Jose Rizal: Trial and Martyrdom at Bagumbayan

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A week after the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, on September 2, 1896, Jose Rizal left Manila for Spain. Going back to Governor General Ramon Blanco's last letter to Rizal, the former approved the latter's request that he be sent to Cuba as military doctor. As such, Rizal was to go to Spain first before going to Cuba. But even before he reached his first destination, he was arrested by the Spanish authorities on board, jailed in Barcelona and shipped back to Manila where Fort Santiago became the witness to the last 3 months of his life.

Rescue attempt by the Katipunan

While Rizal was still in exile in Dapitan, the Katipunan emissary, Dr. Pio Valenzuela, informed the former of the secret organization's attempt to rescue him and to sneak him on a ship destined to Japan. However, Rizal was not in favor of this plan as he had no plan of breaking his promises to the Spanish authorities.

For the second time, in August 1896, during Rizal's stop over in Manila Bay, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and other selected Katipuneros disguised as sailors of the motor Caridad so that they can easily penetrate the cruiser Castilla, then harbored at Manila Bay. Rizal was on deck at that time when he was approached by Jacinto who whispered that they were Katipuneros and were there to rescue him. However, despite the opportunity given to him, Rizal refused to be rescued.

On board Castilla, Rizal heard of the outbreak of the revolution and was not surprised. However, his worry was that Spanish authorities might think that he incited the said struggle. Two recommendation letters from Governor Blanco diverted Rizal's angst – one for the Minister of War, General Marcelo de Azcarraga; and the second, for the Minister of Colonies.

Final glance abroad

Aboard the steamer, Isla de Panay, Rizal left Manila for Spain on September 2, 1896, not knowing that this will be his last travel abroad. The night before his departure, he wrote a letter to Doña Teodora Alonzo telling her that his task required strength and dedication, and if he died, at least he had done something good for mankind.

By the eve of September 7, the steamer reached Singapore and on the 30th, while Isla de Panay was on its voyage along the Mediterranean Sea, a telegraphic message was received by Captain A. Alemany, the ship skipper, ordering him to arrest and confine Jose Rizal in his cabin until they arrive in Barcelona on the 3rd of October. Early morning of October 6, Rizal was transferred to Montjuich Castle where he was visited by Eulogio Despujol who was then the military Commander of Cataluña. By 8 o'clock in the evening, aboard the steamer Colon, Rizal left Barcelona for Manila.

Such occurrences had already been known among Rizal's friends in Europe and Singapore. His friends from London, Dr. Antonio Ma. Regidor and Sixto Lopez had their efforts to find a lawyer in Singapore who could aid their in-need friend. They send a telegraph to a certain Atty. Hugh Fort whom they requested to do the task of rescuing Rizal – by issuing writ of habeas corpus on the steamer Colon. Unfortunately, the judge in Singapore denied Fort's request and contention that Rizal was illegally detained in the said steamer because the voyage cannot be delayed since it was, according to the judge, a warship carrying Spanish troops to Manila.

Thus, on November 3, Colon arrived in Manila – Jose Rizal, under heavy security, was brought immediately to Fort Santiago. During his stay, Spanish authorities were searching for evidences against him. In fact, Filipinos who had been recognized at his side were brutally tortured to implicate him. Some of them were as follows: Deodato Arellano, Dr. Pio Valenzuela, Moises Salvador, Jose Dizon, Domingo Franco and Timoteo Paez. Even his only brother, Paciano was arrested and inflicted with pains which the latter endured for his younger brother's sake.

Preliminary Investigation

After fishing as much evidence as possible, on November 20, 1896, the preliminary investigation on Rizal began. During the five-day investigation, Rizal was informed of the charges against him before Judge Advocate Colonel Francisco Olive. He was put under interrogation without the benefit of knowing who testified against him. Presented before him were two kinds of evidences – documentary and testimonial.

There were a total of fifteen exhibits for the documentary evidence.

