Chapter 10: Madrid
Theatro Real, Madrid's Opera House, was built in 1850 and would have been part of the city landscape at this time.
August, 1890, to February, 1891
The fight of the people of Calamba against the Dominican hacienda was not a fight against the Church or religion. It was a fight between Spanish landlords and Filipino tenants, and might just as easily have occurred on the great secular haciendas. The Dominicans were oppressive landlords at this period and place, not because they belonged to the Church but in spite of it. Their conduct toward the tenants was treason to their Church and to their Christian professions. The story of Rizal's own family illustrates the insolence and oppression of that period. (01) "My father," said Rizal, "was a friend of the corporation and was intimate with the lay-brother manager of the hacienda, who asked my father for whatever he needed; rarely did he fail to ask, among other things for a turkey, which my father gladly gave him. But because of an epidemic, nearly all the turkeys died, and my father saved the few that remained for brooding purposes.
"One day the lay-brother asked for a turkey and my father had to say that he had none to spare for nearly all of them had died. The brother was furious at this answer and ended by saying: 'You will pay for this' . . . A few days later my parents received a paper written by the manager saying that the rental of my father's land was being increased one-third. My father at once knew the reason, for no other tenant received such a notice. He paid the rental without a word of protest. But in a few months he received another notice that, since my father realized so much income from the land that he could have machines for making sugar, the rental would be twice what it had been. My father appealed to the courts, and finally lost houses, land and machinery -- all for a turkey!"
Practically all the Filipino clergy sympathized with the tenants, (02) and openly or silently condemned what the owners of the friar estates were doing. Rizal, even in the bitterest period of his life in Madrid, felt sincere gratitude for the priests who took the side of the weak against the strong. In January, 1891, he wrote to Father Vicente Garcia this ardent tribute: (03)
"For a long while I have wanted to write, not to thank you for the just defense which you, before anybody else, dared to write about my first book, nor for pointing the way for me as I seek the light in the uncertain way of the future. I say I have no intention of thanking you because that might be unwelcome to you, and because the steps taken by you in defense of the truth, of humanity, and of justice, would lose some of their merit if they were praised: for God will reward them, and man must be content with admiring and emulating them.
"I who belong to this young generation, anxious to do something for my
country and uneasy before the mysterious future, need to listen to the men
who have been much and studied more, in order that with their experience, I
may make up for my few years and little knowledge. We need, too, the
applause and blessing of our elders to encourage us in the colossal fight
which we have taken upon our diminutive shoulders.
"The beautiful and immaculate course of your life, terminating in the sublime work of redemption for the wretched and for those who suffer, will be the holy blessing to give us courage in the fight. I do not wish to flatter you by telling you how much your life has already accomplished. God grant that you may live longer than I -- so that I may be sure that you will have a tear and a word of justice when I perish for the cause which I defend. But the natural order of things seems to call for you to die before I shall. What will you tell God, you a priest of the religion which declares all men to be equal? What will you tell God, who has hated tyranny and has given us our intellects, when he asks you what you have done for the unfortunate and the oppressed? How have you employed your extraordinary intelligence and your talents? Why have you not carried out the impulses of your heart, which shudders at seeing everywhere injustice, ignorance, degradation, and suffering? What will you reply to God when he says to you: 'I have suffered bitter death to save men. What have you done for your brothers?'
"Pardon me for thus giving expression to my heart, but in what I have said there goes no censure. Who am I? A youth hardly yet a man, who possesses no merit other than that of thinking logically in reaching his convictions and of expressing himself frankly.
"Always admiring you, and desirous that you may share our convictions, I bring to a close this long letter, with the hope that you may enjoy good health.
That letter is characteristically Rizalian, frank, overgenerous, and devoutly religious to the core. The questions he asked his good friend Father Garcia, "What have you done for the unfortunate and the oppressed?" came out of the depths of a soul that had asked that question every day since he was ten years of age, -- "What can I do for the unfortunate and the oppressed of my country?"
