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Serfdom in Tondo

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 This article is a B-class article. It is written to a good standard. This article is part of Altverse II.

Serfdom in Tondo describes the prevailing form of relations between the peasantry and aristocracy for much of Tondo's imperial era (1500–1902). The endonym for the term "serf" is alipin (农奴), which is also a homonym for the word "slave". Tondolese serfdom is very similar to Eastern European serfdom, though they were granted more rights than their Eastern European counterparts such as but not limited to: periodic mobility, the right to marry without the consent of the landlord, a ban on the corporal punishment of a serf, and the prohibition of the selling of serfs separate from their property and their immediate family. Despite this, the majority of serfs still lived in subsistence and were afflicted by poverty and poor working conditions.

Prior to the establishment of serfdom, there was a similar three-rank class (known as the "Pre-Imperial Class System") comprised of nobility (贵族, maginoo), freemen (自由民, timawa) and finally, slaves (奴隶, alipin)–of which all except the slave class survive into the hereditary "Imperial Class System". Slaves were further divided into house slaves and field slaves, depending on their obligations to their owner. While one's social status was generally determined by hereditary means, a slave may purchase their freedom or receive manumission from their owner. In contrast, freemen may subject themselves to voluntary slavery or indentured servitude to pay off their debts. However, this class system was uncodified and thus was unstable, and by the time of the reforms initiated by Dayang Kalangitan and continued by her successors, it was under the process of intense differentiation. Slavery gradually became increasingly unpopular, especially with both Chinese and Spanish dignitaries. This contributed to an eventual ban on the purchase and selling of slaves to and from overseas. In 1585, Lakan Alakan issued a decree which called for the emancipation of all slaves. There was no accompanying land reform, and the lack of available plots of land (almost all were under the ownership of the nobility or freemen) contributed to many slaves still serving their owners, albeit in a contractual relationship as tenant farmers. Household slaves were converted to field slaves earlier, in 1576.

In 1596, the imperial court, under the pressure of land-owning lobbyists, allowed for an increase in the feudal dependency and taxation of the peasantry. Through the 1598 "Proclamation on the Obligations and Rights of a Peasant", the majority of the peasantry–with the exception of those who were wealthy enough to pay an annual "freedom" tax–were assigned to, and organized into estates. Their individual landholdings were seized by the state and redistributed among landlords, while for tenant farmers, their leases were terminated. As a result of the reform, peasantry completely lost their right to mobility (asides from the week preceding New Year) while criminal codes added flight as a criminal offense. This completely binded the majority of Tondolese peasantry, many of whom were freemen prior to the 1585 Emancipation Reform, into a state of bondage as serfs. In contrast to serfdom in Eastern Europe, the obligations of a serf did not comprise of corvée labor, but instead, they were not granted personal plots and serfs had to work collectively on the land as a joint-enterprise; therefore, these estates functioned as collective farms. About 50-67% of the farm's total output were given to the landlord (which will be granted to the government or sold into the market), and as a result, serfs lived at perpetual subsistence conditions. While this system of collectivization was inefficient, as serfs had little incentive to improve the land, it was politically effective. While serf revolts were frequent, they were always localized (as serfs lacked resources to wage a protracted, large-scale revolt) and revolters sought to escape from serfdom, rather than challenge it. The introduction of "Hupai" or identification tags, which were issued to all individuals regardless of social standing, allowed for the monitoring of one's movement and aided the suppression of these revolts–but, the issue was not remedied entirely.

Serfdom as an institution weakened during the eighteenth century. In 1704, the "Serf Code" was established by Lakan Hafunan. A progressive text for its time, it expanded the list of rights guaranteed to serfs and outlined them, while stressing the government policy of countering the exploitation and mistreatment of serfs. This trend reversed and serfdom strengthened until the colonization of Tondo by Sierra, the latter introducing sweeping land and taxation reforms which included land redistribution and the abolition of the caste system. In the late 19th century, many Tondolese nationalists and intellectuals, influenced by Europe wanted to reform the system but were blocked by the efforts of the aristocracy. Scholars have proposed multiple overlapping reasons to account for this, including fear of a large-scale revolt by the serfs, the government's financial needs, evolving cultural sensibilities and the military's dire need for soldiers.



In the states that encompassed pre-Imperial Tondo, the bottom of the social hierarchy was occupied by the alipin, or the slave caste. While the alipin does, indeed, serve their owners, historians note that translating the term as "slave" in the Western sense of the world may not be appropriate. Some scholars prefer to use the more accurate terms "debtors", "bondsmen" or "dependents" instead. Unlike slavery in Western or Islamic societies, slaves in pre-Imperial Tondo may attain free status by not only through manumission but through marriage, buying it with their earnings, or the fulfillment of their obligations. The inheritance of slave status was subject to a complex system of rules depending on the condition of the slave's children. There were two subclasses, differing in their legal rights and the extent of their bondage to their masters. These were the field slave (aliping namamahay, lit. "servant that is housed") and the household slave (aliping sa gigilid, lit. "servant in the corners [of the owner's house]").

