Jose Rizal

Jose Rizal books and biography


José Rizal

José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Realonda
José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Realonda

José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896), known as Jose Rizal, was a Filipino polymath, nationalist and the most prominent advocate for reforms in the Philippines during Spanish colonial era and its eventual independence from Spain. He is considered a national hero of the Philippines and the anniversary of Rizal's death is commemorated as a Philippine holiday called Rizal Day. Rizal's 1896 military trial and execution made him a martyr of the Philippine Revolution.

The seventh of eleven children born to the Mercado family, a prosperous middle class Filipino family in the town of Calamba in the Province of Laguna, Rizal attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and then traveled alone to Madrid, Spain where he studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid, earning the degree Licentiate in Medicine. He earned a second doctorate at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. Rizal was a polyglot conversant in at least ten languages: Spanish, French, Latin, Greek,German, Portuguese, Italian, English, Dutch and Japanese.[1][2][3][4] He was a prolific poet, essayist, diarist, correspondent, and novelist whose most famous works were his two novels, Noli me Tangere[5] and El Filibusterismo. These novels are social commentaries on the Philippines under Spanish colonial rule that formed the nucleus of literature that inspired dissent among the European-educated Filipino peaceful reformists and spurred the militancy of armed revolutionaries against 333 years of Spanish colonial rule.

As a political figure, Rizal was the founder of La Liga Filipina, a civic organization that subsequently gave birth to the Katipunan led by Bonifacio and Aguinaldo.[6] He was a reformer for an open society rather than a revolutionary for political independence; he advocated popular representation in effecting institutional reforms by peaceful means rather than by violent revolution. The general consensus among Rizal scholars, however, attributed his martyred death as the catalyst that precipitated the Philippine Revolution. Historians contend that Rizal's patriotism and his standing as one of Asia's first intellectuals of the post-colonial era have inspired succeeding thinkers and revolutionaries of the centrality of national identity as a social force in the project of nation-building.[7]



Rizal, just before his execution in 1896
Rizal, just before his execution in 1896

José Rizal was born into a prosperous middle class Filipino family in the town of Calamba in the Province of Laguna. His parents were Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonzo. He was the seventh child of their eleven children (namely, Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olympia, Lucia, Maria, Jose, Concepcion, Josephina, Trinidad and Soledad.)

Dominican friar landlords granted the family the privilege of the lease of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm. However, contentious litigation followed the friars' attempts to raise tenant rental fees. The farmers, led by Rizal, disputed this while exposing the Dominicans' failure to pay taxes due on friar land. These haciendas were taken over by the Dominicans from the Jesuits after the latter's expulsion. Later, General Valeriano Weyler had the buildings on the farm torn down.

Upon enrolling at the Ateneo, Rizal changed his surname to "Rizal" to escape the opprobrium of the name "Mercado". His brother, Paciano, had been linked to the Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora who had been tried as subversives and sentenced to death by garrote.

Dr. Jose Rizal's father
Dr. Jose Rizal's father

Rizal was descended on his father side from Domingo Lam-co, a Chinese immigrant who sailed to the Philippines from Amoy, China in the mid-17th century (see Chinese Filipino). Lam-co married Inez de la Rosa, a Sangley native of Luzon. To free his descendants from the anti-Chinese animosity of the Spanish authorities, Lam-co changed the family surname to the Spanish surname "Mercado" (market) to indicate their Chinese merchant roots. Their original application was for the name Ricial, apropos their main occupation of farming, which was arbitrarily denied. The name Rizal, originally Ricial, or the green of young growth which also means "green fields", was adopted as an alias with Paciano to enable Jose to travel freely as the Mercados had gained notoriety by their son's intellectual prominence. Rizal was from early childhood already advancing unheard of political ideas of freedom and individual rights which infuriated the authorities.[8]

Aside from his indigenous Malay and Chinese ancestry, recent genealogical research has found that José had traces of Spanish, Japanese and Negrito ancestry. His maternal great-great-grandfather (Teodora's great-grandfather) was Eugenio Ursua, a descendant of Japanese settlers, who married a Filipina named Benigna (surname unknown). These two gave birth to Regina Ursua who married a Sangley mestizo from Pangasinán named Atty. Manuel de Quintos, Teodora's grandfather. Their daughter Brígida de Quintos married a mestizo (half-caste Spaniard) named Lorenzo Alberto Alonzo, the father of Teodora. Austin Craig mentions Lacandula, Rajah of Tondo at the time of the Spanish incursion, also as an ancestor.


Jose Rizal as a student at U.S.T.
Jose Rizal as a student at U.S.T.

