Francisco Rodriguez and the first Philippine bank

BPI branch at Plaza Sta. Cruz, Carriedo, Manila
Photo Credit: By noel Gonong (Wikipedia Takes Manila participant)

While some Filipinos think that the Bank of the Philippine Islands (Banco de las Islas Filipinas, commonly known as BPI) is the first bank in the Philippines, it was not. BPI was founded on August 1, 1851, during the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines. It was called “El Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II, named after the Queen of Spain, Isabella II, the daughter of King Ferdinand VII.

The first bank founded by a Filipino was the Rodriguez Bank, circa 1831. Francisco Rodriguez was quite a wealthy man living in Manila when in 1823, he was wrongly accused of being involved in a local conspiracy spearheaded by three Mexican-born Spanish army officers in the islands. These officers were charged with harboring rebellious motives due both to Mexico’s new status as an independent nation and the fact that the newly appointed governor of the archipelago, Juan Antonio Martinez (1822-1825), had in 1822 brought with him several officers from the continent whom he favored, bypassing the more senior officers already in the colony, among them the three conspirators.

The conspiracy was found out, two officers were deported, and the third, Andres Novales, was reassigned to Mindanao. After a short time, however, Novales rallied 800 disgruntled soldiers to his side and led a mutiny, which was quickly put down and Novales executed. The Novales Mutiny, as it was termed, was the first attempted coup d’etat during Spanish colonial rule in the islands, although one that sprung from narrow grievances rather than any newfound sense of nationalism.

Implicated in the Novales affair and several other civilians, Rodriguez was sent to Cadiz in 1825 as a political prisoner. He managed to escape and fled to London. He waged an unsuccessful campaign to convince his friends and relatives to plead his innocence before the civil authorities in Manila. Unable to gain access to his riches, he became destitute and undoubtedly would have died penniless and heartbroken had he not been taken in and cared for by Quakers in London, with whom he lived for five years.

Not surprisingly, Rodriguez became a Quaker as well as a British subject. By then, the Spanish government pardoned all those involved in the uprising. Rodriguez returned to Manila, where he established the Rodriguez Bank, to assist foreign traders, primarily American and British, in their dealings with Filipinos in direct competition with Spanish financiers. Mindful of the difference between how he had been treated by the Spanish and the British, Rodriguez wore his Quaker outfit much to the children’s delight on the streets who ran after and jeered him and the dismay of former friends, relatives, and especially the local friars.

The religious establishment tried to have him expelled, but his British citizenship afforded him the protection he needed. Upon his death, he bequeathed his fortune to the Queen of England to benefit the widows and orphans of British soldiers killed in the Crimean War. His relatives challenged the legitimacy of the will and initially won their suit. On appeal by the British government, however, the Supreme Court in Madrid reversed the decision by the lower court. The bank closed, and Rodriguez’s fortune was eventually paid out to the British.

The Quaker had had his revenge.


A History of the Philippines by Luis H. Francia



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