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Bandits, Banditry and Landscapes of Crime in the Nineteenth-Century Philippines

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 August 2009

Greg Bankoff
University of Auckland


With few exceptions, commentators agree that bandits were a major socio-economic phenomenon of the nineteenth-century Philippines. Historians and contemporary observers are united in lamenting the deplorable state to which the countryside was reduced by their depredations. Bandits infested the roads and rivers, ravaged fields and farms, sacked towns, pillaged churches and set light to houses in an orgy of murder, robbery and rapine in which there was “hardly an evil deed that their rash boldness [did] not perform”. Modern historiography has usually been content to interpret such crimes as either being indicative of social tensions within a society or as representing “a basic social activity with its own internal logic and historical development”. Only superficial attention has been paid to the environment within which these crimes were committed, historians merely noting that such and such an offence was committed in an urban or rural setting.

Copyright © The National University of Singapore 1998

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1 Some contemporary accounts deny that banditry was widespread in rural areas and complain instead of the bad press given to isolated instances of robbery committed by groups of rateros or petty thieves. See, for example, a letter from Bulacan dated 7 Apr. 1888 published in a Manila newspaper that reassures readers that the province is in a state of the “completest tranquillity”. El Comercio, 8 04 1881Google Scholar.

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15 Land could be acquired by outright purchase (venta real), by royal grant, by legal or illegal methods of seizure or by settlement. Land tenure patterns are discussed in detail in a number of works. McLennan, , The Central Luzon Plain, chs. 5, 9 and 10Google Scholar; Roth, The Friar Estates; Cushner, Nicholas, Landed Estates in the Colonial Philippines (New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series No. 20, 1976)Google Scholar and Bauzon, Leslie, “Rural History, Land Tenure and the Negros Hacienda Complex: Some Preliminary Notes”, PSSC Social Science Information, 57, 21, 23 01 (1972)Google Scholar.

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22 The average population increase in the nineteenth century was 1.6 per cent per annum for Manila and 1.4 per cent per annum for the rest of the Spanish Philippines.

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30 El Eco de Panay, 24 01 1891Google Scholar.

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35 “Informe Sobre el Ataque y Saqueo de un Barroto de una Fragata por un Quadrilla de Contrabandistas 1834”, PNA, Erectién de Pueblos, Camarines Sur 1785–1837; and “Rafael Ripoll to Pasqual Enrile, Cavite 5 November 1833”, PNA, Cavite, 1801–1898.

36 “Oficios del Governador de Cavite: sobre los Incendios Ocurridos en el Pueblo de Silan de aquella Provincia y de la Considerable Portion de Palay que se Quemó 1833”, PNA, Cavite, 1801–1898.

37 “Rafael Ripoll to Governor General, Cavite 13 August 1834”, PNA, Cavite, Unreferenced bundle; and “Malhechores. Para que el Gobernador de Cavite, Corregidor de Tondo, y la Comision de Policia Eviten Sean Aislado por alguna Cuadrilla los Concurrentes a la Fiesta de Puerta Vaga 1834”, PNA, Spanish Manila, Reel 1.

38 “Rafael Ripoll to Pasqual Enrile, Cavite 19 February 1833”, PNA, Cavite, 1801–1898.

39 El Comercio, 8 08 1892Google Scholar.

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41 “Rafael Ripoll to Capitan-General, Cavite 3 February 1837”, PNA, Erección de Pueblos, Cavite Unreferenced Bundle.

42 El Comercio, 8 08 1892Google Scholar.

43 “El Espediente que se Instruyo a Consulta de Varios Alcaldes May ores, sobre los Gravisimos Perjuicios que Causaban los Ladrones y Malhechores que Infestaban Muchos Pueblos de las Provincias Inmediatas a la Capital, Manila 30 May 1807”, PNA, Spanish Manila, Reel 5.

44 El Comercio, 17 01 1887Google Scholar.

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46 “Robo de la Casa Hacienda de Malinta. Remitiendo Nota de los Efectos Robados para que si se Presentarse Alguna Persona Veniendolos la Aprendan y Aberiguen su Procedencia 1845”, PNA, Bandos y Circulares, Bundle 1.

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50 Provincial governors and other responsible persons were asked to provide information on five points: how long such lawlessness had been endemic within their jurisdictions; what effects it was having; why local authorities failed in executing their duties; what obstacles prevented the apprehension of such robbers; and the reasons why local people frequently perjured themselves. “Malhechores…1776”. PNA, Bandos y Circulares.