Rizal first studied under Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna. He went to Manila to study. He was accepted at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1877 and graduated as one of the nine students declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education in the Ateneo Municipal to obtain a degree in land surveying and assessor, and at the same time in the University of Santo Tomas where he studied Philosophy and Letters. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to study medicine (ophthalmology) in the University of Santo Tomas but did not complete it because he felt that Filipinos were being discriminated by the Dominicans who operated the university.[9]

Without his parents' knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Madrid and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. His education continued at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg where he earned a second doctorate. In Berlin, he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German before the Anthropological Society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language, considered a shining moment in the relations between East and West. Ten years later, the society met to honor him in death with a reading of a German translation of his farewell poem and Dr. Virchow delivering the eulogy.[10] He left Heidelberg a poem, "A las flores del Heidelberg," which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land. Its message presaged the unification of common culture and common values of East and West.

Rizal's multifacetedness was described by his German friend, Dr. Adolf Meyer, as "stupendous."[11][12] He developed an uncommon ability to master various skills and subjects. Documented studies show him to be a polymath.[1][2][13] He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, inventor, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. He was a Freemason.[14]

Rizal's crayon sketch of Leonor Rivera
Rizal's crayon sketch of Leonor Rivera


He who knows the surface of the earth and the topography of a country only through the examination of like a man who learns the opera of Meyerbeer or Rossini by reading only reviews in the newspapers. The brush of landscape artists Lorrain, Ruysdael, or Calame can reproduce on canvas the sun's ray, the coolness of the heavens, the green of the fields, the majesty of the mountains...but what can never be stolen from Nature is that vivid impression that she alone can and knows how to impart--the music of the birds, the movement of the trees, the aroma peculiar to the place--the inexplicable something the traveller feels that cannot be defined and which seems to awaken in him distant memories of happy days, sorrows and joys gone by, never to return.--Rizal, "On Travel"[15]

Judging by the vast and extensive records written by and about Rizal,[16] one can safely conclude that Rizal's is the most documented Asian life of the nineteenth century. Most everything in his short life is recorded somewhere, being himself a regular diarist and prolific letter writer, much of these material having survived. He can be seen from many angles with unusual clarity. His biographers, however, have faced the difficulty of translating his writings which switch from one language to another, drawing more from his travel diaries with their insights of a young Asian encountering the west for the first time. They included his later trips, home and back again to Europe through Japan and the United States, and, finally, through his self-imposed exile in Hong Kong. This period of his education and his frenetic pursuit of life included his recorded affections which have kindled abiding interest in his story. Among them were Gertrude Becket of Chalcot Crescent, wealthy and high-minded Nelly Boustead of the English and Iberian merchant family, the romance with Usui Seiko--'the last descendant of a noble family..,' his earlier friendship with Segunda Katigbak and his 8-year romantic relationswhip with his cousin, Leonor Rivera.

He left much more than goodwill among his European friends who kept almost everything he gave them, even doodlings on pieces of paper. In the home of a Spanish liberal, Pedro Ortiga y Perez, he left an impression that was to be remembered by his daughter, Consuelo Ortiga y Rey. In her diary, she wrote of a moment to be cherished for a lifetime of a day Rizal spent there and regaled them with his intellect, social graces, and sleight of hand tricks. In London, during his research on Morga's writings, he became a regular guest in the home of Dr. Reinhold Rost, head of the India Office Library of the British Museum, who referred to him as "a gem of a man."[16] The Ullmers, family of Karl Ullmer, pastor of Wilhelmsfeld, and the Blumentritts were aware of the aura of destiny surrounding him that they treasured everything he gave them, even buttonholes and napkins with sketches and notes. They were ultimately bequeathed to the Rizal family to form a treasure trove of memorabilia.


Rizal's sculpture The Triumph of Science over Death
Rizal's sculpture The Triumph of Science over Death

José Rizal's most famous works were his two novels, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, social commentaries on the Philippines under Spanish colonial rule. These books, inspired by the ideals in Cervantes' Don Quixote, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Count of Monte Cristo, angered both the Spaniards and the hispanicized Filipinos due to their insulting symbolism. Rizal's first critic was Ferdinand Blumentritt, the sympathetic Philippine expert, researcher and scholar, whose first reaction was of misgiving. The longest argument for the truth contained in his novels was with the Austrian, whose mother was the daughter of Andreas Schneider, Imperial Treasurer at Vienna, an orthodox and defender of the Catholic faith. But this did not dissuade him from writing the preface of El Filibusterismo, after he had translated Noli me Tangere into German. As Blumentritt had warned, these led to Rizal's prosecution as the inciter of revolution and eventually, to a military trial and execution. The intended consequence of teaching the natives where they stood brought about an adverse reaction, as the Philippine Revolution of 1896 took off virulently thereafter.

As a leader of the Propaganda Movement of Filipino students in Spain, he contributed newspaper articles to La Solidaridad in Barcelona with the following agenda:

  • That the Philippines be a province of Spain
  • Representation in the Cortes (Parliament)
  • Filipino priests instead of Spanish friars--Augustinians, Dominicans, and Franciscans--in parishes and remote sitios
  • Freedom of assembly and speech
  • Equal rights before the law (for both Filipino and Spanish plaintiffs)

The colonial authorities in the Philippines did not favor these reforms, even if they were more openly endorsed by Spanish intellectuals like Morayta, Unamuno, Pi y Margal and others. Upon his return to Manila in 1892, he formed a civic movement called La Liga Filipina. The league advocated these moderate social reforms through legal means, but was disbanded by the governor. At that time, he had already been declared an enemy of the state by the Spanish authorities because of his incendiary novels. Noli me Tangere, in particular, had portrayed the friars in a bad light with little hope of redemption.

