J is for Jose Rizal, the National Hero of the Philippines


It would be remiss of me not to devote the letter J in the A to Z Challenge to none other than Jose Rizal. I really should have put him under R but I was afraid I’d run out of steam by then…but I also happen to call him JR so it still kinda fits.

Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines, a child protege who obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at 16, and by the time he turned 23, obtained a few more degrees including medicine and Philosophy.  A polymath, he earned his degree in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid after he had to stop his medical studies in Manila because Filipino students were being discriminated upon by their Dominican tutors.

Jose Rizal belonged to the ilustrados, a group of ‘enlightened’ Filipinos during the late 19th century

Discrimination by Catholic friars would become a huge part of his writings, as well as the effects of colonialism upon the Filipino people.  Rizal traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and America.  In America, he saw firsthand the discrimination against the Chinese when his ship was quarantined off San Francisco Bay on April 1888 on account of the 642 Chinese that we have on board coming from Hong Kong where they say smallpox prevails,” he wrote in a letter to his parents in the Philippines.

“But the real reason is that, as America is against Chinese immigration, and now they are campaigning for elections, the government, in order to get the vote of the people, must appear to be strict with the Chinese, and we suffer.  On board, there is not one sick person.”

…After this experience, Rizal warned that America was not hospitable to Filipinos: “I’ll not advise anyone to make this trip to America, for here they are crazy about quarantine, they have severe customs inspection, imposing [duties] on anything.”

….On his train ride across America, Rizal realized the enormous wealth, power and imperialistic ambitions of America. In his essay “The Philippine Century,” he predicted that American expansionism would extend across the Pacific to as far away as the Philippines.

– Via Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture

In 1887, Rizal published his satirical novel, Noli Me Tangere (translated, Touch Me Not or The Social Cancer) in Berlin, which depicted the despotism of the Spanish clergy in the Philippines, though the protagonist does not approve of violent means to gain equality from their colonizers.  In 1891, he published the sequel, El Filibusterismo (translated, The Filibustering or Reign of Greed) which was more revolutionary this time, and definitely more tragic.

noli manuscript

I  remember reading these two books in high school and just getting more and more irate at every depressing turn of events, and the comic book version was even more depressing because it put these unforgettable faces on the characters.  But don’t get me wrong, the books are amazing and really depicted the atrocities of the Spaniards against the Filipinos during that time, albeit cloaked in satire at times.  I have the annotated print copy of El Filibusterismo at the moment and though it’s more mature reading for me now, it still evokes a lot of anger though.

Image by Dexter Panganiban
Image by Dexter Panganiban

Rizal’s dedication in Noli Me Tangere:

To My Country

In the catalogue of human ills there is to be found a cancer so malignant that the least touch inflames it and causes agonizing pains; afflicted with such a cancer, a social cancer, has your dear image appeared to me, when, for my own  heart’s ease or to compare you with others, I have sought, in the centres of modern civilization, to call you to mind.

Now, desirous of your welfare, which is also ours, and seeking the best cure for your ills, I shall do with you what was done in ages past with the sick, who were exposed on the steps of the temple so that the worshippers, having invoked the god, should each propose a remedy.

To this end, I shall endeavor to show your condition, faithfully and ruthlessly.  I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease, sacrificing to the truth everything, even self-love — for, as your son, your defects and weaknesses are also mine.

The Author

Because of his writings, Rizal and his family and friends were watched carefully by the Spanish authorities.  In June 1892, after authorities found anti-friar pamphlets in his sister’s luggage who had arrived with him from Hong Kong, Rizal was imprisoned in the notorious Fort Santiago in Manila.  He was soon exiled in Dapitan for four years where he lived a life engaged in agriculture, fishing and business, maintained and operated a hospital and even taught pupils English and Spanish languages.

Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)- Born in Leitmeritz , the present day Litomerice in the Czceh Republic, he published a number of studies on Philippine history, culture and languages.  Blumentritt was  Geography and History teacher in the local  "Gymnasium"(equivalent to High School) when Rizal befriended him trough correspondence.
Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)- Born in Leitmeritz , the present day Litomerice in the Czceh Republic, he published a number of studies on Philippine history, culture and languages. Blumentritt was Geography and History teacher in the local “Gymnasium”(equivalent to High School) when Rizal befriended him trough correspondence.

During his exile, Rizal kept in touch with friends in Europe, especially professor Ferdinand Blumentritt (there is a major thoroughfare in present-day Manila named after him) whose letters can be found here.  It was also around this time that the seeds of the Philippine Revolution, which had taken root around the time of Rizal’s satirical political novels, emerged with the rise of the revolutionary movement called the Katipunan.


When yellow fever broke out in Cuba, Rizal volunteered his services as a doctor and was given leave by the Governor-General Ramon Blanco in August 1896.  However he was arrested en route to Cuba via Spain and was sent back to stand trial in Manila as he was implicated in the revolution through his association with members of the Katipunan.  While he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, Rizal issued a manifesto disavowing the revolution in its present state, a claim that has caused disagreement among certain groups who argue that because of this, he does not deserve to be called the national hero.  In his manifesto, Rizal believed that education was the key to liberty.

“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.”

– Via Manifesto to Certain Filipinos

Rizal was tried in a court martial and found guilty of all three charges of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.  On the eve of his execution on December 30, 1896, Rizal, 35 years old,  wrote his final poem, Mi Ultimo Adios.