Testimonial evidences, on the other hand, were comprised of oral proofs provided by Martin Constantino, Aguedo del Rosario, Jose Reyes, Moises Salvador, Jose Dizon, Domingo Franco, Deodato Arellano, Pio Valenzuela, Antonio Salazar, Francisco Quison, and Timoteo Paez.

These evidences were endorsed by Colonel Olive to Governor Ramon Blanco who designated Captain Rafael Dominguez as the Judge Advocate assigned with the task of deciding what corresponding action should be done. Dominguez, after a brief review, transmitted the records to Don Nicolas de la Peña, the Judge Advocate General, for an opinion. Peña's recommendations were as follows:

  1. Rizal must be immediately sent to trial
  2. He must be held in prison under necessary security
  3. His properties must be issued with order of attachment, and as indemnity, Rizal had to pay one million pesos
  4. Instead of a civilian lawyer, only an army officer is allowed to defend Rizal.

Although given with “privilege” to choose his own defense counsel, this was limited to a list of 100 names – both first and second lieutenants - that the Spanish authorities provided him. Of the list, one familiar name stood out – Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade. Rizal discovered that the said lieutenant was the brother of Lt. Jose Taviel de Andrade who worked as Rizal's personal body guard in Calamba in 1887.

Charges against Rizal

On the 11th of December 1896, in the presence of his Spanish counsel, charges against Rizal were read. When asked regarding his sentiments or reaction on the charges, Rizal replied that:

  • He does not question the jurisdiction of the court
  • He has nothing to amend except that during his exile in Dapitan in 1892, he had not dealt in political matters;
  • He has nothing to admit on the charges against him
  • He had nothing to admit on the declarations of the witnesses, he had not met nor knew, against him.

Two days after, Rizal's case was endorsed to Blanco's successor, Governor Camilo de Polavieja, who had the authority to command that the case be courtmartialed. On December 15, inside his cell at Fort Santiago, Rizal wrote the controversial Manifesto addressed to his countrymen – a letter denouncing bloody struggle, and promoting education and industry as the best means to acquire independence. However, Judge Advocate General Nicolas de la Peña requested to Gov. Polavieja that the publication of the manifesto be prohibited, and so, the governor did.

Rizal's trial

Accustomed to share the merry season with family, friends and relatives, the 1896 Christmas was indeed, Rizal's saddest. Confined in a dark, gloomy cell, Rizal was in despair and had no idea of what his fate may be. Under this delusion, he wrote a letter to Lt. Taviel de Andrade requesting the latter to visit him before his trial for there was a very important matter they need to discuss. Likewise, Rizal greeted the lieutenant a joyous Christmas.

The next day, December 26, about 8 o'clock in the morning, the court-martial of Rizal commenced. The hearing was actually a kind of moro-moro – a planned trial wherein Rizal, before hearing his verdict, had already been prejudged. Unlike other accused, Rizal had not been allowed to know the people who witnessed against him. The trial took place at Cuartel de España, a military building, with a court composed of seven military officers headed by Lt. Col. Jose Togores Arjona. Present at the courtroom were Jose Rizal, the six other officers in uniform (Capt. Ricardo Muñoz Arias, Capt. Manuel Reguera, Capt. Santiago Izquierdo Osorio, Capt. Braulio Rodriguez Nuñez, Capt. Manuel Diaz Escribano, and Capt. Fernando Perez Rodriguez), Lt. Taviel de Andrade, Judge Advocate Capt. Rafael Dominguez, Lt. Enrique de Alcocer (prosecuting attorney) and a number of spectators, including Josephine Bracken.

After Judge Advocate Dominguez opened the trial, it was followed by Atty. Alcocer's reiteration of the charges against Rizal, urging the court that the latter be punished with death. Accordingly, the three crimes accused to him were rebellion, sedition and illegal association – the penalty for the first two being life imprisonment to death, while the last, correctional imprisonment and a charge of 325 to 3,250 pesetas.

