Opium: The Evolution of Policies, the Tolerance of the Vice, and the Proliferation of Contraband Trade in the Philippines, 1843-1908

Alma N. Bamero


This research entitled “Opium: The Evolution of Policies, the Tolerance of the Vice, and the Proliferation of Contraband Trade in the Philippines, 1843-1908” presents a discussion of the opium trade in Asia, the commercial networks it created, the political ties it strengthened, and the social relations it
fostered. It also aims to reconstruct an aspect of Philippine social history in the nineteenth century through the use of archival materials that bear witness to the distribution and exploitation of a substance which some people still
classify as taboo. The poppy was not endemic to the Philippines but opium, its derivative substance, was known to numb pain and could induce a “natural high” that left one with feelings of ease and contentment. A more complete introduction to the drug necessitates a discussion of the way it was extracted
and processed. It is a cash crop that does not require complex devices and is, therefore, within the reach of farmers and common folk. From the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries opium became very popular among the Chinese who discovered that their markets were being flooded with it by the British so
that the latter could pay for the tea that they craved.

The Spanish Bourbons, in an effort to boost Philippine economy, allowed the trading of this substance. Initially this was supervised by the officials of the Alcaiceria de San Fernando but in 1843 the meticulous examination of the country’s finances merited the creation of an opium revenue
farm through municipal franchising. Opium could only be used by the Chinese who were migrating in big groups. This paper presents the details of the monopoly contract, identifies some of the wealthier contratistas of the period, and discusses the consequences of such a commercial venture. Smuggling or
contraband trade proliferated and by way of illustration the events namely, the Scandal of 1843 and the Gunga Incident, have been narrated. The creation of an over-all apprehending unit called Resguardo and the para-military comisionados
for the Chinese community assured the Royal Treasury of a constant supply of cash.

The pragmatism of the government was the basis for its tolerant attitude. Even at the time of the Revolution, leaders like Aguinaldo used the opium trade for the acquisition of funds. The American colonial officials made the “supreme” sacrifice of giving up profits from its importation and
trade only in 1908 with the passage of the Opium Law.


Opium, contraband trade, Alcaiceria de San Fernando, mercantile houses, Gunga Incident, Scandal of 1843.

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