Gomburza: Conflicted details | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Gomburza: Conflicted details

/ 05:10 AM December 29, 2023

f I were officially consulted for the “GomBurZa” film, now attracting attention due to its bumper harvest of Metro Manila Film Festival awards and rave reviews, Pepe Diokno, the director, might get confused. History is not “tsismis” or “Marites.” When historians come across conflicting primary sources during their archival research, these are weighed in the balance to sift out what is closest to truth. Like many Filipino historians, my main source for the execution of Gomburza has been Edmond Plauchut, a Frenchman who lived in Manila and later knew Filipinos like Juan Luna, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, and Jose Rizal in Paris. His 1877 account was translated from the original French and published in Spanish in La Solidaridad in 1892. By all accounts, this has been accepted as the most truthful “Filipino version” of events leading to translations in Tagalog (1916) and English (1960).

For this column, I dug up the Revue des Deux Mondes for Plauchut’s “L’archipel des Philippines” that appeared in installments: March, April, and June 1877. The Gomburza story is in the third installment that covers: industry, commerce, and the political situation. Plauchut led to José Montero y Vidal’s “Historia general de Filipinas desde el descubrimiento de dichas islas hasta nuestros días” (A general history of the Philippines from the discovery of these islands to our days) often ignored because of its pro-Spanish and anti-Filipino bias. In Chapter 27, Volume 3 (1895) we find annotated excerpts from Plauchut that give us the other side of the story.

At Bagumbayan, for example, Plauchut described Francisco Zaldua smiling as he walked to the place of execution, expecting a pardon at the last minute. After him followed the three priests: José Burgos crying like crazy; Jacinto Zamora dazed, oblivious to what was happening around him; Mariano Gomes had his eyes open, his head held high, blessing people who all fell on their knees as he passed. Montero wrote sarcastically in a footnote: “What an admirable invention by this truthful historian.”

Plauchut described the crowd that came to witness the execution, “all mouths open in prayer, all heads uncovered.” Montero commented: “All? This would describe those who did not have hats, apart from the fact that the indios, more so at that time, rarely used hats.” Plauchut wrote that the traitor Zaldua was the first to be executed, Montero disagreed in a footnote, “he was the last.” Plauchut wrote that when Gomes was called, his Recollect confessor advised him to accept the terrible fate of human justice and commended his soul to God. Gomes’ last words, as depicted in the film, were “I know that not a leaf falls from a tree without the will of the Creator, therefore if God wants me to die in this place I follow his will.” Montero clarified in the footnote: “We asked the Fr. Procurator of the Recollects, who was present, if this quote is true and he answered, No.”


Plauchut is the preferred primary source of Filipino historians but he was not an eyewitness to the execution. Neither were Paciano and Jose Rizal as depicted in the film. Plauchut relied on an eyewitness or someone who got it from an eyewitness like Joaquín Pardo de Tavera and Antonio Regidor, Filipino friends in Europe. Montero described Plauchut’s account as “Very beautiful, very dramatic, and very interesting. Mr. Plauchut undoubtedly possesses the great conditions of a novelist. A pity that he writes history instead of using his fantasy in a pamphlet of some newspaper.”

Gomes (aged 73) was the first to be executed. Parish priest of Bacoor, Cavite, Gomes was the oldest of the three, calm, and resigned to his fate. It is said that as he walked to the scaffold his eyeglasses fell.

Zamora (aged 37) came next, his fatal vice was cards or “panguingui.” He was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny on the strength of a letter that read in part, “Grand reunion … our friends are well provided with powder and ammunition.” A line that was subversive to the Spanish but was actually a witty invitation to play panguingui. “Guns and ammunition” referred to gambling money. No famous last words from Zamora who was out to lunch. Burgos (aged 35) came last. He was heard shouting, “What crime have I committed to deserve such a death? Is there no justice in the world?” Twelve friars of different orders restrained him and pushed him back into the garrote advising him to accept a Christian death. Burgos calmed down, but got up again shouting, “But I haven’t committed any crime!” To which one of the friars holding him down hissed, “Even Christ was innocent!” At those words, Burgos finally gave in to the garrote.

Plauchut may indeed be “novelesco” as Montero says, but his is the most cinematic account complete with quotable quotes. Nevertheless, the two accounts agree on most of the facts but disagree on the details. History is not tsismis, it is truth ferreted out from he said, she said accounts.



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TAGS: Gomburza, history column, Looking Back, Philippine history

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