Dr. Jose P. Rizal
Dr. Jose Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 in Calamba, Laguna to Don Francisco Mercado Rizal from Biñan and Doña Teodora Alonso Realonda from Manila. It was said that his paternal grand-parents were descendants of one Domingo Lamco, a Chinese immigrant from the Chinchew District of Fookein, China. Doña Teodora’s father Don Lorenzo Alberto Alonso was also said to be very “Chinese in appearance.”
In compliance with the 1849 decree of Governor-General Claveria regarding surnames, the Alonsos added the surname Realonda, while the Mercados chose Rizal, meaning “of rice or” “of green fields.”
To the marriage of Don Francisco and Doña Teodora, the following were born: Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olimpia, Lucia, Maria, Jose, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad and Soledad.
Don Francisco was a landholder and also a leasee of the Dominican lands in Calamba. Before Jose was born, he built a house probably the best residential edifice constructed in the center of the town. Here Jose was baptized by Fr. Rufino Collantes on June 22, 1861; another priest, Father Pedro Casanas, stood as godfather.
At three years old, he learned the alphabet from his mother who also taught him to appreciate Spanish poetry although he did not speak Spanish well. An uncle took care of his intellectual development; another uncle, Gregorio, instilled in him the importance of work, judgment and visualization of what was previously seen, and a burly uncle Manuel, helped him developed his physical strength for as a boy, Jose was frail and sickly. He took long rides on horseback, moulded clay and wax figures, developed proficiency in sleight-of-hand tricks and held high respect for the rights of others in work and in play. This behavior was the result of the influence of Fr. Leoncio Lopez on him.
At age nine, he was sent to study under the schoolmaster Don Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan. After a few months, the tutor reported to his parents that their son had nothing more to learn in school. Jose did not only show his academic excellence but he also displayed prowess in physical contests.
In 1871, while Jose was on vacation, the members of his family prepared for his enrollment in Manila. In spite of the objections of his mother, Paciano, his brother took him to Manila and at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, he took entrance examinations and passed them with high ratings. Going back to Calamba for vacation, he found his mother involved in a court case against the Dominican friars who subsequently had her jailed. This event made him decide to stay home for a while thus his enrollment in the Ateneo instead of the friar owned Letran College. It was only through the intercession of Dr. Manuel Xeres Burgos, a nephew of Fr. Jose Burgos, and a close friend of Paciano, that Jose was finally admitted by Fr. Magin Ferando to enroll at the Ateneo. In the same year, Paciano, then a student in the Colegio de San Jose lost interest in his studies, an offshoot of his “academic encounters” in his classes with his mentors. For this behavior, he was also forbidden to take his final examinations in the Colegio de San Jose.
The Ateneo de Manila became an excellent training ground for the extremely talented and brilliant Jose. Here, the Jesuits were impartial to both Filipinos and Spanish students. After a week, Rizal was promoted. For besting his classmates, he was emperor after a month. He read avidly Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo and Cantu’s Universal History. He sculptured an image of the Sacred Heart and the Jesuit Fathers, becoming aware of his religious sentiments, customs and progress, admitted him to the Congregation of Mary.
After five years in the Ateneo, he graduated on March 14, 1877 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Fathers Francisco Paula de Sanchez and Pedro Villaclara were proud of their tremendous influence on his academic achievements. In Ateneo, his works were: Felicitacion, Por la Educacion Recibe Lustre La Patria, Un Recuerdo a Mi Pueblo, and El Heroismo de Colon.
In 1878, Jose enrolled in the college of medicine of the University of Santo Tomas, in addition to a course in surveying which he also finished. In the literary contest sponsored by the Liceo Literario-Artistico, his poem, To The Filipino Youth, (A La Juventud Filipina) won first prize. On the occasion of the 263rd death anniversary of Cervantes, Rizal’s entry entitled, The Council of the Gods, won the highest award. But the coveted prize was given eventually by the Board of Judges to a Spaniard, despite the vigilant criticism of the press. He also wrote, Beside the Pasig which was highly regarded.
He found out that student life at the pontifical university was frustrating. There were discriminations against Filipinos in favor of Spaniards by the Dominican friars. He found the method of teaching uninspiring. Once, while on vacation in Calamba, he was brutally assaulted by Lieutenant Porta of the Civil Guards for failure to render courtesy to him one evening. This accident led him to decide finally to continue his studies abroad.