51 y Cuerva, Artigas, Historía de Filipinos, pp. 350–51Google Scholar, and Grossman, “The Guardia Civil”, p. 2.

52 Larkin, , “Philippine History Reconsidered”, p. 622Google Scholar.

53 “Malhechores…1776”, PNA, Bandos y Circulares.

54 de Jesus, Ed. C., The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines: Bureaucratic Enterprise and Social Change, 1766–1882 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1980), pp. 210–12Google Scholar.

55 Ibid., p. 185, and MacMicking, Robert, Recollections of Manila and the Philippines during 1848, 1849 and 1850 (Manila: Filipiniana Book Guild, 1967). p. 189 (originally published in 1851)Google Scholar.

56 “Testimonio de las Diligencias Practicadas contra Pascual de la Cruz (alias Pirote) a Consequencia y Consulta del Gobernadorcillo de Bacoor 1799”, PNA, Erección de Pueblos, Mindoro.

57 McLennan, , The Central Luzon Plain, pp. 169–70Google Scholar.

58 “Rafael Ripoll to Capitan-General, Cavite, 30 September 1837”, PNA, Ereccion de Pueblos, Cavite, 1837–61.

59 Sturtevant, , Popular Uprisings, p. 116 n. 2Google Scholar.

60 Hobsbawm, Eric, Bandits (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), p. 13Google Scholar.

61 El Eco De Panay, 25 02 1890Google Scholar.

62 Roth, Dennis, “Church Lands in the Agrarian History of the Tagalog Region”, in Philippine Social History: Global Trade and Local Transformations, ed. McCoy, Alfred and de Jesus, Ed. C. (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1982), p. 140Google Scholar.

63 Sturtevant, , Popular Uprisings, pp. 115–16Google Scholar.

64 Ileto, Reynaldo, Critical Questions on Nationalism: A Historian's View. Inaugural Lecture for the Lorenzo Tanada Professorial Chair in History, 12 August 1985 (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1985), p. 9Google Scholar.

65 El Comercio, 5 09 1891Google Scholar.

66 Medina, , Cavite before the Revolution, p. 61Google Scholar.

67 Hobsbawm, , Bandits, p. 84Google Scholar.

68 Guerrero, Milagros, “The Provincial and Municipal Elites of Luzon during the Revolution, 1898–1902”, in Philippine Social History, ed. McCoy, and de Jesus, , p. 156Google Scholar.

69 Medina, , Cavite before the Revolution, p. 101Google Scholar.

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71 El Comercio, 17 01 1891Google Scholar.

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74 Ileto, refers to this form of banditry as “spiritual”. Critical Questions on Nationalism, p. 12Google Scholar.

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76 Cullamar, Evelyn, Babaylanism in Negros, 1896–1907 (Quezon City: New Day, 1986), p. 20Google Scholar.

77 The legend of Bernardo Carpio is Spanish in origin and dates from the thirteenth century. The Filipino version of the legend is probably based on two plays by Lope de Vega written in the early sixteenth century. A complete text of the romance in both Tagalog and English is available. Castro, Jovita et al. , Anthology of ASEAN Literatures. Philippine Metrical Romances (Manila: Nalandangan, 1985), pp. 798Google Scholar.

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80 Sturtevant, , Popular Uprisings, p. 125Google Scholar.

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82 Bankoff, Greg, Crime, Society and the State in the Nineteenth Century Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996), p. 137Google Scholar.

83 The Dacoits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Bengal reportedly engaged in similar practices. McLane, John, “Bengali Bandits, Police and Landlords after the Permanent Settlement”, in Crime and Criminality in British India, ed. Yang, Anand (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1985), pp. 2627Google Scholar.

84 Untitled 1895, PNA, Ambos Camarines, Unreferenced Bundle.

85 El Comercio, 14 11 1888Google Scholar.

86 de Rivera, Fernando Primo, Documentos Referentes a la Reductión de Infieles e lnmigración en las Provincias de Cagayan y la Isabela (Manila: Establecimiento Tipográfico del Colegio de Santo Tomás, 1881), pp. 3536Google Scholar.

87 Leroy, James, The Philippines Circa 1900 (Manila: Filipiniana Book Guild, 1968), p. 16Google Scholar (originally published in 1905 as Philippine Life in Town and Country).

88 Scott, William Henry, Cracks in the Parchment Curtain and Other Essays in Philippine History (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982), p. 25Google Scholar.

89 de Jesus, , The Tobacco Monopoly, p. 116Google Scholar.

90 The cultural landscape is not exclusively the product of human activity on the environment but also extends to the actions of other species as well.

