RIZAL AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
I have been asked to deliver a paper on Rizal and the Justice System. I accepted the task as a true Mason and as a true Knight of Rizal. Little did I realize the immensity of the job and the efforts required to research on the topic. Our history has been written and rewritten from different perspectives but it appears that our scholars have not sufficiently plumbed the legal aspects of our history during the 300 years we were under the political dominion of Spain. The scarcity of legal materials on our judicial system under the Spanish rule thus impairs the exhaustiveness or the intellectual breadth of this paper. With this caveat and with your dispensation, allow me to proceed.
The family members of Rizal contended with the faulty system of justice at their time. The confrontation was destined to happen considering their unique social, economic and political chemistry. The Rizals were never awed by the arrogance of the powers that be who ruled with near absolute despotism. In a land where illiteracy reigned, they refused to submit to the darkness of ignorance. The Rizals were highly educated and they never felt any sense of inferiority from the Spanlards as did the multitude of indios. Francisco, Rizal's father, attended Latin school at Biņan and the College of San Jose in Manila. Francisco's father and grandfather had served as chief town officials -- captain -- of Biņan.1
Teodora Alonzo, Rizal's mother, was more than a bearer of children. She attended the Dominican College of Santa Rosa in Manila. Rizal spoke of her mother as "...acquianted with literature and speaks better Spamish than I do; she used to correct my poems and give me wise advice when I was studying rhetoric; she is a mathematician and has read a great many books.2 For a Filipina to be extremely literate in the mid-1800's is a phenomenon for in many parts of the world, women's rights yet unheard of. Teodora Alonzo was likewise no stranger to political power. Her father was a municipal captain.3
From the start, Rizal's parents demonstrated their courage to stand and stand steadfastly for what is right and righteous. In his biography of Rizal, Palma relates how Francisco incurred the ire of the powerful alferez (or lieutenant) of the Spanish civil guards. The alferez was typical of the abusive guardia civil of the time. He used to demand fodder for his horse from Francisco as a matter of right. The kind man that he was, Francisco always accomodated the alferez. One day, however, Francisco's ration of fodder failed to come and did not have enough for his own horses. Francisco was caught in a dilemma when a civil guard came and demanded fodder to feed the horses of the alferez. Francisco refused the request and explained his predicament. The alferez would not listen to his explanation. The alferez thought that in the heat of the confrontation Francisco would melt like a marshmallow. He was mistaken about the bent of Francisco's backbone. Bristling with righteous indignation, Francisco thundered to the guard : "Tell the alferez that I voluntarily give when I have more than I need, but I cannot give when I need for myself what I have. He can go and buy his fodder anywhere." 4 The blood pressure of the aiferez shot to stratospheric height for he had never received a rebuff from an indio. He swore to get even at the proper time. Thus, Francisco demonstrated that a Rizal would not allow himself to be a doormat even of powerful foreigners in his own land. As perceptively observed by Palma, "The officer of the civil guard was a little sovereign within each town and his power was feared by the residents. He not only could catch and apprehend criminals but could also give confidential reports on any person suspected of being opposed to the Spaniards. To qurrel with him was equivalent to being on bad terms with the Spanish regime." 5
The harassments of the Rizals were not long to come. The first victim was Rizal's mother herself, courtesy of the secular authorities. It appears that her first cousin, Jose Alberto, was ahandoned by his wife. He decided to divorce her but Rizal's mother would not hear of it. She exerted efforts to patch up their quarrel. Her good intention proved to be her undoing. Her cousin's wife resented her intervention. She alleged to the authorities that her husband was trying to poison her. And worse, she implicated Rizal's mother as an accomplice.
