Rizal: ‘Amboy’ or home-made hero?



President Aquino troops the line during the flag-raising rites on the 115th death anniversary of national hero Jose Rizal at Rizal Park in Manila on Friday. Rizal was sentenced to die by firing squad by the Spanish colonial government after he was convicted of treason for advocating independence and of sedition for inciting armed revolution. EDWIN BACASMAS

One hundred and fifteen years after Jose Rizal was executed by the Spanish colonial regime, controversy still rages as to whether he was a reformist or a revolutionary.

Rizal is immensely influential to generations of Filipinos.  How he is viewed can help define the course of our history.

In his Rizal Day Lecture on Dec. 30, 1969, titled “Veneration Without Understanding,” the historian Renato Constantino noted it was American Governor General William Howard Taft who in 1901 suggested to the Philippine Commission the naming of a national hero for Filipinos.

Subsequently, the US-sponsored commission passed Act No. 346 which set the anniversary of Rizal’s death as a “day of observance.”

Constantino cites Theodore Friend in his  book, “Between Two Empires,” as saying that Taft “with other American colonial officials and some conservative Filipinos chose him (Rizal)  a model hero over other contestants—Aguinaldo too militant, Bonifacio too radical, Mabini unregenerate.”

Filipinos chose him

The rationale for naming Rizal as the Filipinos’ national hero by the American administration was articulated by US Governor General W. Cameron Forbes in his book, “The Philippine Islands,” also cited by Constantino.  Forbes wrote:

“It is eminently proper that Rizal should have become the acknowledged national hero of the Philippine people. Rizal never advocated independence, nor did he advocate armed resistance to the government. He urged reform from within by publicity, by public education, and appeal to the public conscience.”

But in truth it was the Filipinos and not the Americans who first chose Rizal as their national hero.  It was revolutionary President Emilio Aguinaldo of the First Philippine Republic—not Taft and the Second Philippine Commission—who first designated Rizal as a national hero.

First monument

On Dec. 20, 1898, while the First Philippine Republic was still in control of all of the Philippine archipelago, except US-occupied Manila, Aguinaldo promulgated a decree proclaiming Dec. 30 as a “national day of mourning in memory of Rizal and other victims of Spanish tyranny.”

While not only Rizal but “other victims of Spanish tyranny” were to be honored, the fact that it was on his death anniversary that the celebration was to be held showed that Rizal was the center of the celebration, just two years after his death.

The first official observance of Rizal Day was held on Dec. 30, 1898, in Manila.  Simultaneously in rites in Daet, Camarines Sur province, the first Rizal monument was unveiled.  The statue, which still exists today, was erected through the voluntary contributions of revolutionary leaders and nationalistic townspeople.

Thereafter, practically all Filipino towns would bloom with Rizal monuments and their main streets named after Rizal as a spontaneous expression of our people’s recognition and reverence of Rizal as their primary national idol. He was, at that point, generally acknowledged as the inspiration, if not instigator, of national independence and unity.

Independence was proclaimed by Filipinos themselves in Kawit, Cavite province, six months earlier on June 12, 1898, ending three and a half centuries of Spanish rule.  The US then still had to consolidate its occupation of the entire archipelago.

Started as reformist

True, like most revolutionaries in world history, Rizal started out as a reformist.  Together with Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Antonio Luna and Mariano Ponce, he founded in 1899 the newspaper La Solidaridad, which became in Madrid the Filipinos’ mouthpiece in demanding reforms in Spain’s governance of the Philippines.

The “propagandists” at first advocated the elevation of Filipinos from the status of subjects to citizens of Spain, with equal rights. They asked for representation of the Philippines in the Spanish Cortes, or Parliament.  This by itself was revolutionary because when a slave demands to be equal to his master, it is a revolution. But it was still short of the demand for national independence.

But in history, reformists ultimately morph into revolutionaries and separatists when their demands for reform, justice and equality are rejected.

Thus, in their Declaration of Independence, the US founding fathers stressed that before taking up arms, they had peaceably petitioned for reforms.