Lt. Taviel de Andrade, on the other hand, later took the floor reading his speech in defense of Rizal. To supplement this, Rizal read his own defense which he wrote in his cell in Fort Santiago. According to Rizal, there are twelve points to prove his innocence:

  1. as testified by Pio Valenzuela, Rizal was against rebellion
  2. he had not written a letter addressed to the Katipunan comprising revolutionary elements
  3. without his knowledge, his name was used by the Katipunan; if he really was guilty, he could have escaped while he was in Singapore
  4. if he was guilty, he should have left the country while in exile; he shouldn't have built a home, bought a parcel of land or established a hospital in Dapitan.
  5. if he was really the leader of the revolution, the revolutionists should have consulted him.
  6. he did not deny that he wrote the by-laws of the La Liga Filipina, but to make things clear, the organization was a civic association, not a revolutionary society.
  7. after the first meeting of La Liga, the association banished because of his exile in Dapitan, thus, did not last long.
  8. if the La Liga was reorganized nine months later, he had no idea about it
  9. if the La Liga had a revolutionary purpose, then Katipunan should not have been organized.
  10. if the Spanish authorities found his letters having bitter atmosphere, it was because in 1890 his family was being persecuted resulting to their dispossession of properties and deportation of all his brothers-in-law.
  11. he lived an exemplary life in Dapitan – the politico-military commanders and missionary priests in the province could attest to that.
  12. if according to witnesses the speech he delivered at Doroteo Ongjunco's house had inspired the revolution, then he want to confront these persons. If he really was for the revolution, then why did the Katipunan sent an unfamiliar emissary to him in Dapitan? It is so because all his friends were aware that he never advocated violence.

But the military court remained indifferent to the pleads of Rizal. After a short deliberation, he was sentenced to be shot in musketry until death at 7 o'clock in the morning of December 30, 1896 at Bagumbayan. The decision was submitted to Gov. Polavieja who immediately sought the opinion of Nicolas de la Peña – the latter found the verdict just and final. Two days later, the governor general signed the court's decision and ordered Rizal's execution.

Martyrdom at Bagumbayan

Upon hearing the court's decision, Rizal already knew that there's no way that his destiny would be changed – Rizal knew it was his end, and had accepted his fate. Captain Rafael Dominguez, at 6 o'clock in the morning of December 29, 1896, read before him the official notice of his execution, scheduled the next day. Rizal was immediately transferred to the prison chapel where he spent his last hours on earth.

Inside the chapel, Rizal busied himself by writing correspondences to friends and family, bidding everyone farewell; and conversing with his Jesuit priests friends. He had a lot of visitors, arriving one or two after the other:

  • Fr. Miguel Saderra Mata – the Rector of the Ateneo Municipal; arrived in the prison early in the morning.
  • Fr. Luis Viza – came with Fr. Mata; the priest to whom Rizal asked for the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which he made during his stay in Ateneo.
  • Fr. Antonio Rosell – another friend of Rizal who gladly eaten a fine breakfast with him; returned in the afternoon to resume his talk with Rizal.
  • Lt. Taviel de Andrade – Rizal extended his appreciation for Andrade's services as his defense counsel.
  • Fr. Federico Faura – had prophesied earlier rather comically that Rizal would lose his head for writing the Noli Me Tangere, and the latter “congratulated” the priest for being right.
  • Fr. Jose Villaclara – Rizal's former teacher in Ateneo; ate lunch with him.
  • Fr. Vicente Balaguer – accompanied Fr. Villaclara; ate luch with Rizal as well.
  • Santiago Mataix – contributor in the El Heraldo de Madrid
  • Teodora Alonzo – Rizal knelt before his beloved mother, begging for forgiveness and understanding; the mother and son were separated by the strong grip of the prison guard.
  • Trinidad – arrived when Teodora left the chapel; to her, Rizal handed down an alcohol cooking stove and whispered that something was inside it (turned out to be his last piece, the Mi Ultimo Adios, written in a small piece of paper).
  • Gaspar Castaño – fiscal of the Royal Audiencia; had a good conversation with Rizal.