The charge against Rizal's mother was clearly the result of an imagination running riot. But the alcalde received the accusation as the incarnation of truth. He did not bother to hear the side of Rizal's mother. With inordinate speed, he adjudged her guilty. He ordered her to be imprisoned. The order was carried out by the alferez whose power had been previously defied by Francisco. The alferez forced Rizal's mother to walk all the way to the prison house, a distance of 20 miles. 6 Undeniably, the incarceration of his mother without any tinge of due process and the cruelty with which her order of arrest was carried out left an indelible imprint on the mind of Rizal.-
If secular injustice was bad, sectarian injustice was worse. The Rizals were Catholics but they were not of the see-no-evil, speak-no-evil variety. While in Spain, Rizal realized that the friars were the problem and not the solution to the problem in the Philippines. He wrote the Noli Me Tangere exposing the abuses of the friars. The shaft of Noli shattered the once sacred halo of the friars. Noli provided the powerful friars the casus belli against Rizal. Their rage escalated to an inferno when Rizal again denounced the corruption of the Dominicans in the Calamba estate affair. The Calamba estate originally belonged to the Jesuits. Initially, it covered only a small part of the town. Its ownership passed to the Dominicans. Soon, the Dominicans expanded its area and the estate covered almost the whole of Calamba. But while the estate was growing more and more in size, the Dominicans were paying less and less in taxes. The stink was picked up by the nose of the authorities and the civil governor of Laguna was instructed by Governor-General Terrero to start an inquiry. The tenants of the estate, which included the Rizal clan, sought the assistance of Rizal. Rizal painstakingly investigated the facts about the hacienda and revealed the misdeeds of the Dominicans in a public meeting. Some 60 families were emboldened by the courage of Rizal and they petitioned the Governor-General to draw up more equitable lease agreement between them and the Dominicans.7 Historian 0.D. Corpuz observed that this was the "...first agrarian reform proposal in Filipinas.8 But Coates observed that it was the beginning of the end for Rizal for "he was attacking the friars on their most sensitive point --- money. 9 Predictably, the Dominicans struck back hard. They castigated the alcalde for not placing the town under martial law. In response, the alcalde sought permission to arm the militia. He used the dreaded guardia civil to monit6r the movements of the people. The people were also warned by the Dominicans that "if they were not obedient, the dire chastisement of God would fall upon them within not many days." 10
The show and use of force did not break the will of the tenants. The wily Dorninicans then shifted their strategy. They decided to use the courts of law to eject the tenants. They filed ejectment cases in the court of Laguna. They won as expected. Rizal's brother, Paciano, and his brother-in-law, Manuel Hidalgo, did not easily give up the fight. They led the tenants appeal to the Real Audiencia in Manila. Again, they lost their appeal but they continued knocking at the door of justice. Paciano prepared the final appeal to the Tribunal Supremo in Madrid. He requested Rizal to fly to Madrid to assist in the appeal. They expected the highest court of Spain to be less biased against the Filipino tenants.
The Dominicans shattered their last remaining hope. They jumped the gun on the high tribunal. They forced the eviction of the tenants before their appeal could be decided. Governor-General Weyler sent a detachment of artillery to Calamba. The tenants were given 24 hours to leave or their houses would be either destroyed or burned. The Dominicans themselves chose which house to destroy and which house to burn. The quick wrecking operation rendered some 300 families landless and homeless.
Among the victims, the family of Rizal was hardest hit. Rizal's parents had to take refuge in the house of their daughter Narcisa. Paciano was forcibly deported to Mindoro. Manuel Hidalgo was arrested as a filibustero and then deported to Bohol. Other brothers-in-law were hunted and driven to live the lives of outlaws. Rizal's mother bore the ire of the friars. She was arrested and for the second time was slapped a false charge. The charge was for improperly using the surname Alonzo.11 She was ordered to be imprisoned at Santa Cruz, which could be reached more convenienfly by boat via Laguna de Bay. She offered to pay her boat fare and that of her escort. She was refused. They compelled her to walk the long distance. She did though she was then 64 years old and almost blind. It took her four days to complete her journey to jail. Upon seeing her pitiable state, the civil governor of Sta. Cruz immediately ordered her release. She then fled to Hongkong where her husband Francisco and son Paciano had earlier escaped. The experience shattered the faith of Rizal's mother. In a letter to Bluementritt, Rizal wrote: "It is a lamentable consequence of Dominican hatred that my aged mother, who was so pious and religious, now herself says that she can believe no more. She says everything is a fraud." 12 Again, the justice system failed the Rizals.
