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June 21, 1574, Fray Martin de Rada, Father Provincial of the Augustinians in the Philippines, gave his written opinion regarding the exaction by the Spaniards of tributes from the natives.

When the Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi died, a box of pliegos which contained the list of his successors was opened. The number one appointee was the former master-of-camp, Mateo del Saz but this had died in Mindanao in April, 1567. The next on the list was Guido de Lavezares, the treasurer of the expedition and companion of Legazpi since the day they sailed out of La Navidad. At the time of Legazpi’s death Lavezares was in Cebu as governor of the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines. Although of advanced age, (he was with the Villalobos expedition thirty years before), he was still quite strong and he had the wisdom and prudence gained through age and experience. He came to Manila to assume his post.

As usual there were issues coming from among the soldiers, Spanish and Europeans – most of which were about extortions and unjust collection of tributes. Fray Martin de Rada gave his written opinion on June 21, 1574 regarding the exaction by the Spaniards of tributes from the natives.

Fray Martin de Rada (Image courtesy of

Opinion of Fray Martin de Rada on Tribute from the


Most Illustrious Lord:
Your Lordship1 asks me to give, in writing, my opinion of affairs in this land; and to invent a remedy which shall result more to the service of God, our Lord, and of his Majesty, and to the security of the consciences of those who live in this land. I say the same that I said lately in conversation with your Lordship, when your Lordship asked me in the autumn whether it would be right that the Indians should give tribute. I told your Lordship that I had determined to call an assembly of all the religious that were in this land, so that all of us in common could discuss the affairs of the country. Until then, it did not seem to me that any change should be made, except that the Spaniards should raise tribute by similar methods to those employed farther down on the coast—namely, a small amount of rice, equivalent to seventy gantas,
giving tribute. Having assented to this—although some religious, and that rightly, have found fault with the tribute, both in the pulpit and in the confessional, and in other and private discussions—I waited until all should come here, and the conference should be called as I desired, in order that everything might be better reasoned out. Seeing now the great delay of some, and that we would have to leave this town—some alone, and others in company—have taken the opinion of all the fathers who were to be found here. They unanimously affirm that none among all these islands have come into the power of the Spaniards with just title. For, although there are many and just causes for making war on some nations or towns, no governor or captain can do so without an express mandate for it from his Majesty, excepting only that war which is waged in defense of their persons and property, others being unjustly undertaken; since neither in the first instructions that we received, nor in later ones, has his Majesty ordered us to make war on the natives of these islands. Rather did he order the contrary, in a letter that Juan de la Isla brought from his Majesty, written from the Escorial to the governor (who is now in glory), and which I saw. That letter declared that any conquest made in these islands by force of arms, would be unjust, even if there were cause for doing so. All the more unjust are these conquests that in none, or almost none, of them has there been any cause. For as your Lordship knows, we have gone everywhere with the mailed hand; and we have required the people to be friends, and then to give us tribute. At times war has been declared against them, because they did not give as much as was demanded. And if they would not give tribute, but defended themselves, then they have been attacked, and war has been carried on with fire and sword; and even on some occasions, after the people have been killed and destroyed, and their village taken, the Spaniards have sent men to summon them to make peace. And when the Indians, in order not to be destroyed, came to say that they would like to be friends, the Spaniards have immediately asked them for tribute, as they have done but
recently in all the villages of Los Camarines.
their houses and fled to the mountains, our people have burned the houses or inflicted other great injuries. I omit mention of the villages that are robbed without awaiting peace, or those assaulted in the night-time. Pretexts have been seized to subjugate all these villages, and levy tribute on them, to such amount as can be secured. With what conscience has a future tribute been asked from them, before they knew us, or before they have received any benefit from us? With what right have three extortions, of large amounts of gold, been made on the Ylocos, without holding any other communication or intercourse with them, beyond going there, and demanding gold of them, and then returning? And I say the same of Los Camarines and of Acuyo, and the other villages that are somewhat separated from the Spanish settlements. In all this is it not clear that tribute is unjustly raised? Likewise he who sends them for it or orders it, as also the captain in the first place, next the soldiers and those taking part in it, and those who advise it; and those who, being able to, do not prevent it; and those who, being able to make restitution, do not do so—all these together, and each person individually, are entirely responsible for all injury. And it is the same in the villages in the neighborhood of the Spanish settlements; because, although they may have some religious instruction, and under the shelter of the Spanish are safe from their enemies, and some injuries which have been done them have been redressed, they do not fail to receive great molestation and injury through the continual presence of the Spaniards, and never-ending embarcations. Finally, they were free, and, to speak openly, not reduced to vassalage. And when base and foundation fail, all that is built