El Filibusterismo (novel)

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El Filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed as the alternative English title of the translation by Charles Derbyshire) is the second novel written by José Rizal as the sequel to Noli Me Tangere. Like Noli Me Tangere, it was written in Spanish. The novel is frequently nicknamed "El Fili" or simply "Fili."

The writing of the novel

Rizal began writing El Filibusterismo in October 1887 while he was in Calamba. In London (1888), he revised the plot and some chapters. Rizal continued to work on his manuscript in Paris. He later moved to Brussels where the cost of living was cheaper and he would be less likely to be distracted by social events so he could focus on finsihing the book. He finally completed the book on March 29, 1891 in Biarritz. It was published in September of that year in Ghent, partially funded by Rizal's friend Valentin Ventura.

The title

Rizal had to define the word filibustero to his German friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, who did not understand his use of the word in Noli Me Tangere. In a letter, Rizal explained: "The word filibustero is little known in the Philippines. The masses do not know it yet. I heard it for the first time in 1872 when the tragic executions (of the Gomburza) took place. I still remember the panic that this word created. Our father forbade us to utter it, as well as the words Cavite, Burgos (one of the executed priests), etc. The Manila newspapers and the Spaniards apply this word to one whom they want to make a revolutionary suspect. The Filipinos belonging to the educated class fear the reach of the word. It does not have the meaning of freebooters; it rather means a dangerous patriot who will soon be hanged or well, a presumptuous man."

By the end of the nineteenth century, the word filibustero had acquired the meaning "subversive" in the Philippines, hence the book is about subversion.

The dedication

The book is dedicated to the memory of the Gomburza, three priests who were accused of being seditious and executed. In his dedication, Rizal audaciously expresses his conviction that their treatment at the hands of the Spanish authorities was unjust.


Simoun, a wealthy jeweler, has recently come to the Philippines. His wealth and connections--he is a friend of the Governor-General's--make him sought-after in society and influential as well. He uses his influence to encourage government officials to become corrupt and further abuse the people.

Only Basilio, now a young medical student, recognizes his true identity. Simoun is actually Crisostomo Ibarra from Noli Me Tangere, turned bitter and vengeful. He has returned after thirteen years to foment revolution and to rescue his beloved Maria Clara from the convent.

He tries to convince Basilio to join him. Basilio owes him a debt of gratitude for helping him bury his mother in the Ibarra forest. Furthermore, Simoun knows of what his family sufered at the hands of the authorities. He tries to convince Basilio to join him so that he may also take his revenge but Basilio refuses.

Simoun's first attempt at revolution fails when he hears of Maria Clara's death and breaks down. Then Basilio, along with other students, is arrested for forming an allegedly seditious organization. His sweetheart Juli goes to plead with an influential friar to assist her in securing Basilio's release. She is killed trying to escape the friar's amorous advances. When Simoun arranges for Basilio's release, Basilio is now also bitter and vengeful, as well as grateful to Simoun. He offers his full support to Simoun's second attempt at sparking a revolution and watches as Simoun plants a bomb at the house where the wedding reception of Paulita and Juanito Pelaez is taking place. There are many illustrious guests at this mansion, formerly the house of Noli Me Tangere's Capitan Tiago, including the Governor-General and Padre Salvi.

Seeing all the people, most of them innocent guests who are about to be harmed, Basilio's conscience starts to bother him but he knows he has to escape. As he starts to run away, he sees his best friend Isagani standing disconsolately near the house. Isagani had been working toward reform and with his idealism, intelligence, and eloquence had become something of a leader among the students. Until recently he had been the beautiful Paulita's sweetheart. Paulita had been charmed by his poetic nature but she was bored by his patriotic ideals. The arrest of students convinced her that it would be more practical to marry Juanito, a rich businessman's son who did not involve himself in such dangerous matters.

Basilio feels compelled to tell Isagani of the plot. Knowing that the woman he loves is inside, Isagani runs into the house, grabs the bomb and throws it into the river, averting the explosion and the revolution.

Simoun takes refuge in the home of a kind Filipino priest, Father Florentino, knowing it is only a matter of time before he is arrested. Having abandoned all hope, Simoun takes fatal poison. Before he dies, Padre Florentino hears his last confession. He expresses his conviction that Simoun's plans failed because he chose to do them by unjust means. He assures Simoun that there is still hope for the liberation of the country. Upon Simoun's death, the priest takes his jewels and commends them to the sea, praying that the wealth that was once used for bribery and corruption would one day be found by one who would use it for a just purpose.