Parallel lives

Rizal was among the first of the Propagandists (as the Reformists were then called) to realize that Solidaridad was not getting anywhere in its media campaign for reforms.  He took a leave from the newspaper to devote his time to writing a novel (“El Filibusterismo”) that would more dramatically denounce the tyranny of the Spanish regime, and thus arouse the fury and ignite the latent nationalism of the Filipinos into the conflagration of revolution.

His first novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” which had caused a stir and made him the “enemy” of Spanish colonialists, depicts the futility of seeking reforms through education as such efforts would only be frustrated and sabotaged by the government and its crafty mentors, the friars.

In “El Filibusterismo,” the hero/reformist Ibarra morphs into the terrorist/revolutionary/separatist Simoun. A tight parallel could be drawn between the real life of Rizal and the fictional life of Ibarra-turned-Simoun.

Mabini, an erudite lawyer and scholar, correctly read the real message of Rizal’s novels.  In his book, “The Philippine Revolution,” Mabini, a Manila correspondent of the Madrid-based Solidaridad and dubbed as the “Brains of the Revolution,” wrote:

“… Rizal in particular gave two pieces of advice … the first, he served notice on the Spaniards that if the Spanish government, in order to please the friars, remained deaf to the demands of the Filipino people, the latter would have recourse in desperation to violent means and seek independence as relief for their sorrows; and in the second, he warned the Filipinos that, if they should take up their country’s course motivated by personal hatred and ambition, they would, far from helping it, only make it suffer all the more.”

Mabini cited Elias, the radical peasant of Rizal’s novels, who advocated independence through revolutionary violence, as the model rebel leader.

Preaching revolution

In his prophetic essay, “The Philippines a Century Hence,” Rizal more explicitly expressed his stand.  He warned that “if equitable laws and sincere and liberal reforms” were denied by the Spanish government, “the Philippines one day will declare herself inevitably and unmistakably independent … after staining herself and the Mother Country with her own blood.”

In a proclamation addressed to “Our Dear Mother Country, Spain,” Rizal was even bolder.  He thundered: “When a people is gagged; when its dignity, honor and all its liberties are trampled; when it no longer has any recourse against the tyranny of its oppressors; when its complaints, petitions and groans are not attended to … then …! then …! it has left no other remedy but to take down with delirious hand from the infernal altars the bloody and suicidal dagger of revolution!”

Declaration of independence

Another major revolutionary who believed Rizal was preaching revolution was Bonifacio.  He was one of those present at the founding of the La Liga Filipina organized by Rizal on July 3, 1892, a week after his return  from Hong Kong, in spite of the warning that he might be killed or imprisoned by the Spaniards.  The constitution of the La Liga Filipina was in actuality a separatist document, a virtual declaration of independence.

The purposes of the League of Filipinos were: “To unite the whole archipelago into one compact; Mutual protection in every case of trouble and need; Defense against every violence and injustice; Development of education, agriculture and commerce; Study and implementation of reforms.” These purposes would be carried out by a Filipino Supreme Council, provincial councils and popular councils.

In effect, Rizal was proposing a separate government.  In the indictment of treason against the Spanish regime, the formation of the Liga was one of the charges against him.

Within three days after the founding of the Liga, Rizal was arrested and exiled to Dapitan.  The authorities correctly apprehended that Rizal had transgressed the bounds of reformism, stepping into the dangerous grounds of revolution.

Peaceful means pointless

Indeed, his exile was the blow that convinced the followers of Rizal that seeking reforms through peaceful means was pointless.

On the night of July 7, 1892, Bonifacio and other members of the Liga formed the Katipunan society (Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan), with independence through armed revolution as its main objective.  Rizal was made honorary chair and his name was used as a password by members of the secret society.  He was, if not their actual leader, their spiritual leader.

Four years later, with the Katipunan membership having grown by leaps and bounds, no doubt due in part to the general belief that Rizal was behind the movement, Bonifacio sent Dr. Pio Valenzuela, a member of the supreme council, to Dapitan to get Rizal’s “approval” for the start of the uprising.

