VW Bro. Bernardino L. Saplaco, Jr.
Past Grand Pursuivant

I simply want, in this article, to recreate important events that culminated in Dr. Jose Rizal's execution on Bagumbayan field (now the Luneta), the centennial anniversary of which we commemorated on December 30, last year (1996); to pose at certain points, perhaps for polemical reasons, some pertinent questions which, to me, still clamor for satisfying answers; to reiterate a couple of famous tributes to Illustrious Brother and Dr. Jose Rizal; and to suggest how we latter-day Filipinos can best honor the memory of our foremost National Hero.

Why, in the first place, did Dr. Rizal follow Professor Ferdinand Blumentritt's suggestion that he volunteer his services as a physician attached to the Spanish medical corps in Cuba?

For sure, in his flirewell letter to his family which he wrote before the Isla de Panay sailed for Spain on his way to Cuba on September 2, 1896, Rizal said in part:

"We are all in the hands of Divine Providence. Not all who go to Cuba die; and in the end, if one has to die, let him die at least doing something good." (Teodoro M. Kalaw, editor; Epistolario Rizalino, Vol IV, p.285).

But, what was the "something good" Dr. Rizal would do in Cuba? Helping the Spaniards, whose misrule of the archipelago he had vividly exposed in his writings, quell the Cubans' struggle for independence?

Why, furthermore, did Governor-General Ramon Blanco accept Dr. Rizal's application to serve as a volunteer physician attached to the Spanish medical corps in Cuba? Why did he, moreover, give Rizal a letter of recommendation, addressed to the Ministers of War and of the Ultramar, a portion of which is given below?

"His (Rizal's) conduct during the four years he remained in Dapitan has been exemplary, and he is, in my opinion, the more deserving of pardon and benevolence in that he is in no way involved in the chimerical attempt we are deploring, neither in the conspiracy nor in any of the secret societies that have been formed." (Ibid, p.294).

Some say that the governor-general, a 32nd Mason (Masonic name: Barcelona), wanted to assist a distressed worthy Brother. Since public unrest was growing in Manila, he wanted Rizal out of the Philippines to keep him away from the friars' clutches.

In any case, when on September 30 the Isla de Panay was cruising the Mediterranean Sea, the ship captain informed Dr. Rizal that he had just received a telegraphic order to arrest and confine Dr. Rizal in his cabin. (Documentos Rizalinos, 1953, p. 64). The Minister of Colonies had sent Governor Blanco a telegram, which read: "Not advisable that Rizal go to Cuba. He should be watched."   Thereafter the friars exerted pressure on the authorities, particularly Governor Blanco, to be strict on Rizal.  Worse, Rizal's name kept cropping up in the investigations of those arrested in connection with the Revolutionn. He was, therefore, suspected of being the Revolution's secret leader.

When the Isla de Panay reached Barcelona on October 6, Dr. Rizal was immediately transferred to the prison Montjuich Castle, the officer in charge of which was General Eulogio Despujol, the governor who had him arrested and deported to Dapitan. (Ibid., pp. 66-67).

Dr. Rizal was then transferred to the SS Colon, which arrived in Manila on November 8. Forthwith, he was again confined in Fort Santiago.

From November 20 to 24 he underwent rigorous investigation, during which he patiently bore the questions propounded to him by the Judge Advocate, Colonel Francisco Olive, the same man who in 1890 commanded the troops that invaded Calamba and drove the Rizal family from their home. Dr. Rizal was accused of being "the principal organizer and the living soul of the insurrection in the Philippines." He was also identified as the person principally responsible for the introduction into the Philippines of Masonry among Filipinos. Specifically, his enemies claimed that it was Rizal who instructed Pedro Serrano Laktaw to organize lodges in the Philippines. He was, in other words, accused of high treason of rebellion and sedition, of forming illegal assodations.

On December 10, it was decided that the case against Rizal be heard by a court martial. The charge against him carried the death penalty. But Governor Blanco, whose confirmation was required, had decided in advance that be would veto a death sentence. Hence, Archbishop Nozaleda and the Provincials of the religious orders used all possible means, including bribery, to bring about Blanco's ouster. They sent a telegram to their cohorts in Madrid. The telegram read thus : "Situation more grave. Revolt spreading. Apathy of Blanco unexplainable. To remove danger, an urgent necessity is the appointment of a chief (new governor general). Opinion unanimous, Archbishop and Provincials."

On December 13, Blanco was replaced by General Camilo S. Polavieja. On December 19, Polavieja ordered the judge to proceed with Rizal's trial.

Given a list of army officers from which to choose his defender, Dr. Rizal chose Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade, whose brother Jose was assigned by Governor General Emilio Terrero, a 33rd Mason, as Dr. Rizal's personal bodyguard during his stay in the country in 1887-1888.

(We should recall, at this juncture, that in early February 1888, Dr. Rizal had to leave the Philippines posthaste for the second time and return to Europe, simply because his powerful enemies had made his stay in the country insupportable, portraying him as a German spy, an agent of Bismarck, a Protestant, a Mason, a witch, a condemned soul, etc." And who were Rizal's real enemies? The friars, of course !)

On December 26, Dr. Rizal was tried by a Court Martial of seven Spanish army officers, headed by Lt. Col. Jose Tagores Arajona. Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade ably defended Dr. Rizal, who presented his own brief, too. But, of course, the latter knew his fate had been sealed, or that his case had already been prejudged. The court sentenced him to the extreme penalty of death.