The plot is similar to that of Alexandre Dumas, père's French classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Both narratives revolve around a man's determination to avenge himself and reclaim his beloved fiancée. The protagonist of each novel disguises his identity and comes up with an intricate plot of revenge and retribution.

Major Characters

  • Simoun - Crisostomo Ibarra, believed to be dead at the end of Noli Me Tangere, made his fortune abroad and returns to the Philippines as the wealthy jeweller, Simoun, disguised with a beard and tinted glasses. His sufferings, related in the first novel, have motivated him to take his revenge. Hence he becomes a rebel, the titular "filibustero". While he appears to side with the wealthy and influential in society, his motivation is actually to encourage them to abuse the masses who would then be driven to revolt by increasing abuses. Whereas he once sought reform and education, he now resorts to subterfuge and violence.
  • Basilio - Taking to heart the advice of the dying boatman Elias to study at the end of Noli Me Tangere, he went to Manila after burying his mother. There, he was taken in by Capitan Tiago and was able to go to San Juan de Letran. Though a diligent student, he failed to please his teachers, who were affronted by the efforts of a poor native to improve his status in life. His situation in the school improved when his skill in a fencing match impressed one of his teachers. Having high grades, he was encouraged by Capitan Tiago to move to Ateneo, where the teachers were more enlightened and encouraging. While there he pursued a medical degree and became involved in a movement of some students, headed by Isagani, to set up a school for the teaching of Spanish to natives. At the time of Simoun's arrival, he is looking forward to graduating as valedictorian then marrying his childhood sweetheart, Juliana.
  • Isagani - The best friend of Basilio, he is a poor law student and poet. He has little fear of authority and speaks openly of his patriotic ideals, becoming the leader of a group of students who plan to set up a school for the teaching of Spanish to natives. With his idealism, he clashes with the cynical Simoun. He is in love with the spoiled, flirtatious Paulita Gomez, against the advice of his uncle and guardian Padre Florentino.
  • Makaraig - The rich student who offered his own house as the dormitory of the students studying in Ateneo Municipal de Manila. He leads the students with Isagani to set up a spanish school, but later the were defeated in the movement.
  • Kabesang Tales - Aspiring to start his own farm, he suffered great losses. First, his wife and eldest daughter died while clearing their land. Then most of his land was seized and he was charged an exorbitant tax on the little left to him. Known to be dependable, he was elected the kabesa or head of the barangay, which meant often having to appease the higher officials by shouldering the expenses of those who were unable to pay their taxes. His son was conscripted by the Civil Guard and his daughter, Juliana, became a servant to help pay off their debts. Finally, when Simoun comes to pass the night at his house, he takes Simoun's revolver and goes to join the tulisanes. He murders the friar-adminstrator and the new tenants of his land. Later Juliana is killed in an encounter with a friar and his father, struck dumb, dies in an encounter with the Guardia Civil, shot by his own grandson.
  • Padre Florentino - A secular Filipino priest. Pressured by his mother, he became a priest even though he was in love. After his former sweetheart married a worthless man, he devoted himself to his priestly duties and the study of natural sciences. He prefers to live alone on his family's remote seaside property than to maintain the position of curate, which suggests his strong character in avoiding the temptations of a prestigious position and high income. Through his words to the dying Simoun, he reaffirms Rizal's stance that liberation must be achieved not through bloody revolution but through peaceful reforms.
  • Don Custodio - A high official in the government, he has held many posts, many of which he had no qualifications for. He used his rich wife's money to secure such positions. He has a mistress, a dancer named Pepay, on whom people rely for assistance in swaying Don Custodio when they need a favor from him.
  • Paulita Gomez - A beautiful girl who is admired by all the students, she at first shows preference for Isagani. But she is thrown into the company of Juanito Pelaez because her aunt, the ridiculous Doña Victorina Noli Me Tangere, has taken an interest in the young heir, even contemplating marrying him if her runaway husband were found to be dead. Eventually the self-centered Paulita chooses to marry the amusing Juanito rather than the serious Isagani. Her romantic dilemma is similar to that faced by Rizal's real-life sweetheart Leonor Rivera.
  • Juli - Juliana, Kabesang Tales's daughter and Basilio's sweetheart is known by the nickname Juli. Devoted to Basilio, when her family falls into debt she decides to become a servant rather than sell the locket he had given her, once a possession of Maria Clara's that had fallen into his hands. Pure and innocent, she is nevertheless aware of the curate's reputation as a womanizer. But she is made to feel by a devout, busybody neighbor woman that she has no other recourse but to ask his help in freeing Basilio. After much hesitation she approaches the friar, only to end up getting fatally injured running from him.


