HomeManilavol. 4 no. 1 (2008)

Petty Crimes in the late 19th Century Manila

Filomin C. Gutierrez

Discipline: History




The paper examines cases of petty crimes from historical documents in Manila during the last years of the Spanish colonial period. Documents from libraries and archives were drawn from reports of the Guardia Civil

(Police), Carcel Publica (Jail), and Jugados (Court). Violations against public order, such as road obstruction, alcohol intoxication, and vandalism reflect the tensions that grew from colonial efforts to rationalize urban spaces and enforce modes of public conduct and health habits. Cases of petty crimes of property (theft, robbery, and swindling) illustrate how the Spanish and local elite maintained control over the working classes. Crimes involving physical violence (physical injuries), maltratar de obra (physical abuse) and riñas (brawls) demonstrate tensions within and across classes and races. Arrests for tax evasion, illegal gambling and lack of identification (indocumentado) reveal means of monitoring and regulating the native Filipino (indio) and Chinese population in the city.

These violations not only show patterns of criminal offending but also reveal the daily rhythm of colonization marked by community reorganization and tension and collaboration among the classes of native Filipinos, Chinese and Spaniards. While crimes illustrate how indigenous and non-Spanish norms were marginalized and censured, they also reveal how natives alternately rejected and appropriated the Spanish judicial bureaucracy to seek retribution and settle disputes among themselves or against the Spaniards. The paper reflects on the consequences and conflicts arising from the application of a colonial criminal justice system premised on modern ideas of bureaucracy, rationality, and equality.