Rizal's words rang through the halls of Congress a few years after his death. When the Philippine Organic Act of 1902 (Jones Law) was being debated in the U.S. Congress, doubts about the capacity of Filipinos for self-government were swept by a speech by Congressman Henry Cooper of Wisconsin where Cooper recited an English translation of the valedictory poem "Adios", and capped by the peroration, "Under what clime or what skies has tyranny claimed a nobler victim?"[17]


bust of Padre Guerrico modelled by Rizal
bust of Padre Guerrico modelled by Rizal

After writing Noli me Tangere, among the numerous other poems, plays and tracts he had already written, he gained further notoriety with the Spaniards. Against the advice of his family and friends, he came back to the Philippines to aid his family which was having trouble with the Dominican landlords. He led the townspeople of Calamba to speak out against the friar attempts to raise rent, initiating a litigation which, although backed by overwhelming evidence of tax evasion, only resulted in retaliation. The Dominicans evicted them from their homes for refusing to pay the exorbitant land rental fees. Rizal's brother Paciano was tortured by Spaniards trying to extract evidence of Jose's complicity in the revolution to bolster accusations before the tribunal. Two officers took turns applying pins under the fingernails; with his hands bound behind him and raised several feet, he was dropped repeatedly till he lost consciousness.[1]

Rizal's mother
Rizal's mother

Wenceslao Retana had slighted Rizal by a reference to his parents and promptly apologized after being challenged to a duel. He survived by issuing an apology, became an admirer, and wrote Rizal's first European biography.[18] Memory as a ten-year old of his mother's treatment at the hands of the civil authorities, with the knowledge and approval of the church authorities, hurt so much as to explain his reaction to Retana. The incident stemmed from an accusation that his mother tried to poison the wife of a cousin when she only intervened to help. Without a hearing she was ordered to prison in Santa Cruz and made to walk the ten miles from Calamba. After two and a half years of appeals to the highest court, the Royal Audiencia, his mother was finally released.[1]


Rizal's advocacy of institutional reforms by peaceful means rather than by violent revolution makes him Asia's first modern non-violent proponent of political reforms. Forerunner of Gandhi and contemporary of Tagore and Sun Yat Sen, all four created a new climate of thought throughout Asia, leading to the attrition of colonialism, sapping the colonial powers' self-confidence, and brooking the emergence of new asiatic nations by the end of World War II. Rizal's appearance on the scene came at a time when European colonial power had been growing and spreading, mostly motivated by trade, some for the purpose of bringing Western forms of government and education to peoples regarded as backward. Coinciding fortuitously with the appearance of those other leaders, Rizal from an early age had been enunciating in poems, tracts and plays, ideas all his own of modern nationhood as a practical possibility in Asia. In the Noli he stated that if European civilization had nothing better to offer, colonialism in Asia was doomed.[19] Such was recognized by Gandhi who regarded him as a forerunner and as a martyr in the cause of freedom. Nehru, in his prison letters to his daughter Indira, acknowledged Rizal's significant contributions in the Asian freedom movement. These Asian leaders regarded these contributions as keystones. Thus, his role in the movement is as foundation layer.

Rizal appears on the obverse side of the Philippine peso coin
Rizal appears on the obverse side of the Philippine peso coin

As a political reformer, he is considered the peer of Gandhi, Tagore and Sun Yat Sen as pioneers who remoulded thinking on the Asian continent However, as a modernist who accepted the best that European civilization could offer, historians believe he transcends both nation and continent, a visionary with a relevant message for our time.[20]

The Taft Commission in June 1901 approved Act 137 renaming the District of Morong into the Province of Rizal, and Act 346 authorizing a government subscription for the erection of a monument in Rizal's honor. Republic Act 1425 was passed in 1956 by the Philippine legislature that would include in all high school and college curricula the study of his life, works and writings. The wide acceptance of Rizal as a revered figure is partly evidenced by the countless towns, streets, and numerous parks in the Philippines named in his honor, and monuments in the most unlikely places such as Madrid,Spain,[21] Wilhelmsfeld,Germany,[22] Jinjiang,China[23] Chicago,[24] and Seattle,U.S.A.;[25] and many poetic titles and appellations bestowed on him: "Pride of the Malay Race," "the First Filipino", "Messiah of the Revolution," "Greatest Man of the Brown Race," among others. The Order of the Knights of Rizal, a civic and patriotic organization, boasts of dozens of chapters all over the globe[19][20]. There are some remote-area religious sects who claim him as a sublimation of Christ.

