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Jose Rizal Trial And Execution

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Category: Biographies

Autor: anton 02 November 2010

Words: 7328 | Pages: 30

Chapter X

“Consummatum Est”(It is Finished)

Notice of the granting of his request came to Rizal just when repeated disappointments had caused him to prepare for staying in Dapitan. Immediately he disposed of his salable possessions, including a Japanese tea set and large mirror now among the Rizal relics preserved by the government, and a piece of outlying land, the deed for which is also among the Rizalana in the Philippines library. Some half-finished busts were thrown into the pool behind the dam. Despite the short notice all was ready for the trip in time, and, attended by some of his schoolboys as well as by Josefina and Rizal’s niece, the daughter of his youngest sister, Soledad, whom Josefina wished to adopt, the party set out for Manila.

The journey was not an uneventful one; at Dumaguete Rizal was the guest of a Spanish judge at dinner; in Cebu he operated successfully upon the eyes of a foreign merchant; and in Iloilo the local newspaper made much of his presence.

The steamer from Dapitan reached Manila a little too late for the mail boat for Spain, and Rizal obtained permission to await the next sailing on board the cruiser Castilla, in the bay. Here he was treated like a guest and more than once the Spanish captain invited members of Rizal’s family to be his guests at dinner—Josefina with little Maria Luisa, the niece and the schoolboys, for whom positions had been obtained, in Manila.

The alleged uprising of the Katipunan occurred during this time. A Tondo curate, with an eye to promotion, professed to have discovered a gigantic conspiracy. Incited by him, the lower class of Spaniards in Manila made demonstrations against Blanco and tried to force that Page 230ordinarily sensible and humane executive into bloodthirsty measures, which should terrorize the Filipinos. Blanco had known of the Katipunan but realized that so long as interested parties were using it as a source of revenue, its activities would not go much beyond speechmaking. The rabble was not so far-seeing, and from high authorities came advice that the country was in a fever and could only be saved by blood-letting.

Wholesale arrests filled every possible place for prisoners in Manila. The guilt of one suspect consisted in having visited the American consul to secure the address of a New York medical journal, and other charges were just as frivolous. There was a reign of terror in Luzon and, to save themselves, members of the Katipunan resorted to that open warfare which, had Blanco’s prudent counsels been regarded, would probably have been avoided.

While the excitement was at its height, with a number of executions failing to satisfy the blood-hunger, Rizal sailed for Spain, bearing letters of recommendation from Blanco. These vouched for his exemplary conduct during his exile and stated that he had in no way been implicated in the conspiracies then disturbing the Islands.

The Spanish mail boat upon which Rizal finally sailed had among its passengers a sick Jesuit, to whose care Rizal devoted himself, and though most of the passengers were openly hostile to one whom they supposed responsible for the existing outbreak, his professional skill led several to avail themselves of his services. These were given with a deference to the ship’s doctor which made that official an admirer and champion of his colleague.

Three only of the passengers, however, were really friendly—one Juan Utor y Fernandez, a prominent Mason and republican, another ex-official in the Philippines Page 231who shared Utor’s liberal views, and a young man whose father was republican.

But if Rizal’s chief adversaries were content that he should go where he would not molest them or longer jeopardize their interests, the rabble that had been excited by the hired newspaper advocates was not so easily calmed. Every one who felt that his picture had been painted among the lower Spanish types portrayed in “Noli Me Tangere” was loud for revenge. The clamor grew so great that it seemed possible to take advantage of it to displace General Blanco, who was not a convenient tool for the interests.

So his promotion was bought, it is said, to get one Polavieja, a willing tool, in his place. As soon as this scheme was arranged, a cablegram ordering Rizal’s arrest was sent; it overtook the steamer at Suez. Thus as a prisoner he completed his journey.

But this had not been entirely unforeseen, for when the steamer reached Singapore, Rizal’s companion on board, the Filipino millionaire Pedro P. Roxas, had deserted the ship, urging the ex-exile to follow his example. Rizal demurred, and said such flight would be considered confession of guilt, but he was not fully satisfied in his mind that he was safe. At each port of call his uncertainty as to what course to pursue manifested itself, for though he considered his duty to his country already done, and his life now his own, he would do nothing that suggested an uneasy conscience despite his lack of confidence in Spanish justice.

At first, not knowing the course of events in Manila, he very naturally blamed Governor-General Blanco for bad faith, and spoke rather harshly of him in a letter to Doctor Blumentritt, an opinion which he changed later when the truth was revealed to him in Manila.

