Vox populi, vox Dei
We left Isagani haranguing his friends. In the midst of his enthusiasm an usher approached him to say that Padre Fernandez, one of the higher professors, wished to talk with him.
Isagani’s face fell. Padre Fernandez was a person greatly respected by him, being the one always excepted by him whenever the friars were attacked.
“What does Padre Fernandez want?” he inquired.
The usher shrugged his shoulders and Isagani reluctantly followed him.
Padre Fernandez, the friar whom we met in Los Baños, was waiting in his cell, grave and sad, with his brows knitted as if he were in deep thought. He arose as Isagani entered, shook hands with him, and closed the door. Then he began to pace from one end of the room to the other. Isagani stood waiting for him to speak.
“Señor Isagani,” he began at length with some emotion, “from the window I’ve heard you speaking, for though I am a consumptive I have good ears, and I want to talk with you. I have always liked the young men who express themselves clearly and have their own way of thinking and acting, no matter that their ideas may differ from mine. You young men, from what I have heard, had a supper last night. Don’t excuse yourself—”
“I don’t intend to excuse myself!” interrupted Isagani.
“So much the better—it shows that you accept the consequences of your actions. Besides, you would do ill in retracting, and I don’t blame you, I take no notice of what may have been said there last night, I don’t accuse you, because after all you’re free to say of the Dominicans what seems best to you, you are not a pupil of ours—only this year have we had the pleasure of having you, and we shall probably not have you longer. Don’t think that I’m going to invoke considerations of gratitude; no, I’m not going to waste my time in stupid vulgarisms. I’ve had you summoned here because I believe that you are one of the few students who act from conviction, and, as I like men of conviction, I’m going to explain myself to Señor Isagani.”
Padre Fernandez paused, then continued his walk with bowed head, his gaze riveted on the floor.
“You may sit down, if you wish,” he remarked. “It’s a habit of mine to walk about while talking, because my ideas come better then.”
Isagani remained standing, with his head erect, waiting for the professor to get to the point of the matter.
“For more than eight years I have been a professor here,” resumed Padre Fernandez, still continuing to pace back and forth, “and in that time I’ve known and dealt with more than twenty-five hundred students. I’ve taught them, I’ve tried to educate them, I’ve tried to inculcate in them principles of justice and of dignity, and yet in these days when there is so much murmuring against us I’ve not seen one who has the temerity to maintain his accusations when he finds himself in the presence of a friar, not even aloud in the presence of any numbers. Young men there are who behind our backs calumniate us and before us kiss our hands, with a base smile begging kind looks from us! Bah! What do you wish that we should do with such creatures?”
“The fault is not all theirs, Padre,” replied Isagani. “The fault lies partly with those who have taught them to be hypocrites, with those who have tyrannized over freedom of thought and freedom of speech. Here every independent  thought, every word that is not an echo of the will of those in power, is characterized as filibusterism, and you know well enough what that means. A fool would he be who to please himself would say aloud what he thinks, who would lay himself liable to suffer persecution!”
“What persecution have you had to suffer?” asked Padre Fernandez, raising his head. “Haven’t I let you express yourself freely in my class? Nevertheless, you are an exception that, if what you say is true, I must correct, so as to make the rule as general as possible and thus avoid setting a bad example.”
Isagani smiled. “I thank you, but I will not discuss with you whether I am an exception. I will accept your qualification so that you may accept mine: you also are an exception, and as here we are not going to talk about exceptions, nor plead for ourselves, at least, I mean, I’m not, I beg of my professor to change the course of the conversation.”
In spite of his liberal principles, Padre Fernandez raised his head and stared in surprise at Isagani. That young man was more independent than he had thought—although he called him professor, in reality he was dealing with him as an equal, since he allowed himself to offer suggestions. Like a wise diplomat, Padre Fernandez not only recognized the fact but even took his stand upon it.
“Good enough!” he said. “But don’t look upon me as your professor. I’m a friar and you are a Filipino student, nothing more nor less! Now I ask you—what do the Filipino students want of us?”
The question came as a surprise; Isagani was not prepared for it. It was a thrust made suddenly while they were preparing their defense, as they say in fencing. Thus startled, Isagani responded with a violent stand, like a beginner defending himself.
“That you do your duty!” he exclaimed.
