Looking Back

Rizal and Del Pilar’s ‘childish’ tiff

The change of House leadership last Monday was not a surprise, since rumors that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would replace Pantaleon Alvarez had been flying around for some time. All this is not new. If one goes back through the history of the House of Representatives, or further back through our complicated history to the Tejeros Convention of 1897, we see how Andres Bonifacio was displaced in a revolutionary government that saw the rise of Emilio Aguinaldo.

Our heroes may have had one aim—freedom of Filipinas—but they did not always agree regarding method, timetable or final objective. Not all our heroes were chummy with each other; we should not forget the quarrel between the main propagandists Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar that split the Filipino community in Madrid in 1891.


Petty was the source of the rift—coffee and champagne. It is odd that no reference to this can be found in the 25 volumes of Rizal’s writings, and what we know comes from only one source, a letter Marcelo del Pilar wrote to his brother-in-law Deodato Arellano from Madrid on March 31, 1891. Del Pilar explained that there was initially no problem between him and Rizal, but when elections came up, the Filipino community was split between Pilaristas and Rizalistas. Del Pilar himself described the episode as childish, and narrated that:

“It is a tradition in the colony to have a fraternal dinner on the night of December 31. In the morning of that day the question of serving champagne was brought up in our lodgings, all the more since the boys had taken a great deal of trouble preparing speeches. A thousand ways were discussed to make champagne available that night; at lunch time there was a great deal of chaffing about it among ourselves, but I kept my mouth shut, and without saying a word was planning to pay for the champagne myself; I wanted to give them a surprise. No sooner said than done; after lunch I went to Bayo’s house to get hold of some money for the night’s champagne.”


That afternoon, Del Pilar attended a birthday party where he met Rizal, who pulled him aside and said: “Before coming here I passed by your house and I saw a resolution being prepared asking you to pay for the coffee tonight.” Del Pilar replied that he agreed with this because coffee was cheaper than champagne. So the New year’s Eve party came along and a witty resolution signed by 25 of the 31 guests at the party was read out: Del Pilar would pay for the coffee, Cunanan for the cigars, and the champagne costs were to be divided between Rizal and Dominador Gomez, who was yet to arrive. Del Pilar and Cunanan accepted the resolution, but Rizal did not.

As Del Pilar recounted: “Rizal had the good or bad taste to protest and argue. I tried to head off his protest by suggesting that the champagne be paid for by Modesto Reyes and Mariano Abella who agreed to do so, in addition to [Gomez and Rizal], but perhaps because Rizal did not hear me, since we were far apart, I at the head of the table, and he at the extreme left… my suggestion was not taken up, and on Rizal’s initiative, he began at the left of the table to collect one peseta per person to pay for the champagne. In the midst of this, someone approached me and whispered: ‘Mr. Editor, the resolution is withdrawn but we are grateful for your kindness with regard to the coffee; we expected no less from your generosity.’

“I understood the bitterness that Rizal’s protest had aroused,” Del Pilar continued. “The latter, who was oblivious to it, continued happy and witty while I worried about a quarrel breaking out.

The collection of one peseta was paid from the left end to the center of the table, but from there to the right nobody wanted to contribute.

“Very ingenious and sharp arguments erupted from the right end of the table, but I took advantage of the fact that Rizal did not seem to realize the point of the jokes and stood up to approach them and ask secretly not to spoil the party. They listened, and there were no more jokes [about Rizal] for the remainder of the dinner.”

Dinner ended on a sour note, with Rizal remarking on slackers in school. Little surprise that, when an election came up later, Rizal lost to Del Pilar.

People say Filipino associations abroad are like amoeba—they split and multiply rather than unite or consolidate. This has been so for a long time.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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