Josephine Bracken, revolutionary | Inquirer Opinion
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Josephine Bracken, revolutionary

(Continued from last Wednesday)

Three decades ago, while researching in the archives of the Spanish Foreign Ministry in Madrid, I came across the dispatches of Jose de Navarro, Spanish consul in Hong Kong, that contained reports on expatriate Filipinos considered anti-Spanish and sympathetic to the revolution in the Philippines. The dispatches from 1897-1898 were particularly engaging because they contained raw intelligence information gathered by the consul and his spies who monitored the homes of prominent Filipinos described as the “Junta Filibustera.”


Josephine Bracken was the subject of a number of dispatches from her arrival in Hong Kong in May 1897, her stay in the home of Jose Ma. Basa, and the press interviews she gave, which attacked Spain and provided her version of conditions in the Philippines.

Two copies of Navarro’s clippings from the China Mail regarding “the Widow of Rizal” exist—one sent to the governor general in Manila, the other to Madrid. These yellowing and brittle clippings were damaged along the folds, so when I transcribed them, I referred to the missing texts as “illegible.” Now that the Hong Kong papers are available online, I should update my notes. Since we are all familiar with the romantic angle of Josephine’s life with Rizal, I conclude with material after Rizal’s death, when Josephine slowly began to fade from history. Before she returned to Hong Kong in May 1897, Josephine was with the rebels in Cavite, having travelled there on the afternoon of Dec. 30, 1896, the day Rizal was executed in Luneta:



“The same day she set off on foot at half past three to the rebel position at Imus, without informing her sisters-in-law of her plans. She walked all night and part of next day and arrived at Sapote [Zapote] at eleven o’clock in the morning. There she met one of the civilian authorities who asked her who she was, to which she made the reply, ‘A Sister, Rizal’s widow.’ On the news becoming known, she was well received, and from there was taken to Imus, where she met Emilio Aguinaldo, the rebel leader. She was received with great demonstration as the widow of a martyr for the cause. They conducted her to San Francisco de Malabon [now General Trias], and there she remained in one of the convents. In that convent were many traces of the licentious life of the priests. Here she remained for twenty-three days caring for the sick and wounded.”


“When the fight of Mariñas [Dasmariñas] took place, Mrs. Rizal in company with another lady went out on horseback armed with Mauser rifles. She states she was lucky enough to kill a Spanish officer. There were only three or four of the rebels killed, shot in the head, and about two dozen wounded. After the encounter she returned to San Francisco de Malabon. At Silan[g] she states the Spaniards behaved with shocking barbarity, killing numbers of old men, women and children. Children of seven or eight months old were seized by the legs and their brains dashed out against the walls. She maintains that Imus was taken by treachery. Negotiations were being carried out by the authorities in Manila asking the rebels to come to terms, and whilst these were in progress the attack was commenced. When Imus was taken, Mrs. Rizal was lying ill at Tangas [Tanza?] about half-an-hour’s walk from the convent, and that night at eleven o’clock they had to leave there for I[n]dang and passed through twenty-three villages to the Province of Baie.”

Bracken then relates a meeting with the Spanish governor general who, on the insistent request of the friars, asked her to return to Hong Kong to which she replied: “What is the use of the Governor-General if the priests govern the place?” Then there is a scene with the stomping feet, related thus:

“The Governor-General requested her to leave Manila and in the event of her doing so he would pay her passage and all that she wanted. He stamped his foot and said it was very ridiculous that a woman should engage in war, that the English were wrong in allowing her to do so. The English of course liked war instead of peace. She replied by stamping her foot and stating she did not care; she was not afraid of him. She did not respect him as Governor-General. When she bade him goodbye he was on very friendly terms with her. She told him if he was offended with her he could take her out and shoot her as her husband had been shot. She said ‘My husband died innocent, and his family is willing to die as he has done.’ If it was too much trouble for him to take her out to the public place of execution he could shoot her where she stood. During her stay in Manila she was carefully watched by detectives, and in consequence of information she received from a servant of one of the authorities that they were to tie her up and subject her to cruelties which she states would be a scandal and a disgrace for her as an English woman to suffer, she bought a quantity of strychnine which she constantly carried about with her, resolved that she would die by her own hand rather than submit to their cruelties.”

The long China Mail feature on Bracken ends with her saying: “[A]s long as she had breath it would be her endeavor to help the Philippines in their fight for liberty.” To clear my doubts on parts of Bracken’s story requires more research that will hopefully result in another book.


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TAGS: Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal, Josephine Bracken, revolutionary, Spanish Occupation
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