Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chapter 2: Jacta Alea Est (part 2)

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 2: Don Cesar - The Tycoon
Chapter 2: Jacta Alea Est (part 2)

The majordomo entered the room carrying the Moroccan Mint Tea in glasses with inlaid silver handles. In silence he handed the glass to Don Cesar who immediately caught the aroma of fresh mint. He smiled and nodded his head at the majordomo. “What rapture!” he thought, that he could still enjoy the most simple rituals in life while he was grieving over the death of his sister and pondering in icy anger how to fight the Dominican Friars of Santo Tomas in the courts of law.

There was something timeless about the effortless way the majordomo moved. He noiselessly placed the glass of mint on the dais next to Don Juan, who did not look up from his reading.

“He must be the Lawyer’s secret confidante,” concluded Don Cesar. He’s probably a legal expert of some kind as well as a scribe. He doesn’t have the air of subservience about him. He walks like a fighter, confident in his abilities.”

The mint tea was delectable. Don Cesar sipped it slowly as he scanned the titles on the many shelves. There it was! “The Prince” by Nicolo Machiavelli right before his eyes. There was an edition in Latin bound in parchment; on the shelf beside it were a pair of pristine linen gloves. Don Cesar understood. He tried on the gloves. Just a tad loose, but it did not impede him from turning the pages of the book slowly. The moisture from one’s hands at any temperature could be ruinous to a rare book of fragile parchment. He returned the book. It was difficult to concentrate on its contents, knowing its value. There was another edition, and a third, and a fourth in Italian (in the Tuscan dialect of the 16th century), in Spanish and in English. Don Cesar took the Spanish and Italian translations of “the Prince” and “the Discourses” and “The Art of War.” He placed seven books on a small table beside the bookshelves, taking care to lay them down softly.

He wanted to find Sun Tzu's "Act of War." Till today, Don Cesar had never heard of him. He was intrigued to learn of the pursuit of power from an Eastern perspective as well. Were they not in the Orient? A voila! His eyes lit up. The French Jesuit who had written an essay on Sun Tzu. Don Cesar's French had been adequate for seduction in Paris and for the superficial conversations with the demimondaine and the glitterati (women of the world, of easy virtue) in the extravagant salons of the Belle Epoque, as the early part of the twentieth century was known. Don Cesar could not even begin to attempt reading the French Jesuit's tract on "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. That was profound stuff. Don Cesar stared at the name and memorized it quickly - Francois Xavier Duprez (after St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit who traveled to India, Japan, and China in the 16th century). He decided he would ask Don Juan to explain the salient points of Sun Tzu.

Don Cesar took a quick look at Don Juan. He had not actually said he would represent Don Cesar. The Tycoon knew in his bones this lawsuit was too complex, formidable, and arduous for Don Juan to back off. Don Cesar wished even for just a brief moment to hear the Lawyer say right this minute "Yes!" Be patient, he urged himself.

His sister Urraca kept intruding into his thoughts. He felt some guilt at not having spent more time with her. She had been in and out of sick beds all her life, yet he could not remember his sister ever complaining or being cross with him or anyone else. He contemplated on the sad lot of women, in particular, it seemed to him, those born intelligent and wealthy who for some reason or another chose not to marry. Urraca had not lacked for suitors in her late teens and twenties. She had once confided in Don Cesar years ago that "Because of my beauty and wealth, I was not sure if my suitors want me for my personal attributes or my money," to which Don Cesar had responded "Dear Urraca, most people are not attractive yet they marry just the same. There are also many handsome and rich people who marry others for money. Where love and money are concerned, the variations are endless."

"I am aware of that, Cesar. I just don't want a master, that's the crux of the matter. And then the chronic attacks of malaria keep me incapacitated so much of the time. I would rather be sick, unmarried, and free in your house, Cesar, than Mrs. So and So, sick and a prisoner in my husband's house."

And free she had been! Don Cesar never asked her where she went, what she was doing, who her friends were. He always waited for Urraca to tell him - which she did. The years passed; Urraca became weak and forgetful, lost her concentration, her eyesight was poor due to heavy doses of quinine, and yet her wealth increased because of Don Cesar's uncanny far sighted investments.

Money had probably kept Urraca alive longer then most people in similar circumstances, mused Don Cesar.

It was really the Tycoon's money. He never dipped into Urraca's wealth, although she had a sub-account in her own name at the family's bank, the Banco Hispano Filipino in Manila. That was a generous gesture on her brother's part. Women could not hold or have bank accounts in their own name in the Philippines. Why even in the United States, as modern as they were, women could not vote. The men were fighting this issue, literally tooth and nail.

"Let's do it," the Lawyer cried out.

The Tycoon was lost in his thoughts, remembering his sister, going over her death again for the hundredth time. She had died. Life goes on. Stop brooding. He thought he had heard the Lawyer say something.

“What did you say?”

“I just said 'Let's do it,'" Don Juan repeated. "Let's throw down the gauntlet. Let's make waves. Let’s make history. Let's put Urraca's Last Will and Testament into question."