Upon the arrival of the steamer in Barcelona the prisoner Page 232was transferred to Montjuich Castle, a political prison associated with many cruelties, there to await the sailing that very day of the Philippine mail boat. The Captain-General was the same Despujol who had decoyed Rizal into the power of the Spaniards four years before. An interesting interview of some hours’ duration took place between the governor and the prisoner, in which the clear conscience of the latter seems to have stirred some sense of shame in the man who had so dishonorably deceived him.

He never heard of the effort of London friends to deliver him at Singapore by means of habeas-corpus proceedings. Mr. Regidor furnished the legal inspiration and Mr. Baustead the funds for getting an opinion as to Rizal’s status as a prisoner when in British waters, from Sir Edward Clarke, ex-solicitor-general of Great Britain. Captain Camus, a Filipino living in Singapore, was cabled to, money was made available in the Chartered Bank of Singapore, as Mr. Baustead’s father’s firm was in business in that city, and a lawyer, now Sir Hugh Fort, K.C., of London, was retained. Secretly, in order that the attempt, if unsuccessful, might not jeopardize the prisoner, a petition was presented to the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements reciting the facts that Doctor Josй Rizal, according to the Philippine practice of punishing Freemasons without trial, was being deprived of his liberty without warrant of law upon a ship then within the jurisdiction of the court.

According to Spanish law Rizal was being illegally held on the Spanish mail steamer Colon, for the Constitution of Spain forbade detention except on a judge’s order, but like most Spanish laws the Constitution was not much respected by Spanish officials. Rizal had never had a hearing before any judge, nor had any charge yet been placed against him. The writ of habeas corpus was justified, Page 233provided the Colon were a merchant ship that would be subject to British law when in British port, but the mail steamer that carried Rizal also had on board Spanish soldiers and flew the royal flag as if it were a national transport. No one was willing to deny that this condition made the ship floating Spanish territory, and the judge declined to issue the writ.

Cell in which Rizal was imprisoned, and dungeon where he was incomunicado, Fort Santiago.

Rizal reached Manila on November 3 and was at once transferred to Fort Santiago, at first being held in a dungeon “incomunicado” and later occupying a small cell on the ground floor. Its furnishings had to be supplied by himself and they consisted of a small rattan table, a high-backed chair, a steamer chair of the same material, and a cot of the kind used by Spanish officers—Page 234canvas top and collapsible frame which closed up lengthwise. His meals were sent in by his family, being carried by one of his former pupils at Dapitan, and such cooking or heating as was necessary was done on an alcohol lamp which had been presented to him in Paris by Mrs. Tavera.

An unsuccessful effort had been made earlier to get evidence against Rizal by torturing his brother Paciano. For hours the elder brother had been seated at a table in the headquarters of the political police, a thumbscrew on one hand and pen in the other, while before him was a confession which would implicate Josй Rizal in the Katipunan uprising. The paper remained unsigned, though Paciano was hung up by the elbows till he was insensible, and then cut down that the fall might revive him. Three days of this maltreatment made him so ill that there was no possibility of his signing anything, and he was carted home.

It would not be strictly accurate to say that at the close of the nineteenth century the Spaniards of Manila were using the same tortures that had made their name abhorrent in Europe three centuries earlier, for there was some progress; electricity was employed at times as an improved method of causing anguish, and the thumbscrews were much more neatly finished than those used by the Dons of the Dark Ages.

Rizal did not approve of the rebellion and desired to issue a manifesto to those of his countrymen who had been deceived into believing that he was their leader. But the proclamation was not politic, for it contained none of those fulsomely flattering phrases which passed for patriotism in the feverish days of 1896. The address was not allowed to be made public but it was passed on to the prosecutor to form another count in the indictment of Josй Rizal for not esteeming Spanish civilization.

Page 235The following address to some Filipinos shows more clearly and unmistakably than any words of mine exactly what was the state of Rizal’s mind in this matter.


On my return from Spain I learned that my name had been in use, among some who were in arms, as a war-cry. The news came as a painful surprise, but, believing it already closed, I kept silent over an incident which I considered irremediable. Now I notice indications of the disturbances continuing and if any still, in good or bad faith, are availing themselves of my name, to stop this abuse and undeceive the unwary I hasten to address you these lines that the truth may be known.