Field slaves had limited property rights (such as ownership over a plot of land given to them by their master) and the right to marry without the consent of their masters. While they were not considered the personal property of their masters, they were tied to their master's property and therefore were legally recognized as dependents. They were obligated to perform corvée work on their master's private estates for a certain number of days' work each year, as well as surrender a certain portion of their private plot's produce to their masters, an act referred to as handog (or "tribute").

In contrast, household slaves were regarded as the personal property of their masters, and therefore lack the right to own property themselves. The majority of household slaves were the unmarried children of field slaves. A minority of household slaves were unransomed captives from raids or wars and were of lower status compared to the first group. Unlike field slaves, household slaves could only marry with the permission or approval of their masters. Following marriage, they were converted into field slaves while their masters rescind any previous obligations to feed or clothe them.

Abolition of slavery

Slavery as an institution deteriorated during the late 16th century as labor and services became not only more available but more accessible, due to the formation of a national market. Slavery was noted by contemporary scholars, well as visiting Chinese and Spanish dignitaries, as a highly-inefficient, oppressive system. There were no legal penalties for the exploitation of or the usage of corporal punishment on slaves. As they lived in subsistence conditions and had few property rights, slaves had little incentive and capital to improve the land or engage in commercial activities. As a result, while slaves accounted for the majority of the population (~85%), they only accounted for 15% of commercial grain production, and less than 2% of cash crop production.

Early Christian missionaries sought to publicize the plight of the peasantry (who were among the first converts in Tondo) and often pressed both the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown to pressure the Tondolese government into abolishing slavery, or at least, give them the right to freely practice the religion. Their efforts culminated in the official condemnation of [Tondolese] slavery by the Pope in 1575. The anti-slavery stance of Christian missionaries contributed to Christianity's appeal and the success of missionary efforts, but also tainted relations between the Spaniards and the Tondolese. This, together with the outbreak of the Second Castilian War, contributed to the decision of the Lakan to prohibit the entry of any Catholic missionaries and the practice of Catholicism (loosely applied to other Christian denominations) under the penalty of death–a law that would be enforced to varying degrees for a nearly century. During the 1570 visit of Justin Velasquez I (the great-grandfather of Justin Velasquez II, who contributed to the events leading up to the Tondolese Schism of the early 18th century), had noted in his posthumously-published memoir On My Travels to the Orient (1555–1854) that "...upon my arrival, I saw groups of scantily-clad, filthy household slaves as young as eight or seven years of age manage to carry ten-feet long palanquins on their bare shoulders. In contrast; their masters had wore extravagant robes made from silk, indicating their immense wealth. How come a people as civilized and skilled as those of Europe, regard such a cruel and barbaric practice as not only acceptable, but the norm?"

In spite of earlier attempts to abolish slavery from within the Lacandola, as during the reign of Dayang Kalangitan, there were not among the main policies of the royal administration and they were blocked by slave-owners within the imperial court. Slavery was finally abolished in the "Imperial Decree of 1585", issued by Lakan Alakan, though household slaves were converted into field slaves earlier in 1576. The decree was met with staunch opposition from the aristocracy, but due to the entrenchment of absolutist laws which removed restrictions to a monarch's power, they did not have the power to overturn the decision. As a part of an agreement, however, he did not institute land reform. As a result, the land remained under the ownership of the aristocracy, and the majority of slaves remained tenant farmers, they were now in a nominally equal, contractual relationship with their landlords. Furthermore, unlike field slaves, they maintained a degree of ownership over their rented lands (under a lease) and payment was given through copper bullion. To regulate the movement of his subjects and crackdown on tax evasion, he enacted a national household registry, previously relying on censuses conducted by landlords (and therefore these records could be fabricated or filled with errors) to collect information. To aid this, he extended the practice of surnames, a right previously restricted to the aristocracy, to commoners. However the surname a commoner could have was restricted to matronymic or toponymic names (characterized by the usage of the epithets Anak ni– and Ng respectively).

Transition to full serfdom

In 1686, shortly following the Qing Expedition (1683–1685), Lakan Puno implemented a law which limited the right of tenant farmers to terminate their contracts with their landlords to a period of one week before and after New Year's Eve (December 30)–later referred to as Puno's Day. These restrictions intended to bind the peasantry to their landlords as a solution to the scarcity of labor, as the Tondolese population–through a combination of disease, famine, and warfare–had decreased by 40% (~8,000,000) from its peak in 1644 by the close of the 17th century. It also established a "termination" fee of 250 silver taels; which was equivalent to 5,000 copper taels in value or over five times the annual tax levied upon peasantry.

