Rizal in the eyes of the generals


(Editor’s Note: One measure of the revolution’s debt to Jose Rizal lies in the tribute paid to him by generals in the revolutionary army. The following excerpt from “Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia” recounts crucial attempts to consult the hero, and later to rescue him. The book’s Philippine edition will be launched Friday night at Leong Hall, at the Ateneo de Manila Loyola Heights campus.)

THE BOOK cover

The Rizal story intersects with the narrative of the revolution at several points; three intersections, in particular, show the depth of the revolutionaries’ debt to Rizal.

Pio Valenzuela’s Dapitan assignment, which the Spanish court-martial [of Rizal] made much of, grew out of a pivotal Katipunan assembly in 1896. The historian Teodoro Agoncillo dates this to Friday, May 1, based on Valenzuela’s own recollection; [Emilio] Aguinaldo remembers it as Saturday, May 9. Santiago Alvarez, the general known as Apoy or Fire, says it began on Sunday, May 3, and ended the following day; in my view, the number and the specificity of Alvarez’s details, which are distinctive qualities of his memoirs as a whole, render his account persuasive. All three, however, are agreed on the reason for the assembly: [Andres] Bonifacio had convened it to discuss the necessity of rising in revolt, after news spread that the secret organization had been betrayed.

Consult Rizal first

Alvarez, the captain general of the Magdiwang faction of the Katipunan in Cavite, describes the secret assembly held in Pasig and reconstitutes the statements made in it at length. In his telling, it was he who reminded the assembly of Rizal’s situation in exile, and it was Aguinaldo who then suggested that Rizal be consulted about the Katipunan’s plan.

After Bonifacio called for a recess, the members clustered in groups. Alvarez surveys the scene with the wide-angled lens of memory:

“Some smoked, while others chewed betel; some sat on chairs, while others sat on their haunches on the floor; some were joking and laughing; others were sad and deep in thought. But everywhere, the whispered consensus was that Dr. Rizal must first be consulted about the matters discussed before any final decision and concrete action be taken. Others were asserting that if Dr. Rizal were to favor a revolution, they could count on his many influential friends abroad.” (Alvarez 1992: 12-13)

The break over, Bonifacio raised the question again, whether it was time to rise in arms. The assembly gave a clear answer. “Ang lahat ay nag-aagawan sa pagsagot: ‘Isangguni muna kay Dr. Jose Rizal, bago pagtibayin ang paglaban’ (Everyone scrambled to reply: Consult first with Dr. Jose Rizal, before resolving to fight’).” (Alvarez 1992: 248)

Aguinaldo has a more picturesque recollection of the assembly, as a meeting held in several banca (canoes) clustered together on the Gahet river, also in what was then known as Morong province.

“In the middle banca was the Supremo who presided over the meeting.” But the outcome is the same. It was agreed “that a messenger be sent to Dapitan to ask Dr. Jose Rizal for his opinion regarding the Revolution. It must be remembered that Jose Rizal was the honorary head of the Katipunan.” (Aguinaldo 1967: 34)

Crown of honor

The crown of honor was placed on his head without his knowing it. Rizal would later make a point, during his trial, of asking what kind of leader was one who did not know what his members were doing.

But that the Katipunan, already then coming under surveillance by the authorities, would invest two months in a bid to consult Rizal shows that the honor it accorded him was for real.

That is exactly what Nicolas de la Peña (the Spanish judge advocate general) concluded (at the trial): The evidence showed that Rizal conducted himself, and was treated, as “the supreme head of the enemies of Spain.”

Why did the enemies of Spain want to consult him? Alvarez’s detailed recollection of the talk at the assembly gives us three possibilities. They saw the novelist-polemicist as an expert analyst of politics, and wanted his opinion on the assembly’s common concerns: their lack of arms and general preparation, their fear of being manipulated by the friars, above all their prospects of victory.

But they also saw the internationally known scholar as an ally; they hoped “they could count on his many influential friends abroad.” Not least, they saw the self-sacrificing patriot as a kindred spirit; in a word, they sought his blessing, like a child seeks his father’s.

Valenzuela, a doctor like Rizal, was deputized to speak to the exile. It was a time-consuming task. He and his companions could not leave for Dapitan until the middle of June, and he didn’t get to consult Rizal until June 21 (in Agoncillo’s reckoning) or July 1 (in Rizal’s recollection, as he testified during his trial). But there is no argument that Valenzuela did meet Rizal.


But after Valenzuela returned from his mission to Dapitan, both he and Bonifacio said nothing.