From the very beginning, when I first had notice of what was being planned, I opposed it, fought it, and demonstrated its absolute impossibility. This is the fact, and witnesses to my words are now living. I was convinced that the scheme was utterly absurd, and, what was worse, would bring great suffering.

I did even more. When later, against my advice, the movement materialized, of my own accord I offered not alone my good offices, but my very life, and even my name, to be used in whatever way might seem best, toward stifling the rebellion; for, convinced of the ills which it would bring, I considered myself fortunate if, at any sacrifice, I could prevent such useless misfortunes. This equally is of record. My countrymen, I have given proofs that I am one most anxious for liberties for our country, and I am still desirous of them. But I place as a prior condition the education of the people, that by means of instruction and industry our country may have an individuality of its own and make itself worthy of these liberties. I have recommended in my writings the study of the civic virtues, without which there is no redemption. Page 236I have written likewise (and I repeat my words) that reforms, to be beneficial, must come from above, that those which come from below are irregularly gained and uncertain.

Holding these ideas, I cannot do less than condemn, and I do condemn this uprising—as absurd, savage, and plotted behind my back—which dishonors us Filipinos and discredits those who could plead our cause. I abhor its criminal methods and disclaim all part in it, pitying from the bottom of my heart the unwary who have been deceived.

Return, then, to your homes, and may God pardon those who have worked in bad faith!

Josй Rizal.

Fort Santiago, December 15, 1896.

Cuartel de Espaсa, scene of Rizal’s military trial.

Finally a court-martial was convened for Rizal’s trial, in the Cuartel de Espaсa. No trained counsel was allowed to defend him, but a list of young army officers was presented from which he might select a nominal defender. Among the names was one which was familiar, Luis Taviel de Andrade, and he proved to be the brother of Rizal’s companion during his visit to the Philippines in Page 2371887–88. The young man did his best and risked unpopularity in order to be loyal to his client. His defense reads pitiably weak in these days but it was risky then to say even so much.

The judge advocate in a ridiculously bombastic effusion gave an alleged sketch of Rizal’s life which showed ignorance of almost every material event, and then formulated the first precise charge against the prisoner, which was that he had founded an illegal society, alleging that the Liga Filipina had for its sole object to commit the crime of rebellion.

Luis T. de Andrade.

The second charge was that Rizal was responsible for the existing rebellion, having caused it, bringing it on by his unceasing labors. An aggravating circumstance was found in the prisoner’s being a native of the Philippines.

The penalty of death was asked of the court, and in the event of pardon being granted by the crown, the prisoner should at least remain under surveillance for the rest of his life and pay as damages 20,000 pesos.

The arguments are so absurd, the bias of the court so palpable, that it is not worth while to discuss them. The parallel proceedings in the military trial and execution of Francisco Ferret in Barcelona in 1909 caused worldwide indignation, and the illegality of almost every step, according to Spanish law, was shown in numerous articles in the European and American press. Rizal’s case was even more brazenly unfair, but Manila was too remote and the news too carefully censored for the facts to become known.

Page 238The prisoner’s arms were tied, corded from elbow to elbow behind his back, and thus he sat through the weary trial while the public jeered him and clamored for his condemnation as the bloodthirsty crowds jeered and clamored in the French Reign of terror.

Then came the verdict and the prisoner was invited to acknowledge the regularity of the proceedings in the farcical trial by signing the record. To this Rizal demurred, but after a vain protest, affixed his signature.

He was at once transferred to the Fort chapel, there to pass the last twenty-four hours of his life in preparing for death. The military chaplain offered his services, which were courteously declined, but when the Jesuits came, those instructors of his youth were eagerly welcomed.

Rizal’s trial had awakened great interest and accounts of everything about the prisoner were cabled by eager correspondents to the Madrid newspapers. One of the newspaper men who visited Rizal in his cell mentions the courtesy of his reception, and relates how the prisoner played the host and insisted on showing his visitor those attentions which Spanish politeness considers due to a guest, saying that these must be permitted, for he was in his own home. The interviewer found the prisoner perfectly calm and natural, serious of course, but not at all overwhelmed by the near prospect of death, and in discussing his career Rizal displayed that dispassionate attitude toward his own doings that was characteristic of him. Almost as though speaking of a stranger he mentioned that if Archbishop Nozaleda’s sane view had been taken and “Noli Me Tangere” not preached against, he would not have been in prison, and perhaps the rebellion would never have occurred. It is easy for us to recognize that the author referred to the misconception of his novel, which had arisen from the publication of the censor’s Page 239extracts, which consisted of whatever could be construed into coming under one of the three headings of attacks on religion, attacks on government, and reflections on Spanish character, without the slightest regard to the context.

