During the Spanish regime, all male Filipinos from 18 to 60 years of age were required to give their free labor, called polo, to the government. This labor was for 40 days a year, reduced to 15 days in 1884. It was in various forms, such as building roads and bridges, constructing public buildings and churches, cutting timber in the forest, working in shipyards, and serving the Spanish military expeditions. One who rendered forced labor was called a polista.
The members of the principalia (town aristocracy) were exempt from the polo. Rich Filipinos annually paid the falla, a sum amounting to seven pesos, in order to be exempt from forced labor. The local officials (former and incumbent gobernadorcillos, cabezas de barangay, etc.) and schoolteachers were also exempted by law from the polio because of their services to the state.
Evidently, only the poor Filipinos who had no social or political standing in the community were made to give forced labor. This practice greatly contributed to the widespread Filipino aversion to physical labor, which has only recently been overcome by attractive wages overseas.
The conditions for forced labor were (1) that it should be used only for necessary public works and constructions intended to improve the community; (2) that the workers were to be paid in full for their work; (3) that the alcaldes mayor should consider the physical condition of each laborer, that is, the weak should not be overworked; (4) that the laborers should not be sent to work in distant lands; (5) that the giving of service should be timed so as not to interfere with the planting or harvest seasons.
All this was good only on paper, however; the laws of forced labor were often violated. Laborers were seldom paid their wages. They were separated from their families by being made to work in distant areas. They were not given food, as required by law; they had to provide their own food instead. Moreover, they were shamefully overworked, and thousands of Filipino laborers died at the worksites as a result.
The Filipino Tribute to the Colonial Government
In order to get enough money to pay for the administration of the country and the construction of churches, government buildings, roads and bridges, and improvements in transportation and communication, the Filipinos were compelled to pay tribute called tributo, to the colonial government. The tributo was imposed as a sign of the Filipinos’ loyalty to the king of Spain. Those who paid tribute were individuals above sixteen years old and below sixty. At the start, a tribute amounting to eight reales was collected. The tribute increased in 1598 and a small part of it, called sanctorum, went to the church. Because of the widespread opposition to the tribute and to the abuses in its collection, the king abolished it in 1884. The cedula personal, the equivalent of which is the present residence certificate, was introduced in its place.
Aside from the tribute, the Filipinos also paid other taxes. There were the diezmos prediales, the donativo de Zamboanga, and the vinta. The diezmos prediales was a tax consisting of one-tenth of the produce of one’s land. The donativo de Zamboanga, introduced in 1635, was taxed specifically used for the conquest of Jolo. The vinta was tax paid by people in the provinces along the coast of Western Luzon to defend the area against Muslim pirates common at the time, as can still be seen from the surviving towers of stone (where bells were rung to warn the locality when Muslim pirates arrived).