Fray Fernandez straightened up—that reply sounded to him like a cannon-shot. “That we do our duty!” he repeated, holding himself erect. “Don’t we, then, do our duty? What duties do you ascribe to us?”
“Those which you voluntarily placed upon yourselves on joining the order, and those which afterwards, once in it, you have been willing to assume. But, as a Filipino student, I don’t think myself called upon to examine your conduct with reference to your statutes, to Catholicism, to the government, to the Filipino people, and to humanity in general—those are questions that you have to settle with your founders, with the Pope, with the government, with the whole people, and with God. As a Filipino student, I will confine myself to your duties toward us. The friars in general, being the local supervisors of education in the provinces, and the Dominicans in particular, by monopolizing in their hands all the studies of the Filipino youth, have assumed the obligation to its eight millions of inhabitants, to Spain, and to humanity, of which we form a part, of steadily bettering the young plant, morally and physically, of training it toward its happiness, of creating a people honest, prosperous, intelligent, virtuous, noble, and loyal. Now I ask you in my turn—have the friars fulfilled that obligation of theirs?”
“Ah, Padre Fernandez,” interrupted Isagani, “you with your hand on your heart can say that you are fulfilling it, but with your hand on the heart of your order, on the heart of all the orders, you cannot say that without deceiving yourself. Ah, Padre Fernandez, when I find myself in the presence of a person whom I esteem and respect, I prefer to be the accused rather than the accuser, I prefer to defend myself rather than take the offensive. But now that we have entered upon the discussion, let us carry it to the end! How do they fulfill their obligation, those who look after education in the towns? By hindering it! And those who here monopolize education, those who try to mold the mind of youth, to the exclusion of all others whomsoever, how do they carry out their mission? By curtailing knowledge as much as possible, by extinguishing all ardor and enthusiasm, by trampling on all dignity, the soul’s only refuge, by inculcating in us worn-out ideas, rancid beliefs, false principles incompatible with a life of progress! Ah, yes, when it is a question of feeding convicts, of providing for the maintenance of criminals, the government calls for bids in order to find the purveyor who offers the best means of subsistence, he who at least will not let them perish from hunger, but when it is a question of morally feeding a whole people, of nourishing the intellect of youth, the healthiest part, that which is later to be the country and the all, the government not only does not ask for any bid, but restricts the power to that very body which makes a boast of not desiring education, of wishing no advancement. What should we say if the purveyor for the prisons, after securing the contract by intrigue, should then leave the prisoners to languish in want, giving them only what is stale and rancid, excusing himself afterwards by saying that it is not convenient for the prisoners to enjoy good health, because good health brings merry thoughts, because merriment improves the man, and the man ought not to be improved, because it is to the purveyor’s interest that there be many criminals? What should we say if afterwards the government and the purveyor should agree between themselves that of the ten or twelve cuartos which one received for each criminal, the other should receive five?”
Padre Fernandek bit his lip. “Those are grave charges,” he said, “and you are overstepping the limits of our agreement.”
“No, Padre, not if I continue to deal with the student question. The friars—and I do not say, you friars, since I do not confuse you with the common herd—the friars of all the orders have constituted themselves our mental purveyors, yet they say and shamelessly proclaim that it is not expedient for us to become enlightened, because some day we shall declare ourselves free! That is just the same  as not wishing the prisoner to be well-fed so that he may improve and get out of prison. Liberty is to man what education is to the intelligence, and the friars’ unwillingness that we have it is the origin of our discontent.”
“Instruction is given only to those who deserve it,” rejoined Padre Fernandez dryly. “To give it to men without character and without morality is to prostitute it.”
“Why are there men without character and without morality?”
The Dominican shrugged his shoulders. “Defects that they imbibe with their mothers’ milk, that they breathe in the bosom of the family—how do I know?”
“Ah, no, Padre Fernandez!” exclaimed the young man impetuously. “You have not dared to go into the subject deeply, you have not wished to gaze into the depths from fear of finding yourself there in the darkness of your brethren. What we are, you have made us. A people tyrannized over is forced to be hypocritical; a people denied the truth must resort to lies; and he who makes himself a tyrant breeds slaves. There is no morality, you say, so let it be—even though statistics can refute you in that here are not committed crimes like those among other peoples, blinded by the fumes of their moralizers. But, without attempting now to analyze what it is that forms the character and how far the education received determines morality, I will agree with you that we are defective. Who is to blame for that? You who for three centuries and a half have had in your hands our education, or we who submit to everything? If after three centuries and a half the artist has been able to produce only a caricature, stupid indeed he must be!”
