Rizal on trial | Inquirer Opinion
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Rizal on trial

Jose Rizal knew he was a marked man when he disembarked from the steamer that brought him from Hong Kong to Manila in 1892. He chose to stay in a hotel and told relatives and friends who had offered their hospitality that this was not a snub but for their own good.

Agents from Cuerpo de Vigilancia had trailed him, noting every place he visited, whom he met, and what he did. I have not seen the actual documents, but I presume these would be so detailed to contain: the color of his hat or the food he had for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and merienda in between. The surveillance reports can be deduced from the questions Rizal was asked at the beginning of his trial for treason four years later.


On Nov. 26, 1896, Rizal was sworn in and the court records listed him as “a native of Calamba, Laguna, of legal age, single, physician, never been tried before.” Here is a list of names that began with Pio Valenzuela. Rizal was asked if he knew the suspected rebels, namely: Martin Constantino Lozano, Jose Reyes Tolentino, Antonio Salazar (the owner of the bazaar where Rizal bought his shoes), Jose Dizon (an engraver), Moises Salvador, Domingo Franco (a tobacco dealer from Nagtahan), Ireneo Francisco, Deodato Arellano (a brother-in-law of Marcelo H. del Pilar with whom Rizal did not see eye to eye), Ambrosio Flores (a Mason), Timoteo Plata, Ambrosio Salvador, Bonifacio Arevalo (a sculptor and dentist Rizal had met for dinner), Timoteo Paez, Francisco Cordero, Estanislao Legaspi (from Tondo), Alejandro and Venancio Reyes (brothers who own a shop on Escolta where Rizal had a suit made), Arcadio del Rosario, Apolinario Mabini and Pedro Serrano.

From the list presented to him, Rizal said he knew some but not all, some of the names he neither recognized by name nor by sight.


Earlier, on Nov. 21, Rizal was asked if he knew Andres Bonifacio, president of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan. The transcript of the trial recorded Rizal’s reply as follows: “He does not know this person by name, and in fact this is the first time he hears of him. Nor does he know him by sight although [Bonifacio] might have been present at the meeting in the house of Doroteo Ong-junco, where [Rizal] was introduced to many persons whose names and appearance he no longer remembers.”

Then Rizal was asked: How does the prisoner explain the fact that his portrait is included among those of the members of the said association (Katipunan)?

His reply: “As to the portrait, since the prisoner had one of ordinary size made in Madrid, they might have secured a copy of the portrait. As to their using his name as a rallying cry, the prisoner has no idea why they should do this, as he has given them no pretext whatever for it, and he looks upon it as unqualified presumption on their part. He did indeed learn from his family that his name was being used to collect funds for him. [He brought this matter to the military governor of Dapitan for transmittal to the Governor General in Manila and] got his family to spread the word around by means of their acquaintances that he was not asking for alms and that he had sufficient funds for all his needs with what he earned by the practice of his profession and what he had won in the Lottery.”

Rizal was asked about plans to escape from Dapitan and go to Japan. He was asked to explain his plans to establish a Filipino settlement in Sandakan. He was also asked to explain a note found in his papers on the deflection of a magnetic needle of a compass in Dapitan. All these details are often left out of our textbooks when they actually flesh out, in part, a picture of what Rizal was like—what he was doing, who his friends or acquaintances were, etc.

When I first read the transcript of the trial of Rizal, I was surprised by the details about his picture being in the meeting hall of the Katipunan, and about his name being used as a rallying cry, as a password, and as a means to solicit funds. Weren’t we taught to look down on Rizal because he denounced the Philippine Revolution? Some teachers go so far as to paint him as a traitor to the revolution, when it seems from the trial that Rizal was not against the revolution but, rather, advised that it be postponed for a better time—a time when the Katipuneros had arms, funds, and support from a foreign power to see the revolution to its successful conclusion.

My reply to those who want to push for Andres Bonifacio as national hero in place of Rizal is that they should read the trial documents where the investigating officer made this conclusion: “The accused Jose Rizal Mercado is the principal organizer and the very soul of the Philippine insurrection; the author of associations, periodicals and books dedicated to the cultivation and dissemination of ideas instigating the people to rebellion and sedition; and supreme head of the national revolutionary movement.”

We have room for both Rizal and Bonifacio in the pantheon of heroes, and it is unfortunate that some people refuse to appreciate the fact that while Rizal did not raise a bolo, or fired a gun, he did inspire Bonifacio into action that led to the Philippine Revolution. I hope that by including more primary sources in the history curriculum, young people may see beyond the opinion and ideology and form their own conclusions.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Andres Bonifacio, Hero, heroism, Hong Kong, Jose Rizal, MANILA, National Hero of the Philippines, Philippine history, Rizal, Rizal’s Trial
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