But the interviewer, quite honestly, reported Rizal to be regretting his novel instead of regretting its miscomprehension, and he seems to have been equally in error in the way he mistook Rizal’s meaning about the republicans in Spain having led him astray.

Rizal’s exact words are not given in the newspaper account, but it is not likely that a man would make admissions in a newspaper interview, which if made formally, would have saved his life. Rizal’s memory has one safeguard against the misrepresentations which the absence of any witnesses favorable to him make possible regarding his last moments: a political retraction would have prevented his execution, and since the execution did take place, it is reasonable to believe that Rizal died holding the views for which he had expressed himself willing to suffer martyrdom.

Yet this view does not reflect upon the good faith of the reporter. It is probable that the prisoner was calling attention to the illogical result that, though he had disregarded the advice of the radical Spaniards who urged him to violent measures, his peaceable agitation had been misunderstood and brought him to the same situation as though he had actually headed a rebellion by arms. His slighting opinion of his great novel was the view he had always held, for like all men who do really great things, he was the reverse of a braggart, and in his remark that he had attempted to do great things without the capacity for gaining success, one recognizes his remembrance of his mother’s angry prophecy foretelling failure in all he undertook.

Page 240His family waited long outside the Governor-General’s place to ask a pardon, but in vain; General Polavieja had to pay the price of his appointment and refused to see them.

Interior of the cell in which Rizal’s farewell verses were written.

The mother and sisters, however, were permitted to say farewell to Rizal in the chapel, under the eyes of the death-watch. The prisoner had been given the unusual privilege of not being tied, but he was not allowed to approach near his relatives, really for fear that he might pass some writing to them—the pretext was made that Rizal might thus obtain the means for committing suicide.

To his sister Trinidad Rizal spoke of having nothing to give her by way of remembrance except the alcohol cooking lamp which he had been using, a gift, as he mentioned, from Mrs. Tavera. Then he added quickly, in English, so that the listening guard would not understand, “There is something inside.”

The other events of Rizal’s last twenty-four hours, for he went in to the chapel at seven in the morning of the day preceding his execution, are perplexing. What purported to be a detailed account was promptly published in Barcelona, on Jesuit authority, but one must not forget that Spaniards are not of the phlegmatic disposition which makes for accuracy in minute matters and even when writing history they are dramatically inclined. So while the truthfulness, that is the intent to be fair, may not be questioned, it would not be strange if those who wrote of Page 241what happened in the chapel in Fort Santiago during Rizal’s last hours did not escape entirely from the influence of the national characteristics. In the main their narrative is to be accepted, but the possibility of unconscious coloring should not be disregarded.

Rizal’s wedding gift to his wife.

In substance it is alleged that Rizal greeted his old instructors and other past acquaintances in a friendly way. He asked for copies of the Gospels and the writings of Thomas-а-Kempis, desired to be formally married to Josefina, and asked to be allowed to confess. The Jesuits responded that first it would be necessary to investigate Page 242how far his beliefs conformed to the Roman Catholic teachings. Their catechizing convinced them that he was not orthodox and a religious debate ensued in which Rizal, after advancing all known arguments, was completely vanquished. His marriage was made contingent upon his signing a retraction of his published heresies.

The Archbishop had prepared a form which the Jesuits believed Rizal would be little likely to sign, and they secured permission to substitute a shorter one of their own which included only the absolute essentials for reconciliation with the Church, and avoided all political references. They say that Rizal objected only to a disavowal of Freemasonry, stating that in England, where he held his membership, the Masonic institution was not hostile to the Church. After some argument, he waived this point and wrote out, at a Jesuit’s dictation, the needed retraction, adding some words to strengthen it in parts, indicating his Catholic education and that the act was of his own free will and accord.

The prisoner, the priests, and all the Spanish officials present knelt at the altar, at Rizal’s suggestion, while he read his retraction aloud. Afterwards he put on a blue scapular, kissed the image of the Sacred Heart he had carved years before, heard mass as when a student in the Ateneo, took communion, and read his а-Kempis or prayed in the intervals. He took breakfast with the Spanish officers, who now regarded him very differently. At six Josefina entered and was married to him by Father Balanguer.