The decision to consult Rizal was made collectively during a secret conclave in bancas of 60 Katipuneros on May 6, 1896, in the then remote sitio of Ugong, north of the Pasig River.  Present were Bonifacio, the KKK supremo, and Aguinaldo, who led the revolution successfully for a time after the assassination of Bonifacio.

‘So the seed grows’

Rizal and Valenzuela conversed conspiratorially in a shady nook away from Rizal’s house on June 21, 1896. According to an account by Arturo E. Valenzuela Jr., based on the memoirs of his grandfather Pio, Rizal was elated by the news of the Katipunan’s existence, and murmured, “So the seed grows,” ecstatic that the seed of revolution he had sown was sprouting.

Historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo, in his book “History of the Filipino People,” noted that Rizal, in his talk with Valenzuela, gave no objection to armed revolution, but only cautioned that if an insurrection was to be staged, all efforts should be exerted to gather sufficient arms in order to ensure success and avoid unnecessary casualties and sufferings of civilians and insurrectionists.

He also suggested that Antonio Luna, a reformist who had studied military science in Spain, be recruited as a military leader of the revolution.

“It is obvious,” observed Agoncillo, “that Rizal was not against revolution itself but was only against it in the absence of preparation and arms on the part of the rebels.”

Premature launch

Indeed, Bonifacio and his council took pains to implement Rizal’s advice, contacting Luna and informing him of Rizal’s wish.  Unfortunately, Luna turned down the invitation.  He later joined the revolutionary army in the war against the United States.

Two months after Valenzuela’s meeting with Rizal, on Aug. 19, the Katipunan was betrayed to Tondo parish priest Fr. Mariano Gil, prompting the authorities to round up suspected members of the secret society.  This forced Bonifacio to prematurely launch the uprising on Aug. 22 in Pugadlawin through the unsheathing of bolos and the tearing of cedulas (residence certificate).

This turn of events cut short Bonifacio’s efforts to implement Rizal’s advice to make full preparations before launching a revolution.  He had, as a matter of fact, written several rich Filipinos to support the Katipunan, although many refused him and even threatened to expose the plot.

If it were not for the betrayal of the KKK by the wife of one of two quarreling members of the Katipunan to a priest who violated the sanctity of the confessional, the revolution could have been launched at a more propitious time.

Rizal’s intention

Those who claim that Rizal was against revolution point out that he was on his way to Cuba to work as a military doctor in the Cuban revolution when the Katipunan revolution broke out.  Rizal’s detractors claim he was trying to flee from involvement in the revolution.

In his book, “Dr. Pio Valenzuela and the Katipunan,” Arturo Valenzuela Jr. narrates that during the conversation between his grandfather Pio and Rizal, the latter had felt impelled to disclose that a year earlier, in June 1895, he had written Governor General Ramon Blanco, applying to serve as a doctor in the Cuban revolution.

“My intention,” Rizal whispered to Pio, “…is to study the war in a practical way, to go through the Cuban soldiery and find something to remedy the bad situation in our country. Then after a time, I would return to our native land when necessity arises.”  In short, he was preparing himself for the revolution.

Rizal received the permission of Blanco on July 30, two weeks after Valenzuela had left.  Austin Coates, in his excellent biography of Rizal, said he was at first reluctant to leave.  But because of the prodding of his family, Rizal departed Dapitan on the steamer España on July 3.  He had no knowledge that the revolution would break out in two weeks.

On arrival in Manila, still on exile, he was kept under ship arrest in a Spanish cruiser on Manila Bay for a month, until he sailed on the Isla de Panay for Cuba.  Thus he had no news of the revolution. On Sept. 28, a day off Port Said, he was arrested by the ship’s captain, taken to Barcelona, Spain, where he was incarcerated and returned to Manila on Dec. 3.

Questioned manifesto

Much is made by the detractors of Rizal of his “Manifesto” to the Filipino people dated Dec. 15, 1896, while he was already imprisoned at Fort Santiago. In the “Manifesto,” Rizal denied responsibility for the revolution, claiming he had opposed it from the very beginning because he had believed in its “impossibility.”