Late at night, around 10 o'clock, a retraction letter prepared by Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda was presented to Rizal, however, he rejected it for being too long. Fr. Balaguer, on the other hand, showed another draft from Fr. Pio Pi, which Rizal liked but wanted some parts of which be changed. By 11:30pm, Rizal wrote and signed the retraction letter in which he renounced the mason movement – witnesses to this event were Juan del Fresno (Chief of the Guard Detail) and Eloy Moure (Assistant of the Plaza). Rizal then confessed to Fr. Villaclara, and after which, slept. Two hours later, he rose up and prayed and confessed again. Inside the chapel, he knelt before the altar and prayed with the rosary. He, for the third time, confessed to Fr. Villaclara and once finished, read Imitacíon de Cristo by Tomas á Kempis.

At 3:30 in the morning of December 30, 1896, Fr. Balaguer lead a mass – Rizal, once again, made a confession and received Communion. At 5:00am, he ate his last breakfast and autographed some memorabilia including religious pictures and books which will be passed on to his mother, and her sister, Trinidad. Accompanied by his sister Narcisa, Josephine Bracken arrived and as requested by Rizal, the couple was canonically blessed as husband and wife by Fr. Balaguer. To Josephine, Rizal gave the Imitacíon de Cristo as wedding gift. For the last time, he wrote a letter to his parents, Ferdinand Blumentritt and Paciano.

By 6:30am, Rizal's march to Bagumbayan commenced. He – in his black suit, black necktie, black hat, black shoes and white vest – calmly walked from his prison cell in Fort Santiago to the execution site, with Lt. Taviel de Andrade on one side, and Fathers Estanislao March and Jose Villaclara, on the other side. They walked behind four advanced guards armed with bayonets.

Jose Rizal was tied behind from elbow to elbow, although, still had the freedom to move his arms. In his right arm was a rosary which he kept on holding until his final breath. Meters before the execution place, a number of spectators awaited Rizal. During his long march, Rizal saw familiar faces and places; he spent his time reminiscing his childhood, the fun he had with his family and friends.

In the Bagumbayan Field, Rizal shook the hands of the two priests and his defender, bidding them farewell. A priest blessed and offered him a crucifix which he gently kissed. Rizal had one request, that is, that he be shot facing the firing squad, however, in vain since the captain of the squad ordered a back shot. As such, Rizal had no choice but to turn his back. A physician by the name of Dr. Felipe Ruiz Castillo, was amazed that Rizal's vital signs were normal, particularly his pulse rate – was Rizal really unafraid to die?

The firing squad was commanded in unison with drumbeats. Upon the brisk command “Fire!”, the guns of the squad flared. Rizal, by his sheer effort and remaining energy, twisted his body around to face the firing squad, and so, fell on the ground with his face toward the blue sky, his head slightly inclined toward the rising sun in the east. What can be heard from the crowd of Spaniards was their loud, audible voice, shouting “Long live Spain! Death to traitors!” Jose Rizal died at exactly 7:03 in the morning of December 30.


  • Ancheta, Celedonio A. Jose Rizal's Life and His Complete Works. Diliman, Quezon City: National Bookstore, Inc., 1977.
  • Bantug, Asuncion Lopez-Rizal. Indio Bravo: The Story of Jose Rizal. Manila: Tahanan Books, 1997.
  • Guerrero, Leon Ma. Rizal:The First Filipino. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1987.
  • Reminiscences and Travels of Jose Rizal. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1977.
  • Hernandez, Jose Ma. Rizal's Poetry and Drama. Rizal as an Internationalist. Papers read at a symposium sponsored by the UNESCO Commission on the Philippines. Manila: National Historical Institute, 1980.
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  • National Historical Institute. Writings of Jose Rizal: Rizal's Poem. Vol.III, Book 1. Manila: National Historical Institute, 2002.

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