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These Brothers Were the First to Fight for a 'Filipino' Philippines

The Bayot brothers sought change via rebellion.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano
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Who is a Filipino? These days the question seems strange, but when anti-Chinese xenophobia and casual racism threaten to take over discourse, it may pay to step back a bit and look at what the term “Filipino” used to mean. 

The first Filipinos were not the people from the Philippines

Before the Spanish advent, there were no “Filipino” people. There were Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Cebuanos, Moros, and so on, but nobody was a Filipino. It wasn’t until Spain came that the archipelago was given its name: Las Islas Filipinas, and her people, Filipinos.

Fast forward to the 19th century. Philippine society has changed drastically and various classes have emerged. An informal caste system built along racial and ethnic lines divided the native indios, half-blood mestizos, and Spanish elites. Colonial society was built so that the Spanish were on top while the natives and the Chinese languished at the bottom.

In 19th-century Philipines, an informal caste system divided the native indios, half-blood mestizos (above), and Spanish elites. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons - Justiniano Asuncion / The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art
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But there’s only so much room at the top, even in colonial society. Spaniards were divided between peninsulares born in Spain and insulares born in the Philippines. Although both were legally and ethnically Spaniards, peninsulares were ranked higher than the insulares, owing to them being born in Spain.

The highest offices in government were given to peninsulares, and they generally had it better than their Manila-born counterparts. To further distinguish them, peninsulares were called full-blooded Spaniards, while the insulares were derisively called ‘Filipinos.’

These were the ‘Filipinos’ of the colonial era: not the native indios but the foreigners born on Philippine soil. And it is from these ‘Filipinos’ that we ultimately owe our national consciousness. 

The Cadiz Constitution prompted liberal sentiment in the Philippines

By the 1800s, Europe had been swept by ideas of liberalism. The idea that everyone was created equal started to take hold. Spain was no exception: In 1812, Spain proclaimed the Cadiz Constitution, the most liberal of its time. It established a constitutional monarchy, guaranteed freedoms, and extended Spanish citizenship to all subjects of the Empire. Although repealed after two short years, its impact echoed throughout the decades to come.    

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The Cadiz Constitution guaranteed freedoms and extended Spanish citizenship to all subjects of the Empire.

The effects of Cadiz were not lost on the Philippines. A growing liberal sentiment evolved. The idea of a caste system seemed absurd to the growing bourgeois middle class, and especially so to the ‘Filipinos’ and mestizos who occupied it. Why should they be below the peninsulares? Far from the later nationalism of Rizal and Bonifacio, a budding discontent slowly grew against the existing system in place.

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Many insulares tried different tactics. Luis Rodriguez Valera, El Conde Filipino, truly believed in the liberal principles of the Cadiz constitution and fought for the rights of everybody in the colony, including the native Filipinos. With like-minded individuals, he formed the Sons of the Nation and called for reforms. 

Manuel, Jose, and Joaquin Bayot sought change via rebellion

Others were not so peaceful in their methods. Three brothers, Manuel, Jose, and Joaquin, were just as disgruntled and sought change through other means.

They were the sons of Colonel Francisco Bayot, himself a prominent figure in Manila at the time. Sick of the extra privileges granted to the peninsulares and inspired by revolts of the American colonies, the Bayot brothers conspired with other officers of the Batallion Real Principe. Their goal: to overthrow the colonial government and install their father as king. Plans were laid out and finalized. April 17, 1822 would be the date of the rebellion.

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Sadly, the conspiracy would never come to fruition. Governor-General Mariano de Folgueras caught wind of the plot and alerted the Queen’s Regimen, which surrounded the rebels in their barracks before the plan could be carried out.

The Bayot Brothers sowed the seeds of Filipino nationalism  

All conspirators were arrested, including the Bayot brothers and their father. El Conde Filipino, who was a close friend to the Bayots, was also arrested on suspected association and partly out of convenience.

A trial was held and the three brothers were sentenced to exile, along with other conspirators. Their father, Francisco, was acquitted on a lack of evidence, but was forced to resign from the army. Thus ended the Bayots' conspiracy. 

The story of Manuel, Jose, and Joaquin Bayot galvanized a new class of middle-class mestizos to action: the Ilustrados. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons / Rizal Diaries
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The story didn’t really end there, however. Just a little over a year later, Captain Andres Novales would successfully stage a rebellion for largely the same reasons. He would even go so far as to capture Intramuros before he was crushed by the colonial army. 

A nascent sense of Filipino nationalism began to take root in the insulares, and they slowly began to embrace the notion of being Filipino. By 1872, a trio of Cavite friars were implicated in a mutiny against unfair taxation and forced labor, galvanizing a new class of middle-class mestizos to action: the Ilustrados. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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