Exile in Dapitan

A photographic record of Rizal's execution
A photographic record of Rizal's execution

Rizal was implicated in the activities of the nascent rebellion and in July of 1892 was deported to Dapitan in the province of Zamboanga (in Mindanao). There he built a school, a hospital and a water supply system. He taught and engaged in farming and horticulture. Abaca, known as Manila hemp, then the vital raw material for cordage, was a memorial.

The boys' school, in which they learned English, a prescient if weird option then, was considered light years ahead of its time.[16] It was much along the lines of Gordonstoun and wholly in tune with Baden Powell in its aims of inculcating a resourceful and self-sufficient character in young men. They would later enjoy successful lives as farmers and honest government officials. One, a Muslim, became a Datu, and another, Jose Aseniero, who was with Rizal throught the life of the school, became Governor of Zamboanga.

In Dapitan, the Jesuits mounted a great effort to secure his return to the fold, led by Father Francisco de Paula Sanchez, his former professor, who failed in his mission. The task was resumed by Father Pablo Pastells, a prominent member of the Order, in correspondence with the prisoner on philosophical questions. In what a theologian[26] considers a "magnificent, timeless and revealing" letter, Rizal sails close to the ecumenism familiar to us today:

"We are entirely in accord in admitting the existence of God. How can I doubt his when I am convinced of mine. Whoso recognizes the effect recognizes the cause. To doubt God is to doubt one's own conscience, and in consequence, it would be to doubt everything; and then what is life for? Now then, my faith in God, if the result of a ratiocination may be called faith, is blind, blind in the sense of knowing nothing. I neither believe nor disbelieve the qualities which many attribute to him; before theologians' and philosophers' definitions and lucubrations of this ineffable and inscrutable being I find myself smiling. Faced with the conviction of seing myself confronting the supreme Problem, which confused voices seek to explain to me, I cannot but reply: 'It could be; but the God that I foreknow is far more grand, far more good: Plus Supra!...I believe in (revelation); but not in revelation or revelations which each religion or religions claim to possess. Examining them impartially, comparing them and scrutinizing them, one cannot avoid discerning the human 'fingernail' and the stamp of the time in which they were written... No, let us not make God in our image, poor inhabitants that we are of a distant planet lost in infinite space. However, brilliant and sublime our intelligence may be, it is scarcely more than a small spark which shines and in an instant is extinguished, and it alone can give us no idea of that blaze, that conflagration, that ocean of light. I believe in revelation, but in that living revelation which surrounds us on every side, in that voice, mighty, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, universal as is the being from whom it proceeds, in that revelation which speaks to us and penetrates us from the moment we are born until we die. What books can better reveal to us the goodness of God, his love, his providence, his eternity, his glory, his wisdom? 'The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork'."[16]

In nature's realm and in deep contemplation, he indulged his passion for poetry, which as 'a musical zero' was his music. As a gift to his mother on her birth anniversary he wrote the other of his poems of maturity, "Mi Retiro," with a description of a calm night overlaid with a million stars:

...the breeze idly cools, the firmament glows,
the waves tell in sighs to the docile wind
timeless stories beneath the shroud of night.

Say that they tell, of the world, the first dawn
of the sun, the first kiss that his bosom inflamed,
when thousands of beings surged out of nothing,
and peopled the depths, and to the heights mounted,
to wherever his fecund kiss was implanted.[27]

This stanza, with its concept of a spontaneous creation of the universe and speaking of God as Plus Supra to be known by his works, is considered his accommodation of evolution.

Rizal's pencil sketch of Blumentritt
Rizal's pencil sketch of Blumentritt

His best friend, Blumentritt sustained him, keeping him in touch with European friends and fellow-scientists who wrote a steady stream of letters which arrived in Dutch, French, German and English and which baffled the censors, often delaying their transmittal. Those four years of his exile coincided with the development of the Philippine Revolution from inception and to its final breakout, which, from the viewpoint of the court which was to try him, suggested his complicity in it.[16] He condemned the uprising, although all the members of the Katipunan made him honorary president and used his name as a war-cry. He was to face a court not of reason but one of emotion.

Near the end of his exile he met and courted the step-daughter of a patient, an Irishwoman named Josephine Bracken. He was unable to obtain an ecclesiastical marriage because he would not return to the religion of his youth and was not known to be clearly against revolution. He nonetheless considered Josephine to be his wife and the only person mentioned in the poem, Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, my joy...[28]

Last days

Rizal Park, Wilhelmsfeld
Rizal Park, Wilhelmsfeld

To dissociate himself from a bloody revolution Rizal volunteered and was given leave by the Spanish Governor General Ramon Blanco y Erenas to serve in Cuba to minister to victims of yellow fever. Blanco later was to present his sash and sword to the Rizal family as an apology. He issued a manifesto disavowing the Katipunan and declared that to be worthy of freedom, the Filipinos must first be educated.

