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Chapter 31: The High Official


L’Espagne et sa, vertu, l’Espagne et sa grandeur
Tout s’en va!—Victor Hugo
The newspapers of Manila were so engrossed in accounts of a notorious murder committed in Europe, in panegyrics and puffs for various preachers in the city, in the constantly increasing success of the French operetta, that they could scarcely devote space to the crimes perpetrated in the provinces by a band of tulisanes headed by a fierce and terrible leader who was called Matanglawin. Only when the object of the attack was a convento or a Spaniard there then appeared long articles giving frightful details and asking for martial law, energetic measures, and so on. So it was that they could take no notice of what had occurred in the town of Tiani, nor was there the slightest hint or allusion to it. In private circles something was whispered, but so confused, so vague, and so little consistent, that not even the name of the victim was known, while those who showed the greatest interest forgot it quickly, trusting that the affair had been settled in some way with the wronged family. The only one who knew anything certain was Padre Camorra, who had to leave the town, to be transferred to another or to remain for some time in the convento in Manila.
“Poor Padre Camorra!” exclaimed Ben-Zayb in a fit of generosity. “He was so jolly and had such a good heart!”
It was true that the students had recovered their liberty, [300] thanks to the exertions of their relatives, who did not hesitate at expense, gifts, or any sacrifice whatsoever. The first to see himself free, as was to be expected, was Makaraig, and the last Isagani, because Padre Florentine did not reach Manila until a week after the events. So many acts of clemency secured for the General the title of clement and merciful, which Ben-Zayb hastened to add to his long list of adjectives.
The only one who did not obtain his liberty was Basilio, since he was also accused of having in his possession prohibited books. We don’t know whether this referred to his text-book on legal medicine or to the pamphlets that were found, dealing with the Philippines, or both together—the fact is that it was said that prohibited literature was being secretly sold, and upon the unfortunate boy fell all the weight of the rod of justice.
It was reported that his Excellency had been thus advised: “It’s necessary that there be some one, so that the prestige of authority may be sustained and that it may not be said that we made a great fuss over nothing. Authority before everything. It’s necessary that some one be made an example of. Let there be just one, one who, according to Padre Irene, was the servant of Capitan Tiago—there’ll be no one to enter a complaint—”
“Servant and student?” asked his Excellency. “That fellow, then! Let it be he!”
“Your Excellency will pardon me,” observed the high official, who happened to be present, “but I’ve been told that this boy is a medical student and his teachers speak well of him. If he remains a prisoner he’ll lose a year, and as this year he finishes—”
The high official’s interference in behalf of Basilio, instead of helping, harmed him. For some time there had been between this official and his Excellency strained relations and bad feelings, augmented by frequent clashes.
“Yes? So much the greater reason that he should be kept prisoner; a year longer in his studies, instead of injuring  him, will do good, not only to himself but to all who afterwards fall into his hands. One doesn’t become a bad physician by extensive practise. So much the more reason that he should remain! Soon the filibustering reformers will say that we are not looking out for the country!” concluded his Excellency with a sarcastic laugh.
The high official realized that he had made a false move and took Basilio’s case to heart. “But it seems to me that this young man is the most innocent of all,” he rejoined rather timidly.
“Books have been seized in his possession,” observed the secretary.
“Yes, works on medicine and pamphlets written by Peninsulars, with the leaves uncut, and besides, what does that signify? Moreover, this young man was not present at the banquet in the pansiterĂ­a, he hasn’t mixed up in anything. As I’ve said, he’s the most innocent—”
“So much the better!” exclaimed his Excellency jocosely. “In that way the punishment will prove more salutary and exemplary, since it inspires greater terror. To govern is to act in this way, my dear sir, as it is often expedient to sacrifice the welfare of one to the welfare of many. But I’m doing more—from the welfare of one will result the welfare of all, the principle of endangered authority is preserved, prestige is respected and maintained. By this act of mine I’m correcting my own and other people’s faults.”
The high official restrained himself with an effort and, disregarding the allusion, decided to take another tack. “But doesn’t your Excellency fear the—responsibility?”
“What have I to fear?” rejoined the General impatiently. “Haven’t I discretionary powers? Can’t I do what I please for the better government of these islands? What have I to fear? Can some menial perhaps arraign me before the tribunals and exact from me responsibility? Even though he had the means, he would have to consult the Ministry first, and the Minister—”
He waved his hand and burst out into laughter.
“The Minister who appointed me, the devil knows where he is, and he will feel honored in being able to welcome me when I return. The present one, I don’t even think of him, and the devil take him too! The one that relieves him will find himself in so many difficulties with his new duties that he won’t be able to fool with trifles. I, my dear sir, have nothing over me but my conscience, I act according to my conscience, and my conscience is satisfied, so I don’t care a straw for the opinions of this one and that. My conscience, my dear sir, my conscience!”
