 1903 likewise caused a near indelible impact upon the growth and deepening esteem of the Filipinos for America. I look upon this event as a further entrenchment of that paradigm change.  

This event of census-taking appears to be the first time that there ever was a unified nationwide involvement of the citizenry in a concerted government activity. The Philippines was divided into 50 supervisory districts for such purpose. In January of 1903, to kick off the undertaking, there was a simultaneous gathering in every capitol, in the ‘kabisera’ of every province. It was a pre-launch briefing and orientation  for the Filipino governors (my count indicates there were already 30 such appointees, the rest were US Army office retirees who have taken up civil positions) acting as supervisors, as well as all the municipal ‘presidentes’, as mayors were then known. Present, too, were about 1,200  enumerators and dozens of special agents.  

The gathering and making available data and information as tools of governance would have been a memorable  historical moment to cherish, having never ever occurred before in the life of an aborning nation. The Filipino census-takers, as well as individuals and homes to be tallied, were all participants in this basic platform for the design of their future. They were told about it. They knew it. They felt it.

Public Act No 467 of the Philippine Commission: “An ACT to provide for taking a census of the Philippine Islands” was enacted on October 6, 1902  by authority of the United States. The Governor General was William Howard Taft, who became the 27th US President and 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  No one has ever held such distinction!

Act No. 467 provided for a “census of the population by name, age, sex, race or tribe,  whether native or foreign born, literacy in Spanish, native dialect or language or in English, of school attendance, of ownership of homes, and of industrial and social statistics for each province and municipality.”

As of March 2, 1903, the population of the Philippine Islands stood at 7,635,426. Under Spain, the first official census under a Royal decree was in 1877 when the population was estimated to be 5,567,584. It was followed in 1887 when the population had grown to 5,984,727.  These first attempts at nose-counting were in high probability assisted by guesstimates undertaken by the friars and some seculars based upon parochial headcounts of tributes, among other available statistics.

The report of the Philippine Census of 1903 was published in 4 volumes (with a total of 3,044 pages) under the auspices of the US Bureau of the Census in 1905. Vol. I: Geography, History;   VOL.  II: Population; Vol. III: Mortality, Defective Classes, Education and Families & Dwellings; and,  Vol. IV: Agriculture, and Social And Industrial Statistics.

Without it being so stated in Act No. 467, I view the main objective of the census to be in  fact the  pursuit of  the American commitment for the democratic tutelage and preparation for  self-governance of the Philippine Islands. The Census Act stated that “two years after completion and publication” there shall be called a  “general election for the choice of  delegates to a popular assembly of the people,” to be known as the Philippine Assembly. It was to consist of “no less than 50 but no more than 100 members, apportioned among the provinces according to population.”   

The very first such election was held on July 30, 1907 to fill  80 seats. The Philippine democratic project had commenced with honorable men. Soon after, the zarzuela of Philippine politics has never been wanting for amusement.  

By the way, as of September 19, 2018, the Philippine population stood at 106,846,866 per United Nations estimate.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.