On December 28, Polavieja decreed that the accused Jose Rizal should "be executed before a firing squad at 7 o'clock in the morning of December 3Oth instant, on the field of Bagumbayan, with all the formalities required by law.... "(See Jose Batungbacal, The Mistrial of Dr. Jose Rizal, 1940, p.25.)

In the morning of December 29, Dr. Rizal was formally notified of his death sentence. Then he wrote his valedictory poem, in which he developed the thesis "The patriot must give priority to the nation's welfare or the common good (tayo) over the interests of his class, group or family (kami) and those of his own person (ako)."  His last poem, indeed, was marked by internal consistency; for he devoted more than 12 stanzas for expressing his agapeic love for his "adored country, region loved by the sun, pearl of the Orient sea, our eden lost," and less than two stanzas to his parents, brother and sisters; to "friends of my infancy in the last home" (Calamba); and to the  "sweet stranger, my friend, my joy" (Josephine Bracken).

Dr. Rizal hid his last poem in his alcohol cooking lamp, which he would later give to his sister Trinidad.

He also wrote farewell letters to his father, mother, brother Paciano, and intimate friend and confidant Blumentritt. He told them, I am going to die with a tranquil conscience." (Kalaw, op. cit., Vol. IV, p.297). He, moreover, received visitors: the Jesuit priests who were his erstwhile professors at the Ateneo and who offered him spiritual consolation; Santiago Mataix, correspondent of the Heraldo de Madrid; his aged mother, his sisters, and Josephine Bracken. Why didn't the friars, including the Jesuits, visit Rizal from November 3 to December 28? Why did Archbishop Nozaleda send the Jesuits to visit Rizal only on December 29 when he was afready in a death cell, closely and heavily guarded? Did Dr. Rizal really "write" and "sign" his "retraction" at 11:30 pm, December 29 ? Were Rizal and Josephine really "married canonically" at 5:00 a.m., December 30 or two hours before the fatal moment?

The answer to the first of these last two questlons is suggested in the eyewitness account that the late MW Rafael Palma, who was then 22 years old and who was not yet a Freemason since he would enter only in 1907. In his diary, MW Palma described what he saw on that fateful morning of December 30, a century ago. Here is his description:

"I attended the execution this morning. A great multitude invaded the field of Bagumbayan where the execution was to take place.

"I was anxious to know the hero. I wanted to see his face, that face that had challenged the tyrants; his head that had borne such a grand idea -- the creation of a nation; in short, I wanted to see the figure of that illustrious patriot who was willing to shed his blood for his country.

l saw him two times. I imagined that he would be serene, tranquil as he marched to the scene of his glory and immortality; and I can say that I was not deceive. His face was pale but serene and bright like the sky above: he laughed at times as he joked with the Jesuit priests and the officer near him.

"His lips shaded by a thin moustache smiled at the world, as if he wanted to bid goodbye to aIl. His eyes were small, but mobile and vivacious and seemed to play within their sockets.

"He walked with noble bearing, his body was upright, erect yet without affectation. To me that represented his whole character -- inflexible, daring -- I could understand why he did not bend either to tyranny nor to death.

"He hurried as he neared the place of the great sacrifice. One may say that he ran after the gloryy that began to clear the border of his sepulcher and which might be delayed by his tardiness.

"From that time on, he disappeared from my sight. The people crowded around the scene and in spite of my efforts, I failed to see the moment of his death. A shot rang out at 7:03 a.m.  and something like an immense sigh arose from the multitude, indicating that all was over. Shouts of "Long live Spain! Death to the traitors!" could be heard three or four times. People began to leave the place, contented and happy at satisfying their curiosity. I even saw some Filipinos laughing."
(Originally published in The Manila Chronicle, Dec. 30, 1946, p. 4).

Rizal execution at Bagumbayan
(This image is a reproduction of an original photo taken during the execution of Bro. Jose Rizal).

MW Palma, in The Pride of the Malay Race (1949), wrote this tribute to the martyr:

"Glory be to Rizal! in him are typified the best qualities of our race. He elevated the concept of our country before the world because all his life he demonstrated a sincere desire to work for the good of others; he had no ambition for glory or fame, nor did he expect rewards or recompense from anybody...."

In his poem "To the National Hero," similarly, Cecilio Apostol called the martyred hero "redeemer of an enslaved country." Here is a stanza of that poem:

How much the nation owes you! In your calvary you were yesterday a solitary star, which illumined the battle fields, the sweet apparition, heaven's smile, which infused to martyrs cheer, to heroes valor, and to mean fellows fear.

Later in the poem Apostol used another analogy, as follows:

You fell like a fruit already ripe, but with you fell the seed. Now the germ's a vig'rous plant; it has survived in the furrow of the path, and, free from mortal fight, beneath its branches your brothers sleep.

Indeed, on December 30, a century ago a bullet shattered Dr. Rizal's skull, but his thought in turn destroyed an empire! He will live for ever because, after many, many generations, the blessings of a nation that does not forget its martyrs, decidedly, will immortalize his memory.

But, to me, the best tribute we can render to Dr. Rizal is to strive, in our own measure, to become like him and to emulate what he has done by exerting similar efforts, similar means of action, and similar devotion to duty that he displayed in the most heroic acts of his life.


Reprinted from "The Cable Tow", Vol 73. No.5