Jose Rizal as a Lover: How He Two Timed Two Women Until He Got Caught

The story of how our national hero bungled his first attempt at having a girlfriend, and how he shrewdly managed to be engaged to two women at the same time.

Many Filipinos look up to national hero Jose Rizal for his admirable traits: courage, wit, intelligence, and patriotism. However, if there is one thing he repeatedly failed at, it was his quest for romance.

Rizal was linked to numerous women in his day, but the first love he ever had, according to his diary Memorias de un Estudiante de Manila, was Segunda Katigbak. He details his feelings for her and documents their correspondence, which is something many of us can relate with.

“Virginal, Attractive, and Engaging”

These were the three words Rizal used to describe the 14-year-old Katigbak in his diary. “She is not the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,” writes Rizal somewhat harshly, “but I blushed every time she looked at me,” he concedes. “I have not met anyone more alluring and beguiling.”

Just like in his correspondence with other women, Rizal used a codename for Katigbak in his diary. He referred to her as “K”, reveals historian Ambeth Ocampo in his book, Rizal Without the Overcoat (1990).

Coincidentally, Katigbak attended the same school as Rizal’s sisters, Colegio de la Concordia. Many times, Rizal visited Katigbak at La Concordia under the pretense of visiting his sisters there.

During a visit, Katigbak became frank with Rizal and asked him if he had a girlfriend.

“No, I never thought of having one, especially the pretty ones, and nobody would pay attention to a guy like me,” says Rizal, which was kind of short of telling Katigbak that she was not pretty.


Probably offended, Katigbak replied with “You fool yourself. Perhaps you want me to find you a girlfriend?”

At this, Rizal recoiled and replied with, “Oh no, I do not want to burden you.”

Just a “Mutual Understanding”

Despite the many times they rendezvoused, Rizal and Katigbak never became official, writes Ocampo. Rizal suspected the latter was already engaged, which was a mistake. He decided to stay away from Katigbak and made excuses for himself. In his youth, Rizal was also naïve about the qualities of real love, equating it with physical attractiveness and wealth.

“I shut my heart out to love,” writes Rizal in his diary, “I am not rich and I am not handsome; I am neither sophisticated nor attractive,” he continues. “Until I see more proof that she loves me, I will not commit to her or tell her that I love her.”

For Rizal, his relationship with Katigbak was only sympathetic understanding, nothing serious, according to Ocampo.

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Their relationship ended when Katigbak was instructed by her father to return to their family’s province in Laguna.

The last time they ever met was at a fiesta in Laguna, when Rizal, astride his horse, rode up to Katigbak. She'd expected him to get down, talk, and have a good time. However, Rizal became immobile and speechless.

“I said nothing. All I did was take off my hat,” he confesses in his diary. “The same thing happens to me at the most trying times of my life! I become too slick, speechless, and overcome with emotions.”

“At crucial moments, I have always acted opposite what my heart wants, instead I obey powerful doubts… this is how it ends,” writes the adolescent Rizal.

Thus ended his first brush with love. Numerous flings with women would follow, whom Rizal would similarly leave abruptly just when things were getting intimate, says Ocampo.

Two-Timing Two Leonors

A funny twist in the love life of the national hero was unearthed in the correspondence between Rizal and his wingman, Jose M. Cecilio. While Rizal was away in Europe, Cecilio met up with Rizal’s various love interests and spied on them for him. 

In 1884, writes Ocampo, when Rizal was already engaged to his most serious lover, Leonor Rivera, Cecilio discovered there was a certain Ceferino de Leon who also wanted to pursue Rivera.

In order to dissuade De Leon from courting Rivera, Cecilio the faithful wingman introduced de Leon to a namesake of Rivera – Leonor Valenzuela.


However, when De Leon tried to court Valenzuela, she told him that she, too, was engaged to Rizal! The poor De Leon had to confront Rizal as to how he had managed to be engaged to two beautiful women and then leave them at home while studying in Europe, writes Ocampo.

Cecilio had not previously known of this mischief, but he was tasked by Rizal to find out which of the two Leonors was more faithful. Cecilio represented Rizal during his visits to the two women. 

In their numerous letters, Rizal and Cecilio referred to Leonor Rivera as “The Little Landlady,” and to Leonor Valenzuela as the “Winsome Orang”.

Finally, after much investigation, Cecilio reported to Rizal in one of these letters that although both women were madly in love with him, he was more inclined to believe that Leonor Rivera, “The Little Landlady,” loved him truly deeply, writes Ocampo.

In the end, Rivera would become Rizal’s most significant love and heartbreak. Engaged for ten years, their tragic and overwhelmingly sad story is one that can rival Romeo and Juliet.



Ocampo, Ambeth R. (1990). Rizal Without the Overcoat. Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing.

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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