In August, 1890, he reached Madrid, his heart heavier than it had ever been in all his sorrowful life. He would do all he could for his relatives and Calamba, -- but would not every step he took make his foes more furious? His worst fears were justified by what followed. Like albatrosses of evil omen the letters came on every boat piling tragedy upon tragedy. From Silvestre Ubaldo he had already received a copy of the order of ejectment made by the hacienda (04) of Calamba against Francisco Rizal and others. Now Silvestre wrote: (05)
"The sixth of this month at nine P. M. Juan Mompeon, governor of the Province, lodged in the house of Eusebio Elefano, deputy governor of Calamba, and summoned me, Antonio, Leandro, Lucia (José's sister), and various others, altogether nineteen or twenty persons, and said that we must make ourselves right with the Dominicans, otherwise he would rigorously comply with his duty as governor, and it would be very sad and disagreeable if that occurred to the town. I answered that we had done no wrong against the Dominicans. We only asked the Governor that if possible we might await the decision of the President of the Supreme Court, to which our two fellow townsmen, Francisco Rizal and D. Nicasio Eigasani, had already appealed; that we would all abide by the final decision of that tribunal. . . He threatened me, saying: 'Since you have not accepted my intervention, I will take severe means. Today I will send a telegram to the Captain General to come tomorrow with armed troops, and the day will be very sad for this town.' I said, "Señor Governor, we are all peaceful here, and have sworn to be loyal to the mother country. We are always ready to come to her support and to shed the last drop of blood to defend the Spanish nation . . . but since the Dominicans could not prove their titles to the property as the legal Administration Padre Gabriel Fernandez had promised, and as the case of dispossession against Don Francisco Rizal was not decided by the court, we would not pay the rent. . .' the Governor left . . . very angry. . . The deputy governor summoned me . . . and said, 'You will be detained here according to the verbal order of the governor' . . . I could not give bail, he said, because he had no formal order to that effect. 'Very soon you two from Dandoy will be in the chains of the tribunals,' 'All right,' I said 'but I desire to know my crime and I need an affidavit.' The deputy governor told me to wait . . . At eight o'clock a telegram came from the governor: 'Dispatch to this government the persons of Silvestre Ubaldo, Antonio Lopez, Paciano Rizal, and Mateo Elejorde' . . . I will tell you the result later. . ." But he never had another chance!
Writ of Eviction
From Saturnina, (06) came the terrible news: "Our parents were ordered to get out of our home. They were told that this action was required by the order of dispossession and ejectment against them.
"Paciano, Antonio, Dandoy, Silvestre, and Teong took the road of banishment to Mindoro at four-thirty this afternoon. Sisa (Narcisa) and I accompanied them to the wall (of Manila) and waited there until the departure of the steamship Brutus in which the unfortunates were embarked. We ourselves were not so sorrowful nor did we lament so much as when Menang (Manuel Hidalgo) was first banished. I am becoming habituated to these sorrows of separation, especially when I think how our cruel misfortunes will bear fruit for the welfare of all; I fortify my faith with all you have told me. Our parents are now living with Narcisa."
By the next boat sister Narcisa sent Rizal four hundred pesos, contributed by the people of Calamba, "young men, married couples, and aged people; they wanted to send you more, but, alas, money is now very scarce. You say in your letter that you think of coming home; we think you must not come, for you would run into great danger, and could do nothing here, while you can do so much there." (07)
A letter also came from Nicasio Eigasani, the Calamba man who had dared to join Francisco Rizal in appealing to the Supreme Court. It was full of terrible pictures of cruelties and abuses attending the driving out of the tenants and destruction of their property. They were told to take their houses from the land in twenty-four hours. An artillery force had been stationed on the land to shoot if they refused. A few had torn down their homes and carried them off, but the soldiers had burned all the rest. They pleaded with the justice of the peace to wait for the decision of the Supreme Court, but they were told that they could bring their houses back if they won the case! Twenty families, including Rizal's father, were homeless. The other tenants, who had paid their rental, were forbidden to offer shelter to those who had been driven out of their homes. (08) The newspapers had published that Blumentritt was bought off by the friars, and that Rizal, defeated, would not press the case before the Supreme Court!
Luis Alabaña wrote from Calamba by the same mail that Felipe Buencamino, lawyer for the tenants, was putting up a brilliant fight in defense of the dispossessed. "We are not afraid, no matter how the court goes against us. (09) We will fight for our rights to the end. Our courage revives when we receive your courageous letters and those of Don Fernando Blumentritt."
From Felipe Buencamino himself came a heartbreaking letter: (10) "I am
writing you about the case of your good sister Sisa . . . At bottom the
question in this case is a confusion of justice. The friars cannot support
the ownership of the land, but neither can the tenants do so. What is true
is the historical fact that they have paid rents. The strict interpretation
of the law permits our opponents to ask the court: 1. To complete the
process of dispossession. 2. Afterwards to make a judicial decision about
the property. . . There is no clear law either for us or for our opponents.
In seeking for postponement, I proposed a settlement with Don Francisco
Iriarte as arbitrator. He accepted generously. . . The governor and your
fellow townsmen approved. . . Iriarte has power to arrange with the
Dominicans and settle in conformity with the following basic principals:
"My impressions are most unhappy, and I wish I could save myself the bitterness of telling you about them, but the situation of your family and your fellow townsmen, have compelled me to tell you what I have seen and heard. . .
"Your old parents and sisters received me with tears because they knew that I am a friend of Paciano, my unfortunate and beloved Paciano. My tears ran also; and when that short emotional period was over, we entered into close conference.
