A powerful group of nationalists emerged in the late 19th century. The greatest and most famous of these was Dr José Rizal, doctor of medicine, poet, novelist, sculptor, painter, linguist, naturalist and fencing enthusiast. Executed by the Spanish in 1896, Rizal epitomised the Filipinos' dignified struggle for personal and national freedom. Just before facing the Spanish firing squad, Rizal penned a characteristically calm message of both caution and inspiration to his people: 'I am most anxious for liberties for our country, but I place as a prior condition the education of the people so that our country may have an individuality of its own and make itself worthy of liberties'.

Jose Rizal’s greatest impact on the development of a Filipino national consciousness was his publication of two novels–“Noli Me Tangere” (“Touch Me Not”) in 1886 and “El Filibusterismo” (“The “Reign of Greed”) in 1891. Rizal drew on his personal experiences and depicted the conditions of Spanish rule in the islands, particularly the abuses of the friars. Although the friars had Rizal's books banned, they were smuggled into the Philippines and rapidly gained a wide readership. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Rizal was a leader in the Propagandist Movement. To buttress his defense of the native’s pride and dignity as people, Rizal wrote three significant essays while abroad: The Philippines a Century hence, the Indolence of the Filipinos and the Letter to the Women of Malolos. These writings were his brilliant responses to the vicious attacks against the Indio and his culture. While in Hongkong, Rizal planned the founding of the Liga Filipina, a civil organization and the establishment of a Filipino colony in Borneo. The colony was to be under the protectorate of the North Borneo Company, he was granted permission by the British Governor to establish a settlement on a 190,000 acre property in North Borneo. The colony was to be under the protectorate of the North Borneo Company, with the "same privileges and conditions at those given in the treaty with local Bornean rulers". Governor Eulogio Despujol disapproved the project for obvious and self-serving reasons. He considered the plan impractical and improper that Filipinos would settle and develop foreign territories while the colony itself badly needed such developments. [Source: Jose Rizal University]

See Separate Article on JOSE RIZAL

Other important Propagandists included Graciano Lopez Jaena, a noted orator and pamphleteer who had left the islands for Spain in 1880 after the publication of his satirical short novel, Fray Botod (Brother Fatso), an unflattering portrait of a provincial friar. In 1889 he established a biweekly newspaper in Barcelona, La Solidaridad (Solidarity), which became the principal organ of the Propaganda Movement, having audiences both in Spain and in the islands. Its contributors included Rizal; Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austrian geographer and ethnologist whom Rizal had met in Germany; and Marcelo del Pilar, a reformminded lawyer. Del Pilar was active in the antifriar movement in the islands until obliged to flee to Spain in 1888, where he became editor of La Solidaridad and assumed leadership of the Filipino community in Spain. *

The Propaganda Movement languished after Rizal's arrest in 1892 and the collapse of the Liga Filipina. La Solidaridad went out of business in November 1895, and in 1896 both del Pilar and Lopez Jaena died in Barcelona, worn down by poverty and disappointment. An attempt was made to reestablish the Liga Filipina, but the national movement had become split between ilustrado advocates of reform and peaceful evolution (the compromisarios, or compromisers) and a plebeian constituency that wanted revolution and national independence. Because the Spanish refused to allow genuine reform, the initiative quickly passed from the former group to the latter. *

Andres Bonifacio and Katipunan

After Rizal's exile, Andres Bonifacio, a self-educated man of humble origins, founded an aggresive secret society, the Katipunan (KKK) — short for the Kataastaasan Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons of the Nation) — in Manila. This organization, modeled in part on Masonic lodges, was committed to winning independence from Spain. Rizal, Lopez Jaena, del Pilar, and other leaders of the Propaganda Movement had been Masons, and Masonry was regarded by the Catholic Church as heretical. The Katipunan, like the Masonic lodges, had secret passwords and ceremonies, and its members were organized into ranks or degrees, each having different colored hoods, special passwords, and secret formulas. New members went through a rigorous initiation, which concluded with the pacto de sangre, or blood compact. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Katipunan spread gradually from the Tondo district of Manila, where Bonifacio had founded it, to the provinces, and by August 1896--on the eve of the revolt against Spain--it had some 30,000 members, both men and women. Most of them were members of the lower-and lower-middle-income strata, including peasants. The nationalist movement had effectively moved from the closed circle of prosperous ilustrados to a truly popular base of support. *

According to Lonely Planet: The Katipunan “secretly built a revolutionary government in Manila, with a network of equally clandestine provincial councils. Complete with passwords, masks and coloured sashes denoting rank, the Katipunan's members (both men and women) peaked at an estimated 30, 000 in mid-1896.”