thereon is defective—all the more as the Indians are not protected from their enemies, nor maintained in justice, as they should be. Many piracies go on as before, and those most thoroughly subdued suffer the worst, because, being robbed by others who are not so subject, they are given neither any satisfaction nor allowed to secure it for themselves. And there is not sufficient reason for his Majesty to have ordered that the land shall be allotted and divided into encomiendas; because his Majesty was ill informed, as appears by his own letter, since he had been assured that, without any war, they had of their own accord become his Majesty’s vassals. Therefore it seems to have been entirely against his Majesty’s will. If at any time we have been of opinion that the land should be allotted, as indeed it now seems to us, or likewise if the land is to be maintained, it was and is to avoid greater injury and robberies, which are committed without any remedy, when there are no repartimientos. Therefore, only one thing now works injury. We are trying to render the land orderly, and not turbulent as it was before, when no one knew anything about it. Even now some of the Spaniards treat the natives very ill. More than all, the tribute which is now raised (three maez [mace] for each Indian) is excessive, in our opinion, considering what we saw from the beginning among them and our intercourse with them, and our knowledge of their labors, and of the tools with which they cultivate the ground, and their great difficulty in supporting themselves—for they even live a part of the year on roots; and the common people can scarcely obtain a robe with which to clothe themselves. Whence it happens that, at the time of collecting the tribute, some of them demolish their houses—which at the least would be worth as much as the tribute itself, if they should be sold—and go into hiding, in order not to pay the tribute. They say that afterward they will return to build, with the labor of a month or two, another house. From others it is necessary to demand the tribute with arquebuses and other weapons, and men, in order to make them give it; and most of them it is necessary to imprison to make them provide the tribute. Therefore most of the owners of encomiendas maintain stocks, in which they keep as prisoners the chiefs or timaguas [freemen] who do not supply the amount of the tribute from their slaves when they themselves cannot obtain it from the latter. Thus, considering all this and other inconveniences, that, in order not to go into greater details, I do not set down, it was the opinion of the majority of the fathers, that—even if the whole affair were justified, and the Indians maintained in peace, justice, and religious instruction—for the present, and until the Indians have other opportunities, and other and better tools to cultivate the land, and until the land is more fertile, all that is taken from each Indian, in general, above the value of one maez, in food and raiment, is cruelty, and oppresses them too heavily.
Your Lordship should consider that in Nueva España, the Indians at first gave nothing but food (then worth a great deal) and service. And all times are not alike, for now they can give little, but in course of time, the earth growing more fertile, they can give more; so that what is collected of all this that the Indians now, in strict justice, do not owe, and that which until now has been raised, has been unjustly raised, on account of the evil way in which these Indians have been conquered, and because his Majesty’s orders regarding them have not been obeyed.
Page 231
And because your Lordship asks my opinion as to what ought to be done, I say that, considering that the land is already subjugated and divided into repartimientos—and for many reasons which, in order not to be prolix, I omit—there is no reason to abandon it, since it is very necessary that those who reside here should be supported. Your Lordship ought, in the opinion of the majority of the captains, to send his Majesty a true, simple, and clear report, without dissimulations, of the methods that have been adopted in all this conquest; and of its present condition, and the methods adopted in collecting the tributes, so that his Majesty, as a thorough Christian, may decree what is to be done in the matter. In the meanwhile, the least amount of tribute possible should be taken for the support of all, considering that it is not owed; and those who have repartimientos should support those who have not. It seems to me that if the tributes should be regulated to the one maez of food and raiment for each Indian, which I spoke of above, there will be sufficient for both classes if our people aid themselves with other profits that may be obtained. In order that this may be collected with some tribute, your Lordship should in every way try to protect these natives, and to do them justice; and to abolish abuses and punish pirates, etc. We on our part, shall do what we can to aid them, instructing them in our holy faith. Since this is my opinion I sign it with my name. Done at San Pablo of Manila, on the twenty-first of June, one thousand five hundred and seventy-four.
Page 233

In this complaint Fray Martin De Rada declared that he and all his brethren regard the conquests made in these islands as unjust; and denounced the acts of injustice, oppression, and extortion committed against the helpless natives.

He asserted that the rate of tribute is three times as high as it ought to be, considering the poverty of the natives and urged the Governor to reduce the amount levied to one-third of the present exaction, and to protect the natives from oppression.

Guido de Lavezaris and other officials at Manila responded and defended themselves from Rada’s accusations, writing a letter to the King to state their side of the contention. They denied some of Rada’s statements, and excused their action in other matters, putting the blame for many evils on the treachery of the natives.

Sources: Philippine Islands Vo. III, 1569-1576. Edited and annotated by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson with historical introduction and additional notes by Edward Gaylord Bourne.

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