This was a half-truth as we have seen. Valenzuela’s recollection showed that initially Rizal was opposed to the revolution but when told that the movement could no longer be stopped, he gave advice as to how it could have better chances of success.  He suggested that rich Filipinos be tapped to finance the purchase of more arms.

Besides, Rizal never betrayed his knowledge of the plot to the authorities, making him at the very least an accomplice, while his positive advice to the revolutionaries to gather more arms made him a co-conspirator.

For defense attorney

The “Manifesto,” intended for the use of his defense attorney in his trial, must also be viewed from the circumstance of its writing.  Not only did he face a death sentence, Rizal must have also been thinking of trying to save his family from further persecution.

His beloved brother Paciano had already been tortured almost to death in Fort Santiago by the authorities in a vain attempt to make him implicate Rizal.  More important to him than his life was the safety and security of his family. This made him return to the Philippines in July 1892 despite his foreboding that he would lose his life in the process.

Any document signed under such circumstances must lack credibility or veracity. In fact, the Spanish government never released it, not believing in its truthfulness.  Instead, the government convicted him of treason for advocating independence and of sedition for inciting an armed revolution.

Haunting poem

Rizal’s real feelings about the revolution and its separatist aim can more truly be gleaned from his haunting poem, “My Last Farewell,” which was written by him just hours before his execution, and intended only for the eyes of his countrymen and not for his judges.

In that final epic poem, he devoted a paean of praise for the revolutionaries.

After gladly offering his life to his country in the first stanza—“had it been a life more brilliant, more fine, more fulfilled, even so it is to you, I would have given it, willingly to you”—he wrote:

Others are giving you their lives on fields of battle,

Fighting joyfully without hesitation or thought for the


How it takes place is not important.  Cypress, laurel or lily,

Scaffold or battlefield, in combat or cruel martyrdom,

It is the same when what is asked of you is for your country

And your home.

(Translation from Spanish by Austin Coates, author of “Rizal: Filipino Nationalist and Martyr.”)

Icon of all

Rizal is an icon and a martyr for independence and freedom not just of Filipinos but of all the oppressed peoples in history who have hungered, struggled and fought for liberty, dignity, enlightenment, and social and economic justice.  He richly deserves the highest berth in our pantheon of heroes.  All other nationalist Filipino heroes stand proud beside him.

There is no need to pit our heroes against each other for they stand equally on the hallowed ground of patriotism and nationalism.

(The author is a veteran journalist, former editor of the Philippine Graphic and of the defunct Philippine News Service, which was closed by the Marcos dictatorship, and a political detainee under martial law. He is also spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History, with e-mail address at

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  • butumo


    • frankpar

      Selfmade man? Why? He travelled around the worls at the expense of his family and urged Filipinos to fight the Spanyards while he was safe abroad. The real HERO is always that one who fights, not the one who just tells others to fight.

      • TheThinkker

        frankpar, I see Rizal fighting in creative ways…he is an intellectualist with a strong and brave pen!
        He traveled the first time overseas through the impulse of his older brother, Paciano…he didn’t want to leave at first.  Those days you wanna maximize your travel hence he has been to many places in his first trip…travel takes much longer by sea then.

        Real hero’s don’t always ‘fight’ but simply does something great for a bigger purpose and people are moved to fight for the cause the hero commenced lighting up.

  • Steven Zahl


    • pogsnet

      Learn to pay respect man

  • dannylao

    Beautiful and very well written.

  • samoTsari

    Sa National Democratic Front lang naman siya hindi national hero.  Ang gusto nila may tangang baril o itak para sumanib sa kanila.

  • andoybarrios

     Present were Bonifacio, the KKK supremo, and Aguinaldo, who led the revolution successfully for a time after the assassination of Bonifacio.

    Twisting the fact: Bonifacio and his brother were not assassinated but executed by order of Aguinaldo.

    • SickOfItAll !

      Get your facts straight, Manuel.