Now in this narrative there are some apparent discrepancies. Mention is made of Rizal having in an access of devotion signed in a devotionary all the acts of faith, and it is said that this book was given to one of his sisters. His chapel gifts to his family have been examined, but though there is a book of devotion, “The Anchor of Page 243Faith,” it contains no other signature than the presentation on a flyleaf. As to the religious controversy: while in Dapitan Rizal carried on with Father Pio Pi, the Jesuit superior, a lengthy discussion involving the interchange of many letters, but he succeeded in fairly maintaining his views, and these views would hardly have caused him to be called Protestant in the Roman Catholic churches of America. Then the theatrical reading aloud of his retraction before the altar does not conform to Rizal’s known character. As to the anti-Masonic arguments, these appear to be from a work by Monsignor Dupanloup and therefore were not new to Rizal; furthermore, the book was in his own library.

Again, it seems strange that Rizal should have asserted that his Masonic membership was in London when in visiting St. John’s Lodge, Scotch Constitution, in Hongkong in November of 1891, since which date he had not been in London, he registered as from “Temple du honneur de les amis franзais,” an old-established Paris lodge.

Also the sister Lucia, who was said to have been a witness of the marriage, is not positive that it occurred, having only seen the priest at the altar in his vestments. The record of the marriage has been stated to be in the Manila Cathedral, but it is not there, and as the Jesuit in officiating would have been representing the military chaplain, the entry should have been in the Fort register, now in Madrid. Rizal’s burial, too, does not indicate that he died in the faith, yet it with the marriage has been used as an argument for proving that the retraction must have been made.

The retraction itself appears in two versions, with slight differences. No one outside the Spanish faction has ever seen the original, though the family nearly got into trouble by their persistence in trying to get sight of it after its first publication.

Page 244The foregoing might suggest some disbelief, but in fact they are only proofs of the remarks already made about the Spanish carelessness in details and liking for the dramatic.

The writer believes Rizal made a retraction, was married canonically, and was given what was intended to be Christian burial.

The grounds for this belief rest upon the fact that he seems never to have been estranged in faith from the Roman Catholic Church, but he objected only to certain political and mercenary abuses. The first retraction is written in his style and it certainly contains nothing he could not have signed in Dapitan. In fact, Father Obach says that when he wanted to marry Josefina on her first arrival there, Rizal prepared a practically similar statement. Possibly the report of that priest aided in outlining the draft which the Jesuits substituted for the Archbishop’s form. There is no mention of evasions or mental reservations and Rizal’s renunciation of Masonry might have been qualified by the quibble that it was “the Masonry which was an enemy of the Church” that he was renouncing. Then since his association (not affiliation) had been with Masons not hostile to religion, he was not abandoning these.

The possibility of this line of thought having suggested itself to him appears in his evasions on the witness-stand at his trial. Though he answered with absolute frankness whatever concerned himself and in everyday life was almost quixotically truthful, when cross-examined about others who would be jeopardized by admitting his acquaintance with them, he used the subterfuge of the symbolic names of his Masonic acquaintances. Thus he would say, “I know no one by that name,” since care was always taken to employ the symbolic names in introductions and conversations. Page 245

A pamphlet bearing Rizal’s symbolic name in Masonry, “Dimas Alang.”

Rizal’s own symbolic name was “Dimas Alang”—Tagalog for “Noli Me Tangere”—and his nom de plume in some of his controversial publications. The use of that name by one of his companions on the railroad trip to Tarlac entirely mystified a station master, as appears in the secret report of the espionage of that trip, which just preceded his deportation to Dapitan. Another Page 246possible explanation is that, since Freemasonry professes not to disturb the duties which its members owe to God, their country or their families, he may have considered himself as a good Mason under obligation to do whatever was demanded by these superior interests, all three of which were at this time involved.

The argument that it was his pride that restrained him suggested to Rizal the possibility of his being unconsciously under an influence which during his whole life he had been combating, and he may have considered that his duty toward God required the sacrifice of this pride.

For his country his sacrifice would have been blemished were any religious stigma to attach to it. He himself had always been careful of his own good name, and as we have said elsewhere, he told his companions that in their country’s cause whatever they offered on the altars of patriotism must be as spotless as the sacrificial lambs of Levitical law.

Furthermore, his work for a tranquil future for his family would be unfulfilled were he to die outside the Church. Josefina’s anomalous status, justifiable when all the facts were known, would be sure to bring criticism upon her unless corrected by the better defined position of a wife by a church marriage. Then the aged parents and the numerous children of his sisters would by his act be saved the scandal that in a country so mediжvally pious as the Philippines would come from having their relative die “an unrepentant heretic.”