By 1896, the rebellion fomented by the Katipunan, a militant secret society, had become a full blown revolution, proving to be a truly nationalist uprising and leading to the proclamation of the first democratic republic in Asia.[7] Rizal was arrested en route, imprisoned in Barcelona, and made to stand trial. He was implicated in the revolution through his association with members of the Katipunan and was to be tried before a court-martial for rebellion, sedition, and conspiracy. During the entire passage, he was unchained, no Spaniard laid a hand on him, and had many opportunities to escape but refused to do so. Rizal was convicted on all three charges and sentenced to death. Governor General Blanco had been forced out of office, and the friars had 'intercalated' Polavieja in his stead, sealing Rizal's fate.

Bust at Rizal Park, Seattle
Bust at Rizal Park, Seattle

With his execution nearing, Rizal wrote his last poem which, though untitled, eventually came to be known as "Mi Último Adiós" (My Last Farewell). The poem is more aptly titled, "Adios, Patria Adorada" (literally "Farewell, Beloved Country"), by virtue of logic and literary tradition: the words come from the first line of the poem itself. Written during the early hours before his execution in his fine handwriting in two small pieces of paper, it was hidden in an alcohol burner and later handed to his family with his few remaining possessions, including the final letters and his last bequests. On the eve of his execution within hearing of the Spanish guards he reminded his sisters in English, "There is something inside it," referring to the alcohol stove given by the Taveras which was to be returned after his execution, thereby emphasizing the importance of the poem. This instruction was followed by another, "Look in my shoes," in which another item was secreted. Exhumation of his remains in August, 1898, under American rule, revealed he had been uncoffined, his burial not on sanctified ground granted the 'confessed' faithful, and whatever was in his shoes had disintegrated.[1]

His letter to his family was quintessentially Filipino ; "Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated...Love them greatly in memory of me...Bury me in the ground, and set me a tombstone and a, date of my birth and that of my anniversaries..." And to his mother, in which there are no words a son can say, only his signature, 'At 6 in the morning of 30 December, 1896.'[16]

In his final letter, to the Sudeten-German professor Ferdinand Blumentritt - My dear Brother, when you receive this letter, I shall be dead by then. Tomorrow at 7, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion...[16] He had to reassure him that he had not turned revolutionary as he once considered being, that the ideals they both had fought for were his to the very end. He also bequeathed a book personally bound by him in Dapitan to his 'best and dearest friend.' When the Austrian received it he broke down and wept.


Actual photo engraving of the execution of convicted Filipino rebel leaders at Bagumbayan field (now Luneta)
Actual photo engraving of the execution of convicted Filipino rebel leaders at Bagumbayan field (now Luneta)

Moments before his execution by a firing squad of Filipino native infantry, backed by an insurance force of a squad Spanish infantry, the Spanish surgeon general requested to take his pulse: it was normal. Aware of this, the Spanish sergeant in charge of the backup force hushed his men to silence when they began raising 'vivas!' with the partisan crowd. His last words were consummatum est, Jesus' own. Most historians agree that the shot heard that moment was the shot that brought Spanish rule in the Philippines to an end.[29][2]

Rizal's trial was regarded a travesty even by prominent Spaniards of his day. Soon after his execution, the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in an impassioned utterance recognized Rizal as a "Spaniard", "...profoundly and intimately Spanish, far more Spanish than those wretched men--forgive them, Lord, for they knew not what they did--those wretched men, who over his still warm body hurled like an insult heavenward that blasphemous cry, 'Viva Espana!'"[30]

'Retraction' controversy

After Rizal's execution, doubts about the account of the events surrounding his death surfaced. Many continue to believe that Rizal neither married his sweetheart Josephine Bracken in Roman Catholic rites hours before his execution nor ever retracted those parts of his writings that were anti-Roman Catholic. This is a controversy which has not abated, with the Church still locked, as it were, trying to defend the marriage and retraction, but with decreasing vigor.[31] Rizal's prescience would be his own defense after life. Tucked in 'Adios' is a revealing clue, I go where there are no slaves, no hangmen or oppressors, where faith does not kill....[32] It was his final comment on the Catholic Church of his day, which he believed precious few of its colonial missionaries were at all men of character and probity. Rizal maintained that the men of the cloth were the real rulers and the real government, in effect a frailocracy, whose ire demanded his martyrdom. Much of the Church's case rests on priestly claims of a signed retraction, a copy of which could not be produced and shown to the Rizal family despite their repeated requests. His deeply religious mother and sisters would have been greatly unburdened and relieved if he had assured them so. Rizal was wary of friar duplicity, hence the importance he gave to his poem.

Reflection on the Spanish character of Rizal's era may disparage the monumental efforts of their predecessors over three hundred years of religious and humanizing influences on the Philippines on whose Hispanic soil Jose Rizal was nurtured and whose civilization he had embraced. But he knew Morga's words conveyed a genial image of the land and its people,[33] quite apart from the failed nature of Spain's later generation which gave rise to Gomburza and the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

Rizal Park, Manila
Rizal Park, Manila

Jose Rizal is considered by many as among a few belonging to no particular epoch, who belong to the world, and whose lives have a universal message.[7] Although his field of action lay in politics which he bore in the cause of duty, his real interests lay in the arts and sciences, in literature and in his profession as an ophthalmologist.