Without the knowledge of his parents, his uncle Antonio Rivera was able to secure secretly a passage ticket for him to board the Salvadora for Spain. This was made possible through the help of his other relatives and his friend Chenggoy (Jose Cecilio). But his Jesuit teachers in Ateneo knew of his going abroad, having been consulted earlier. Armed with letters of introductions to important persons in Madrid, he had his brother Paciano take him to Manila, who also gave him P356 as pocket money, and boarded the boat for Singapore where he took another boat, the French steamer, Djemnah for Europe.
After one and a half months travel, he arrived in Madrid where the liberal atmosphere greatly impressed him. At the Central University of Madrid, he enrolled in medicine and in Philosophy and Letters. And as often as his time allowed, he went to the San Fernando School of Fine Arts to take art courses. He bought books and avidly read them and lost himself in hard work and study whenever loneliness weighed on him. Attacks of homesickness inspired him to write “You Ask Me For Verses.” He joined the Circulo Hispano-Filipino whose members were Filipino residents in Madrid and some Spanish-born students. He wrote El Amor Patrio wherein he expressed his love of country. In La Solidaridad, he published, The Indolence of the Filipinos to refute the Spanish criticism that the Filipinos were indolent and lazy. He said that the colonial policy of divesting the Filipinos of the fruits of their toil, the climate that was conducive to the slow tempo of progress, the lack of incentives to work harder were some causes why the Filipinos were seemingly indolent. His other articles were Ingratitude, Without A Name, The Philippines in the Spanish Cortes, and The Philippines A Century Hence.
At the Ingles Restaurant on June 25, 1884, on the occasion of the Filipino celebration of the winning of Luna and Hidalgo in the Fine Arts Exposition in Madrid, he eloquently said that “Juan Luna and Felix R. Hidalgo are glories of Spain in the Philippines...that genius was a patrimony of all, cosmopolitan like space, like God.”
In 1884, he obtained his Licentiate in Medicine followed by Licentiate in Philosophy and Letters on June 19, 1885. By this time, he had already started writing the Noli Me Tangere but, desirous to learn more of his profession, left in 1885 for Paris, to become an assistant in the clinic of Dr. Louis de Wecker, a famous ophthalmologist. In 1886, he was in Heidelberg, Germany where he got acquainted with Doctors Otto Becker and Hans Mever. He attended lectures in psychology and history at the University of Heidelberg. In Leipzig, he translated Schiler’s William Tell to Tagalog and in Berlin, befriended Dr. Feodor Jagor, author of Travels in the Philippines.
The Noli was ready for publication when he was in Berlin but he did not have the money to print it. Luckily, Dr. Maximo Viola arrived and loaned him P300 to print the first 2,000 copies. He later paid his loan with the money he received later from his brother, Paciano. Dr. Viola noticing Rizal’s failing health, invited him for a tour of Europe. In Leitmeritz, in Austrian Bohemia (Czekoslovakia), they met Ferdinand Blumentritt, professor of geography in the Municipal Anthenum, who later became a life-long friend of Jose. By this time, after eleven months, he had mastered the German language.
The Noli me Tangere was circulated in Europe but was banned in the Philippines. Many copies were smuggled into the country and reached the homes of enlightened Filipinos. Rizal’s parents, relatives and friends advised him to stay out of the country because the Noli had made him a marked man. By this time, he was already an ophthalmologist and, feeling it was his moral obligation to save the sight of his mother, he decided to come home.
On July 23, 1887, he sailed from Europe aboard the SS Djemanh for Singapore, switched to SS Halphong and arrived in Manila on August 5, 1887. In Calamba, he operated on the eyes of his mother and restored her sight. He also treated many people who sought his help. The common folk referred to him as Dr. Uleman (German) since he came from Germany. To wean his townspeople from gambling and vices, he established a gymnasium and introduced ball games, sipa, arnis and fencing. He explored the nearby fields, hills, and mountains and on Mt. Makiling hoisted a banner.
From Calamba, he was summoned by the Governor-General Emilio Terrero to Malacañang because of a complaint by the friars about the Noli. Rizal told the friars that he was only actually portraying the conditions in the Philippines. Liberal-minded Terrero, anxious of his safety, provided him a bodyguard, Lieutenant Jose Taviel de Andrade. Once more summoned to the Governor-General’s palace, he was to hear from the authorities that his book Noli was heretical, impious and scandalous to the religious orders and injurious to the government and to the political order in the Philippines. Whereupon, Governor-General Terrero wishing to protect him further, advised him to leave.