"You know I was hoping you would agree to take on the lawsuit," said Don Cesar.

"Well, what would you call my outburst of eloquence?" Don Juan asked with a touch of amusement.

"It's an overpowering yes," replied Don Cesar.

"This is a well executed and candid memorandum. It is going to be invaluable and it goes right to the point. It has saved both of us hours of dialogue. It could not have been easy for you to write it so soon after your sister's death, in the middle of funeral arrangements." Don Juan had not been surprised to read the lucid account of Urraca's death filled with acts of profound devotion towards Urraca by all three brothers.

“Because the stakes were so high, the Dominican priests had committed some careless tactical errors such as showing up on the morning of Urraca’s death of which they were not aware since you had sent for your good friend Manuel Franco S.J. to perform the last rites instead of Padre Aldo. From your account, it is clear that all three of the friars - the Father Superior, Padre Aldo (his sister’s confessor) and the economo - were visibly and unexpectedly taken aback at the news of Dona Urraca's death, another thoughtless error that. Births and deaths are hard to predict. There is something else here that cannot be underestimated.”

"What is it?" queried Don Cesar.

"By sending for your Jesuit friend, you sent a clear signal to the Dominican Friars that you did not quite trust them, that you were suspicious. When you decided to hold the funeral rites at the Saint Agustin Church rather than at the Church of the Virgin of the Rosary - their church, that was another loud signal of your disapproval."

"My dislike would be more like it," explained Don Cesar. My brothers and I had decided on San Agustin long ago. Even my sister was in agreement. It's a family tradition. When these vultures appeared early in the morning to discuss my sister's Last Will and Testament, I decided to stick to our previous decision. Padre Aldo could not contain his anger. His angry voice said it all. The two older friars who were more experienced in dealing – no - manipulating the faithful, remained calm. I deliberately lowered my voice and said I could not discuss any pecuniary matters until a couple of weeks after her death.”

“It’s been four days since Urraca died.”

“So as I was saying, they now know for certain that you dislike them. Forewarned is forearmed. Are you having masses said and novenas recited at the Dominican Church of the Rosary? I’d go out of my way, if I were you, to have a great many masses and novenas said there. I’d make a big point of my financial contribution.”

The Lawyer was a genius; he was also wise in the ways of the world.

“You should go yourself to Santo Tomas, ask for Padre Aldo, give him the money for the Holy Masses. Thank him properly for the spiritual comfort he gave your sister.”

The Tycoon stared at the Lawyer, speechless.

“Look, you don’t know what went on in your sister’s exhausted mind and in her fragile condition. Padre Aldo may not have been exactly in good faith but your sister certainly was and he may have, unwittingly perhaps, given her the religious solace she craved as she died slowly each day. For that alone, you must thank him.”

Don Cesar still did not say anything.

“There’s a far more important reason for thanking Padre Aldo,” Don Juan paused.

Don Cesar was beginning to see the grand design Don Juan was weaving.

“I assume the books you have chosen to study and evaluate are Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and a couple on Saint Dominic and the Dominicans?” Don Juan pointed his goatee towards the table where the books selected by Don Cesar were lying. The Lawyer did not wait for the Tycoon to reply. “It’s elementary, as Sherlock Holmes would say. You have a great deal of so-called common sense, which is anything but common. I don’t receive my clients in this room, as you’ve already surmised.”

“Yes, I have, and I have been absorbing everything, significant or otherwise, or trying to as much as I can,” came the reply at last.

“Let’s take the example of “The Prince” by Machiavelli. The art of dissimulation or dissembling, that’s what you will have to do in thanking the confessor of your sister Padre Aldo.”

“I’m prepared to do it, now that I’ve heard you out. It will throw these jackals off the scent and lead them to think I am not in a warpat, which indeed … I’m not … in the sense that once outside this room I shall refrain from saying anything derogatory about them.”

“That’s very astute,” agreed the Lawyer. “Machiavelli was the first to affirm with a calculating lucidity the politics of morality or, if you will, the morality of politics. Florence was a republic; one could say it was the first republic in the modern world. He was 23 years old when Columbus discovered the New World and read the travel essays of Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine explorer whose book was printed in Florence and whose name was given to both continents North and South America. He lived in a world of splendor. We live in a world of misery compared to the explosion of creation, which took place in Florence in every aspect of human life, including politics. Why are you and I still talking about Machiavelli as we contemplate the strategy of our lawsuit?”

“Who has written a better book in these 400 years on governance, on leadership, on ethics in politics and in finance? Have we as human beings evolved in our morality commensurate with our scientific discoveries?”

“Certainly not!” answered the Tycoon as he picked up the seven books. He opened “The Prince” in English from Jacob Burkhardt’s analysis. “Machiavelli was a product of the cultural revolution of that period. He wrote courageously and clearly about the demons of power and unmasked them! This is what I want to keep in my mind as we prepare our strategy for challenging the Dominican Friars of Santo Tomas.”