Rizal had received from the Jesuits, while in prison, several religious books and pictures, which he used as remembrances for members of his family, writing brief dedications upon them. Then he said good-by to Josefina, asking in a low voice some question to which she answered in English, “Yes, yes,” and aloud inquiring how she would be able to gain a living, since all his property had Page 247been seized by the Spanish government to satisfy the 20,000 pesetas costs which was included in the sentence of death against him. Her reply was that she could earn money giving lessons in English.

The journey from the Fort to the place of execution, then Bagumbayan Field, now called the Luneta, was on foot. His arms were tied tightly behind his back, and he was surrounded by a heavy guard. The Jesuits accompanied him and some of his Dapitan schoolboys were in the crowd, while one friendly voice, that of a Scotch merchant still resident in Manila, called out in English, “Good-by, Rizal.”

The wife of Josй Rizal.

The route was along the Malecon Drive where as a college student he had walked with his fiancйe, Leonora. Above the city walls showed the twin towers of the Ateneo, and when he asked about them, for they were not there in his boyhood days, he spoke of the happy years that he had spent in the old school. The beauty of the morning, too, appealed to him, and may have recalled an experience of his ’87 visit when he said to a friend whom he met on the beach during an early morning walk: “Do you know that I have a sort of foreboding that some such sunshiny morning as this I shall be out here facing a firing squad?”

Troops held back the crowds and left a large square for the tragedy, while artillery behind them was ready for suppressing any attempt at rescuing the prisoner. None came, however, for though Rizal’s brother Paciano had joined the insurrectionary forces in Cavite when the death sentence showed there was no more hope for Josй, he had discouraged the demonstration that had been planned as Page 248soon as he learned how scantily the insurgents were armed, hardly a score of serviceable firearms being in the possession of their entire “army.”

The firing squad was of Filipino soldiers, while behind them, better armed, were Spaniards in case these tried to evade the fratricidal part assigned them. Rizal’s composure aroused the curiosity of a Spanish military surgeon standing by and he asked, “Colleague, may I feel your pulse?” Without other reply the prisoner twisted one of his hands as far from his body as the cords which bound him allowed, so that the other doctor could place his fingers on the wrist. The beats were steady and showed neither excitement nor fear, was the report made later.

His request to be allowed to face his executioners was denied as being out of the power of the commanding officer to grant, though Rizal declared that he did not deserve such a death, for he was no traitor to Spain. It was promised, however, that his head should be respected, and as unblindfolded and erect Rizal turned his back to receive their bullets, he twisted a hand to indicate under the shoulder where the soldiers should aim so as to reach his heart. Then as the volley came, with a last supreme effort of will power, he turned and fell face upwards, thus receiving the subsequent “shots of grace” which ended his life, so that in form as well as fact he did not die a traitor’s death.

The Spanish national air was played, that march of Cadiz which should have recalled a violated constitution, for by the laws of Spain itself Rizal was illegally executed.

Vivas, laughter and applause were heard, for it had been the social event of the day, with breakfasting parties on the walls and on the carriages, full of interested Page 249onlookers of both sexes, lined up conveniently near for the sightseeing.

Execution of Rizal, from a photograph.

The troops defiled past the dead body, as though reviewed by it, for the most commanding figure of all was that which lay lifeless, but the center of all eyes. An officer, realizing the decency due to death, drew his handkerchief from the dead man’s pocket and spread the silk over the calm face. A crimson stain soon marked the whiteness emblematic of the pure life that had just ended, and with the glorious blue overhead, the tricolor of Liberty, which had just claimed another martyr, was revealed in its richest beauty.

Sir Hugh Clifford (now Governor of Ceylon), in Blackwood’s Magazine, “The Story of Josй Rizal, the Filipino; A Fragment of Recent Asiatic History,” comments as follows on the disgraceful doing of that day:

“It was,” he writes, “early morning, December 30, 1896, and the bright sunshine of the tropics streamed down upon the open space, casting hard fantastic shadows, and drenching with its splendor two crowds of sightseers. The one was composed of Filipinos, cowed, melancholy, sullen, gazing through hopeless eyes at the final Page 250scene in the life of their great countryman—the man who had dared to champion their cause, and to tell the world the story of their miseries; the other was blithe of air, gay with the uniforms of officers and the bright dresses of Spanish ladies, the men jesting and laughing, the women shamelessly applauding with waving handkerchiefs and clapping palms, all alike triumphing openly in the death of the hated ‘Indian,’ the ‘brother of the water-buffalo,’ whose insolence had wounded their pride.

