The middle 18th century in the Philippines was a period of perpetual destabilization. The islands are slowly being reconfigured—both physically and in socio-economic terms. On the surface, geophysical forces are making physical transformations, complimenting the deeper and more serious reconstruction happening within the colonial society.
A new socio-economic class composed of Chinese mestizos and Indio professionals is emerging, and starting to dominate both the economic and political landscape. Creoles, pure-blooded Spaniards assigned to administer these groups of islands in the Far East, are slowly being eased out. Socio-economic relations are starting to assume a different form. Traders are slowly weakening the hold of the Spanish military and religious aristocracy over the colony. Those who traditionally dominated the affairs of the state are now being challenged by a new aristocracy, whose claims to possessions and ownership are based on land and capital, not solely on blood neither on royal patronage. Intense trade has precipitated the creation of newer forms of production and this has substantially changed the relations between the dominant and the conquered classes.
As the colonial society grapples with the entry of capitalism, and the traditional ways are gradually being transplanted by newer things, the old order tries to impose itself upon the emerging classes. Resistance was fierce, with the old order using superior arms and the cross. Unbeknownst, the newer form of production comes with it, new thinking and new ways of doing things.
The synthesis of the old feudalist order with that of nascent capitalism comes with it the more dominant thinking of trade regardless of race or religious beliefs. Racial and religious lines are becoming blurred, as fresh, often, liberal ideas are permeating the vulnerable social membrane. The conquered peoples are deliberately regaining their freedom without need of arms. Social mobility, for the first time, now depends not on blood but on industry.
With this comes a newer challenge to power. As the conquered classes awake from its stupor, now consciously aware of the economic opportunities capitalism has given them, clashes are inevitable. As resistance becomes futile yet necessary, a showdown between the old and emergent forces is becoming more likely. This is a period where the old order is gradually being defeated, unknowingly, that is.
A thick black smoke rises in Manila, capital of the Spanish regime in Asia. The smoke can be seen almost a mile away. For someone unfamiliar with how things are, these columns of smoke may mean war or another pirate attack against the city. The putrid smell of the fumes belies a far deeper reason for this conflagration.
The year was November 30, 1645, feast day of Saint Andrews, patron saint of the Manilenos. A year ago, Manilenos were feasting on roast pig and lighting their incenses, made by Indian hands. For religious Manilenos, the feast day is the most important in the liturgical calendar because it ushers the feasts of Saints.
Today, Manilenos are neither rejoicing nor worshipping but, weeping. Manila, the pride of the Far East, the Venice of Asia, has just been hit by a powerful earthquake.
The entire city was a disaster zone, as if hit by an atomic bomb or ravaged by hordes of warriors. Everywhere you look, devastation, even, desolation.
Piles of crushed adobe blocks were are all that were left of those fabled European-styled palatial stone house of Manila’s elites. The quake, a 7.5 magnitude in the Richter scale, reduced everything to rubble.
Those left standing looked like twisted Rubick’s cubes, with huge cracks in their walls. The proud structures of Spanish colonial power—Malacanang palace and Manila Cathedral—were both pulverized. Curiously, only those made of nipa straws and bamboos withstood the tremendous...