  • 1tom9

    Anong AmBoy? Wala pa nga ang mga Americano, national hero na ng KKK si Rizal!  Hindi bulag ang pagsamba ni bonifacio kay rizal, meron lang duling na pagsusuri ang ilang historian

  • Tower555

    Amongst others, did you also know that Rizal is a womanizer (fornicator
    in Catholic term); non-Roman Catholic; Freemason (non-believer of the
    Blessed Virgin Mary). Nothing wrong with that. He’s just like any one of
    us – HUMAN.  Rizal refused the chance offered to him to escape prison
    by his compatriots before the day of hanging. It was self-inflicted when
    took the opportunity to become a martyr. Methink it’s suicide or a
    futile decision on his part. Politically, the Americans promoted Rizal
    over Bonifacio to be the national hero. Understandingly, an armed
    resistance is not favorable for the US who took over Spain as colonizers
    at the time.
    BTW, talking of plagiarizing, a few of Rizal’s writings exist in Spain (museums) long before he wrote it. Historians and Filipino travelers have attested to this. I’ve been to a few places in Spain but yet to see this for myself. But hey, who is perfect? That’s human nature.
    Further, Rizal is three quarters Chinese blood and his ancestors belong to the elite Chinese business clan from mainland China who were also highly successful in businesses in other Asian countries (Singapore, HongKong, etc). This is how he can afford to travel the world with the likes of the Spanish (Filipinos) Luna’s, Del Pilar’s, etc.
    In spite of how others treat him, I would not glorify the man. But, that’s me. If you want to look how human he is, just go to his hometown in Calamba where his descendants are and tell me if there is anything special in their genes that is different from any hard working Filos.
    Mt 10 cents.

    • gets_mo

      The highest compliment that one can give to Rizal is that he was human.  From his feet of clay, he rose to the occasion and accomplished much more than most Filipinos in his generation, who had died in old age, could achieve.

      He was a womanizer alright but not a fornicator.  He was what could be considered a flirt.  He was a non-Roman Catholic, true, but in the context of his time.  He was also a freemason, but it didn’t mean he didn’t believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As I understand it, freemasonry is a fraternity that accepts members from all religions.  The only requirement is belief in God or Supreme Being. Interestingly, a Knights of Columbus member can be accepted in freemasonry without questioning his religious beliefs.  By contrast, a freemason will never be accepted in the Knights of Columbus.
      Lastly, he didn’t choose to escape because he was a man of conviction.  To escape would be perceived as a sign of guilt. He must also be thinking of his family.  He didn’t want them to suffer further persecutions from the Spanish authorities as a result of him running away.

      • Tower555

        In reply to gets_mo:
        Let the readers conclude what’s acceptable to them, facts or opinion. Academics would back up their assumption with historical facts. We are discussing issues on different level. Example: Fornicator ~ is having sex or living together with another single individual outside of marriage; Believing in the blessed Virgin Mary ~ but not having “virgin birth,” sinless and assumed into heaven both body and soul. This is an integral belief  of every Roman Catholic faithful. Without this belief, the past and present Holy Catholic Church will not consider an individual full catholic; Freemasonry is not endorsed by the Catholic church, in fact from the previous popes to the present pope (Pope Benedict XVI), the church reiterated that membership to the Freemasonry is prohibited amongst the Catholic faithful. I can go on and on. I respect your opinion as all other opinions. But in this case, I am only touching a bit of historical facts.

  • tra6Gpeche

    Mr Manuel F. Almario, salamat sa iyong pitak dito sa PDI tungkol kay Dr Jose Rizal. Bata pa ako ay siya na ang pinakahahangaan kong Pilipino. Bagaman at maigsi ang kanyang buhay, ang ginawa niya para sa bayan ay di mapapantayan. Naglingkod siya sa bayan ng walang pag-iimbot, walang hinihintay na perang kabayaraan, walang bahid na karuwagan at ng walang ni katiting na karahasan. Ang aklat niyang NOLI ME TANGERE at EL FILIBURESTIMO ay isa sa mga patunay ng kanyang pagiging henyo.

  • UN_Observer

    … “he founded in 1899 the newspaper La Solidaridad”.  It should be  December 13, 1888.   Rizal was executed in 1896.