The legal rigmarole did not dampen the indomitable spirit of Rizal for justice. He fastracked his efforts to secure reforms from Spain though his views were undergoing radicalization. The volume of his criticisms against frailocracy reached a new decibel. He rushed the writing of El Filibusterismo, the sequel to Noli Me Tangere. He also joined Freemasonry by affiliating with Acasia Lodge No. 9 of the Gran Orientede Espaņa.13 His affiliation with Freemasons was not without significance. As accurately observed by Coates, "...in the light of the bitter opposition of the Spanish Church to Freemasonry, this move on his part cannot but suggest the adoption of more extreme position in respect of the church; and remembering that the political problem of the Philippines was predominantly an ecclesiastical one, the move may in part reflect his diminished faith in the policy of assimilation." 14
Rizal's alliance with freemasons and freemasonry which was then growing by leaps and bounds15 in the Philippines influenced his future course of action. In a radical move, he wrote the By-Laws of La Liga Flilpina while in Hongkong. He patterned its structure after masonic lodges. lts aim was to organize Filipinos as one, viz, to unite the whole archipelago into a compact body, vigorous and homogeneous.16 He returned to the Philippines and among his first acts was to formally organize the Liga Filipina at a house in Tondo on July 3, l892.17 Rizal appeared to have metamorphosed from a theorist to action man. Governor-General Despujol saw the danger sign and ordered Rizal's arrest on July 6, 1892, or three days after he inaugurated Liga Filipina. Several untenable grounds were used to justify his arrest. Essentially, he was arrested for smuggling anti-clerical leaflets which were allegedly discovered at his hotel in Binondo. Rizal was whisked to Fort Santiago and held incommunicado for eight days. He was later transferred secrefly to the warship Alba and deported to Dapitan. Palma viewed Rizal's arrest as "another proof of how despotic and arbitrary the Spanish regime was." 18
It was a foretaste of the worst injustice to come.
The news of Rizal's deportation spread like fire and it raised the revolutionary temperature of the people. In August of 1896, the Katipunan was discovered and the premature discovery forced Bonifacio et al. to start the uprising. Initially, Gov. General Blanco did not suspect any involvement of Rizal in the uprising. In his August 3 letter to Manuel de Azcarraga, Minister of War and for Overseas Territories in Madrid, he vouchsafed the conduct of Rizal thus:
On the basis of this certification of good conduct issued by no less than the Governor-General, Rizal was issued a safe conduct pass to go to Cuba as a volunteer physician to help Spain put down the Cuban revolution. He sailed to Manila on boatr Espaņa but he had to wait for a month for the next boat going to Europe. In the meanwhile, he was transferred to the cruiser Castilla stationed at Cavite where he was detained but not as a prisoner. Finally, he got on board Isla de Panay going to Barcelona. The Filipino rebels initially scored stunning successes against the Spaniards. The Spanish authorities, however, resorted to mass arbitrary arrests as panic swept them. Prominent Filipinos were arrested at the slightest of suspicion. With Rizal in the boat Isla de Panay was Don Pedro Roxas, a filibustero suspect. Fearful of an arrest, Roxas got off in Singapore. The friends of Rizal advised him to follow Roxas. He refused saying: "No, a fugitive, no. They would consider me an accomplice in the uprising. 20 His show of innocence was of no help to Rizal. On September 27, when the boat left Port Said going to the Mediterranean, the captain of the ship received a telegraphic order to arrest Rizal. He arrived in Barcelona on October 3 and was brought to the Castle of Montjuich. Irony of ironies, he was welcomed there by General Despujol, the man who deported him to Dapitan. On October 6, he was shipped back to the Philippines on board the SS Colon. He reached Manila on November 3.