“Or bad enough the material he works upon.”
“Stupider still then, when, knowing it to be bad, he does not give it up, but goes on wasting time. Not only is he stupid, but he is a cheat and a robber, because he knows that his work is useless, yet continues to draw his salary. Not only is he stupid and a thief, he is a villain in that he prevents any other workman from trying his skill to see if he might not produce something worth while! The deadly jealousy of the incompetent!”
The reply was sharp and Padre Fernandez felt himself caught. To his gaze Isagani appeared gigantic, invincible, convincing, and for the first time in his life he felt beaten by a Filipino student. He repented of having provoked the argument, but it was too late to turn back. In this quandary, finding himself confronted with such a formidable adversary, he sought a strong shield and laid hold of the government.
“You impute all the faults to us, because you see only us, who are near,” he said in a less haughty tone. “It’s natural and doesn’t surprise me. A person hates the soldier or policeman who arrests him and not the judge who sends him to prison. You and we are both dancing to the same measure of music—if at the same note you lift your foot in unison with us, don’t blame us for it, it’s the music that is directing our movements. Do you think that we friars have no consciences and that we do not desire what is right? Do you believe that we do not think about you, that we do not heed our duty, that we only eat to live, and live to rule? Would that it were so! But we, like you, follow the cadence, finding ourselves between Scylla and Charybdis: either you reject us or the government rejects us. The government commands, and he who commands, commands,—and must be obeyed!”
“From which it may be inferred,” remarked Isagani with a bitter smile, “that the government wishes our demoralization.”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean that! What I meant to say is that there are beliefs, there are theories, there are laws, which, dictated with the best intention, produce the most deplorable consequences. I’ll explain myself better by citing an example. To stamp out a small evil, there are dictated many laws that cause greater evils still: ‘corruptissima in republica plurimae leges,’ said Tacitus. To prevent one case of fraud, there are provided a million and a half preventive or humiliating regulations, which produce the immediate effect of awakening in the public the desire to elude and mock such regulations. To make a people criminal, there’s nothing more needed than to doubt its virtue. Enact a law, not only here, but even in Spain, and you will see how the means of evading it will be sought, and this is for the very reason that the legislators have overlooked the fact that the more an object is hidden, the more a sight of it is desired. Why are rascality and astuteness regarded as great qualities in the Spanish people, when there is no other so noble, so proud, so chivalrous as it? Because our legislators, with the best intentions, have doubted its nobility, wounded its pride, challenged its chivalry! Do you wish to open in Spain a road among the rocks? Then place there an imperative notice forbidding the passage, and the people, in order to protest against the order, will leave the highway to clamber over the rocks. The day on which some legislator in Spain forbids virtue and commands vice, then all will become virtuous!”
The Dominican paused for a brief space, then resumed: “But you may say that we are getting away from the subject, so I’ll return to it. What I can say to you, to convince you, is that the vices from which you suffer ought to be ascribed by you neither to us nor to the government. They are due to the imperfect organization of our social system: qui multum probat, nihil probat, one loses himself through excessive caution, lacking what is necessary and having too much of what is superfluous.”
“If you admit those defects in your social system,” replied Isagani, “why then do you undertake to regulate alien societies, instead of first devoting your attention to yourselves?”
“We’re getting away from the subject, young man. The theory in accomplished facts must be accepted.”
“So let it be! I accept it because it is an accomplished fact, but I will further ask: why, if your social organization is defective, do you not change it or at least give heed to the cry of those who are injured by it?”
“We’re still far away. Let’s talk about what the students want from the friars.”
“From the moment when the friars hide themselves behind the government, the students have to turn to it.”
This statement was true and there appeared no means of ignoring it.
“I’m not the government and I can’t answer for its acts. What do the students wish us to do for them within the limits by which we are confined?”
“Not to oppose the emancipation of education but to favor it.”
The Dominican shook his head. “Without stating my own opinion, that is asking us to commit suicide,” he said.
“On the contrary, it is asking you for room to pass in order not to trample upon and crush you.”