“Yes, General, but the country—”
“Tut, tut, tut, tut! The country—what have I to do Avith the country? Have I perhaps contracted any obligations to it? Do I owe my office to it? Was it the country that elected me?”
A brief pause ensued, during which the high official stood with bowed head. Then, as if reaching a decision, he raised it to stare fixedly at the General. Pale and trembling, he said with repressed energy: “That doesn’t matter, General, that doesn’t matter at all! Your Excellency has not been chosen by the Filipino people, but by Spain, all the more reason why you should treat the Filipinos well so that they may not be able to reproach Spain. The greater reason, General, the greater reason! Your Excellency, by coming here, has contracted the obligation to govern justly, to seek the welfare—”
“Am I not doing it?” interrupted his Excellency in exasperation, taking a step forward. “Haven’t I told you that I am getting from the good of one the good of all? Are you now going to give me lessons? If you don’t understand my actions, how am I to blame? Do I compel you to share my responsibility?”
“Certainly not,” replied the high official, drawing himself up proudly. “Your Excellency does not compel me, your Excellency cannot compel me, me, to share your responsibility. I understand mine in quite another way, and because I have it, I’m going to speak—I’ve held my peace a long time. Oh, your Excellency needn’t make those gestures, because the fact that I’ve come here in this or that capacity doesn’t mean that I have given up my rights, that I have been reduced to the part of a slave, without voice or dignity.
“I don’t want Spain to lose this beautiful empire, these eight millions of patient and submissive subjects, who live on hopes and delusions, but neither do I wish to soil my hands in their barbarous exploitation. I don’t wish it ever to be said that, the slave-trade abolished, Spain has continued to cloak it with her banner and perfect it under a wealth of specious institutions. No, to be great Spain does not have to be a tyrant, Spain is sufficient unto herself, Spain was greater when she had only her own territory, wrested from the clutches of the Moor. I too am a Spaniard, but before being a Spaniard I am a man, and before Spain and above Spain is her honor, the lofty principles of morality, the eternal principles of immutable justice! Ah, you are surprised that I think thus, because you have no idea of the grandeur of the Spanish name, no, you haven’t any idea of it, you identify it with persons and interests. To you the Spaniard may be a pirate, he may be a murderer, a hypocrite, a cheat, anything, just so he keep what he has—but to me the Spaniard should lose everything, empire, power, wealth, everything, before his honor! Ah, my dear sir, we protest when we read that might is placed before right, yet we applaud when in practise we see might play the hypocrite in not only perverting right but even in using it as a tool in order to gain control. For the very reason that I love Spain, I’m speaking now, and I defy your frown!
“I don’t wish that the coming ages accuse Spain of being the stepmother of the nations, the vampire of races, the tyrant of small islands, since it would be a horrible mockery of the noble principles of our ancient kings. How are we carrying out their sacred legacy? They promised to these islands protection and justice, and we are playing with the lives and liberties of the inhabitants; they promised civilization, and^we are curtailing it, fearful that they may aspire to a nobler existence; they promised them light, and we cover their eyes that they may not witness our orgies; they promised to teach them virtue and we are encouraging their vice. Instead of peace, wealth, and justice, confusion reigns, commerce languishes, and skepticism is fostered among the masses.
“Let us put ourselves in the place of the Filipinos and ask ourselves what we would do in their place. Ah, in your silence I read their right to rebel, and if matters do not mend they will rebel some day, and justice will be on their side, with them will go the sympathy of all honest men, of every patriot in the world! When a people is denied light, home, liberty, and justice—things that are essential to life, and therefore man’s patrimony—that people has the right to treat him who so despoils it as we would the robber who intercepts us on the highway. There are no distinctions, there are no exceptions, nothing but a fact, a right, an aggression, and every honest man who does not place himself on the side of the wronged makes himself an accomplice and stains his conscience.
“True, I am not a soldier, and the years are cooling the little fire in my blood, but just as I would risk being torn to pieces to defend the integrity of Spain against any foreign invader or against an unjustified disloyalty in her provinces, so I also assure you that I would place myself beside the oppressed Filipinos, because I would prefer to fall in the cause of the outraged rights of humanity to triumphing with the selfish interests of a nation, even when that nation be called as it is called—Spain!”
“Do you know when the mail-boat leaves?” inquired his Excellency coldly, when the high official had finished speaking.
The latter stared at him fixedly, then dropped his head and silently left the palace.
Outside he found his carriage awaiting him. “Some day when you declare yourselves independent,” he said somewhat abstractedly to the native lackey who opened the carriage-door for him, “remember that there were not lacking in Spain hearts that beat for you and struggled for your rights!”
“Where, sir?” asked the lackey, who had understood nothing of this and was inquiring whither they should go.
Two hours later the high official handed in his resignation and announced his intention of returning to Spain by the next mail-steamer.

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