The secular and sectarian authorities were ready to inflict the supreme injustice on Rizal. They were prepared to charge him as leader of the rebellion then spreading in the country. They had rounded up suspects and extracted confessions from them by force and fraud. Rizal's brother, Paciano, was one of their worst victims. Coates narrates the barbaric means employed to break the will of Paciano:
The worst of his torturers did not destroy the best of Paciano. He resisted the crudest attempts to extract lies from his lips. Unfortunately, others were not so faithful to the altar of truth. Their spirit succumbed to the punishment of their physical part. They signed documents which the authorities fraudulently used to link Rizal with the ongoing rebellion.
The preliminary investigation of Rizal started. It was conducted by a Colonel Francisco Olive, Judge Advocate. The procedure was totally inquisitorial. He was informed of the accusation against him but had no right to confront and cross-examine his accusers and the witnesses against him. He was able to give a statement but without the assistance of counsel. Col. Olive interrogated Rizal for five continuous days. He then transmitted the proceedings to Governor Blanco so the latter could appoint a special judge to file the charge against Rizal. Blanco appointed Rafael Dominguez, a captain of the infantry. Dominguez concluded that Rizal "... is the principal organizer and living soul of the insurrection ... the principal chief of the filibusterismo of the country." 22 The opinion was concurred by Nicolas Peņa, the Judge Advocate General.23 He recommended that Rizal be immediately tried; that he be kept behind bars (without bail) while on trial; that his properties be atttached up to one million pesos; and that his defense counsel be an army officer. In a critical move the Dominicans were able to instigate the replacenent of Governor-Bianco by Governor General Polavieja.
Governor Polavieja at once ordeted a court martial to try Rizal.24 The charge was founding illegal associations 25 and promoting and inciting rebellion, the first being a necessary means of committing the second. 26 The fact that it was committed by a native was considered as an aggravating circumstance. The penalty for the crirnes as charged was mandatory death. The prosecutor, Enrique de Alcocer, asked for its imposition. Rizal was defended by 1st Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade.27 On Christmas day, December 25, Rizal was gifted with the information that he would be tried the next day.
At 10 o'clock in the morning of December 26, 1896, the court martial convened in the building called Cuartel de Espaņa. Alcocer read the Brief for the Prosecution. Retana described the Brief as "rich in rhetoric, poor in logic ... excessive in impetuoisity and ... empty of reason." After him, 1st Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade read the Brief of Rizal. Retana described it as "a reasoned and in spite of its simplicity, a brilitant defense." Then Rizal read the "Supplement to My Defense" which he himself prepared and where he rebutted point by point the factual bases of the charges against him. No member of the court martial dared contradict him. The case was considered submitted for decision without any question from the members of the court martial. The court martial made a short deliberation and condemned Rizal as guilty. He was sentenced to death. It further ordered: "... in case of pardon the penalty, unless specifically remitted, shall carry with it the accessories of absolute, perpetual disqualification and subjection of the accused to the surveillance of authorities during his whole life, to pay as imdemnity to the State the sum of P1,000,000.oo with the obligation of transmitting the satisfaction of its indemnity to his heirs. 28
There was to be no pardon for Rizal. Within two days or on December 28, 1896, Governor-General Polavieja approved the sentence and ordered that the sentence be carried out by "means of execution by a firing squad at seven o'clock in the morning of the 30th of the present month in Bagumbayan Field..." 29 Rizal was transferred to his solitary cell and awaited the footsteps of death with the peace that passeth understanding.
The question has been asked whether Rizal was given justice in his trial. Commentators have ventured the view that his trial was unfair and unjust. I humbly join this view for various reasons.
First. The hostility at the time precluded an impartial trial. The Spanish colonial authorities would not tolerate a successful rebellion of the Filipinos. Cuba had already revolted and they could not lose two colonies. The Philippine revolution had to be smashed and we know that when the guns sound, the laws are silent.
Second. Rizal had to be eliminated at all costs. His educational credentials were impressive. His love for the Philippines was unadultered. Of all Filipinos, he had the potential to unite the people against the Spaniards. He led the movement for reforms in the Philippines and he was relentless in his efforts. He was fast metamorphosing to a revolutionary. He posed a real danger.
