President Benigno Aquino III leads the nation in commemorating the 116th anniversary of Jose P. Rizal’s martyrdom at ceremonies at Luneta Park this Sunday morning.
The ceremonies include a symbolic interment of a piece of bone from Rizal’s spinal column, which was shattered by a bullet during his execution on Dec. 30, 1896.
Mr. Aquino will lead the centennial commemoration of the reenactment of the transfer of Rizal’s remains from the house of the national hero’s sister, Narcisa, in Binondo, Manila, to his monument at Luneta Park.
“We encourage everybody to participate and feel the historical moment of laying Rizal to his final resting place,” said Reghis Romero II, supreme commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal, which spearheads the program together with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
“This is the 100th year of the transfer and decent burial of Rizal and it is significant for all Filipinos to know his sacrifice in bringing liberation to the Filipino people,” Romero said.
The Knights of Rizal and the NHCP will reenact the funeral march from Narcisa’s house in San Fernando Street, corner Juan Luna Street in Binondo to Luneta Park.
Taking the place of Rizal’s remains is the piece of bone from his spine, which will be placed in a replica of the ivory urn that contained the hero’s bones and was buried in a chamber in the base of his monument in 1912 during a memorial service led by the Knights of Rizal and the Masonic Lodge of the Philippines.
The urn will be carried in a motorized caisson and escorted by the Knights of Rizal wearing a copy of their 1912 uniform and marching to the music played at that time.
Around 7,000 students, soldiers, policemen, government employees and Rizal’s descendants have committed to join the procession. They will converge on Luneta at 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. from three assembly points: Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz in Binondo, Fort Santiago in Intramuros and the Manila Hotel.
According to Malacañang, Sunday’s celebrations include simultaneous wreath-laying and flag-raising ceremonies at all Rizal shrines in the country.
The focal point of the celebrations is Luneta Park, where President Aquino will hoist the national flag on the Independence flagpole in front of Rizal’s monument.
The public is invited to join the Rizal procession. Those who wish to participate are requested to wear white “to symbolize the purity of Rizal,” according to the Knights of Rizal.
Rizal’s body was dumped in an unmarked grave in the old Paco Cemetery after his execution. Through his sister Narcisa’s persistence, his burial place was found and marked with a marble slab, on which his initials were inscribed in reverse, “RPJ,” to throw off the Spanish authorities who might remove his body to prevent public veneration.
Exhumed in 1898, Rizal’s remains were kept by his family in the Binondo house until Dec. 30, 1912, when they were interred in solemn rites in the base of the monument that now stands to honor his memory in perpetuity.
In an old photo obtained by the Knights of Rizal, Doña Teodora was seen cradling the urn containing her son’s bones. She was said to have shown his remains to visitors while reciting his poem “Mi Ultimo Adios.”
Romero said foreigners would cry even though they didn’t understand Spanish because of the evident anguish of a mother who lost a son.
Doña Teodora died before her son’s remains could be given a proper burial in 1912.
Asuncion Lopez Bantug, granddaughter of Narcisa, provides the most complete details of the finding of Rizal’s grave after his execution and the exhumation of his body two years later in her biography, “Lolo Jose: An Intimate Portrait of Rizal” (Manila: Intramuros Administration, 1982).
Finding the grave
Bantug recounts Narcisa’s search of cemeteries to find Rizal’s grave, failing to find it in the suburban graveyards.
“But my Lola Sisa refused to give up,” Bantug writes. “She continued her round of the graveyards—and was finally rewarded. At the Paco Cemetery, the old city graveyard no longer in use, she noticed Mayor Manuel Luengo and some army officers inspecting a grave. When they left, Lola Sisa hurried to the site. It was a freshly dug grave and could only be that of her brother. She went to the sexton and persuaded him to mark the grave with the small marble slab she carried. The marble slab, designed by family friend Doroteo Ongjungco, was inscribed with three letters, R.P.J.—my Lolo Jose’s initials in reverse. The family feared that a more explicit tombstone might prompt the authorities to remove the body and hide it elsewhere, to prevent any public veneration of the Rizal grave. It is said that a guard was placed at the Paco Cemetery to discourage snoopers.
“Two years later, in the turmoil that followed the American occupation of Manila, his family seized the chance to recover my Lolo Jose’s body unhindered by Church or State. Spain had fallen in the Philippines; American troops took over in Manila on Aug. 13, 1898. Four days later, on Aug. 17, my Lola Sisa, accompanied by her daughter Angelica, sculptor Romualdo Teodoro de Jesus, Higino Francisco and Doroteo Ongjungco, went to the Paco Cemetery and had the grave dug up.” (pp 192-194)
Rizal’s body was found to have been buried without a coffin. The family took the remains to Narcisa’s house and placed them in an ivory urn carved by De Jesus.
That was the urn buried in the Rizal Monument at Luneta in 1912, an event the nation commemorates on Sunday on its 100th anniversary.