A statue now stands at the place where he fell, designed by the Swiss Richard Kissling of the famed "William Tell" sculpture.[34] The statue carries the inscription I want to show to those who deprive people the right to love of country, that when we know how to sacrifice ourselves for our duties and convictions, death does not matter if one dies for those one loves – for his country and for others dear to him.[16]


Rizal's grave at the Paco cemetery
Rizal's grave at the Paco cemetery

He was secretly buried in Paco Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave. His sister Narcisa toured all possible gravesites and found freshly turned earth at Paco Cemetery with civil guards posted at the gate. Assuming this could be the most likely spot, there being no ground burials in that cemetery, she made a gift to the cemetery guardian to mark the site "RPJ."

That his burial was not on holy ground and that the Jesuits who accompanied him to his death did not bother to make certain that he got a Christian burial has led to many issues raised on the veracity and the probity of accounts of his 'retraction,' which the Church ever since has been vigorously defending. Both sides of the controversy aver equal admiration of Rizal.[35][31]

The printed account of his final hours first appeared in Barcelona sixteen days after his death with a time line corresponding to what the anonymous author had laid out--Rizal is prepared for marriage and retraction, confessing several times, reciting the rosary, in deep contrition and in tears. The morning after the execution Manila and Madrid newspapers announced that on the eve of his death Rizal had retracted his religious errors, abjured freemasonry, and married Josephine Bracken. A text of a letter of retraction was printed in full, which was given by the government wide publicity abroad. The Rizal family were in disbelief that he had not intimated his intention of retracting and marrying Josephine when he knew what great relief it would have meant especially to his mother. In his account, the Jesuit Father Balaguer--who later claimed authorship--stated that between 6 and 6:15 a.m. on December 30, within an hour of the execution, he performed, in a very short ceremony, the canonical marriage of Rizal and Josephine Bracken in the presence of one of Rizal's sisters. This was enough to condemn the statement since none of his sisters went to the fort that morning.

The poem first appeared in print not in Manila but in Hong Kong, when a copy of the poem and an accompanying photograph came to J. P. Braga who decided to publish it in a monthly journal he edited. There was a delay when Braga, who greatly admired Rizal, wanted a good job of the photograph and sent it to be engraved in London, a process taking well over two months. It finally appeared under 'Mi ultimo pensamiento,' a title he supplied and by which it was known for a few years. Thus, when Balaguer's anonymous account was appearing in Barcelona, no word of the poem's existence reached him in time to revise what he had written. His account was too elaborate that Rizal would have had no time to write "Adios."

Josephine Bracken
Josephine Bracken

Josephine Bracken promptly joined the revolutionary forces in Cavite province, making her way through thicket and mud, and helped operate a reloading jig for Mauser cartridges at the arsenal at Imus. The short-lived arsenal under the Revolutionary General Pantaleon Garcia had been reloading spent cartridges again and again and the reloading jig was in continuous use, but Imus was under threat of recapture that the operation had to move, with Josephine, to Maragondon, the mountain redoubt in Cavite. She witnessed the Tejeros Convention prior to returning to Manila and was summoned by the Governor-General but owing to her stepfather's American citizenship, she could not be forcibly deported. She left voluntarily, returning to Hong Kong. She later married another Filipino, Vicente Abad, a mestizo acting as agent for the Philippine firm of Tabacalera. She died shortly and never knew how a line of verse had rendered her immortal.[36]

Polavieja faced condemnation by his own countrymen. When he visited Giron years after his return to Spain, circulars were distributed among the crowd bearing Rizal's last verses, his portrait, and the charge that to Polavieja was due the loss of the Philippines to Spain.


Attempts to demythologize Rizal and debunk legends surrounding him, and the tug of war between free thinker and Catholic, have served to keep him a living issue. While some leaders, Gandhi for one, have been elevated to high pedestals and even deified, Rizal has remained a controversial figure. Some have succeeded in depicting his fallibility, such as the case of the numerous women in his life. In one recorded fall from grace, he had succumbed to temptation by a 'Lady of the Camellias' in Austria, leading to a presumption that he had patronized "ladies of the night" while he was in Europe.[37]

Others present him as a man of contradictions. Miguel de Unamuno in "Rizal: the Tagalog Hamlet", said of him, "a soul that dreads the revolution although deep down desires it. He pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair."[38] His critics assert that this character flaw is translated into his writings, particularly in the two novels where he opposes violence in Noli and appears to advocate it in Fili, contrasting the idealism of Ibarra in the first and the cynicism of Simoun in the second. This ambivalence is trounced, however, when Simoun is written off as a tragic, unfulfilled hero: his attempt on revenge is thwarted and he is struck down in the sequel's final chapters, reaffirming the author's resolute stance, Pure and spotless must the victim be if the sacrifice is to be acceptable.[39] In the same tenor, Rizal condemned the uprisings of the Katipunan when Bonifacio asked for his support. Bonifacio, in turn, openly denounced him as a coward for his refusal.[40] Rizal believed that an armed struggle for independence was premature and ill-conceived. Again Rizal, speaking through Fr. Florentino, confirms his consistency: ...our liberty will (not) be secured at the sword's point...we must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it. And when a people reaches that height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.[39]