Third. There was an extra special reason to destroy Rizal. He was anti-clerical. His novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo and his numerous critical essays irreparably damaged the Catholic priests in the Philippines. Undeniably, they co-ruled the Philippines and they could not continue their reign with Rizal disputing their authority. Rizal was too much of a heretic and he did not show any indication he would go soft or slow with his attacks against the religious. They marked him as enemy number one.
Fourth. Rizal was charged and tried as the leader of the revolution. At the time of his trial, the revolution was succeeding to the consternation of the Spaniards who thought it could be stumped out with ease. If the revolution succeeded, the Spanish authorities knew they would be dead. It was their neck or Rizal's neck. They had to save their own neck.
Fifth. The preliminary investigation of Rizal was a mere show. It was an inquisition. A non-lawyer, Rizal defended himself and he defended himself against accusers whom he could not confront nor cross-examine. The investigation was held only to comply with the formality required by law. As soon as it was finished, the charges against Rizal were readied as preconceived by the authorities.
Sixth. The records do not show how the members of the court martial were chosen by Governor Polavieja. Polavieja was not a symphatizer of Rizal. Indeed, the Dominicans exerted their influence to replace Blanco with Polavieja. The Dominicans did not trust BIanco whom they thought was using velvet gloves against Rizal. Blanco was a known Freemason.30 Blanco is quoted as having informed Retana that had he continued as governor he would have never condemned Rizal to death. 31
Seventh. The records do not show the background or the personality profile of the members of the court martial. They were all Spaniards. It does not appear that Rizal was given any opportunity to study their impartiality. In court martial proceedings, an accused is usually accorded the right to challenge and disqualify a prospective juror. Rizal was denied that fundamental right.
Eight. The records do not show that the members of the court martial actively participated in the proceedings. They merely listened to the prosecutor and the defense counsel read their respective Briefs. Despite the fugitive facts, not one asked any question to the prosecutor or to the defense counsel. Not one challenged Rizal when he read his Supplemental Defense. They were all as silent as a sphinx during the trial.
Ninth. The records do not show how the members of the court martial deliberated on the case. After the arguments closed, they retired and after a short while returned a verdict of guilty. There was no way to find out how they appreciated the evidence against Rizal.
Tenth. The various pieces of evidence against Rizal were not only weak but were also not admissible under the law of evidence at that time. The counsel of Rizal correctly invoked Rule 52. Pursuant to this rule, the testimonies of those with participation in the rebellion is inadmissible. The documentary evidence were out and out hearsay. Others were extracted by force. Even if they were adniissible, these testimonies and documentary evidence lacked reliability. Worthy to note, the members of the court did not rule on the admissibility of the prosecution evidence. Indeed, they were all admitted and given weight and their weight crushed Rizal. In addition, the counsel of Rizal raised the issue that the atmosphere against Rizal was so poisoned with prejudice he could not be judged with fairness. His plea did not even raise any quizzical eyebrow.
Elevent. Rizal adequately explained why the factual evidence against him cannot result in his conviction. The judges completely brushed him aside. Worse, there were acts within their notice providing the innocence of Rizal but on which they turned a blind eye. Among them are:
The tragedy of the Spanish authorities is that they thought by giving his execution a legal veneer the people would forget and foresake Rizal but murder does not cease to be murder simply because it is ordered by a court of justice. Indeed, the worse kind of murder is murder by the government, the worst kind of injustice is injustice by the judiciary.
Rizal knew the mystical quality of injusjice that the last act that brings down tyrants from their pedestals of power is injustice. History tells us that tyrants can commit political abuses and for a time get away with them; they can engage in economic exploitations, and for a time succeed; but they can neither trample the liberties or take the lives of innocent people for long without tumbling down from their pedestals in a short time. The Spaniards forgot that immutable lesson. For threehundred years, the friars and guardia civil abused the Filipinos. They immensely succeeded until they committed the mistake of misusing the laws and the courts to crush the liberty and the lives of Filipinos. They who use law for lawlessness will never last. Rizal's life validated this all-time truism. The authorities who condemned Rizal before their courts of justice also convicted themselves before the tribunal of the people. Within two years after decreeing that Rizal should die, their reign was ended by the people who exercised their right of revolution.