As with Noli Me Tangere, Rizal seeks to expose the current situation in the Philippines in El Filibusterismo. Similar issues are raised: the need for reform in education, superstition masquerading as religion, the abuses of the friars, the corruption of officials, and the pretensions of social-climbing natives and Spaniards. As in Noli, Rizal uses satire and caricature, but there is less humor, more bitterness in his treatment of situations.

The main theme focused on by El Filibusterismo is the ideal means of achieving social reform. A number of chapters have long dialouges that seem like debates, pitting Rizal's fading hopes for reform against his long-held aversion to revolution. The latter still seems to win out, as the novel ends with Simoun's failure at revolution and Padre Florentino's conviction that freedom should be won without bloodshed.

Some scholars argue, however, that Rizal's aversion was mainly towards a disorganized revolution of an uneducated people, since it could have little chance of success and only lead to "useless spilling of blood." Rizal's comment that a noble, patriotic and self-sacrificing man such as Elias in Noli would be a good revolutionary leader would seem to support the idea that Rizal supported the idea of armed revolution in certain conditions, despite his preference for achieving reforms bloodlessly. In any case, the lengthy discussions of the possible means of achieving social reform indicate that Rizal had given the different possibilities much serious consideration.

Historical context

El Filibusterismo was written about four years after Noli. In it Rizal reveals a more mature and less hopeful outlook regarding the political and social situation in the Philippines. The frustrations he had experienced in his efforts toward social reform in those years account for the book's graver tone.

Rizal himself considered Fili to be a better, more profound novel than Noli. His biographer Retana agrees that as a political novel, it is superior.

Upon completing El Filibusterismo Rizal wrote to Blumentritt: "I have not written in it any idea of vengeance against my enemies, but only for the good of those who suffer, for the rights of Tagalogs...."

Given the reaction to his first book, Rizal tried to avoid allowing the second one to fall into the hands of the Spaniards. He had after all written El Filibusterismo not for the Spaniards but for the Filipino people to read. After distributing copies of the first edition to his friends in Europe, Rizal designated most of the remainder to be sent to the Philippines. The books were first sent to his residence in Hong Kong, to be smuggled to the Philippines by friends. Upon shipment to the Philippines the copies were immediately seized by the authorities, making El Filibusterismo a rare book overnight. The few copies that were circulated were greatly in demand among the Filipinos.

The content of the novel and its dedication were used as proof of Rizal's subversion when he was tried. Against Rizal's intentions, along with Noli Me Tangere the book inspired Andres Bonifacio and other revolutionaries in their cause.

Film and Theater Adaptations

  • El Filibusterismo (1962 film)
  • Jose Rizal (1998 film) - Starring Cesar Montano as Jose Rizal, Joel Torre as Crisostomo Ibarra / Simoun and Monique Wilson as Maria Clara
  • Fili, a play deconstructing the novel was presented by Dulaang UP at the University of the Philippines and at CCP's 2nd National Theater Festival in 1996
  • El Filibusterismo musical with libretto, Paul Dumol and Jovy Miroy and music by Ryan Cayabyab in 1991
  • El Filibusterismo play regularly presented by the Gantimpala Theater Foundation


  • Orosa, Sixto Y. "Part 1" of Rizal, Man and Hero. Quezon City: Vibal Publishing, 1963.
  • Rafael, Vicente. "Foreignness and Vengeance: On Rizal's El Filibusterismo. [1]
  • Uy, Jocelyn. "Home at Last for Rare Noli, Fili Copies." [2]
  • Zaide, Gregorio F. Jose Rizal: His Life and Works." Mandaluyong: National Bookstore, 2003.

External links

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