Rizal never held a gun or sword in the battlefield to fight for freedom. This fact leads some to question his ranking as the nation's premier hero, with a few who believe in the beatification of Bonifacio in his stead. In his defense, the historian, Rafael Palma,[41] contends that the revolution of Bonifacio is a consequence wrought by the writings of Rizal and that although the sword of Bonifacio produced an immediate outcome, the pen of Rizal generated a more lasting achievement. Austin Coates, considered his best biographer, believes that Rizal gave the Philippine Revolution a genuinely national character.[29]


  1. ^ a b c d e Austin Craig, Lineage, Life and Labors of Rizal (Manila: Philippine Education Co., 1913). Rizal also made translations from Arabic, Swedish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Sanskrit. He translated the poetry of Schiller into his native Tagalog. In addition he had at least some knowledge of Malay, Chavacano, Cebuano, Ilocano, and Subanun.(Read etext at Project Gutenberg:[1]accessed 10 January 2007)
  2. ^ a b c Frank Laubach, Rizal: Man and Martyr (Manila: Community Publishers, 1936)
  3. ^ Rizal's annotations of Morga's Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (1609), which he copied word for word from the British Museum and had published, called attention to an antiquated book, a testimony to the well-advanced civilization of the Filipinos in pre-Spanish era. In his essay "The Indolence of the Filipino" Rizal stated that three centuries of Spanish rule did not do much for the advancement of his countryman; in fact there was a 'retrogression', and the Spanish colonialists have transformed him into a 'half-way brute.' The absence of moral stimulus, the lack of material inducement, the demoralization--'the indio should not be separated from his carabao', the endless wars, the Chinese piracy--all these factors, according to Rizal, have made the colonial rulers succeed in placing the indio 'on a level with the beast'. (read English translation by Charles Derbyshire at [2] accessed 10 January. 2007.
  4. ^ In his essay, "Reflections of a Filipino," (c.1888), he wrote: "Man is multiplied by the number of languages he possesses and speaks.'
  5. ^ His signature book Noli was one of the first novels in Asia written outside Japan and China and was one of the first novels of anti-colonial rebellion. [3]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  6. ^ Bonifacio was a member of La Liga Filipina. After Rizal's arrest and exile, it was disbanded and the group splintered into two; the more radical group formed into the Katipunan, the militant arm of the insurrection.[4].Accessed 10 January 2007.
  7. ^ a b c Benedict Anderson, Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (London: Verso Publication, 2005). He is called by Anderson as one of the best exemplars of nationalist thinking.(See also[5]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  8. ^ At age 8 (in 1869) he wrote his first poem Sa aking mga Kabata and had for its theme the love of one's native language [6]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  9. ^ [7]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  10. ^ [8]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  11. ^ [9] Accessed 10 January 2007.
  12. ^ Adolf Bernhard Meyer (1840-1911) was a German ethnologist and author of the book Philippinen-typen (Dresden, 1888)
  13. ^ [10]. Accessed 10 January 2007.
  14. ^ Accessed 10 January 2007.
  15. ^ Jose Rizal, "On Travel", sub-heading in essay "Reflections of a Filipino" (c.1888)
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Epistolario Rizalino: 4 volumes, 1400 letters to and from Rizal, edited by Teodoro Kalaw (Manila: Bureau of Printing,1930-38)
  17. ^ Esteban de Ocampo, "Why is Rizal the Greatest Filipino Hero?"[11] accessed 10 January 2007
  18. ^ Wenceslao Retana Vida y Escritos del Jose Rizal (Madrid: Libreria General de Victoriano Suarez, 1907). According to Laubach it was Retana more than any other who 'saved Rizal for posterity' (Laubach, op.cit., p. 383)
  19. ^ Also stated in his essay, "The Philippines: A Century Hence": The batteries are gradually becoming charged and if the prudence of the government does not provide an outlet for the currents that are accumulating, someday the sparks will be generated. (read etext at Project Gutenberg[12])
  20. ^ [13] Accessed 10 January 2007.
  21. ^ Accessed 10 January 2007
  22. ^ Accessed 10 January 2007
  23. ^
  24. ^ Accessed 10 January 2007
  25. ^ Accessed 10 January 2007
  26. ^ Raul J. Bonoan, S.J., The Rizal-Pastells Correspondence (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996)
  27. ^ Mi Retiro, stanzas 7 and 8 (Craig, op.cit., p. 207)
  28. ^ Mi Ultimo Adios, stanza 14
  29. ^ a b Austin Coates, Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr (London: Oxford University Press, 1968)
  30. ^ Miguel de Unamuno, epilogue to Wenceslao Retana's Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal (Madrid: Libreria General de Suarez, 1907)
  31. ^ a b Ricardo Roque Pascual, Jose Rizal Beyond the Grave (Manila: P. Ayuda & Co., 1962)
  32. ^ Mi Ultimo Adios, stanza 13
  33. ^ Jose Rizal, "Indolence of the Filipino" (read online English translation at Project Gutenberg [14]) Accessed 10 January 2007
  34. ^ Interestingly, Rizal himself translated Schiller's William Tell into Tagalog in 1886.[15] Accessed 10 January 2007.
  35. ^ Jesus Cavanna, Rizal's Unfading Glory: A Documentary History of the Conversion of Dr. Jose Rizal (Manila: 1956)
  36. ^ Mi Ultimo Adios, stanza 14
  37. ^ Ambeth Ocampo, Rizal without the Overcoat (Manila: Anvil Publishing Co., 1990). Rizal's third novel Makamisa was rescued from oblivion by Ocampo. See also [16] (Accessed 10 January 2007), and [17] (Accessed 10 January 2007).
  38. ^ Miguel de Unamuno, "The Tagalog Hamlet" in Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by D. Feria and P. Daroy (Manila: National Book Store, 1968).
  39. ^ a b Jose Rizal, El Filibusterismo (Ghent: 1891) chap.39. (read online text at Project Gutenberg[18])
  40. ^ Bonifacio denounced him, at the same time, he mobilized his men to attempt to liberate Rizal while in Ft. Santiago (Laubach, op.cit., chap. 15)
  41. ^ Rafael Palma, Pride of the Malay Race (New York: Prentice Hall, 1949) p. 367.