This is one of the enduring lessons in the life of Rizal which we ought to memorialize. We forgot it in the 1970's and our amnesia compelled Benigno Aquino and others to walk the path of Rizal and the EDSA revolution became an inevitability. There will still be more Cries of Balintawak, more EDSAs as long as we perpetuate and remain unconcerned with injustices in the country. Today, our system of justice is again under hostile examination and cross-examamination by concerned sectors of society. Rizal showed us how important a pillar is our system of justice. After a hundred years, Rizal continues to be relevant to Filipinos. Our finest tribute to Rizal is to make him "irrelevant" by fulfilling his dreams about the Filipino.
1. Coates, Rizal, Filipino Nationlists and Patriot, 1992 ed., p. 7.
2. Letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt, 8 Nov 1888, Epistolario Rizalino, Vol. 5, No. 56.
3. Coates, op. cit., p. 8.
4. Palma, Pride of the Malay Race, a translation by Roman Ozaeta, Prentice Hall, Inc., 1949, p.2.
5. Ibid, p. 3.
6. Coates, op. cit., p. 141.
7. Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance, edited by M. Rajaretman, 1996 ed., p. 17.
8. Ibid, p. 67.
9. Coates, op. cit., p. 141.
10. Ibid, p. 168.
11. Ibid, p. 212. Allegedly, she could use the name Realond de Rizal. Rizal's mother had always use the name Teodora Alonzo.
12. Ibid.,p. 213.
13. Cable Tow, Vol. 73, No. 2,July-Aug. 1996 issue featuring Masonry and the Philippine Revolution by R. Fajardo, p.12.
14. Coates, op.cit., p. 175.
15. The Cabletow, op. cit., p. 13.
16. Palma, op. cit., p . 195.
17. Elected were Ambrosio Salvador, President; Agustin de Ia Rosa, Fiscal; Bonifacio Arevalo, Treasurer; and Deodato Arellano, Secretary.
18. Palma, op. cit., p. 222.
19. Coates, op. cit., p. 286.
20. Palma, op. cit., p. 263.
21. Coates, op. cit., p. 295-296.
22. Palma, op. cit., p. 284.
24. The court was composed of Lt. Jose Tagores Arogana (Cavalry) as President, and as members: Braulio Rodriguez Ņunez (Rangers), Ricardo Muņoz (Artillery), Fermin Perez Rodriguez (General Ordinance), Manuel Reguera (Cavalry), Manuel Diaz Escribano (Engineers), and Santiago Osorio (Rangers).
25. La Liga Filipina.
26. See Article 189 (1) and Article 230 in relation to Article 229 (1) of the Penal Code.
27. He is the brother of Jose Taviel de Andrade who acted as his guard in Calamba.
28. The sentence cited Articles 188 (2) in relation to 189 (1) and 230 in relation to 229 (1); 11, 53, 63, 80, 89, 119, 188 (2), 189 (1), 123 in relation to 11 (3), 122 and others of general application to the Penal Code. Horacio dela Costa, The Trial of Rizal, 1961 ed., p. 135.
29. He appproved the recommendation of the Judge Advocate General, Nicolas dela Peņa, who reviewed the case within one day or on December 27, 1896. Ibid., pp. 137-138.
30. Palma, op. cit., p. 258.
31. Coates, p. 297, footnote no. 1.
32. Palma, op. cit., p. 257.
33. Ibid, p. 261.
35. Ibid, p. 263.
36. Coates, p. 306.
MW Bro. Puno is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of F&AMs of the Philippines, a Past Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, 33o, A&ASR, Republic of the Philippines, and a member of the Order of the Knights of Rizal. He delivered this paper on November 16, 1996 at the Plaridel Masonic Temple in a symposium on Rizal jointly sponsored by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Philippines and the Knights of Rizal.
Reprinted from "The Cable Tow", Vol 73. No.5