On June 21, 1896. Dr. Pio Valenzuela, Bonifacio’s emissary, visited Rizal in Dapitan and informed him of the plan of the Katipunan to launch a revolution. Rizal objected to Bonifacio’s bold project stating that such would be a veritable suicide. Rizal stressed that the Katipunan leaders should do everything possible to prevent premature flow of native blood. Valenzuela, however, warned Rizal that the Revolution will inevitably break out if the Katipunan would be discovered. Sensing that the revolutionary leaders were dead set on launching their audacious project, Rizal instructed Valenzuela that it would be for the best interests of the Katipunan to get first the support of the rich and influential people of Manila to strengthen their cause. He further suggested that Antonio Luna with his knowledge of military science and tactics, be made to direct the military operations of the Revolution. [Source: Jose Rizal University]

Jose Rizal and the 1896 Uprising

During the early years of the Katipunan, Rizal remained in exile at Dapitan. He had promised the Spanish governor that he would not attempt an escape, which, in that remote part of the country, would have been relatively easy. Such a course of action, however, would have both compromised the moderate reform policy that he still advocated and confirmed the suspicions of the reactionary Spanish. Whether he came to support Philippine independence during his period of exile is difficult to determine. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Rizal retained, to the very end, a faith in the decency of Spanish "men of honor," which made it difficult for him to accept the revolutionary course of the Katipunan. Revolution had broken out in Cuba in February 1895, and Rizal applied to the governor to be sent to that yellow fever-infested island as an army doctor, believing that it was the only way he could keep his word to the governor and yet get out of his exile. His request was granted, and he was preparing to leave for Cuba when the Katipunan revolt broke out in August 1896. An informer had tipped off a Spanish friar about the society's existence, and Bonifacio, his hand forced, proclaimed the revolution, attacking Spanish military installations on August 29, 1896. Rizal was allowed to leave Manila on a Spanish steamship. The governor, however, apparently forced by reactionary elements, ordered Rizal's arrest en route, and he was sent back to Manila to be tried by a military court as an accomplice of the insurrection. *

The rebels were poorly led and had few successes against colonial troops. Only in Cavite Province did they make any headway. Commanded by Emilio Aguinaldo, the twenty-seven-year-old mayor of the town of Cavite who had been a member of the Katipunan since 1895, the rebels defeated Civil Guard and regular colonial troops between August and November 1896 and made the province the center of the revolution. *

According to Lonely Planet: In August 1886, the Spanish got wind of the coming revolution (from a woman's confession to a Spanish friar, according to some accounts) and the Katipunan leaders were forced to flee the capital. Depleted, frustrated and poorly armed, the Katipuneros took stock in nearby Balintawak, a baryo (district) of Caloocan, and voted to launch the revolution regardless. With the cry 'Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!' (Long live the Philippines!), the Philippine Revolution lurched into life following the incident that is now known as the Cry of Balintawak. The shortage of weapons among the Filipinos meant that many fighters were forced to pluck their first gun from the hands of their enemies. So acute was the shortage of ammunition for these weapons that some (many of them children) were given the job of scouring battle sites for empty cartridges. These cartridges would then be painstakingly repacked using homemade gunpowder. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Jose Rizal's Execution

In November 1886, Rizal was arrested for his alleged involvement in 1896 Uprising. After the uprising Rizal’s enemies lost no time in pressing him down. Witnesses that linked him with the revolt were rounded up but these witnessed were not cross examined nor did they face Rizal directly. Rizal was imprisoned in Fort Santiago. In his prison cell, he wrote an untitled poem, now known as "Ultimo Adios" which is considered a masterpiece and a living document expressing not only the hero’s great love of country but also that of all Filipinos.

Under a new governor, who apparently had been sponsored as a hard-line candidate by the religious orders, Rizal was brought before a military court on fabricated charges of involvement with the Katipunan. The events of 1872 repeated themselves. A brief trial was held on December 26 and--with little chance to defend himself--Rizal was found guilty of rebellion, sedition and of forming illegal association and sentenced to death. On December 30, 1896, he was brought out to the Luneta and executed by a firing squad at Bagumbayan Field. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Dec. 30, 1986. 4:00 – 5:00 a.m. : Rizal picks up Imitation of Christ, reads, meditates and then writes in Kempis’ book a dectation to his wife Josephine and by this very act in itself he gives to her their only certificate of marriage. — 5:00 – 6:15 : Rizal washes up, takes breakfast, attends to his personal needs. Writes a letter to his parents. Reads Bible and meditates. Josephine is prohibited by the Spanish officers from seeing Rizal, according to Josephine’s testimony to R. Wildman in 1899. — 6:15 – 7:00 : Rizal walks to the place of execution between Fr. March and Fr. Vilaclara with whom he converses. Keeps looking around as if seeking or expecting to see someone. His last word, said in a loud voice: "It is finished" — 7:00 – 7:03 : Sounds of guns. Rizal vacillates, turns halfway around, falls down backwards and lies on the ground facing the sun. Silence. Shouts of vivas for Spain. [Source: Jose Rizal University ><]