“Ahem!” coughed Padre Fernandez, stopping and remaining thoughtful. “Begin by asking something that does not cost so much, something that any one of us can grant without abatement of dignity or privilege, for if we can reach an understanding and dwell in peace, why this hatred, why this distrust?”
“Then let’s get down to details.”
“Yes, because if we disturb the foundation, we’ll bring down the whole edifice.”
“Then let’s get down to details, let’s leave the region of abstract principles,” rejoined Isagani with a smile, “and also without stating my own opinion,”—the youth accented these words—“the students would desist from their attitude and soften certain asperities if the professors would try to treat them better than they have up to the present. That is in their hands.”
“What?” demanded the Dominican. “Have the students any complaint to make about my conduct?”
“Padre, we agreed from the start not to talk of yourself or of myself, we’re speaking generally. The students, besides getting no great benefit out of the years spent in the classes, often leave there remnants of their dignity, if not the whole of it.”
Padre Fernandez again bit his lip. “No one forces them to study—the fields are uncultivated,” he observed dryly.
“Yes, there is something that impels them to study,” replied Isagani in the same tone, looking the Dominican full in the face. “Besides the duty of every one to seek his own perfection, there is the desire innate in man to cultivate his intellect, a desire the more powerful here in that it is repressed. He who gives his gold and his life to the State has the right to require of it opporttmity better to get that gold and better to care for his life. Yes, Padre, there is something that impels them, and that something is the government itself. It is you yourselves who pitilessly ridicule the uncultured Indian and deny him his rights, on the ground that he is ignorant. You strip him and then scoff at his nakedness.”
Padre Fernandez did not reply, but continued to pace about feverishly, as though very much agitated.
“You say that the fields are not cultivated,” resumed Isagani in a changed tone, after a brief pause. “Let’s not enter upon an analysis of the reason for this, because we should get far away. But you, Padre Fernandez, you, a teacher, you, a learned man, do you wish a people of peons and laborers? In your opinion, is the laborer the perfect state at which man may arrive in his development? Or is it that you wish knowledge for yourself and labor for the rest?”
“No, I want knowledge for him who deserves it, for him who knows how to use it,” was the reply. “When the students demonstrate that they love it, when young men of conviction appear, young men who know how to maintain their dignity and make it respected, then there will be knowledge, then there will be considerate professors! If there are now professors who resort to abuse, it is because there are pupils who submit to it.”
“When there are professors, there will be students!”
“Begin by reforming yourselves, you who have need of change, and we will follow.”
“Yes,” said Isagani with a bitter laugh, “let us begin it, because the difficulty is on our side. Well you know what is expected of a pupil who stands before a professor—you yourself, with all your love of justice, with all your kind sentiments, have been restraining yourself by a great effort while I have been telling you bitter truths, you yourself, Padre Fernandez! What good has been secured by him among us who has tried to inculcate other ideas? What evils have not fallen upon you because you have tried to be just and perform your duty?”
“Señor Isagani,” said the Dominican, extending his hand, “although it may seem that nothing practical has resulted from this conversation, yet something has been gained. I’ll talk to my brethren about what you have told me and I hope that something can be done. Only I fear that they won’t believe in your existence.”
“I fear the same,” returned Isagani, shaking the Dominican’s hand. “I fear that my friends will not believe in your existence, as you have revealed yourself to me today.”
Considering the interview at an end, the young man took his leave.
Padre Fernandez opened the door and followed him with his gaze until he disappeared around a corner in the corridor. For some time he listened to the retreating footsteps, then went back into his cell and waited for the youth to appear in the street.
He saw him and actually heard him say to a friend who asked where he was going: “To the Civil Government! I’m going to see the pasquinades and join the others!”
His startled friend stared at him as one would look at a person who is about to commit suicide, then moved away from him hurriedly.
“Poor boy!” murmured Padre Fernandez, feeling his eyes moisten. “I grudge you to the Jesuits who educated you.”
But Padre Fernandez was completely mistaken; the Jesuits repudiated Isagani when that afternoon they learned that he had been arrested, saying that he would compromise them. “That young man has thrown himself away, he’s going to do us harm! Let it be understood that he didn’t get those ideas here.”
Nor were the Jesuits wrong. No! Those ideas come only from God through the medium of Nature.