The two friars, Father Sibyla and Father Dámaso, verbally spar with one another for the seat at the head of the table, though they do so by deferring to one another, heaping worthless praise upon each other in the hopes that doing so will win them the seat. At one point, unable to make a decision, they offer the seat to the lieutenant, saying, “Lieutenant, here we are in the world, not in the church. Here the seat is yours.” Not wanting to get involved, the lieutenant declines. At this point, the food is brought in, and Father Sibyla wins the seat, as suggested by the fact that it is he who dishes out everybody’s serving. In doing so, he gives Father Dámaso a bowl of broth filled with the most undesirable parts of a chicken.
That Father Dámaso and Father Sibyla offer the seat to the lieutenant only in an attempt to put an end to their own dispute is a small-scale example of the way the church manipulates the government throughout Noli Me Tangere. In this moment, readers catch a glimpse of what’s to come regarding how friars encourage the authority of the state only when it benefits themselves.
The guests turn their attention to Ibarra, asking about his studies in Europe. He tells them that he has been away for seven years and that never in that entire time has he received news from the Philippines. “I still don’t know how or when my father died!” he says. The guests are quick to change the subject, eventually asking him “what made the greatest impression” on him while he was away. He tells them he’s learned that “a people’s prosperity or misery [lies] in direct proportion to its freedoms or its inhibitions and, along the same lines, of the sacrifice or selfishness of its ancestors.” Father Dámaso pipes up at this, saying, “That’s it? It doesn’t seem worth it to waste all that money just to find out such an insignificant thing. Any schoolboy knows that.”
It’s no surprise that Father Dámaso scoffs at Ibarra’s notion that happiness depends on “freedoms,” considering that—as a powerful Spanish friar in a colonized land—he’s uninterested in promoting “a people’s prosperity” or “freedom.” Furthermore, he shows a disdain for education in general, framing it as something that isn’t worth going out of one’s way to obtain. In doing so, Dámaso insults Ibarra’s hard work in addition to undermining the means by which Ibarra has attained his community’s respect.
In response to Father Dámaso’s rude interjection, Ibarra maintains his composure, despite the fact that he wants to tell the man that he must have already had too much to drink. Instead, he explains to the other dinner guests that he isn’t vexed by the friar’s remarks because he has known him for a long time, so the two have a jocular rapport that permits such blunt statements. “This is how he treated me when I was a boy,” he says, “and though many years have passed they add up to little for him. I thank him for bringing back to me the days when he visited our house and often honored my father’s table with his presence.” Ibarra then announces that he must leave. Before departing, he raises his glass and says “I give you Spain and the Philippines!” Everybody follows suit. The lieutenant, though, drinks but doesn’t repeat the phrase.
By reminding his listeners that Dámaso once ate at Don Rafael’s table, Ibarra portrays the priest as ungrateful while also insulting his old age. In addition, it’s worth noting that the lieutenant doesn’t repeat Ibarra’s toast, neglecting to say “Spain and the Philippines!” This suggests that, although he works for the government, the current circumstances surrounding his argument with Father Dámaso make him disinclined to praise colonialist rule, since the toast itself emphasizes Spain’s supposed right to the Philippines.
Captain Tiago stops Ibarra and pleads with him to stay, saying that his daughter, María Clara, will soon arrive. He also tells Ibarra that the new priest of San Diego will be joining the dinner, but Ibarra says he must go, reassuring Tiago that he will return the next day before going to San Diego. In his absence, the dinner guests talk about the scandalous exchange between Ibarra and Father Dámaso. A foreign young man with blond hair chastises Filipinos like Ibarra for showing an unwillingness to be reprimanded by their priests. Similarly, a class-conscious woman named Doña Victorina criticizes the lieutenant behind his back for frowning the entire night. Later that evening, the young blond man writes about the party in his journal: “In the current state of things, not allowing [Filipinos] to leave the country—or even teaching them to read—would actually be doing them a favor…”
The young blond man’s callous belief that Filipinos would be better off if they didn’t leave their homeland illustrates the power of isolation and shows the deep ignorance and disdain of the Spanish colonizers. If Ibarra never left the Philippines, he wouldn’t necessarily even know how to challenge Father Dámaso. As such, it is in the best interest of the country’s friarocracy to discourage Filipinos from traveling abroad and educating themselves. This is also further proof that the colonizers project their own desires and insecurities onto Filipinos. Isolation doesn’t benefit Filipinos, as the blond man alleges—it benefits Spanish colonizers like him.