How the World Mourned Jose Rizal
On the morning of December 30, 1896, Jose Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan, just outside the walled city of Intramuros, on charges of masterminding a rebellion. The Philippine Revolution was in full swing at the time, and the Spanish government was cracking down on anyone who would dare oppose it. Some intellectuals like Isabelo de los Reyes were lucky to have escaped death in lieu of prison.
Rizal wasn’t so lucky. He was a fierce critic of the colonial system. He made waves in Madrid by leading the Propaganda Movement. He inspired Bonifacio and the Katipunan, whether he meant to or not. Spanish officials hated him. Church officials hated him. He had no chance.
But this article isn’t about how Rizal died. Nor is it about how Rizal lived. It’s sometimes hard to fully realize just how consequential Rizal was to people both inside and outside the Philippines. Here is how the rest of the world mourned our National Hero.
Ferdinand Blumentritt and the European intellectuals
Blumentritt is perhaps most well-known for his enduring friendship with Rizal. A Czech professor who specialized in Filipino anthropology, the two of them exchanged multiple letters of correspondence and became the closest of friends. Rizal considered Blumentritt his “closest and dearest friend,” and Blumentritt likewise regarded Rizal as a close confidant.
The day before Rizal died, he wrote a series of letters to friends and family, one of which was addressed to Blumentritt. It read:
“My dear Brother, when you receive this letter, I shall be dead by then. Tomorrow at seven, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion. I am going to die with a tranquil conscience. Adieu, my best, my dearest friend, and never think ill of me!”
Blumentritt lamented the death of his dear friend and cried when he received the letter. He would go on to commemorate Rizal’s legacy in his own way, through writing. Less than a year later, he would publish an account of Rizal in the International Archives for Ethnography, describing his “development, goals, and essential nature.”
Other European intellectuals would go on to honor him as well. Eduard Seler, a German anthropologist, translated Rizal’s Mi ultimo adios to German, and Rudolf Virchow, known then as the “Pope of medicine,” gave a eulogy in front of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology, and Pre-history.
Michele Angiolillo and the Catalonian anarchists
Not everybody would take Rizal’s death sitting down, however. Spanish citizens who admired Rizal protested his execution in many ways.
When Governor-General Camilo Garcia de Polavieja returned to Spain, he was given the governorship of Catalonia. The public quickly turned on him, distributing pamphlets of Rizal’s Mi ultimo adios, his portrait, and accusations that Polavieja was responsible for the loss of the Philippines to the United States. He would carry this stain until he died in 1914.
But perhaps the most direct act of vengeance was done by the Italian Michele Angiolillo. who worked as a printer in the heart of Catalonia. Events in 1896 radicalized him into anarchism. Angiolillo saw the repression being done by the Spanish government, both overseas and at home, against dissidents and critics, and he wanted vengeance.
He saw his opportunity on August 8, 1897, when Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo visited the small town of Mondragon in the Basque Country. Angiolillo intercepted him and shot Canovas dead, before allowing himself to be arrested.
During his trial, he implicated no one and stated that his was an act of reprisal against the torture and murder of fellow anarchists in the Montjuic prison, and for the execution of Rizal. He readily accepted his fate and was executed on August 20 by garrote.
Ramon Blanco, Rizal’s ‘friend’ in Spain
Governor-General Ramon Blanco was hardly a man Rizal would put on the same level as Blumentritt. Nevertheless, Blanco was one of the few people who, at the very least, didn’t want Rizal dead. As Governor-General, he adopted a conciliatory stance against the revolutionaries, seeking to improve Spain’s public image in the court of world opinion.
Rizal, though not involved with the Katipunan, was nevertheless implicated for his subversive writing. He was at the time exiled in Dapitan, far from the affairs of Manila and its revolution. He would be charged with rebellion, something that Rizal denied to his death.
Neither Blanco nor Rizal wanted an execution, and so they came to a mutual arrangement: Rizal would go to Cuba and enlist as a military doctor. Things would not turn out as planned, however. Blanco was removed from his position on December 13 and replaced by Polavieja, who immediately ordered Rizal’s arrest.
Blanco could do nothing as Rizal was sentenced to die on December 30. He objected to the execution, seeing no need to it and lamenting the loss of a man like Rizal. He was not alone in these objections; liberals and federalists within the Spanish Cortes like Franscec Pi i Margall similarly derided the decision. However, they could do nothing.
In an effort to make amends, Blanco presented his sash and sword to the Rizal family. A symbolic, yet powerful gesture nonetheless.
It’s sometimes easy to feel for us Filipinos to feel small against the world stage. But the truth was, we’ve always had people like Jose Rizal who showed the world what it meant to be an indio bravo, the “pride of the Malay Race.”
Virchow, R. Obituary for Dr. Jose Rizal, 1897
El Solidario. Angiolillo’s Vengeance. Kate Sharpley Library.
Cerrato, C. El joven Maeztu y la canalla periodística. Universidad Complutense de Madrid