In 1701, Lakan Haponan decided to organize all peasants that had failed to pay an annual "independence tax" into estates while adding statues into the criminal code which criminalized flight without payment. This marked the transition into full serfdom, with peasantry now separated into three categories (in order of dependency): landed peasants, free tenants, and bonded tenants (serfs). Due to their level of dependency, serfs were legally considered dependents rather than chattel. The 1705 Census determined that serfs constituted about 21% of the population–a proportion which would rise to 45% by 1715. The obligations of a serf were relatively lenient–being required to surrender a portion of their produce (usually 50–67%) to the landlord. Corvée labor was outlawed but a landlord may purchase the services of a serf. While the property rights of serfs were limited, namely in their inability to own land, their fair treatment was guaranteed and enforced by a "Serf Code". The document made it mandatory for the landlord to aid their serfs during famine, established maximum working hours, penalties for corporal punishment, and observed Sunday as a mandatory non-working holiday. Unlike slaves, they were granted the right to marry without the consent of the landlord and they may not be sold or purchased separately from their land or from their immediate families. In contrast to the serfdom practiced in Eastern Europe, serfs managed landlord's estates were managed as a joint-enterprise in which they share capital and the profit. Due to the size of these estates, the land was divided into smaller, manageable plots known as "communes" which were assigned to a specific household.

Serfdom initially troubled the economy but was effective in limiting dissent. To solve this, Lakan Haponan instituted a tax reform which recognized grain as both a way to pay tax and as a valid medium of financial exchange. As a result of this system, the burden of taxation had shifted to landlords, who then limited the portion of grain the serfs were allocated to subsistence amounts. This system, however, would be invalidated by the Compact of Manila, as the export of lucrative Tondolese goods would initiate an influx of silver bullion which would underpin the market economy. As serfs were legally recognized as dependents, they were not taxed. However; the number of serfs a landlord oversees is proportional to the amount of silver he/she is required to pay in tax.

During the Tondolese Golden Age

Early Serfdom was relatively lenient especially in comparison to the system of slavery practiced during the 16th century, and what is referred as "Later Serfdom" in the 19th century. Lakan Hafunan's decision to permit people of all classes to serve as civil servants or participate in civil or military examinations, a right previously restricted to the aristocracy (and for the latter, the Maharlika caste) initiated a weakening of aristocratic power; and facilitated the rise of a competitive, influential, and rich middle class. This also provided an outlet for serfs to free themselves from dependency other than paying the hefty "independence" tax annually. These, coupled with an increase in government power allowed the central government to enforce regulations set forth by the Serf Code and prosecute landlords found guilty of disobeying its laws. For example, article 192 stated, "if a master is convicted of cruel treatment, the judge will order the sale of the mistreated serf to a master of better reputation". It also ordered masters to give financial compensations to their victims. However, the sheer number of serfs under each landlord's jurisdiction disrupted the once-close working relationship between master and serf; and instead, landlords hired intermediaries or "middlemen" (almost always of the freemen castes) to evaluate and report on the state of their lands, collect grain quotas, and any requests for aid on behalf of the serf. This led to the development of fairer, more humane conditions for the serf.

The Codification of the Classes in 1715 had officially abolished the First Class System and established a more comprehensive five-rank caste system: the Maginoo (aristocrats), Maharlika (military nobles), Magsasaka (divided into those who own their own land, or rent land from landlords), and Alipin (serfs, or bonded peasants in official terminology). The disintegration of the traditional feudal hierarchy has resulted in the formation of a unique dynamic between the castes over the 18th century. As one scholar-bureaucrat noted, "[the] aristocracy would eventually fulfill the roles of politicians, bureaucrats, and high-ranking military officials as government centralization continued; leaving the responsibilities of the landlord to the middleman or several middlemen, while their main place of residence would be in urban centers where they worked." Indeed, the change in social structure has led to a noticeable shift in the role the freemen played in society. Freemen became to cultivate cash crops or engage in the production of textiles, pottery, and other manufactures; some eventually fulfilling prestigious mercantile roles. Grain quotas were reduced as the agrarian economy become deemphasized, reducing pressure on serfs. As a result, they were able to amass a surplus which they were able to sell into the market. Having no tax obligations, it was noted some serfs were richer than freely-associated peasants, who, while did not have to fulfill any grain quotas and can use their leased land as they fit, had to pay a portion of their earnings to their landlord as rent.

Later Serfdom

Serf society


Labor and obligations

Marriage and family life