Don Cesar slowly turned the pages and found what he was looking for. He read out loud. “For men pursue their goal (which is generally the acquisition of glory, power and wealth) by very different means. One is cautious, and another rash. One uses violence and another deceit, still another is magnanimous. One is patient and another impulsive; and yet all of them may succeed with their different methods, as well as fail with their different methods.”

“You may find that your decision to sue the Friars, however taxing, will reveal itself in time to be fairly easy in comparison to what lies ahead,” Don Juan reminded Don Cesar.

“I have not calculated how much money this will cost. What’s more, I don’t intend to,” the Tycoon asserted. “I have, instead, considered the toll on my nerves, my time, on my brothers, on my family and I have decided that the pursuit of justice is a risk worth taking.”

“The timing could not have been better, if you had written a scenario for it,” Don Juan declared. “Washington is not too pleased with the immense power of the Church in their colony by virtue of their vast landholdings and commercial properties. They won’t remove or diminish their wealth; they simply wish to re-dimension the wealth, keeping certain checks and balances. Yes! Yes! This time I believe we could pull it off.”

“You are saying we could win the lawsuit?” the Tycoon asked the Lawyer directly.

“Yes!” the Lawyer replied. “We could have an unprecedented legal and moral victory. It won’t be easy. The struggles worth fighting for always exact a price and it might be a heavy one.”

Don Cesar realized the painful part was about to begin. “On what charges are we suing?”

“Spiritual coercion under duress, misuse of spirituality on an enfeebled mind due to a chronic illness and medication, possible sale of indulgences (forbidden by the Church since Martin Luther had denounced it and broken away from the Catholic Church).”

“In what way could this have been done?”

“Offering Heaven, in exchange for your sister’s wealth to help out the ‘poor and needy’ or in any case a brief period in purgatory,” explained Don Juan. “There’s another charge. The Americans recognize it in their own country; some states have strong laws against it. It’s called ‘alienation of affection’."

“From what I gleaned reading the story of Saint Dominic, the friars vowed poverty till death,” suggested Don Cesar. “Excellent! How about their living extravagantly and turning into accumulators of plantations, businesses, sometimes acting as moneylenders loaning at a high rate of interest but still lower than the banks, mine included, is something that could be called an unfair business practice. I am prepared and determined to wait them out,” declared Don Cesar.

“Perhaps we won’t have to. The Philippines is still in a state of pacification because of the Philippine American War. Military judges make up their minds more quickly than their civilian counterparts. I’ll prepare the briefs and all the documentation with my assistants. I suggest we file the lawsuit as soon as possible, in a week at the most,” said Don Juan.

“Before the Dominicans least expect it,” declared Don Cesar. “It will disconcert them. They might commit even more thoughtless mistakes.”

“Rightly or wrongly, they are used to the faithful bending their knees on the hard stone floor, even if their knees are broken,” warned Don Juan. “It might be a winning strategy for you to come every day for a few hours and refresh yourself on Machiavelli and other thinkers. You might get new perspectives and new ideas,” continued Don Juan.

“That I would,” Don Cesar agreed.

“So if you’re not suing the church out of a love for money or greed what are your reasons?”

“Elementary!” Now it was the Tycoon’s turn to say it. “One, I don’t like the idea of manipulating my sister’s mind as she became frail and lost her capacity to think and; two – not necessarily in that order – I find the idea of inept Dominican friars’ sitting on the board of Directors meetings at the Banco Hispano Filipino, causing havoc, confusion and mayhem; repugnant! They are supposed to be pastors and shepherds of the flock, not bankers, moneylenders, or financiers. Of course it is also about money. I don’t wish to share any of it with anyone outside the family and clan.”

Don Juan remained still and there was a faint enigmatic smile on his lips. ”Is that all?”

“To be truthful, Juan, there is also an element of cupidity and anger on my part in suing the Dominican priests.”

The Lawyer took it in his stride. “Know thyself, the sages tell us. Otherwise, one can’t fight one’s adversaries and achieve complete victory.”

“I would add another element to what you just said,” Don Juan declared. “A touch of pride, perhaps?”

“Si, that too. I’ll have to watch that,” Don Cesar silently told himself. To think that he, as well as his brothers, all intelligent men, had been so insensitive and so little aware of the mind games being perpetuated on their sister made him angry.

“I’m really more angry at myself than at the Dominican priests for having been so blind!”

Don Juan observed the young Tycoon’s face. He had transformed from a relaxed and calm expression into a fierce look.

“It won’t help to replay the images of your sister’s last months and last moments of life in your mind. And guilt will only influence your actions and judgments in a negative way," Don Juan softly stated. "Nothing can bring her back." As if reading the Tycoon's mind (yet again), the Lawyer expressed, "Look, there is nothing personal in what the friars did; that is the nature of business."

Don Cesar was unsure how to react to that. He did not like it so plainly stated before him. "Nothing personal, it's just the nature of business," or, if you will, the nature of the beast. He was well aware of the nature of the beast – for had he himself not, figuratively speaking, callously elbowed and kicked his way to the top, sometimes stepping over the wounded or even the corpses of men. There was nothing personal in it; that was the nature of business. But somehow it seemed acceptable for a businessman to do it, but not for men of God. Were the Dominicans just doing the same as he was – taking advantage of the weaknesses in others to make a profit. Perhaps, but It just didn’t seem right to him.

