One hundred twenty-two years ago, on Dec. 30, 1896, Dr. Jose Rizal, the greatest Filipino patriot, was shot by firing squad at the order of the Spanish military in Manila.
Dr. Rizal was born on June 19. 1861 in Calamba, Laguna. His full name is Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonzo Realonda. He was the seventh child of Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandro, and Teodora Morales Alonzo Realonda y Quintos, a prosperous landowner and sugar planter of Chinese-Filipino descent. His mother was one of the most highly educated women in the Philippines and exerted a powerful influence on his intellectual development teaching him his alphabet at age 3.
At 9, he was sent to Biñang where he studied under the charge of G. Justiniano Aquino Cruz, but after a few months he was advised by his teacher to study in Ateneo Municipal de Manila. It was here where he excelled in his studies, obtaining all first medals in all subjects. At Ateneo, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree and the grade of “sobresaliente” with highest honor on March 14, 1877.
The following year, he studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of Sto. Tomas and the Science of Agriculture at Ateneo Municipal de Manila. In 1882, he went overseas to study medicine and liberal arts at the University of Madrid where he finished these courses in 1884 and 1885. A brilliant student, he soon became the leader of the small community of Filipino students in Spain and passionately committed himself to the reform of Spanish rule in the Philippines. The chief enemy of reform, in his eyes, was not Spain but the Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican friars who held the country in political and economic paralysis.
In 1884 Rizal began to study English; at that time he already knew French as he studied this language when he left the Philippines. Aside from these languages, he also studied Italian and German for he was prepared to travel in the different countries of Europe. He knew these travels won’t be beneficial if he did not know their language and would not be able to know their customs and history from which his people, the Filipinos, could learn lessons.
Rizal continued his medical studies in Paris and Heidelberg. He wrote the first half of Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”), a passionate exposure of the evils of the friars’ rule, while in Madrid and the other half was written in Paris and in Germany. He had the Noli Me Tangere published in 1887 followed by a sequel, El Filibusterismo published in Gante, Belgium in 1891 establishing his reputation as the leading spokesmen of the Philippine reform movement. He became the leader of the Propaganda Movement, contributing numerous articles to its newspaper, La Solidaridad, published in Barcelona. Rizal’s political program included integration of the Philippines as a province of Spain, representation in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), the replacement of the Spanish friars by native Philippine priests, freedom of assembly and expression, and equality of Filipinos and Spaniards before the law.
He came back to the Philippines on August 5, 1887. Then he departed again from Manila on February 3, 1888, for Europe stopping in Hongkong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York, Liverpool, and London. He left Manila at that time in order to avoid the wrath of the Spaniards for having published the Noli Me Tangere. Rizal came back to Manila on June 26, 1892 against the advice of his parents and friends.
On July 3, 1892, Dr. Rizal organized in Manila the La Liga Filipino, a secret organization, the aim of which was the changing of the way the government was run, in a peaceful way. He was exiled to Dapitan in northwest Mindanao on July 15, for he was suspected to have something to do with the rebellion taking place during those days. He remained in exile for four years, doing scientific research and founding a school and a hospital.
While Spain was having war with Cuba, Dr. Rizal who at that time was fearing that he might be suspected to have knowledge of the war going on, which in his opinion could not be stopped, he volunteered to serve as physician in Cuba. He was given a letter by Captain General Blanco, testifying that he never had anything to do with the war that took place in the Philippines until that time.
While Rizal was traveling on his way to Spain, about the close of 1896, he was captured in the boat where he was sailing, and upon arrival in Barcelona, he was sent back to the Philippines. An insurrection led by the nationalist secret society, the Katipunan, broke out in the Philippines. Although he had no connections with that organization or any part in the revolt, he was arrested for sedition by the military. On his arrival in Manila, Rizal was imprisoned at Fort Santiago. When he appeared in the military court he was sentenced to be executed by firing squad in Manila.
On the afternoon of December 29, 1896, a day before his execution, Dr. José Rizal was visited by his mother, Teodora Alonzo, sisters Lucia, Josefa, Trinidád, Maria and Narcisa, and two nephews. When they took their leave, Rizal told Trinidád in English that there was something in the small alcohol stove (cocinilla) which was intended to provide cover for the transportation of the text. The stove was given to Narcisa by the guard when the party was about to board their carriage in the courtyard. At home, the Rizal ladies recovered from the stove a folded paper. On it was written an unsigned, untitled and undated poem of 14 five-line stanzas, a masterpiece of 19th century Spanish verse full of excellent thoughts and feelings. The Rizals reproduced copies of the poem and sent them to Rizal’s friends in the country and abroad. In 1897, Mariano Ponce in Hong Kong had the poem printed with the title “Mi Ultimo Pensamiento”. Fr. Mariano Dacanay, who received a copy of the poem while a prisoner in Bilibid (jail), published it in the first issue of La Independencia on Sept. 25, 1898 with the title “Ultimo Adios”.
On December 30, 1896, Jose Rizal was executed by firing squad. As the military gave the order “Fuego”, he turned around and faced the firing squad before he dropped dead. His martyrdom ignited the Filipino fervor to revolt against the Spaniards.
The Filipino Heroes by Maria Odulio de Guzman