* * * Turning away, sick at heart, from the contemplation of this bitter tragedy, it is with a thrill of almost vindictive satisfaction that one remembers that less than eighteen months later the Luneta echoed once more to the sound of a mightier fusillade—the roar of the great guns with which the battle of Manila Bay was fought and won.

* * * And if in the moment of his last supreme agony the power to probe the future had been vouchsafed to Josй Rizal, would he not have died happy in the knowledge that the land he loved so dearly was very soon to be transferred into such safekeeping?”

The Execution of Josй Rizal



Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr

By Austin Coates

(Oxford University Press, 1968)

There was to be public execution, and consequently the streets and buildings were hung with flags. A day of execution was a fiesta.

Since first light a crowd of many thousands had been gathering on the broad greensward facing the sea – gentlemen in boater hats and smart drill suits, with their ladies clad in their best, the hems of their long skirts dampened a little here and there by the dew which still lay on the grass.

It was the tropics’ apology for winter, the start of another warm blue day, cloudless and still with at morning and evening a very slight chill in the air, such as there was now. The sun had already risen on the landward se, and as the minutes drew towards 7 a.m. the multitudinous voices of the crowd were hushed. The bat of an approaching drum announced the arrival of the condemned man.

The Europeans had the best vantage places, and being in general taller than the local people they tended to monopolize the view. Despite this disadvantage, however, a fairly large number of local people had come as well – men and women, the well-to-do, the fashionably europeanized, the prudent – to join their European masters in uttering patriotic cheers. For the death to be witnessed on this fine morning was the death of a traitor, and not merely of a traitor but of the arch-traitor, described by the military judge who had tried him, as ‘the principal organizer and ling soul of the insurrection’.

For four months the country had been gripped by revolution. It had not yet succeeded in penetrating the capital, but in the countryside there were widespread disturbances which the Europeans ad hitherto been unable to suppress. With the rebel ringleader out of the way things would surely take a turn for the better – or so said the well-informed Europeans; -- and the condemned man being unquestionably the most influential native in the country, his execution afforded a salutary opportunity of showing the natives where they stood. Today might well prove to be a turning point. Thus t exhilarated atmosphere. Te date was 30 December 1896. The place was the Luneta, the extensive public park in the heart of Manila, capital of the Spanish Philippines.

The crowd was so dense, and here was so much jockeying for position, that police arrangements broke down and the prisoner’s military escort, which should have been behind him, had to form file on either side of him, forcing its way through to the execution ground. Within the fairly wide corridor of space thus created, what remained of the procession was able to move through the mss of people with reasonable dignity. First came the drummer. After him, flanked by two tall Spanish Jesuits in black soutanes and shovel-hats, came the lesser figure of the traitor.

Aged thirty-five, short and slender, pale after two moths in prison, he was impeccably dressed in European style, back suit, spotlessly white shirt a tie, and wearing a black derby hat, much in vogue at that time in Europe. His appearance was almost English in its formality and taste. But it was not this that drew people’s attention. It was his features and expression, and the calm dignity of his bearing. As could be seen at a glance, this was no ordinary traitor to be jeered and howled at. As he passed there was silence, while people stared, some in surprise, others with concern, and all with the uneasy sense of being confronted by something they did not understand.

Most people have a preconceived idea of what a traitor looks like. It is natural o expect to detract features of malevolence, or duplicity, or defiance, the wild stare of a misplaced visionary, or the grimace of a swashbuckler who has lost out. About this traitor there was noting that could be preconceived. To begin with, his was arrestingly interesting face. Apart from knowing that he was a man of the Far East, it would have been difficult to define him racially. All that could have been said – and then only by an astute observer – was that he was from one of the countries of South-East Asia, and bore indications of a partly Malay, partly Chinese ancestry. Yet there was nothing about him of the withdrawn Oriental, that character beloved of the European imagination. His eyes, wide-spaced, thoughtful, and compelling in their truthfulness, came out to meet whomever they looked at, as European eyes do. He had very little European blood, yet in the broad forehead, the high straight nose, the firm chin and perceptive lips, could be sensed at once a mental affinity to Europe, expressed through an Asian physique. This was a man who had passed far beyond differences of race and nation. Despite being a member of a subject race, it was the face of a person the equal of any, expressive of intellectual honesty and insight, both in unusual measure. As the Madrid newspaper reports of the occasion show, there were few Spaniards present that day who, once they had seen him, remained unaware of these qualities, disconcerting as they found them.