The fact that Don Juan could provoke such a strong response confirmed once again to Don Cesar that Don Juan Pardo de Tavera was not a yes man, like so many. He was his own man - a man of learning. He would not take on the case if he didn’t feel it had merit.

Don Juan valued his ideals and his friendship. Sometimes, true friends challenged you or told you unpleasant things about yourself, things you knew but did not want to think about or perhaps admit to yourself. It would be foolhardy to pretend before a friend who was your lawyer as well.

Don Juan was still watching him intently. Don Cesar smiled faintly, and said, “But isn’t that the point exactly, they shouldn’t be in business of trading heavenly favors for property.”

He had not intended to provoke Don Cesar, that was not on his mind at all. This lawsuit had many complex ramifications. The defendants in the lawsuit, the Dominican priests, he was sure would be backed by the incalculable resources of Rome. It would take great resolve to see this through, both on his part and from Don Cesar.

"It goes to the crux of the issue," Don Juan explained.

"I understand," replied Don Cesar.

“As I said earlier, things could get ugly,” reiterated Don Juan.

“I have decided,” declared Don Cesar. “Jacta alea est (Let the dice fly).”

“Good! While you read ‘the Prince’ of Machiavelli, do it in one sitting. 'The Prince” is a very brief book. Re-read it several times, always to the very end. I’ll talk about Sun Tzu later, after you’ve digested Machiavelli.”

"This is Habib, a Moro, a Filipino Muslim from Zamboanga. He is my most trusted scribe. He was one of the scouts who accompanied General Bates to Sulu to parlez the peace accord with the Sultan of Sulu during the Philippine War. He will show you upstairs to my retreat. You will enjoy reading Machiavelli there. Come down when you have finished reading and ruminating."

"Thank you.”

Don Juan, the Lawyer was a Sephardic Moroccan Jew. Hospitality was second nature to Muslims and Jews, as it was with Filipinos. Pinong would be exquisitely looked after, of that he was sure. I hope my driver Pinong is all right, Don Cesar thought.

"Allow me," said Habib, preceding him. He walked gracefully down the dais, towards the narrow bookshelves marked by the letter F."

“Finance?” reasoned the banker.

"Fable," pronounced Habib. He pressed a section entirely on Sir Richard Burton, the famed explorer, writer, philosopher, adventurer and polyglot. The panel opened slowly into a narrow passageway with a spiral wrought iron staircase.

As Habib led the way up the spiral steps, he mentioned to Don Cesar that the Fable was "The Thousand and One Nights" compiled and translated by Sir Richard Burton in the late 19th century from classical Arabic.

"It is Don Juan's sense of humor. One of the stories in 'The Thousand and One Nights' is Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."

"Ah! Yes, of course," Don Cesar remembered. "Open Sesame."

Habib pushed a door in and he found himself on the roof of Don Juan's mansion.

He had never seen a view of Manila quite like this. In Intramuros, where he had a 40-room Villa, Manila Bay was the attraction. Its colors frequently changed colors depending on the Sun, the light and the time of day.

From Don Juan's roof, the focal point was the golden Pasig River and its estuaries. He saw gardens he never knew existed - bougainvilleas, ylang-ylang trees, champaka trees, jasmine vines and orchids. The Tycoon realized he was under a trellised roof covered with jasmine vines so thick no sunlight filtered through. The sides, as well as the front, were open, covered with a white silk netting which allowed the cross breezes to waft through. He realized he was still barefoot because the blue porcelain majolica tiles felt fresh under his feet. There was a reclining chair made of bamboo with a matching foot stand and a latticed bamboo table next to the chair. There was a sheaf of papers with handwritten notes hastily scrawled "For Don Cesar."

The Tycoon turned. "This is lovely," he voiced. But Habib was gone! He had lost all awareness of anything other than his surroundings. It took his mind off his sister Urraca's death and the dreary atmosphere he had been living in for months since his sister's fatal illness.

It was a very brief moment but long enough for Don Cesar to realize that introspection was necessary and useful while brooding could be destructive. In the span of just a few hours this morning he had experienced cold fury, guilt, pain, the devotion of a friend who was his lawyer, intellectual stimulation, a glimpse into his own heart and mind, and the sensual taste of Moroccan mint tea with a few drops of the emerald green Filipino calamansi.

Life is joy and disappointment, success and failure, defeat and victory. The art of living was in handling all that Life and Destiny handed you as if they were all imposters.

The Tycoon stretched out on the cool bamboo chaise lounge and placed his bare feet on the foot stand. The light flooded the sun deck. He scanned the papers with the heading "For Don Cesar" and directly below it in smaller letters, "for perusal after reading The Prince." There were several pencils and plain papers for him to write his observations and comments.

