Is Rizal’s execution photo a still from 1912 movie?

Pio Andrade, Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE PICTURE at left is the only known photograph of Rizal’s execution. The picture has been reproduced so many, many times in books and popular publications that its image is deeply imprinted in Filipino minds.

But is the picture authentic? This question, it seems, has never been seriously entertained. I have, however, stumbled on many articles on the execution written or told by eyewitnesses of the historical event. These articles, half of them in Spanish, and unknown to Rizal biographers, shed light on the question. The known Rizal execution picture is of doubtful authenticity.

Professor Austin Craig, the foremost authority on Rizal, related the provenance of the execution picture in the article “I Saw Rizal Shot!” in the Dec. 27, 1924 Philippine Free Press.

According to Craig, the picture “was taken by a Mr. Dumas, a French-Spaniard, who was an old resident of the city. When the Spanish military authorities found that Mr. Dumas had taken a picture, they tried to seize the plate, but he buried it in a hole in a stone wall and filled in the opening with cement. The plate was dug out after the American occupation.”

The Rizal execution picture later became the property of Col. Juan Dominguez, the chief of the Manila secret service force in the early ’30s according to Isidro Retizos article “Where Rizal Fell” in the Dec. 29, 1932 issue of Graphic.

The article described how the exact place where Rizal fell was determined by four eyewitnesses to the event: Manila Mayor Tomas Earnshaw, a corporal of the 70th Regiment, and two soldiers of the Spanish volunteer corps. Dumas’ picture was used to find the exact spot.

Werner Weinmann, Swiss citizen and a 30-year resident of the country, brother-in-law of Filipino patriot Jose Alejandrino, and an eyewitness to Rizal’s execution, strongly disputed the genuineness of the execution picture in his letter written in Spanish to the Free Press which was printed in the Jan. 24, 1925 issue.

Absurd

Weinmann wrote: “That unique picture of Rizal’s execution taken by a certain Mr. Dumas, French-Spaniard, according to your article is ABSURD. First, because this Dumas is Elzingre Dumas whom I know being another Swiss citizen, young, and whom I know never carried a camera in his life. Second, for him to have taken that supposed picture, it was necessary for him to enter the military square which was impossible, given the strict order. And third, because the soldiers which formed the military cordon and the firing squad, were all dressed in navy blue, and should appear dark, not light, as they appeared in the supposed picture.”

Weinmann supplemented his letter with his own sketch of scene of the execution at the Luneta. (Fig. 2)

Extant pictures of the Luneta in 1886 (Fig. 3) or 1896 (Fig. 4) support Weinmann’s belief that the Rizal execution picture was a fake. First, the Luneta from 1886 to 1896 had no trees; whereas, the execution picture shows many trees between the lampposts. Second, Weinmann’s sketch and the 1886 picture show that there was a file of stones encircling the Luneta at that time but which is absent in the execution picture. The file of stones forming the curb of the Luneta then is amplified by this line from Weinmann’s letter: . . . “Blood running to inflame with red the surface of one square meter of ground and over the stones that circled the Luneta.”

Third, the lampposts in the execution picture are taller and lighter in color than the lampposts in the 1886 photograph. Being lighted by gas, the lampposts were short, and being made of iron, they should appear dark in picture.

Another argument against the picture: Could a box camera, the only camera Dumas could have used, produced a panoramic and well defined picture as the alleged Rizal execution picture?

Wrong hat

When I related my findings casting doubts on the genuiness of the execution picture to my friend Victor Buencamino, he told me that before the war he had seen Rizal’s hat and shoes enclosed in a glass case in the home of Don Leoncio Lopez, son of Narcisa Rizal, sister of the hero. The hat was not a derby and it was not black.

“At Victor’s urging, I visited Mrs. Carmen Consunji, the daughter of Don Leoncio Lopez. Lola Mameng confirmed that the hat, which was destroyed during the war, was not a derby and it was not black. It was gray. The gray color could be ascribed to the bleaching of the original black by underground burial, which, however, would not affect the shape of the hat. This is another compelling proof against the authenticity of the execution picture which shows Rizal’s hat as a derby.

