FFE Magazine

6 September : The world turns its eyes on the Philippines

Good morning! I am your kuya Rogelio and I will be walking you through the Philippines’ most tantalising, valuable and groundbreaking historic moments. Since this is my first time to talk to you, I would like to start off with a story about the Philippines’ first formal foray into international relations. I am referring to the day when the Philippines opened its ports to the world.

 I am taking you back to September 6, 1834, during the Spanish period in our beloved country. In this trip I may have to use such terms as laissez-faire and bring you to the shores of Europe, America, South Africa and back.

                           Sit tight, and tarry for a while…

The Royal Company of the Philippines

                           I cannot talk about September 6 without first telling you about the Royal Company of the Philippines, or as I would like to say in Spanish, the Real Compaña de Filipinas. The good and quite modern King Charles III of Spain was the one who created the company, and his goal was to make trade to Spain from the Philippines more efficient.

Royal decree of erection of the compay of the Philippines.

                           Around about that time, laissez-fair (which basically tells the governments not to bother with private trade among merchants, meaning no tax and restrictions) became a popular movement throughout Europe. So the king put his goal for Spanish trade and the laissez-fair idea together and BAM! The Royal Company was born in 1785.

                           Through the Royal Company, goods from China, India and Indonesia like silk, porcelain, precious stones, textiles and spices, were brought to the Philippines and then sent to Spain via Latin America. Why Latin America? Because the countries there were under Spanish rule then and the only other route was through Cape Colony, South Africa where the Dutch and English are. That route was definitely a no-no – going there meant being closer to enemies. The saying about keeping your enemies closer definitely isn’t worth following if you have luxury goods in your boats!

This is a very rough map of hte route the Royal Company took to get to Spain. The red line shows the route through South Africa, the more dangerous choice. The green line shows the route through Mexico and to Spain, the more logical choice for the Spaniards since they are on friendly grounds and ran restock provisions in their Latin American colonies. I had my son help me create this simulated routh through Google maps. Again, this is not accurate.

                           It was a good idea to trade this way for the benefit of Spain, but the Royal Company ended up solely having the right to trade between these countries. Let’s just say Spain definitely angered a few merchants along the way.

                           However, around that time Spain’s Latin American colonies became independent one after another, jeopardising the trade between the Philippines and Spain. Remember, the route via Cape Colony wasn’t a good idea. Poor management and angered merchants also added fuel to the fire. Soon, because of it lacked options, the Royal Company went bankrupt.

The Spanish king was left with only one option…

Philippines opened to world trade

                           September 6, 1834 – by a royal decree, Su Majestad or Your Majesty the King declared the Royal Company of the Philippines abolished and opened Manila’s ports to world trade.

                           Because Manila was a great harbour (the shape of the bay protected trade boats from rough waters) it became one of the best cities to trade with, luring American, British and other European and Asian merchants to its shores. As a result, Spain’s economic supremacy lost its footing in the region.

Map of Manila Bay.

                           Manila and the Philippines, however, garnered great economic growth around that time. Many shops opened in the Binondo and the rest of the “Extramuros” area (the areas outside of Intramuros). The best part of this was that some were also owned by Filipino businessmen who were knowledgeable in finance and consumer retail. Manila itself expanded – more people came to settle in the city and grew rich through profit from trade. Imagine how housing developments now sprout like mushrooms where malls are nearby. That’s how I would interpret what happened in Manila then in a more modern sense.

                           If it weren’t for the world trade boom in 1834, our country would not have gotten the telegraph and would not have known how to cultivate tobacco and abaca to sell to other countries. We would also not have known how to produce sugar and spices for export, but talk of sugar and spices has gotten me quite hungry for merienda (snacks).

                           Hmmm… I wonder how Manila would look like if the port was not opened to the world. Perhaps there would be more Spanish-style buildings in the area today. Manila and the cities around it may not also have bloomed that early. It’s difficult to guess… but I wonder, do you have any guesses yourself? Just share your thoughts to fellow readers below. If you can also share anything related that you did last week on September 6, it would be fun to find some surprising coincidences.

                           Salamat (thank you) for listening… until we meet again for another great day in Philippines history!

Next time we meet ill be telling you about Jose Rizal’s  second novel El Fili



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