Above all, he did not want to be superficial. This was going to be his first lawsuit; he hoped it would be his only lawsuit. As a good general, Don Juan did not fight a war in order to lose it, and Don Cesar did not intend to overlook anything, which could enlighten him in this lawsuit against a Roman Catholic religious order - the Dominicans. The order had been in existence for 800 years. It would be a steep uphill battle all the way.

Don Cesar sighed and opened Nicolo’ Machiavelli's "The Prince." "Il Principe" Nicolaus MacLavellus, Ad Magnificum Laurentium Medicem. The Magnificent Lorenzo II de Medici. This was not the magnificent Lorenzo in the history of the Renaissance and of the world (who lived between 1479 and 1492) but a nephew with the same name - much less magnificent (1492 and 1519). This might seem a detail to gloss over except for the fact that Lorenzo the Magnificent had died before Machiavelli had even thought of writing "the Prince" which the master political observer dedicated to Lorenzo II in 1515. The Medici ruler received "The Prince" coldly. Most probably, this conceited, presumptuous, lightheaded Medici never took the time to read it. At any rate, the high life took its toll and the Medici ruler died of syphilis in 1519.

"So much for him," Don Cesar opined. "But for Machiavelli, the world would never have heard of this mediocrity."

The titles of the chapters were in Latin; the contents were in vernacular Italian (the Florentine dialect), which developed into the Italian used (spoken, written and read). The left hand side of the book contained Machiavelli's original text in Florentine Italian. The opposite side carried, in much smaller letters, the Italian as it had evolved in 1897 and the translation of the original text into Castilian Spanish - all these had been painstakingly achieved by Pasquale Villari, an Italian linguist and politologist in the 19th century who dared to approach and dissect Machiavelli after the Industrial Revolution.

These texts were priceless. The Tycoon was full of wonder. It allowed the reader (Don Cesar considered himself a humble student, a traveler) to sift and distill the nuances of all the three versions. The most limpid and lucid was Machiavelli's original text. It contained no ambiguous words, hardly any adjectives, no metaphors, no allusions - it cut through bones and poured acid over them.

Machiavelli was a prismatic man. He was an acute and astute diplomat, political scientist, statesman, writer and poet. Above all, politics was his domain, He knew men, and he wanted to write about them truthfully, painfully, and perhaps, brutally. He succeeded.

"No other man before or since has ever mastered the Art of Politics, of Governance and of Political Morality," assumed Don Cesar.

"Good God! This was going to be a major expedition! He had not even finished the introductory notes of Pasquale Villari. "Read it all the way through," his Lawyer had said breezily. "Una palabra" (colloquial Castilian expression for just a word which signified a feat) was he going to give up studying and reading before he even started? Was "The Prince" perhaps hitting its target?

Politics and Finance were incestuously united since the first man walked out of a cave and decided to transact business selling the fur pelts his women had no use for. Until the end of the world, Politics and Finance would be intertwined. It was a mute question, which contaminated the other? They both went in and out of each other's lymph nodes from whence it was transported through the bloodstream.

You heard what Don Juan suggested. "Read it in one sitting and re-read it several times." He was attempting to reach perfection - impossible that. Get the essentials!

How? Every word was crucial and every word had a point. Don Juan would not have asked me to read "The Prince" if he thought I would not get a fresh perspective. What was the real reason? I am overwhelmed! Every word of Machiavelli that I am delving into is as true today as it was then. Their time and epoch - 1903 - had not changed one iota from 1517. The names had changed and the leaders were different men. There seemed to be more countries in the world, more continents, more scientific and technological discoveries but the essence of man had remained immutable.

"Well!" his inner voice told him, "what are you waiting for? Do you think your lawsuit is going to be like an evening at the Folies Bergere in Paris or a picnic in the gardens of the Tuilleries? Where it doesn't rain and there are no ants to bite you and swarm over all your food?"

Don Cesar gritted his teeth. "Jacta alea est" he reminded himself. Before coming here, I had decided there was no turning back.

Don Cesar shifted on his side and continued reading, this time concentrating only on the Castilian translation. He would evaluate the other versions at a later time - perhaps in the afternoon.

The Tycoon was staggered. He had finished “The Prince”! He took a very deep breath and exhaled slowly. What an experience, Don Cesar mulled. Till today, he had never read Machiavelli’s “The Prince” in its entirety. There were condensed versions, most taken out of context, he realized that now, sketchy and slapdash.

The name Machiavelli headed the Index of forbidden books placed by the Catholic Church on a list of never-to-be-read books under threat of hell fire, damnation and excommunication. Most of them were the most magnificent works of literature ever written.

If one followed the diktats of the Church regarding the books on the Index, one would have serious gaps in one’s education. Why, one would be ignorant! That was a great crime, reflected Don Cesar.

The breeze rustled the sheaf of papers lying on the bamboo table. He remembered Don Juan’s notes “For Don Cesar’s perusal after reading ‘The Prince’.” He was captivated and curious and then he slowly scrutinized them.