Based on available evidence, the Rizal execution picture is a fraud, a big fraud. But then how could the existence of the picture be accounted for? That picture very likely was taken from either one of two films about Rizal produced in 1912. These films are interesting sidebars on the Rizal execution picture.

Two movies

In 1912, Harry Brown, owner of the Gaiety Theater in Ermita, teamed up with fellow American Ernest Meyer Gross, a surgeon and filmmaker, to produce a movie honoring Rizal. They hired Charles Martin of the Bureau of Science to be cameraman. Honorio Lopez, later famous publisher of the Honorio Lopez calendar, and Chananay, the best known Filipina actress then, played the hero and his mother, respectively. The finished film “Dr. Jose Rizal” was slated for showing in the Manila Grand Opera House on Aug. 24, 1912.

Unknown to them, rival film producer A. W. Yearsley, owner of Oriental Moving Pictures Company, Majestic, and Empire Theaters, was intent on making another Jose Rizal movie. Two days after Brown and Gross finished filming “Dr. Jose Rizal,” Yearsley hired the same cast of the said movie and shot the Rizal execution scene at the Cementerio del Norte.

Shooting began at 10 a.m. and was finished at 3 p.m., and the movie was shown at Majestic Theater that very same evening, Aug. 23, 1912. It was a big hit, and Yearsley had another copy for showing at the Empire Theater. Incidentally, the Yearsley Rizal movie had three different titles in newspaper advertisements: “La Vida y Muerte del Gran Martir Filipino Dr. Jose Rizal,” “Passion y Muerte del Dr. Jose Rizal,” and “Vida y Muerte del Dr. Jose Rizal.” However, film historians refer to this film as “El Fusilamiento del Dr. Jose Rizal.”

Brown and Gross’ Rizal movie was shown on Aug. 24, 1912 at the Manila Grand Opera House. It was also a big hit. It was the better Rizal movie, but Yearsley made the bigger money.

At this point the readers would be asking, “If the picture of Rizal’s execution was not the real thing and was taken from a movie, why then did nobody complain about the fakery?”

Movie advertisements then did not carry pictures in newspaper ads; thus, nobody noticed the passing of a fake picture for the real McCoy. Besides, Filipinos love to embellish our heroes. Witness our glossing of the big faults of Quezon, Bonifacio, MacArthur, Romulo, etc . . .. The execution picture only served to enhance the legend of Rizal.

Scholar’s flaws

Central to the acceptance of the authenticity of Rizal’s execution picture is the reputation of Austin Craig’s scholarship.

Indeed, there was no more ardent and diligent investigator of Rizal’s life than Craig. However, Craig admired Rizal so much that he may have taken liberties with the facts in his Rizal book. Glaring examples will now be cited to show this point.

Craig wrote that Rizal completely turned around after the volley and landed on his back his shut eyes facing the sun. He contradicted Retana and eyewitnesses who either wrote or told that Rizal tried but failed to turn around because death was instantaneous.

In his last book printed in 1940, Farthest Westing: A Philippine Footnote, Craig wrote that the Rizal execution picture was taken by a Frenchman he did not name, which contradicted his statement on the origin of the picture in the 1924 article “I Saw Rizal Shot.”

If it is true as Craig claimed that Dumas dug out his hidden Rizal execution picture when the Americans came, then that picture would have been circulating in the press in the early days of American rule. But I have not seen that picture in books about the Philippines and Rizal published between 1900 and 1910 which I encountered in my research.

The earliest use of that picture I found was in the last 1912 issue of the Free Press. Craig’s Rizal book printed in 1913 also carried the picture. However, Retana’s Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal published in 1907 does not have it.

If that Rizal execution picture had already been released when the Americans came, as Craig implied in his writing, Retana would have included it in his Rizal book.

Is the Rizal execution picture real or not? Judge for yourself.

Taken from Pio Andrade‘s Inquirer column “Past Present”.

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