The escort forced a way through to he cleared rectangle of grass, lined by troops, which was to be the place of execution. When the traitor had been conducted to the seaward end, in which direction the shot was to be fired, there was some discussion inaudible to bystanders. Then those nearest to the traitor drew back, the preparatory commands were barked out, and in he second of silence before the final order to fire, while people excitedly craned over their shoulders of other for a glimpse of the scene, the traitor, fully audible, said n a clear, steady voice, ‘Consummatum est!’

The command. The shot. People pushing forward upon others in the surge to the body. A curious silence. The organized cheer of the troops. The lead given to the release of emotion. And following this, the public cheers, the cheers, the cheers . . . . The living soul of the insurrection was dead.

As so often happens in the case of public cheering, they were cheers ill-timed. The shot which that crowd had just heard was the shot which brought the Spanish empire in the Philippines to an end.


December 30, 1896 (To Josй Rizal)

Oh, Josй

such ironic justice

condemned you

you expected so much

from the Iberian soul

whose Latin language

you breathed

and raised to the heavens

from the hot earth

and provocative beaches

of the Philippine archipelago

you had faith in Spain

you kept alive the hope

of being heard

you asked for reason

and understanding

but at your thirty five


and resplendent years

the Motherland


and silenced you

Such a mortal sin!

What a crime so severe

she committed!

she behaved

like a stepmother

unjust and cruel

you cried

for your beloved islands

so exploited

and deprived of maternal love

you cried

for your brothers and sisters


scorned and humiliated

by mercenary and selfish

arrogant beings

lacking in humanity

by impure souls

depraved and lustful

babbling words of God



and silenced you

you had

a vision from your heart

you were betrayed

at two minutes past seven

in the coldness of the morning

you stepped on the earth

that was weeping

drenched in her tears

so warm and pure

you then realized

that earth

was the true mother

the one that witnessed

your birth

and although she loved you

with all of her soul

she did not yet want

for you to join her

and for you to become ashes

that would soon fuse with her, and

along with your ancestors

and noble friends that have gone

would breathe eternity

you still wanted to live

but others

plotted another ending

for you

at two minutes past seven

and thirty seconds

in the melancholy

that floated in Bagumbayan

and for centuries

would remain

you had a vision

from your heart

you wanted

to restore dignity to your brothers

you wanted

to reveal to them their fortitude

you wanted

to give them back

their joy

you gave them

all you had

your mind

your heart

and soul

and soon your blood

in a fleeting moment

you thought and felt

What will happen

to my dear parents,

brother and sisters?

What will become

of my faithful friends?

What will become

of this love that I can’t contain?

What will become

of my beloved country,

so troubled and suffering?

your future

was already approaching

to fuse with your present

there was no turning back

you were witnessing

the end of your road

the dream was reality

or reality was a dream

there was nothing more to do

soon you would embark

on a journey to eternal serenity

your body already began

to anticipate

the promised lightness from the other world

that would take you away

and deliver you from human madness

the dream was now reality

or reality was a dream

you wanted to breathe

for the last time

the air where memories

love, passions and tears

happiness, hopes

yearnings and desires

were overflowing

for the last time

you wanted to fill your senses

with the sweet fragrances

of sampaguitas, jasmines

and gardenias

you wanted to look

at your executioners

who were also victims

in order to give them


your work was done

you fulfilled your destiny

“Consummatum est!”*


a great deafening thunder


and reverberated

through Bagumbayan

through all of Manila

all over Luzon

all over the Visayas

all over the other islands

and in our hearts

forever and ever

at exactly three minutes past seven

in the morning

your body

is now just a shadow

of a lost

December morn

but your poetry

born of your Filipino soul

will always live

and like a beautiful butterfly

that goes from flower to flower


and perpetuating

the circle of life

your treasure of words

that we’ve inherited

will spread the human truths

that you lived

you’ll go on sharing

the beauty of the world

that you discovered

and through your life and your poetry

we will remember

that we must fight

for our dignity

and discover the fortitude

that is inside of us

and that love

can change everything

and that happiness

is a fragile and delicate thing

and that we can achieve

what others may think impossible

if we have a vision

from the heart

*Supposed last words of Josй Rizal just before being shot,

originally the last words of Christ on the cross:

“It is completed.”

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