Photo believed to be the execution of Jose Rizal in Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park) on December 30, 1896
Photo believed to be the execution of Jose Rizal in Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park) on December 30, 1896

When the Philippines was annexed to the United States by Spain in 1899, the general consensus of lawmakers about the Filipinos was that they were “a community of barbarians.”  Representative Henry A. Cooper, who was lobbying for management of Philippine affairs, recited Rizal’s poem to his constituents to prove their misconceptions about the Filipinos wrong.  This led to the enactment of the Philippine Bill of 1902, which would lead to self-government for the Filipino people.

In 1944, Mi Ultimo Adios was translated and recited by Indonesian soldiers before going into battle in their fight for their own independence.

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I Is For the Indios, Ilustrados and Intramuros


During the Spanish colonial era, a “caste” system was established in the islands for taxation purposes.  The “indio” was a term used to describe those of Austronesian descent, people from Southeast Asia and Oceania which included the major ethnic groups of Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and even the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii. (via Austronesian peoples – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Indios paid a base tax while the other castes, such as the mestizos de Sangley (people of mixed Chinese and Indo descent) paid double the base tax and sangleys (people of pure Chinese descent) paid quadruple the base tax.  Blancos or whites paid no taxes at all.

Blancos had their own sub-classifications.  Peninsulares were those of pure Spanish descent born in Spain, while insulares or filipinos were those of pure Spanish descent born in the Philippines.  Children of mixed Autstronesian and Spanish ancestry were called mestizos de español, and tornatras were those born of Autstronesian, Chinese and Spanish ancestry.

Blancos lived within the walled city of Manila, called Intramuros, a fortified city within a city, while the rest lived outside its walls.  The unbaptized Chinese or Sangleys lived in Parian while Catholic Sangleys and mestizos de Sangleys lived in Binondo.  The indios made their home outside of these segregated communities.

A portrait of Manila in 1684 by Alain Mallet
A portrait of Manila in 1684 by Alain Mallet

Intramuros was the fortified city within the city of Manila, the seat of the Spanish colonial government.  Frenchman Paul de la Gironiere describes Intramuros in his book Adventures in the Philippine Islands.

The city is divided into two sections—the military and the mercantile—the latter of which is the suburb. The former, surrounded by lofty walls, is bounded by the sea on one side, and upon another by an extensive plain, where the troops are exercised, and where of an evening the indolent Creoles, lazily extended in their carriages, repair to exhibit their elegant dresses and to inhale the sea-breezes. This public promenade—where intrepid horsemen and horsewomen, and European vehicles, cross each other in every direction—may be styled the Champs-Elysées, or the Hyde Park, of the Indian Archipelago…

….In the military town are all the monasteries and convents, the archbishopric, the courts of justice, the custom-house, the hospital, the governor’s palace, and the citadel, which overlooks both towns. There are three principal entrances to Manilla—Puerta Santa Lucia, Puerto Réal, and Puerta Parian.

At one o’clock the drawbridges are raised, and the gates pitilessly closed, when the tardy resident must seek his night’s lodging in the suburb, or mercantile town, called Binondoc.

via Adventures in the Philippine Islands. Paul de la Gironiere

The 1851 map of Intramuros
The 1851 map of Intramuros

With Manila being a bustling and profitable port for the Spanish government, the Spaniards built Intramuros bordering the ocean one side and land on the other, its thick walls taking decades to be completed and with its borders and design often reflecting each succeeding governor-general.

Manila is divided by the Pasig River into the north and the south sides; on the south bank are the old Walled City and the districts of Ermita, Malate and Paco, while on the north side are the Escolta, the principal business section, and the districts of Binondo, San Nicolas, Tondo, Santa Cruz, Quiapo, and Sampaloc.  The Escolta is the main business artery of Manila, and on it are located the chief business houses of the city.  The junction of the Escolta and the Bridge of Spain is the principal center, and at this point cars may be taken for nearly any part of the city or suburbs.

via Full text of “Manila, the pearl of the Orient; guide book to the intending visitor”.

Intramuros in 1932
Intramuros in 1932

I just found this clip and I’m so excited to have found it!  A look at the past of what was the Manila of yesteryears, including the walled city, Intramuros.

Intramuros would remain one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia until 1945, when it was declared an open city and bombed by the United States Air Force to drive out the Japanese occupation forces.  The foreground of the photo below shows the Manila Cathedral.

Photo by Private Glenn W. Eve. Private collection
Photo by Debra Eve
Photo by Debra Eve

Intramuros has since been restored by the Philippine government with the help of the United States and Japan.  These days, portions of the great walls still mark the boundaries of old Intramuros, as do old residences and portions of its old streets.

Present-day Intramuros
Present-day Intramuros

While segregation of the people depended on social and economic factors, another class of people arose in the 19th century.  These were the ilustrados (Spanish for learned and enlightened ones), young men and women who were educated in Spanish (Spanish was not taught to the natives during the colonial era) and exposed to Spanish liberal and European nationalistic ideals.

juan_luna_studioIt was composed of the middle class, native-born individuals who at first sought reform and “a more equitable arrangement of both political and economic power” under Spanish rule. The ilustrados would pave the way to independence for the Philippine islands, with martyred hero Jose Rizal being the most noted of all.

Three prominent Ilustrados in Spain: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce (from left to right). Photo was taken in Spain in 1890.
Three prominent Ilustrados in Spain: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce (from left to right). Photo was taken in Spain in 1890.

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