IT has been almost unnoticed that in “Sobre la indolencia de los Filipinos” (1890), one of the most cited essays of José Rizal, he explicitly mentioned a book that inspired him to write his ideas: El Progreso de Filipinas (The Progress of the Philippines) (Madrid, 1881), by Gregorio Sancianco (1852 to 1897), a Chinese-Filipino from Malabon City. As of today, we know much more about his thought and about his compromise with a better and prosperous Philippines than about his discrete life. He belongs, along with Pedro Paterno, to the first generation of Filipinos who moved to Spain in order to complete higher studies, where he finished law at the Universidad de Madrid. He published several articles in some newspapers in Madrid and, indeed, his writing style is both powerful and elegant.
His only book is outstanding in many senses. Wenceslao Retana, a Spanish Filipinist well-known for his harsh criticisms, had to concede already in 1906 that “this is one of the best written and most thoughtful books ever published by a Filipino. The work belongs to the liberal trend, but it is essentially technical, carried out without any political bias. The part that is devoted to the indolence of the Filipinos is really remarkable.”
El Progreso de Filipinas is, in fact, the very first book of political economy ever published by a Filipino. The work is highly pragmatic: Sancianco does not waste time discussing liberal theories or different models of administration. He does not even blame the Spanish government for the deficient administration of the Philippines, alleging an obvious scarcity of economic resources. Although he probably wanted, sooner or later, the independence of the Philippines, he knew — as Rizal did — that some previous steps should be cautiously taken before trying to achieve the goal.
First, he claimed that the Philippines should not be considered as an overseas province, but just a Spanish province with full rights, therefore Filipinos should have representation in the cortes (legislature): “Filipinos are as much Spanish as the people of Spain,” he wrote.
That was just the beginning: he proposed a total change in tax collection in the Philippines. He commented on the last tax reforms implemented in the country and indicated with numbers and data why those were so inefficient; straightforwardly identified the income generators of the Philippine economy; and bared where the taxes should be applied so that traders, businessmen and landowners were not burdened and the administration could have the resources to build the very true basis of the prosperity of the country — education and infrastructure.
He was also a defender of the free market. He said the tobacco monopoly should be abolished immediately in order to liberate farmers from a situation of semi-slavery. He defended, too, that customs offices should be also eliminated since they were an evident source of corruption and were slowing down the economy, and the unfair taxes added to the products would be at the end a burden paid by Filipino customers. He defended more aggressively the exemption of the tribute, a yearly amount of money paid by both natives and Chinese that was a cause of grievances and disputes since peninsulares were unfairly not prompted to pay. Sancianco proposed it would be very practical for all Filipinos to have a personal ID and listed a detailed number of public services that could serve as a source of income for the administration of the archipelago.
Summing up, he was proposing a long list of economic and administrative reforms — many of them could be implemented even now, I believe — so the administration could effectively deliver to the people the basic services they were justly paying through their taxes. The progress of the country depended on the urgent implementation of the common-sense reforms he suggested. And although the several data supporting this claim may be the most outdated part of this work, the essential liberal idea behind the book is, I believe, as real as then.
The essay on the issue of the supposed indolence of the Filipinos was added as an appendix. Sancianco uses abundant excerpts from high authorities, friars and newspapers — all of them actually Spaniards — to debunk all the accusations: he claims the so-called indolence is an invention of the foreign powers in Southeast Asia in order to justify authoritarian manners over the indigenous people. Agriculture was not practiced as widely as it could be, considering the fertility of the land not because of idleness, but because of the lack of people, as in Samar or Leyte. Indigenous people, in Camarines for example, were still escaping to the mountains not because of laziness, but because they were still being victimized by the Moro raids and the local government was not able to protect them. Applying his liberal ideas to the nineteenth century society, Sancianco thought that the Filipinos just needed the incentives that the inept administration was not providing, in order to bring out their capabilities.
El Progreso de Filipinas remains to be a book still on oblivion despite a translation that was opportunely published in 1975 by the National Historical Institute and even reprinted in 2000. The aforementioned Retana finishes melancholically his comment stating that “Dr. Sancianco, despite passing away at a young age, left a legacy that, in my opinion, has not been fairly honored. He could have been praised, for sure, had he fought. However, he did not: he was a quiet spirit, a tranquil talent.” We agree with Retana: I think it is time to put his name in the place it deserves.