Gemma Cruz Araneta
Early on, towards the end of the 16th century, Spanish ministers had nagging doubts about keeping the archipelago named after King Felipe II. Although the Capitanía-General de Filipinas was in the vicinity of Maluco, Ternate, Tidore, Ambon – the fabled spice islands – only cinnamon was available here, not cloves nor black pepper which demanded very high prices in the international market of seasonings.
Neither was there an abundance of gold and silver like in Mexico and Peru, even if the first natives Magellan and his crew encountered were adorned with gold from teeth to ankles. Pigafetta, chronicler of that unfortunate voyage, wrote that Magellan had to order his men to dissemble their greed for gold by not staring at the natives.
When the galleon trade was still in its infancy, the Spanish colonial officials were obsessed with making inroads into the spice trade. Governors-General Gonzalo Ronquillo (1580), Santiago de Vera (1584) Gomez Perez Dasmariñas (1590) and his son Luis (1593), Francisco de Tello (1596), Pedro Acuña (1602) built hundreds of sea vessels which drained the treasury, burdened the King’s exchequer and denuded mountains in Luzon. They conscripted thousands of native indios as fighters and crewmen; hundreds of sangleys, pagans and converts alike, were compelled to row dozens of galleys without being chained to benches like slaves. Renowned cartographers, the Spaniards must have had maps and instruments, yet their knowledge of the monsoon season’s treacherous tides, squalls and hurricanes at high sea seemed insufficient. There were far too many shipwrecks on the way to the spice islands; lives were lost needlessly as vital weapons and supplies were swallowed by the sea. While driving out the Portuguese and clashing with the Dutch, the Spaniards constantly meddled in the internal affairs of Ternate, Maluco, Cambodia, Cochin China and the Middle Kingdom, taking sides in royal internecine conflicts, dethroning and installing rulers, hoping to win allies as well as converts to the faith.
According to Spanish historian, Bartolome de Argensola, the Council of State of the empire was fully aware that Las Filipinas was a source of “fruitless expenses,” unlike Mexico and other South American colonies which added to the King’s exchequer. For that reason, the council recommended that the king withdraw the Audiencia and totally abandon the islands. After all, the Chinese emperors and rulers of other nations much closer to Filipinas knew better than to annex the islands. The council said the monarchy “scattered and divided by so many seas, and climes, could scarcely be reduced to one whole… and should not be expected to bind provinces separated by nature with so distant boundaries… It would be more advisable to increase the power of the king in Europe where the forces could attend to emergencies without the casualties that militate against them in outside seas and dominions.”
But, Felipe III, the reigning king, decided to abide by the wisdom of his father. He was determined to hold on to Las Filipinas in its present condition, to strengthen the Audiencia so it could thoroughly administer justice and assure the duration of the colonial State. He also promised to fortify the military. As for the royal income from Nueva España and his other kingdoms, “... all treasures and those yet to be discovered in the bosom of the mines will be spent on the propagation of the Gospel… What would the enemies of the Gospel say when they see that Filipinas is deprived of the light, and the ministers who preach it, because they do not produce metals and wealth as do other rich islands in Asia and America?” Argensola said King Felipe III who refused to yield to the severity of the Dutch, his vassals in the north, could not be expected to relent to pagans and Mohametans... who are the harvest that God assigned to the king in order to enrich the church with those so remote children. ” The kings of Spain considered themselves ministers of the faith and sons of the Catholic Church, so any war waged for the spread of the Gospel, even in a distant “desert province” yields the greatest profit. The spirit of the Reconquista of the Catholic monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabela) had not waned, the Patronato Real bore no expiration date.