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José Rizal

martyr in the "fight" for Filipino rights

Jose Rizal

José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda was born in the town of Calamba, Laguna, on June 16, 1861. He was the seventh of eleven children born to Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonzo y Quintos, wealthy farmers who rented land from the Dominican religious order.

A precocious youngster, Rizal learned the alphabet from his mother at the age of 3, and at 5, while learning to read and write, showed inclinations to be an artist. At the age 8, he wrote a Tagalog poem, "Sa Aking Mga Kabata," the theme of which revolved on the love of one’s language.

After graduating from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, a private high school, in 1877, Rizal studied Philosophy and Letters at the University of St. Thomas in Manila, while also taking courses leading to the degree of surveyor and expert assessor at the Ateneo. He finished the latter course on March 21, 1877 and passed the Surveyor’s examination on May 21, 1878, but since he was only 17 at the time he was not granted a license to practice the profession (he was finally granted his license on December 30, 1881).

Rizal enrolled in medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in 1878, but stopped his studies there when he felt that Filipino students were being discriminated against by their Dominican tutors. On May 3, 1882, he sailed for Spain, where he continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid. He received his Licentiate in Medicine from that institution on June 21, 1884, and finished his course in Philosophy and Letters on June 19, 1885. He completed his medical studies at the University of Heidelberg in 1886.

While at Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his classic novel Noli me Tangere, which condemned the Catholic Church in the Philippines for its promotion of Spanish colonialism. Immediately upon its publication, he became a target for the police, who frequently shadowed him after he returned to the Philippines in 1887. He subsequently returned to Spain, where he wrote a second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891). He also wrote articles advocating freedom of speech and assembly, equal rights before the law for Filipinos, and Filipino priests in place of the often-corrupt Spanish churchmen. In addition, Rizal called for the Philippines to become a province within Spain, with representation in the Spanish legislature (the Cortes Generales). He never, however, called for full independence for the Philippines.

Rizal returned to Manila in 1892 and created the Liga Filipina, a political group that called for peaceful change. Spanish officials were displeased, however, and exiled him to the island of Mindanao. During his four years there, he practiced medicine, taught students, and collected local examples of flora and fauna while recording his discoveries.

By 1896 the Philippines was in full-scale revolution against Spanish rule. Having already denounced the independence movement many times over, Rizal sought to further dissociate himself from the nationalist movement by volunteering his services as a doctor in Cuba. His services were accepted by Governor-General Ramón Blanco, who gave him permission to leave the Philippines, as well as a letter of recommendation. Rizal was still considered a criminal by Spain, however, and he was arrested en route to Cuba via Spain and imprisoned in Barcelona. He was then sent back to Manila to stand trial as a participant in the revolution through his association with some of the revolutionaries. During the entire passage he was unchained, no Spaniard laid a hand on him, and he had many opportunities to escape but refused to do so. While imprisoned in Fort Santiago he issued a manifesto disavowing the current revolution in its present state and declaring that the education of Filipinos and their achievement of a national identity were prerequisites to freedom. That manifesto failed to satisfy Spanish authorities, however, as Rizal was ultimately convicted of sedition; he was executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896.

José Rizal Website
The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War Library of Congress

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This page was last updated on June 15, 2018.