The Rizal Manifesto

Having visited Rizal’s reconstructed house in Calambâ recently (biking all the way there from Muntinglupà!), I became interested again in the circumstances that led to his execution. I reread “The Trial of Rizal” (a book almost forgotten today) and saw some interesting facts that are often glossed over by our history teachers.

For example, not many are aware that those witnesses who testified against Rizal were all Filipinos — not a single Spaniard pointed an accusing finger. This could be trivial to some but nonetheless an illustration of how the trial was conducted. These witnesses signed a written affidavit confirming that they acted on their free will. Of course, we could no longer determine if they were forced or they willingly provided the information.

There are lots of questions revolving around that historic trial.

Were they pinning Rizal down so he could take the fall? They say that all great movements need a martyr to believe in…

It is not conspiracy theory; Rizal made some enemies in his years as a propagandist. He was admired and envied. In his trial, he even mentioned names that he considered hostile against him. The peaceful man that he was, he chose to retire and begin a new life. But his past haunted him. Powerful forces were out to get him. And they did get their quarry.

Rizal was aware that his name was being used not only to solicit funds but also as some sort of a head figure for the Katipunan. His family had warned him about it. And this concerned him gravely. Fearing that such an activity would result to loss of lives, he requested the governor general that he be permitted to publicly denounce it. On 11 December 1896 (a few weeks before his death sentence), he wrote a manifesto to address the issue:

”Fellow countrymen: Upon my return from Spain I learned that my name was being used as a rallying cry by some who had taken up arms. This information surprised and grieved me but thinking that the whole affair was finished, I refrained from commenting on something that could no longer be remedied. Now, rumors reach me that the disturbances have not ceased. It may be that persons continue to use my name in good or in bad faith; if so, wishing to put a stop to this abuse and to undeceive the gullible, I hasten to address these lines to you that the truth may be known. From the very beginning, when I first received information of what was being planned, I opposed it, I fought against it, and I made clear that it was absolutely impossible.  This is the truth, and they are still alive who can bear witness to my words. I was convinced that the very idea was wholly absurd — worse than absurd, it was disastrous. I did more than this. When later on, in spite of my urgings, the uprising broke out, I came forward voluntarily to offer not only my services but my life and even my good name in order that they may use me in any manner they may think opportune to smother the rebellion. For I was convinced of the evils which that rebellion would bring in its train, and so I considered it a privilege if at whatever sacrifice I could ward off so much useless suffering. This is also of record.

“Fellow countrymen: I have given many proofs that I desire as much as the next man liberties for our country; I continue to desire them. But I laid down as a prerequisite the education of the people in order that by means of such instruction, and by hard work, they may acquire a personality of their own and so become worthy of such liberties. In my writings I have recommended study and the civic virtues, without which no redemption is possible. I have also written (and my words have been repeated by others) that reforms, if they are to bear fruit, must come from above, for reforms that come from below are upheavals both violent and transitory. Thoroughly imbued with these ideas, I cannot do less than condemn, as I do condemn, this ridiculous and barbarous uprising, plotted behind my back, which both dishonors us Filipinos and discredits those who might have taken our part. I abominate the crimes for which it is responsible and I will have no part in it. With all my heart I am sorry for those who have rashly allowed themselves to be deceived. Let them, then, return to their homes, and may God pardon those who have acted in bad faith.”

After clearly dismissing any involvement in the planned uprising, wanting his countrymen to avoid its evils, Rizal laid out plans on what he saw as the proper approach and focus so that civil liberties and eventual freedom can be achieved. Sadly, these “prerequisites” were totally forgotten by the generation of leaders who had succeeded him.

The manifesto cannot be any clearer and articulate than how it was written by Rizal. He was a revolutionary, yes, but he never wanted a bloody one. In his view, it was not only costly in terms of lives but was self-defeating. His was a revolution of the mind.

What’s striking about the document is that it was written weeks before his execution. It was apparent to him that, after the discovery of the Katipunan,  a mass revolt was soon to follow and that his death would most likely ignite it. What I find fascinating about Rizal is that he was a gifted psychic. Although he defended himself well against the accusation leveled against him, he knew that he would end up in Bagumbayan. He predicted this years even before he was implicated in the rebellion (Bagumbayan was mentioned five times in Noli Me Tangere)! This clairvoyance probably made it easier for him to accept his fate.

A closer examination of the trial documents will show that Rizal was actually innocent on the charge of rebellion. Aside from testimonies and letters, there was nothing solid that can pin him down for initiating the rebellion. He had proven that there was no link between his La Liga Filipina and Andrés Bonifacio’s Katipunanother than some of those who were with him during the founding of his group (which, according to him, “died stillborn”) who later got involved or joined Bonifacio’s group altogether.Curiously, however, the words Liga and Katipunan mean the same thing in English: “league”.

Now I can understand why we were kept away from such documents. They were protecting Rizal’s reputation of being the prime mover of independence. I believe there’s no need to hide such historical lessons. After learning what he was fighting for, personally, he even became greater than he ever was. His revolution goes beyond winning wars — he wanted a revolution of the mind, to see our fellow Filipinos as part of our selves. The Rizal who was sentenced to death wanted us to dedicate ourselves to the civic and social betterment of the Filipino nation.

Violence can never be justified in Rizal’s revolution.

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