Rizal’s impressions of the Visayas
National hero Jose Rizal kept a diary of his activities during his exile in Dapitan City in 1896 and even after leaving the place for Manila, passing by several key places in the Visayas in early August of that year.
At midnight of July 31, 1896, Rizal boarded the steamer España. He was accompanied by his sister, Narcisa, his beloved Josephine Bracken, his niece Angelica Lopez and three other nephews, and Capt. Ricardo Carnicero.
The boat made its first stop in Dumaguete in Negros Oriental, then already one of the more progressive towns in the Visayas, in the early morning of the following day. In his diary, Rizal wrote about his impressions: “Dumaguete spreads out on the beach. There are big houses, some with galvanized iron roofing. The house of a lady whose name I have forgotten was outstanding … .”
As cargoes were being loaded, Rizal, together with his relatives, went ashore. Being a prisoner, he was escorted by Captain Carnicero.
Rizal paid a courtesy call on the governor, Emilio Regal, before seeing a friend and former classmate, Faustino Herrero Regidor, who was suffering from ophthalmia. That afternoon, Rizal, who underwent training as an ophthalmologist in Europe, operated on Regidor.
Apparently, Rizal saw other people, including a woman identified in his diary as one “Mrs. Rufina.” In her house, he observed, “where after four years, I heard the piano expertly played.”
Of all the things he saw in Dumaguete, he noted the people’s fondness for “decorating their houses with plants and flowers.”
The España left that evening and arrived in Cebu in the early morning of Aug. 2, 1896.
Rizal wrote in his diary: “The entrance to Cebu is beautiful. We can see the whole district of San Nicolas, many brick roofs, church towers and some small vessels. The ship anchored beside a pier, near a garden of katuray, dapdap and almond trees. Nearby, they told me, were the government houses, that of Mr. Ventura Veloso and others.”
Some people who had learned that Rizal was on board came to visit him. One of them was Marcial Borromeo, a Cebuano who became a student of Rizal in Dapitan when his family settled there for his father to convalesce in the town.
After the visitors left the boat, Rizal was allowed by Carnicero to explore Cebu all by himself.
“I went to call on Mr. Rioba, a famous physician who was in town because of a case. At the house of Attorney Mateos, where we looked for him … , we talked about the town. It was said that San Nicolas had separated from Cebu and was not dependent on the Cebu municipal council.”
Mateos was Francisco Matheu, a Spanish lawyer who lived in San Nicolas town. The diary didn’t elaborate on Rioba.
Rizal couldn’t resist invitations for him to do surgery to correct eye conditions. He also did ear and tumor removal operations.
“Many rich and curious persons, relatives of the Chinese, came to consult me,” he wrote.
After an overnight stay, the boat left for Iloilo at 11 a.m. the next day.
“The white city set in water can be seen from afar,” wrote Rizal as the España approached Iloilo, then one of the most affluent cities in the Visayas. “We saw various vessels with foreign flags. A port pilot met us. We anchored and were tied beside the gunboat General Lezo.”
Iloilo was considered the Queen City. Opened to world trade in 1855, it hosted several foreign-owned businesses which made it one of the growth centers of the time.
Rizal disembarked, lured by the merchant stores. “We ordered … quiles drawn by one horse to take us to the Escolta where we bought a traveling cap.”
Impressed with the trading district, he mused: “The liveliness of the Escolta pleased me.”
Taking advantage of the lull, Rizal went to see the church in Molo District. “The church is pretty and the interior is not bad … The paintings are mostly copies of Biblical scenes by Gustave Dore. Opposite the church is a big and pretty house belonging to the Lacsons … .”
At dawn on Aug. 6, 1896, the España was already in the vicinity of Manila. But before it could dock, a launch came with a soldier sent by Governor General Ramon Blanco to take custody of Rizal.
Not wanting to be implicated with recent rumors of a potential uprising, Rizal chose to remain on board another cruiser, the Castilla, which was anchored at the Manila Bay. He preferred to be isolated, except with his immediate family.
On Sept. 3, 1896, Rizal boarded the Isla de Panay on his way to Europe and then Cuba, where he would serve as a medical officer. However, when he reached Europe, he was taken into custody by the captain. He was repatriated to the Philippines on board the Colon, which reached Manila on Nov. 3,1896.
After being tried on charges of complicity in the revolution, Rizal was sentenced to die by firing squad on Dec. 30, 1896, just five months after he left Dapitan.