On February 3, 1888, he left for Europe via Hongkong, Japan, the United States and England. In Tokyo, the Spanish Embassy offered him the position of interpreter with a salary of $100 a month, residence at the Embassy and other privileges. This was tempting, but he had other plans. He met O Sei-keio better known as O’Sei-san, a beautiful Japanese girl of noble descent, who became his faithful guide and interpreter.
He left Japan on February 28, 1888 aboard the SS Belgic. He arrived in San Francisco on April 18, 1888, lodged at the Palace Hotel and then took a transcontinental train to the U.S. East Coast via Chicago and the Niagara Falls in Lake Ontario. He stayed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York for a while and sailed for England aboard the SS City of Rome, arriving in Liverpool on May 24, 1888. He went down to London where he boarded with the Bousted Family at 37 Chalcot Crescent, Primrose. Through Mr. Antonio Ma. Regidor, he met Dr. Rienhold Rost of the London Library and Museum where he came across Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, a book published in Mexico sometime in 1609 which related that, among other things, Filipinos had a fairly well-advanced state of civilization long before the Spaniards came. He also read Colin’s Labor Evangelica and another rare book entitled Relacion de las Islas Filipinas by Father Chirino. Since copies of Morga’s book were already rare, he copied and annotated it. As a writer, he also contributed articles to the Trubner’s Record, a magazine which specialized on oriental culture, particularly on Tagal folklores. In England, he also wrote The Vision of Father Rodriquez in answer to the work of the same priest entitled Questions of Supreme Interest. He also sculptured Triumph of Death Over Life, Triumph of Science Over Death and Prometheus Bound.
He spoke Spanish, French, German, English, Dutch, Greek, Latin and Tagalog. He had knowledge of Ilocano, Visayan, Russian, Sanskrit, Arabic, Swedish, Hebrew, Malayan, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian.
He was romantically linked with one of the Beckett sisters, Gertrude. But he did not marry her because duty to his country was far above anything else in his life. In fact, he had fallen in love with other women before he met Gertrude, like Susanne Jacoby of Belgium, O Sei-san of Japan, Nellie Bousted of France, Consuelo Ortiga of Madrid, Leonora Valenzuela of Intramuros, Leonor Rivera of Tarlac and Segundina Katigbak of Batangas.
In March 1899, he left for Paris where he proposed the organization of an International Association of Filipinologists with Professor Ferdinand Blumentritt as president. This did not materialize. Hoping to live more economically, he left the next year for Belgium but here conditions were the same as those in Paris. He lived in penury and want. The Filibusterismo was ready for publication but he lacked the necessary funds. Valentin Ventura, a rich Filipino advanced him money to print the Fili in Ghent in 1891. In Belgium he also met Jose Alejandrino, Teodoro Evangelista and Abreu who were studying in the University of Ghent.
Depressing news reached him from home. His sweetheart Leonor Rivera married Engineer Kipping; his folks were ejected en masse from Calamba; and the Spanish officials who were sympathetic to the reform movement turned hostile. He took his vacation at Biarritz at the invitation of the Bousteds. While there, brooding over his loss of Leonor Rivera, Nellie Bousted proved to be a balm for his wounded feelings. Later, he left for Paris then went to Marseilles and boarded the SS Melbourne for Hongkong. With his dwindling funds, he received money for his passage ticket sent him by Jose Ma. Basa, a rich Filipino merchant living in exile in Hongkong.
Following the advice of his parents, relatives and friends, he resided in Hongkong and practiced medicine to earn a living. Later some members of his family joined him. Their fare were contributions of Filipinos headed by Jose Anacleto Ramos (Ishikawa). In Hongkong, he became a friend of Dr. Lorenzo Pereyra, a Portuguese and Mr. Frazier-Smith, editor of the Hongkong Telegraph. To help resettle the Calambeños ousted from the friar lands he attempted to found a colony in Borneo. With his aim, he took with the help of his friends a two-week trip to North Borneo aboard the SS Memnon. The British authorities were already agreeable to a 950-year lease of the proposed Filipino colony in Borneo but Governor-General Emilio Despujol disapproved the whole plan.
Desirous of sharing his countrymen’s hardships, he left Hongkong for home even if he was clearly headed for danger. June 26, 1892, He arrived in Manila with his sister Lucia aboard the SS Don Juan. He was honored by his friends and relatives but wherever he went, the places he visited were searched or placed under surveillance. Even entire neighborhoods were searched. A few days later, he was summoned to Malacañan. Allegedly found among his beddings which were forwarded later to the customhouse along with his baggage was a leaflet entitled Pobres Frailes, a sarcastic allusion to the friars.