Don Juan had written: “The best example today of Machiavelli’s ideal Ruler is President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States. He is impeccable, wealthy beyond imagination; he is imbued with social conscience and is the champion of the little man. As you know, Roosevelt was vice president and stepped in after President William McKinley was assassinated. He is a dyed in the wool Republican, which means economic prosperity - not only for America but also for the Philippines as its only colony, less government interference in big business, although Roosevelt has said in no uncertain terms that great wealth of the kind wielded by John D. Rockefeller, the Harrimans, the Hartfords,the Dukes, the Vanderbilts andthe Morgans (in particular J.P. – the New York banker Don Cesar emulated) cannot continue unchecked and some form of anti-trust laws are going to be passed to break up their colossal cartels. Nota Bene: There are bound to be wagers in all the gentlemen’s clubs regarding the passing of this anti-trust laws as the U.S. Congress is going to fight it. Let’s bet on Theodore Roosevelt. We’ll win! The American millionaires are going to oppose the anti-trust anyway they can – and Roosevelt will be more determined than them to curb their power and he will use any means at his disposal (within the framework of the law or within that thin line of ethics) to win for the greater good.

As Machiavelli states in chapter 23 of "The Prince": “A leader must have very few advisers. The principal canons in choosing them must be their wisdom and their disinterest in personal gain. The advisers must always speak freely. The more candid they are, however disagreeable, the more the leader should welcome their opinions. The leader must not listen to other opinions outside his chosen circle. The leader alone decides on the course of action. Once he has decided, he must act quickly. A good leader, therefore, considers it his duty to always seek advice from his circle of sages – but only when he solicits the advice, not when his wise men volunteer unasked.”

Intriguing, pondered the Tycoon. He had made a note about that chapter himself.

The Lawyer went on. “In chapter 24, the leader consults his advisers frequently and listens with patience and forbearance. If he thinks one of them (out of fear or scruples, indeed the reasons are unimportant) is not being truthful, the leader should become apprehensive, perturbed and worried.”

“Let’s go back to President Roosevelt,” the notes said. “There was, and still is, strong opposition from American intellectuals led by Mark Twain regarding the American presence in the Philippines. They continue to attack President Roosevelt’s vehement decision to extend the Philippine War over the entire archipelago with no compunctions in sending gunboats to the Visayas Islands, the hemp ports of Bicol, and the Muslim cities of Mindanao, Zamboanga in particular. Is Roosevelt following an imperialist policy?”

"Yes, of course,” replied Don Cesar out loud. We are in an imperialist era. Most of Asia did not belong to the Asians, except for Japan and Thailand. Spain sold the Philippines to America for $20 million. The Tycoon’s mind quickly flashed numbers; that was about a dollar per inhabitant - a good transaction for wealthy America. What was $20 million to a country whose annual budget amounted to over $500 hundred million? And for a morally, financially and politically bankrupt Spain, it came just at the right time. What the Filipinos had to say about this situation was of no importance. President Roosevelt sincerely believed the Philippine War and America’s subsequent annexation of the country was part of “the Manifest Destiny of the United States of America in the Pacific.” That was it. Mark Twain could continue to write eloquent essays against his imperialist policies, Andrew Carnegie was free to pour millions of dollars into the Anti-Imperialist League. That was what America was all about – freedom of dissent. But - Roosevelt was the leader of his nation and he had decided to take the Philippines and keep it. The American people were behind him for the most part; Congress supported him in the main, though there were harsh critics. But again, Roosevelt expected that. It was a free country.

The Lawyer said in his nota bene: “Roosevelt is a bookworm. My sources in Washington tell me. One could accurately describe him as a well-read man. I would assume he’s perused Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince, his ‘Discourses,’ and the ‘Art of War.’ Many times. He brooks no interference from religious leaders on political matters; by the way, neither did Presidents Jefferson or Lincoln who were both well acquainted with the ideals of Free Masonry. This will be very propitious for our lawsuit, don’t you think?”

Don Cesar felt exhilarated. Definitely, the timing was right for him to press his lawsuit. What had Machiavelli said about timing? Don Cesar scanned his notes. Chapter 25. “Time as well as destiny are very fickle and variable. A leader must not count on employing the same strategies and tactics which worked in the past or he will be doomed to fail.” Chapter 19 (Interestingly, Machiavelli used Roman numerals) - “Being virtuous and honest, as well as loyal and merciful, was not a guarantee for a leader in any important task, for if he embarked on it at the wrong time, nothing else would matter, he would be defeated and meet with disaster.”

There was no ambiguity in Machiavelli. He gave the reader concrete examples of his lucid analysis and stated his reasons. This meant, Don Cesar presumed, the reader had to know his history, especially Renaissance Italy which had so many similarities to the twentieth century, it made his skin crawl. The breeze lifted and softly swayed the white silk netting. Don Cesar shivered a little.

Time to face the lawyer. He stood up, picked up all the papers, folded them with care, placed them between the pages of the books and lifted the netting. The sunlight shining on the Pasig River had turned the golden water into a phosphorescent yellow green. The tall bamboo trees thickly lining the banks of the Pasig River gave off their greenish reflection. You could not see the gigantic palm trees for all the pink, white and fuchsia orchids massed around their branches. American patrol boats passed each other on the Pasig and blew their ship’s horns in greeting. This was a not so subtle and gruesome reminder that the beauty of Nature notwithstanding, the Filipinos had a Master.