Jose Rizal's Final Hours

Dec. 29, 1896. 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. : Sr. S. Mataix asks Rizal’s permission to interview him. Capt. — Dominguez reads death sentence to Rizal. Source of information: cablegram of Mataix to EL Heraldo — De Madrid, "Notes" of Capt. Dominguez and Testimony of Lt. Gallegos. — 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. : Rizal is transferred to his death cell. Fr. Saderra talks briefly with Rizal. Fr. Viza — presents statue of the Sacred hearth of Jesus and medal of Mary. Rizal rejects the letter, saying, "Im little of a Marian, Father." Source: Fr. Viza. — 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. : Rizal is shares his milk and coffee with Fr. Rosell. Lt. Andrade and chief of Artillery come to visit Rizal who thanks each of them. Rizal scribbles a note inviting his family it visit him. Sources: Fr. Rosell and letter of Invitation. — 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. : Sr. Mataix, defying stringent regulation, enters death cell and interviews Rizal in the presence of Fr. Rosell. Later, Gov. Luengo drops in to join the conversation. Sources: Letter of Mataix ti Retana Testimony of Fr. Rosell. — 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. : Fr. Faura persuades Rizal to put down his rancours and order to marry josephine canonically. a heated discussion on religion occurs between them ion the hearing of Fr. Rosell. Sources: El Imparcial and Fr. Rosell . — 11:00 – 12:00 noon. : Rizal talks on "various topics" in a long conversation with Fr. Vilaclara who will later conclude (with Fr. Balaguer, who is not allowed to enter the death cell) that Rizal is either to Prostestant or rationalist who speaks in "a very cold and calculated manner" with a mixture of a "strange piety." No debate or discussion on religion is recorded to have taken place between the Fathers mentioned and Rizal. Sources: El Imarcial and Rizal y su Obra. [Source: Jose Rizal University ><]

12:00 – 1:00 p.m. : Rizal reads Bible and Imitation of Christ by Kempis, then meditates. Fr. Balaguer reports to the Archbishop that only a little hope remains that Rizal is going to retract for Rizal was heard saying that he is going to appear tranquilly before God. Sources: Rizal’s habits and Rizal y su Obra. — 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. : Rizal denies (probably, he is allowed to attend to his personal necessities). Source: "Notes" of Capt. Dominguez. — 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. : Rizal confers with Fr. March and Fr. Vilaclara. Sources: "Notes" of Capt. Dominguez in conjunction with the testimonies of Fr. Pi and Fr. Balaguer. — 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. : Rizal reads verses which he had underlined in Eggers german Reader, a book which he is going to hand over to his sisters to be sent to Dr. Blumentritt through F. Stahl. He "writes several letters . . .,with his last dedications," then he "rest for a short." Sources: F. Stahl and F. Blumentritt, Cavana (1956) – Appendix 13, and the "Notes" of Capt. Dominguez. — 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. : Capt. Dominguez is moved with compassion at the sight of Rizal’s kneeling before his mother and asking pardon. Fr. Rosell hears Rizal’s farewell to his sister and his address to those presents eulogizing the cleverness of his nephew. The other sisters come in one by one after the other and to each Rizal’s gives promises to give a book, an alcohol burner, his pair of shoes, an instruction, something to remember. Sources "notes" of Capt. Dominguez and Fr. Rosell, Diaro de Manila. — 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.: The Dean of the Cathedral, admitted on account of his dignity, comes to exchange views with Rizal. Fr. Rosell hears an order given to certain "gentlemen" and "two friars" to leave the chapel at once. Fr. Balaguer leaves Fort Santiago. Sources: Rev. Silvino Lopez-Tuñon, Fr. Rosell, Fr. Serapio Tamayo, and Sworn Statement of Fr. Balaguer. — 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Fr. Rosell leaves Fort Santiago and sees Josephine Bracken. Rizal calls for Josephine and then they speak to each for the last time. Sources: Fr. Rosell, El Imparcial, and Testimony of Josephine to R. Wildman in 1899. — 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. : Fr. Faura returns to console Rizal and persuades him once more to trust him and the other professors at the Ateneo. Rizal is emotion-filled and, after remaining some moments in silence, confesses to Fr. Faura. Sources: El Imparcial. ><