91 Exceptions were coffee and abaca grown in upland areas and sugar, but rice remained the province's main economic staple. A canker affecting coffee further reduced the importance of this crop and contributed towards a marked lowering of per capita income during the business recession of the 1880s and 1890s. Borromeo, Soledad, “El Cadiz Filipino: Colonial Cavite, 1571–1896” (Ph.D diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1974), pp. 97100Google Scholar.

92 The annual population increase fell from an average of two per cent between 1787–1840 to under one per cent between 1840–85. Roth, , The Friar Estates, p. 36 [1787]Google Scholar; y Sans, Mas, Estado de las Islas Filipinos, vol. 2, p. 14 [1840]Google Scholar; and Estadística de las Causas Criminates, Negocios Civiles y Espedientes de Gobierno, Despachados por la Real Audiencia de Filipinas durante el Ano 1883 (Manila: Establecimiento Tipografico de Ramirez y Giraudier, 1884) [1883]Google Scholar.

93 One cavan was approximately 75 litres or 2.13 bushels.

94 Roth, , The Friar Estates, p. 21Google Scholar.

95 Ibid., pp. 97–98.

96 y Cuerva, Artigas, Historía de Filipinas, pp. 349–50Google Scholar.

97 Luis Parang was appointed to head the municipal police of Imus in January 1832 as it was felt that his inside knowledge of bandit tactics and hideouts would prove decisive in hunting down other gangs operating in the province. “Rafael Ripoll to Pasqual Enrile Cavite 31 January 1832”, PNA, Cavite, 1801–1898; and “Expediente Creado, a Consulta del Gobernador de Cavite, sobre el Atentado Cometido en el Pueblo de Ymus, por el Facineroso Luis de los Santos (a) Parang en Compania de Otros 1835”, PNA, Cavite, Unreferenced Bundle. Medina gives a comprehensive account of banditry in Cavite during the nineteenth century. Cavite before the Revolution, pp. 59–105.

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100 “Rafael Ripoll to Capitan-General (estanquero), Cavite 5 January 1837”, PNA, Erectión de Pueblos, Cavite, Unreferenced Bundle.

101 “Rafael Ripoll to Capitan-General (two women), Cavite 3 February 1837”, PNA, Erectión de Pueblos, Cavite, Unreferenced Bundle.

102 “Transmitiendo…sobre la Aprehensión y Muerte del Malhechor Santiago Moyica Espineli”, PNA, Erectión de Pueblos.

103 El Comercio, 8 08 1892Google Scholar.

104 Estadística de las Causas Criminales…durante el Año 1878y 1883. The number of prosecutions rose from 79 to 132 during this period. The fact that a crime was committed in an unpopulated area was treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing in Spanish courts.

105 On Bikol history and culture, see Realubit, Maria, Bikols of the Philippines: History, Literature and General List of Literary Works (Naga City: A.M.S. Press, 1983)Google Scholar.

106 The increasing number, size and complexity of sailing ships caused a significant rise in the demand for marine cordage during the century. Manila hemp was superior to its major Russian competitor because it did not need to be coated with tar to protect it from the effects of salt water, a process that made the rope heavier, dirtier, less flexible and more costly.

107 Owen, , Prosperity Without Progress, p. 83Google Scholar.

108 As quoted in ibid., p. 41.

109 The equivalent terms used in Cavite were malhechores, facineros and salteadores or, roughly, wrongdoers, rascals and footpads.

110 “Expediente Instruido, a Consultas del Corregidor de Camarines Sur, sobre Asesinatos y Atrocidades Cometidos por los Remontados del Monte Isarog 1833”, PNA, Erección de Pueblos, Camarines Sur, 1785–1837.

111 Ibid.

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113 “Expediente Instruido… sobre Asesinatos y Atrocidades Cometidos por los Remontados del Monte Isarog 1833”, PNA, Erección de Pueblos.

114 El Comercio, 7 06 1890Google Scholar.

115 The apparent “gap” in the literature on banditry between Villamor (writing in 1909) and Zaide (writing in 1950) reflects the US colonial administration's contempt for all things Hispanic following the pacification of the Philippines and the initial survey of their new territories.

116 “Bandolerismo 1887”, PNA, Memorias, Memoria de Nueva Ecija.

117 y Larre, Joaquin Rajal, Memoria acerca de la Provincia de Nueva Ecija en Filipinos (Madrid: Establecimiento Tipográfico de Fortanet, 1890)Google Scholar. The manuscript held in the archive is so similar to Rajal y Larre's published account of Nueva Ecija that the one may be simply an earlier version of the other.