He was arrested on July 6, 1892. Governor-General Despujol published in the Gazette the reasons for his arrest and copies were forwarded to the Spanish Embassy in Hongkong for circulation.
The British Consul issued an unofficial statement on the strange manner he was arrested. The editor of the Hongkong Telegraph devoted an entire column of the newspaper on the sad news of his detention. Therewith, he was deported to Dapitan on July 15, 1892. Because he did not retract masonry even at the advise of his Jesuit teachers in Ateneo, he had to stay with Ricardo Carnicero, the Military commandant in Dapitan.
In Dapitan, seeing the need of the people there, he established a clinic, school, and improved the lighting and water system. On Sundays, together with Father Sanchez, one of his favorite teachers in Ateneo, he conducted religious classes for the inhabitants. He bought a piece of land in Sitio Talisay where he planted coconuts, sugar cane, cacao, and various fruit trees. Loneliness impelled him to write Mi Retiro. But he reflected the strength of his spirit when he wrote Hymn To The Talisay Tree.
He corresponded unceasingly with Ferdinand Blumentritt. He gathered specimens of Philippine animal life and sent them to the museum at Dresden, Germany. Besides his close relatives who visited him in Dapitan, an Irish girl came to Dapitan with her blind foster father, Engineer George Tauffer, who needed eye treatment. She was Josephine Bracken who later became his wife.
He explored the coast of Mindanao. Sometimes he stayed for several days. Some of his friends offered to spirit him away or pick him up far out at sea to bring him to Singapore, but he refused.
He applied for the position of surgeon in Cuba where the Spanish soldiers were badly afflicted with diseases while fighting the rebels under Jose Marti. Granted his request, he sailed for Manila on July 31, 1896 only to find out that the boat that was to take him to Cuba had already left the day before. As he was still under detention, he was transferred to the Castilla then anchored in Cavite. The thought of resuming his travels inspired him to write the poem The Song of the Traveller.
He was finally able to sail for Spain aboard the Isla de Panay which took him to Singapore. While this was refueling at Singapore, Pedro Roxas urged him to leave the boat assuring him that he would be safe and free from his enemies under the British Territory. He refused.
On September 30, 1896 while the boat was in the Middle East, the ship captain received a telegram order for his arrest. The Philippine Revolution had finally erupted. Brought to Barcelona, he was lodged in Montjuich Penitentiary and was ordered the next day to take his baggages on board the Colon that would take him to Manila to stand trial.
At Singapore, while the boat was at dock, a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements for his release on the ground that he was illegally detained. The move was inspired by Dr. Antonio Ma. Regidor of London and some British lawyers who, through Lord Hugh Fort, attempted to free him by court proceedings. But Judge Lionel Cox ruled that the Colon was a troopship flying the Spanish Flag and that he was a Spanish subject. Therefore his case was not under British jurisdiction.
Upon his arrival in Manila on November 3, 1896, he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago. On November 26, he was tried by the military court presided by Judge Advocate Enrique Alcocer at the Cuartel de Espana. In spite of the spirited defense of his counsel, Lieutenant Luis Taviel de Andrade, on the charges of rebellion, sedition and illegal organization of societies against him, he was meted the death penalty. He was not able to confront the witnesses who testified against him. Incriminating information linking him to the rebellion was just read to him.
On the eve prior to his execution he wrote the poem, Mi Ultimo Adios which he hid in the alcohol burner. Presumably he retracted masonry; married Josephine Bracken before a priest, with guards as witnesses, and wrote letters to professor Blumentritt, to his brother Paciano; and to his beloved father and mother.
On December 30, 1896, he was marched out of Fort Santiago toward Bagumbayan Field. With him were Fathers March and Villaclara and his legal counsel, Luis Taviel de Andrade. Before he left Fort Santiago he gave the alcohol burner in which he hid the poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, to his sister, Trinidad, and to his wife Josephine, he gave the book of Thomas Kempis, Imitation of Christ. He handed his belt to his nephew, Mauricio before he was shot to death.
The Spanish doctor, Ruiz y Castillo felt his pulse and found it normal. He faced the all-Filipino soldiers of the firing squad who were in turn heavily guarded by the Spanish soldiers, toward Manila Bay. Volleys were fired. He fell but with a great effort, he turned about face and fell facing his executioners.
Because the authorities feared the people might riot, they had him buried in Paco Cemetery with his name’s initials reversed – R.P.J. On August 17, 1898, his sisters had his grave dug and found out that he was buried without a coffin. Only his hat and shoes remained.
Source: Taken from the book Filipinos in History (Volume 1), a publication of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).