See also

  • El Filibusterismo
  • Ferdinand Blumentritt
  • José Rizal (film)
  • La Liga Filipina
  • Mi Último Adiós
  • Noli Me Tangere (novel)
  • Philippine Revolution
  • Rizal Day bombings, 2000
  • Rizal Park
  • Rizal Shrine
  • Chevaliers de Rizal (Knights of Rizal, french version)


  • Anderson, Benedict (2005). Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination. London: Verso Pub. ISBN 1844670376
  • Cavanna, Jesus (1956). Rizal's Unfading Glory, A Documentary History of the Conversion of Dr. Jose Rizal.
  • Coates, Austin (1968). Rizal, Philippine Nationalist and Martyr. Oxford University Press.  ISBN 019581519X
  • Craig, Austin (1913). Lineage Life and Labors of Jose Rizal. Philippine Education Company. 
  • Dahm, Bernhard (1988). Jose Rizal: Der Nationalhed Der Filipinos. ISBN 3788101342
  • Guerrero, Leon Ma (1963). The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal. National Historical Institute.  ISBN 9712709175
  • Hilario, Frank A (2005). indios bravos! Jose Rizal as Messiah of the Redemption. Lumos Publishing House. 
  • Joaquin, Nick (1977). A Question of Heroes: Essays and criticisms on ten key figures of Philippine History. Manila: Ayala Museum.
  • Laubach, Frank C. (1936), Rizal: Man and Martyr. Manila: Community Publishers
  • Medina, Elizabeth; Retana, W. (1998).Rizal according to Retana. Santiago, Chile: Virtual Multimedia. ISBN 9567483094
  • Ocampo, Ambeth (1990). Rizal without the Overcoat. Manila: Anvil Pub. Co ISBN 9712700437
  • Palma, Rafael (1949). Pride of the Malay Race. New York: Prentice-Hall. Inc.
  • Quirino, Carlos P. (1940). The Great Malayan. Manila: Philppine Education Co. ISBN 9716300857
  • Retana, Wenceslao (1907). Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal. Madrid: Libreria General de Victoriano Suarez.
  • Rizal, Jose. Noli me Tangere translated by Soledad Locsin (1996). Manila: Ateneo de Manila. ISBN 9715691889
  • Rizal, Jose. El Filibusterismo translated by Andrea Tablan and Salud Enriquez (2001). Manila: Marian Publishing House. ISBN 9716861540
  • Rizal, Jose. (1889)."Sa mga Kababayang Dalaga ng Malolos" in Escritos Politicos y Historicos de Jose Rizal (1961). Manila: National Centennial Commission.
  • Rajaretnam, M. (1996). Jose Rizal and the Asian Renaissance. Malaysia: Institut Kajian Dasar. ISBN 9838840513
  • Runes, Ildefonso (1962). The Forgery of the Rizal 'Retraction'. Manila: Community Publishing Co.
  • Zaide, Gregorio F. (2003) Jose Rizal: Life, Works and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist and National Hero. Manila: National Bookstore. ISBN 9710805207
  • One Hundred Letters of Jose Rizal to his parents, brothers, sisters and relatives (1959). Manila: Philippine Historical Society.
  • Epistolario Rizalino: 5 volumes, 1400 letters to and from Rizal (1930-38), edited by Teodoro Kalaw. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

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