8:00 – 9:00 p.m. : Rizal rakes supper (and, most probably, attends to his personal needs). Then, he receives Bro. Titllot with whom he had a very "tender" (Fr. Balaguer) or "useful" (Fr. Pi) interview. Sources: Separate testimonies of Fr. Balaguer and Fr. Pi on the report of Bro. Titllot; Fisal Castaño. — 9:00 – 10:00 p.m.: Fiscal Castaño exchanges views with Rizal regarding their respective professors. Sources: Fiscal Castaño. — 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. : Rizal manifests strange reaction, asks guards for paper and pen. From rough drafts and copies of his poem recovered in his shoes, the Spaniards come to know that Rizal is writing a poem. Sources: El Imparcial and Ultimo Adios; probably, Fiscal Castaño. — 11:00 – 12:00 midnight: Rizal takes time to his hide his poem inside the alcohol burner. It has to be done during night rather than during daytime because he is watched very carefully. He then writes his last letter to brother Paciano. Sources: Testimonies and circumstantial evidence. — 12:00 – 4:00 a.m. : Rizal sleeps restfully because his confidence in the goodness of God and the justness of his cause gives him astounding serenity and unusual calmness. ><

Filipino Rebellion After Rizal's Execution

The Philippine independence struggle turned more violent after Rizal's death. It was led first by Andres Bonifacio and later by Emilio Aguinaldo. Emilio Aguinaldo was a peasant worker and an idealist young firebrand. Rizal's death filled the rebels with new determination, but the Katipunan was becoming divided between supporters of Bonifacio, who revealed himself to be an increasingly ineffective leader, and its rising star, Aguinaldo. At a convention held at Tejeros, the Katipunan's headquarters in March 1897, delegates elected Aguinaldo president and demoted Bonifacio to the post of director of the interior. Bonifacio withdrew with his supporters and formed his own government. After fighting broke out between Bonifacio's and Aguinaldo's troops, Bonifacio was arrested, tried, and on May 10, 1897, executed by order of Aguinaldo. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Aguinaldo He extracted some concessions from the Spaniards in 1897 and declared Philippines independence on June, 12, 1898 from the balcony of his home in Cavite and established himself as president of an ill-fated provisional Philippine Republic after Filipinos drove the Spanish from most of the archipelago. Through their revolutionary proclamation, Filipinos claim that the Philippines was the first democratic republic in Asia. In one battle unarmed rebels on the island of Negros tricked the Spanish into retreating by launching an attack with “cannons” made rolled-up palm-leaf mats painted black and “bayonet rifles” constructed from bamboo.

As 1897 wore on, Aguinaldo himself suffered reverses at the hands of Spanish troops, being forced from Cavite in June and retreating to Biak-na-Bato in Bulacan Province. The futility of the struggle was becoming apparent on both sides. Although Spanish troops were able to defeat insurgents on the battlefield, they could not suppress guerrilla activity. In August armistice negotiations were opened between Aguinaldo and a new Spanish governor.

After three years of bloodshed, most of it Filipino, a Spanish-Filipino peace pact was signed in Hong Kong in December, 1897. According to the agreement the Spanish governor of the Philippines would pay Aguinaldo the equivalent of US$800,000, and the rebel leader and his government would go into exile. Aguinaldo established himself in Hong Kong, and the Spanish bought themselves time. Within the year, however, their more than three centuries of rule in the islands would come to an abrupt and unexpected end. *

According to Lonely Planet: “Predictably, the pact's demands satisfied nobody. Promises of reform by the Spanish were broken, as were promises by the Filipinos to stop their revolutionary plotting. The Filipino cause attracted huge support from the Japanese, who tried unsuccessfully to send money and two boatloads of weapons to the exiled revolutionaries in Hong Kong.

When the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, Spain’s fleet was easily defeated at Manila. Aguinaldo returned, and his 12,000 troops kept the Spanish forces bottled up in Manila until U.S. troops landed. The Spanish cause was doomed, but the Americans did nothing to accommodate the inclusion of Aguinaldo in the succession. Fighting between American and Filipino troops broke out almost as soon as the Spanish had been defeated. Aguinaldo issued a declaration of independence on June 12, 1898. However, the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898, by the United States and Spain, ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States, recognized Cuban independence, and gave US$20 million to Spain. A revolutionary congress convened at Malolos, north of Manila, promulgated a constitution on January 21, 1899, and inaugurated Aguinaldo as president of the new republic two days later. Hostilities broke out in February 1899, and by March 1901 Aguinaldo had been captured and his forces defeated. Despite Aguinaldo’s call to his compatriots to lay down their arms, insurgent resistance continued until 1903. The Moros, suspicious of both the Christian Filipino insurgents and the Americans, remained largely neutral, but eventually their own armed resistance had to be subjugated, and Moro territory was placed under U.S. military rule until 1914. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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