  • Pinoy_Reich

    “When a people is gagged; when its dignity, honor and all its liberties
    are trampled; when it no longer has any recourse against the tyranny of
    its oppressors; when its complaints, petitions and groans are not
    attended to … then …! then …! it has left no other remedy but to take
    down with delirious hand from the infernal altars the bloody and
    suicidal dagger of revolution!”

    Very prophetic indeed. RESPECT!!!

  • Palparan

    Walang bayag si Rizal para maging isang rebulusyonaryo… Di karapat-dapat maging bayani

    • J_Tartan

      Look at Sun Tsu. He is the author of the Art of War is a famous strategist but was never considered na walang bayag.

    • Barrabass

      palparan!!!  Lumayas ka dine na kung saan matitino ang mga usapan, ha!!!  Pakalatkalat ka lintek ka ha!!  Wala ka namang maisulat na nakakaangat sa mga mambabasa…lumundag ka nga dyan sa pinakamalapit na bangin??!!!!
      Bastos ka sa bayani nating nag-alay ng buhay para sa ating lahat tapos ganyan ka magsulat?!!  Dapat sa iyo binabayo pareho nang pinaggagawa ng ilang sundalong malupit sa kanilang nahuhuli na makaliwa daw!Bwakanenang ka!!!

      Yang mukha mo, mukhang tipaklong pilit na ipinapasok ang balat papasok sa bungangang napakadumi at puno ng udlak!!

      • Palparan

        Easy lang barabbas! Masyado ka namang high-blood. Wala namang ginawa si Rizal kundi magpakamatay lang sa Luneta. Yung mga rebulusyunaryo ang nagpa laya sa atin. Naki saw-saw lang naman si Rizal kaya sya sumikat.

        Sa palagay mo ba babangon sya sa hukay pag pinag-diwang natin yung Birthday nya evry Dec 30?

      • Raymond Ballon

        Isang ignorante at walang alam sa kasaysayan ang magsasabing walang nagawa si Rizal maliban sa pagpapakamatay niya. The very act of the execution proves that he did more than any other person in our history.

      • SickOfItAll !

        putak kasi ng putak… makapag-comment lang… tsktsk

  • PoorOFW

    ‘Rizal whispered this, Pio said that…’, now our history is just one big heresay that not even admissible in court.
    Please get your act together our esteemed ‘historians’. Otherwise more and more people would even bother with our history.

  • basilionisisa

    Very informative article, an eye-opener for me who previously believed he didn’t have the guts to join the Philippine Revolution, and like many needed to ‘toss a coin’ between him and Bonifacio as our National Hero. Now my doubt is gone, thanks to this article.

  • 1bravo9

    i want history.ika nga ang di lumingon sa pinanggalingan di makakarating sa paroroonan

  • 1bravo9

    sana ito ang laging manariwa sa puso at isip natin ang sakripisyo ni rizal para sa bayan.kaya para sa mga mapagsamantala anong klaseng pilipino kayo mga mandarambong magbago na kayo.maawa kayo sa bayan natin

  • manggoding

    In this modern age, Rizal cannot be called an AMBOY anymore.
    He might be called more of a FILAM.
    Rizal is not a Home Made Hero for He was not cooked in the Philippines but in other countries.
    Rizal was concieved and born in the Philippines but was educated abroad.
    We even don’t know if Rizal can speak Tagalog, Bisaya or Ilocano to be considered a Home Made Hero. Though he is a linguist in German, Spanish, Austrians, English etc etc.
    He was Made in Europe. His thinkings was Europeans as he was swayed by the revolution of other countries against Spain that was going on that time
    Rizal was an intellectual activist that fought against colonizer Spain but was not able to do so against USA.
    He would have added another language of poems in English as he did in Noli and Feli.

    But we need to have someone to look into as National Icon and it was Rizal that was chosen among the revolutionist activists that time.
    Rizal is our National Hero worthy of emulation.

  • Raymond Ballon

    Forgive me for this:

    Ikaw, may bayag ka nga, pero di ka naman bayani.

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