“Ang nangasa panganib na kalagayan ng di matigil at balisang Katipunan, ay may malaking pagmimithing makaalam ng naging kapasyahan ni Dr. Jose Rizal, kung umaayon o hindi sa panghihimagsik; at kung hindi, ano ang dapat gawin upang mailagan ang kapahamakang banta ng mga kaaway …? (The riskiness of the situation of the constantly worried Katipunan [gave it] a big desire to know the decision of Dr. Jose Rizal, if [he] agreed or not with rising in arms; and if not, what needed to be done to avoid the threat of harm by the enemies).” (Alvarez 1992: 249)

But the silence of Bonifacio and Valenzuela “gave meaning to the belief of everyone that Dr. Rizal did not agree with rising in arms. Because of this, the Katipunan returned to a state of anxiety (nasauli sa balisa)…” (249).

Rescue plans

Despite the rebuff—or, perhaps, the receipt of a calibrated response contingent on many conditions, which would amount to the same thing—the Katipunan planned at least three times to rescue Rizal: the first in Dapitan; the second when he was on board the Castilla, detained but not a prisoner; and the third in his final days.

Any one of the three can serve as more proof of the revolutionaries’ debt of gratitude.

On Dec. 29, 1896, the day Rizal’s death sentence was announced, the two revolutionary councils in Cavite met at the friars’ estate house in Imus, Cavite. One item on the meeting’s agenda was the fate of the famous doctor. “Napag-usapan din at binalak na mailigtas si Dr. Jose Rizal (It was also discussed and planned to rescue Dr. Jose Rizal),” Alvarez wrote.

He added: “Ipinangako ng Heneral Apoy ang pagpapadala ng mga kawal na sandatahan ng baraw sa buong magdamag ng gabing iyon, sa Maynila, na ihahalo sa mga magsisipanood ng pagbaril at tutugon sa biglaang sisiran ng pakikihalo (General Apoy [Alvarez himself] pledged to send troops armed with knives to Manila throughout the night, who will mix with those watching the execution and respond to a sudden signal to intervene).” (Alvarez 1992: 306)

As many of Rizal’s biographers note, talk was rife on the day of the execution that rebels from Cavite would make an attempt. But the rescue didn’t happen.

Rizal’s older brother Paciano (whose name Alvarez misspelled as Ponciano) had arrived at the Imus assembly. “And he said his brother Dr. Rizal would agree to be rescued, if only one life were to be risked [‘kung isa lamang buhay ang pupuhunanin’], because that would be equal to his own in service; but if two lives were to be risked, then don’t even think it because he could not agree, since two lives in service to the nation [‘sa pangangailangan ng Bayan’] could never be equal to one.”


Aguinaldo has a somewhat different version. His chapter on the planned rescue is given the title, “My Plan to Save Rizal,” and the plan itself is hatched more than a day before the execution.

“When I learned of the decision of the Council of War that Rizal would be shot to death at six o’clock on the morning of 30 December 1896, I went to the Supremo to request his assistance in my plan to save Rizal. I told the Supremo that Rizal was a patriot and a learned man who was needed by our country, and that all efforts should be exerted to save him from the enemy.” (Aguinaldo 1967: 110)

Aguinaldo’s plan was less specific than Alvarez’s, and from our vantage point less likely to have succeeded. It called for the Katipuneros in Manila and its suburbs (not the rebels from Cavite, as Alvarez had remembered proposing) to congregate near the place of execution, and then for them to “kidnap” Rizal “while on his way to Bagumbayan.”

But the next morning Aguinaldo spoke with Paciano, who talked him out of it. “But he refused obstinately, repeating emphatically, ‘Do not dare save my brother if you want to avoid bloodshed.’” (Aguinaldo 1967: 111)

Aguinaldo said he heeded Paciano’s stern advice. “I therefore reluctantly gave up my plan to save Rizal. God surely saved us from bloodshed and sure death.” (Aguinaldo 1967: 111)

A bold streak of self-serving recollection is apparent here; unlike Alvarez’s version, where Rizal’s rescue was discussed collectively, Aguinaldo’s plan is a personal initiative: “I learned of the decision”; “I went to the Supremo”; “I told the Supremo”; “I outlined my plan”; “My plan follows.” At the same time, he manages to make Bonifacio look petty, or at least not as solicitous about the wellbeing of the “learned man who was needed by our country.”

We should note that, on many details, the memoirs of the three revolutionary generals (Artemio Ricarte included) agree. On the dramatic intervention of Paciano, the three may even be said to be synoptic accounts. Both Alvarez and Aguinaldo write of Paciano objecting to the rescue; both Aguinaldo and Ricarte agree that Paciano left Manila for rebel-controlled territory before execution day; both Alvarez and Ricarte describe a general assembly in Imus, in liberated Cavite.

All three speak of Paciano as presenting himself in Imus, either the day before Rizal’s execution or on the afternoon of the day itself.

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94