Ever since General Emilio Aguinaldo had surrendered on April 1901 to General Arthur MacArthur in Malacanang Palace and issued a proclamation to all guerillas to lay down their arms, Northern Luzon, specifically Manila, had stability, peace and order.

The Tycoon could not help thinking how lucky he was to live in such a beautiful and serene city. He took a last look. One of the Yankee patrol boats was rounding a bend of the Pasig River and hooted a series of whistles before it disappeared.

It must be getting close to high noon. He pulled on the door, entered the enclosure, looked up at the skylight, still grasping the seven books of Machiavelli to his chest, looked down at the spiral wrought iron staircase, at his bare feet, and decided it would be a piece of bibingka (rice cake) to walk down without holding on to the handrail.

Don Cesar opened the door slowly and tiptoed inside the library. Don Juan was dictating to Habib. He held up his hand in greeting but did not stop. Don Cesar sat next to the small mahogany table where he had first stacked the books. He ruminated as he waited for the Lawyer to end his dictation.

The Vatican must surely study Machiavelli’s works; the Holy Office, once called the Office of the Inquisition, probably knew it by heart; the Cardinals in the Curia, the Patriarch of Venice, who was now Pope Pius X, must have read it. He asked himself why the Church categorically ordered Machiavelli and other authors to be forbidden reading? Why not voice disapproval but leave the choice up to the individual?

The Lawyer looked up. “What do you think?”.

“The first thing I am going to do is discuss this lawsuit with my brothers Torquato and Mamerto over lunch at Villa Luz. We are then going to Santo Tomas to the Dominican priests and donate a generous sum of money to recite the Holy Masses for the repose of my sister’s soul.”

“Excellent! Machiavellian! That will unnerve the priests. They’ll think you are sorry for your hasty actions vis-à-vis Dona Urraca’s funeral Mass and Last Rites,” reasoned Don Juan.

“It will throw them off the scent,” ventured Habib.

“If I may I’d like to come back tomorrow afternoon,” said Don Cesar.

“I shall have clients but you know which entrance to use. That would be through Don Juan’s brother’s house (Jaime) on Arlegui Street, which ran parallel to Vergara Street. The two houses backed into each other. There were two entrances from Don Jaime’s house to Don Juan’s. One was through the sagwan (the ground floor) where a section of brick would be removed one at a time while on the other side someone stood watch to be sure no one came who had no business being there. The other way was through the roof terraces of both houses, camouflaged through the skylights.

Don Cesar had learned about it because he used the entrance through the sagwan (ground floor) during the Filipino Revolution.

While Don Jaime and his family openly gave parties and dinners which Spanish officials and sympathizers attended, at a predetermined moment of the gathering, usually when a beautiful senorita sang tunes from a famous Spanish zarzuela such as Luisa Fernanda, or from Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” or attractive mestiza (mixed blood) daughters performed folk dances “The Carinosa (The Dearest One)” or the Spanish jotas (jigs) with castanets and fans – Don Cesar, Don Juan, and a few others would slip away into Don Juan’s house and plot their next strategy and exchange information and news.

“Until we file the motion it would be prudent for you not to be seen here so often. The walls on the streets have eyes. Rumors travel at the speed of light. We don’t want to tip off the Friars as to what you’re planning to do,” stated Don Juan.

“Until tomorrow then,” said Don Juan as he escorted Don Cesar to the door.

1 comment:

  1. This chapter is especially nourishing food for thought.

    The opening bit about the precious ancient books reminds me of when I worked in the (private) London Library in 1995. (Disambiguation, the London Library is not the British Library; it's private, for carefully vetted subscribers only.
    TS Eliot was one of its officers.) It was a part-time job, gotten through a personal reference from an English Countess, to sustain me so that I could take my first part-time academic job teaching International Law; thus, that Lady and that job launched my career in my true vocation. It paid just enough for rent, decent food and occasional nights with friends at the pub, but for a bibliophile like me it was Paradise. Occasionally I was asked - ASKED! to do SERVICE! - in the Library's safe, where I handled (and read, insofar as my bad German and worse Latin enabled me) original publications by Erasmus, Martin Luther, and others of the Renaissance pantheon. Mind you, I handled first editions. For a bibliophile it was the worldly equivalent of handling relics of the True Cross.

    (Gloss: in the Catholic church in the mostly Pennsylvania German valley where I grew up, I kissed a relic of the True Cross on Good Friday. It had been imported from Germany, where in turn it had been imported by a German Crusader circa 1100-1200. Now, no one can prove that it was a true piece of the True Cross - but the important fact is that 800 years ago, many German Christians believed that it was, and their faith in its authenticity sanctified that little chip of wood. The material wood does not matter as much as the faith which has sanctified it for 800 years.)