"I will not speak of your political brothers who, with Paciano, were exiled to Mindoro. . . I will say nothing of the loneliness of your parents and your sisters, but I will say that they are brave, strong and noble, those sisters of yours! But I ought to tell you about the lamentable state of all your properties; since your parents are so old, and your dear sisters have their attention turned upon their own troubles, and are constantly upset and agitated by loyalty to Paciano, they have completely neglected the land which is their source of wealth and income; and since it is very fertile, it will soon become forests and parasitical brambles. Your fellow townsmen are overcome by fatigue, their money is exhausted, and they are terrorized by the recent events. . . Fausto, the secretary of the notary, applauded the little speech I made, for which he was denounced as a rebel against the government, and thrown into prison; it almost resulted in all of us going to prison . . . I have no hope of accomplishing anything, the cases will come up in fifteen or thirty days; the period will give time for my clients to gather their harvests (an important consideration which defeats the fiendish intentions of our enemies, for their demand for dispossession coincided precisely with the harvest time); it will give them time also to rest from their exhaustion, and prepare new resources with which to enter the next fight with more energy. (Although from what I can see and observe they are defeated)."
Frantically José Rizal read these tragic letters, helpless to stop this roughshod riding over law and justice. He poured out his soul to Blumentritt, who replied:
Queen Regent Maria Christiana
"Can't you see the Queen [Maria Christiana]? Does she not, like our Emperor, grant audiences in which her subjects may implore and call for protection of the monarch when her officials have committed an abuse? I know that the Queen is very limited in her rights as monarch, and that since she is a stranger, she must proceed with much caution in view of the nationality of the Spaniards, but she ought to possess the most sacred rights of a monarch, that of protecting her subjects from the abuses of her officials. Go to see her, and your prudence will tell you not to shock her piety with violent denunciations of the friars. . . At the very worst you cannot do any harm; the Filipinos will then have reached one more stage on the via cruces which will carry them to their final redemption. I fear that there must be more stages for us. But we must not lose our courage." (11)
Rizal was not able to see the queen, for his efforts were foiled on every hand. He realized that he could do nothing, and, as Retana says, "he became nauseated and full of horror." In those last six months of 1890 in Madrid he was a lion at bay -- as Retena himself had good reason never to forget. This young Spaniard had been a press agent for the friars in Manila, and had returned to Madrid to write for a friar newspaper in that city. Retana wrote a vicious article insulting the Filipinos and denouncing the Rizal family for not paying their rent. (12) Immediately Rizal sent his seconds to challenge Retana to fight a duel -- which was in those days in Spain the only honorable recourse for a brave man. Retana at once published a retraction and an apology in the papers. From that day Retana developed a strange admiration for Rizal, and after he ceased to write for the friars, wrote the most important Spanish biography of the great Filipino. (13)
Probably at no other period of his life would Rizal have issued this challenge. That his nerves were on edge is revealed by the fact that he also challenged his friend Antonio Luna to a duel because the latter, while drunk, made an insulting remark about a woman of Rizal's acquaintance. (14) This turned out happily, for when Luna became sober he realized that he was in the wrong and apologized, promising not to get drunk again. Perhaps no other experience in Luna's life did so much to turn him from a prodigal son to the great man he later became. Yet it was indeed "highly incongruous to think of Rizal as a duelist." In the state of his nerves, taut to the breaking point, his high ideal for women took on such an exaggerated form that it swept him for a time from the self-controlled calm that characterized him both before and after this desperate period. Yet these two incidents bring out two of Rizal's characteristics: his perfect integrity, which could not bear the thought of defaulting one centavo, and his lofty reverence for the honor of womanhood.
Confidence in Rizal's integrity led fathers and brothers to entrust their
youth in Europe to his care. The famous painter Juan Luna gave Rizal "a
million thanks for all you have done for Antonio." (15) and sent all the
money for Antonio's education through Rizal. (16) "Your example," he wrote,
"ought always to inspire the students from our country, who are the hope of
our future." Again Catalino Dimayuga of Batangas was "grateful with all my
soul for the wise counsel you have given for the wise counsel you have given
Lauro . . . I desire him . . . to study close to you, for in this way you
will be able to direct and council him not only in his studies but about his
health. Excuse me for the natural egoism of a father, with his son far from
home and exposed to a thousand hazards, when I seek for his protection from
the misfortunes that might overtake him; and nobody could bring him through
successfully better than you, with your nobility, your disinterestedness,
and a thousand virtues that combine in you." (17) Dr. Thomas Arejola told
him: "Your mortal influences over us is indisputable." (18) There are scores
of such tributes in the letters written to Rizal. None perhaps pleased him
more than the sincere tribute which his loyal friend Blumentritt wrote him
in those dark days in Madrid: "Criticism cannot harm your glory and fame,
either in the eyes of the Filipinos or in those of the international
scientific world. The latter sees in your works, though they may not know
you personally, the man of tremendous spiritual grandeur who possesses a
profound and comprehensive learning." (19)