    Back to the London Library: in 1995 (and perhaps still today) there was still a sign in one of the stairwells, from 1940, giving instructions on what to do in case of a German air raid. Many German bombs came close to that library, but none ever hit it - and if they had, then those most precious books in the safe would have been preserved! So, perhaps as a significant coincidence, in early May 1995 when London was celebrating the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe, I was working in the safe and saw one of Martin Luther's ORIGINAL pamphlets had been published in Dresden...

    ...and I thought, "Yes, this is why
    Nazi Germany had to be resisted and defeated - regardless of the relative crimes of Britain, Russia and America - this Library's safe, and these books by Luther, represent what Nazi Germany (paradoxically) threatened, and for good AND ill (but more good than ill) Britain in 1940 was the defender of what was best in European civilisation, in Christendom, AND what was best in GERMANY!"

    Well, dear Isabel, regardless of whether you entirely agree with my above paragraph (which is, I admit,
    arguable), still, I'm sure you'll
    admit the paradox of German bombers coming very close to destroying the London Library where Luther's original pamphlets were treasured and kept safe. As for me, I maintain adamantly that what Britain was defending in 1940 (regardless of the often cynical and corrupt intentions of Britain's government), was not the British Empire, but Western Civilisation and the residue of Christendom, against which Nazi Germany was a mortal enemy. (But I DO speculate that perhaps Heydrich, if he had lived long enough to repent, MIGHT
    possibly have reformed Nazi Germany back into a truly Christian nation
    - which in turn would have been a good ally against Communist Russia. But that's a moot point as far as Britain's role in God's Providence in 1940 is concerned. In 1940, Germany was a virtual ally of Communist Russia, and Britain saved
    Western civilisation from both Nazism and Communism, by resisting both of them in that year.)

    And now, those thoughts of mine segue into another, relating to Machiavelli and even MORE so to Sun Tzu's maxim of "know thyself" (which is not just a Chinese idea, you know!) The main reason why Hitler lost the war, was because although he knew his own nation VERY well (better than they knew themselves), he did not really understand the national characters of England or Russia. Nor did he understand Churchill; Churchill understood Hitler better than Hitler understood Churchill...

    ...Hitler's mistake - a mistake which continues to be echoed today by many crypto-Nazis in the West who believe Britain and Churchill fought ONLY for Empire and economics - was his cynical belief
    (VERY SIMILAR TO LENIN'S!) that ALL politics and all wars are motivated ONLY by naked self-interested love of power and money. But that is only a half-truth. SOMETIMES, some people - and nations - fight for decency, truth, and charity. And although Britain's motivations (both collectively and in many personal cases, including Churchill's) for resisting Germany were certainly mixed with sinful issues of vanity and power-lust, the fact remains that Hitler UNDERESTIMATED the AUTHENTICITY of Britain's, and Churchill's, motivations for resisting Hitler on
    the grounds of simple decency, and yes some charity too.

    In other words, as Hitler did not believe in any kind of AUTHENTIC charity (as Chesterton said, "Most men do not believe in Great Good and so they call it Evil"), so Hitler underestimated the resolve and the AUTHENTIC IDEALISM of Churchill, of Britain, and of their allies too, including the mostly (but not entirely) evil regime of Stalin's Russia.

    In short, Hitler's disbelief in the authenticity of charity, and his disbelief in the authenticity of love, and of love of basic decency, is why he lost the war. He knew himself, and he knew his nation, but he did not really know his enemies.

    And as far as the Russians go, maybe that was Hitler's SECOND greatest mistake. (His greatest mistake was to misunderstand, and to underestimate, Churchill and Britain.) His second-greatest mistake was to underestimate the valour and martial prowess and altruism of the Russians.

    But once again, let's return to the London Library and those books by Luther. Although I'm a Catholic (as Isabella is too), I grew up among mostly Protestant ethnic Germans, and in fact my first school, my Kindergarten, was in the basement of our local Lutheran Church (who licensed it, charitably, to our public school system!) So, when I was five years old, in Kindergarten, I believed my church was the "Lutheran Church", because I saw that sign on my Kindergarten's door! :-) From age 5 until age 8
    (when I first began to go to Catholic Masses), I thought I was a "Lutheran." HAHA! :-)....

    ...So, a part of me will always be a BIT of a "Lutheran", because our local Lutheran Church charitably allowed me to go to school in their church when I was five years old.
    Really, I know that's another reason why those original books by Luther in the London Library, were so precious to me.

    And Luther's legacy - both good and ill (but more good than ill!) - was defended against extinction in WWII, by Britain and America. (Many of the ethnic Pennsylvania-Germans in my valley fought against Nazi Germany - but none of them ever lost any sense of pride in their German heritage - in their minds, they were fighting to SAVE Germany!) When the war ended, many American Lutheran churches - including the one I went to Kindergarten in - pealed their bells to ring the hymn Luther wrote, "Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott."

    In closing, I say, that although as a Catholic I disagree with much of what Martin Luther did and wrote, still, I cannot help but speculate that Luther might be a Saint. That is what my conscience tells me to say! "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders!"


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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