Chapter 15: The Trial



Rizal's warm friend, Dr. Blumentritt, wrote him from Bohemia, early in 1896, about an epidemic of yellow fever in Cuba and the pathetic lack of doctors to attend the sick. For Rizal any call of distress was like the voice of God. This would not be running away from trouble, but going to meet need under the constant danger of contracting the fatal disease. He kept asking Governor General Blanco for permission to go to Cuba, and gave money to Josephine "so that she might be able to retire in Manila. (01) When he least expected it, the notice came that he was to become a volunteer physician in the Cuba government hospitals. (02) He was again a free man -- and again he was to become a wanderer!

It was then that he wrote (03) one of the most beautiful and heart-moving of his poems, in blank verse:



     Hoja seca que cuela indecisa

y arrebata violente turbión,

asi vive en la tierra el viajero,

sin norte, sin alma, sin patria ni amor.


     Busca ansioso doquiera la dicha

y la dicha se aleja fugaz:

¡vana sombra que burla su anhelo! ...

¡por ella el viajero se lanza a la mar!


     Impelido por mano invisible

vagara confín en confín;

los recuerdos le harán compañia

de seres queridos, de un día felíz.


     Una tumba quizá en el desierto

hallará, dulce asilo de paz,

de su patria y del mundo olvidado ...

¡Descanse tranquilo, tras tanto penar !


     Y le envidian al triste viajero

cuando cruza la tierra veloz ...

¡Ay! no saben que dentro del alma

existe un vacio de falta el amor!


     Volverá el peregrino a su patria

y a sus lares tal vez volverá,

y hallará por doquier nieve y ruina

amores perdidos, sepulcros, no más.


     Vé, Viajero, prosigue tu senda,

extranjero en tu propio país;

deja a otros que canten amores,

los otros que gocen; tu vuelve a partir.


     Vé, viajero, no vuelvas el rostro,

que no hay llanto que siga al adiós;

vé, viajero, y ahoga tu penas;

que el mundo se burla de ajeno dolor. (04)




A withered leaf which flies uncertainly

And hurled about my furious hurricanes,

So goes the traveler about the world,

No guide, no hope, no fatherland, no love.


Anxiously he seeks a better fortune

And fickle fortune always takes to flight;

A shadow vain that mocks at his desire!

For her the wanderer has plowed the seas,


Driven on by hands invisible,

Wandering from land to weary land,

Only memories to keep him company,

Or loved ones and of bygone happier days.


A tomb perhaps upon the desert

Calls him -- refuge sweet of peace, --

Where, by his country and the world forgotten,

Tranquil he may sleep who knew such pain.


And if they envy this sad traveler

When he speeds so swiftly round the world,

Ah, little do they know that in his soul

Exists an aching void for want of love.


Should the wanderer turn back to his country,

And to his home, it may be, make his way,

He would find but snow and ruins everywhere,

All Love destroyed, and sepulchers,-- no more.


On, then, traveler, pursue your journey,

Stranger to the land where you were born.

Letting others sing their songs of love

And feel their joys, while you fare on again.


And traveler, as you go, do not turn back,

For none will shed a tear to say farewell,

Go, pilgrim, try to drown your sorrow,

Because the world but scoffs when strangers grieve.

On August 1, 1896, Rizal bade farewell to the Dapitan students and neighbors who adored him, and sailed for Manila with his wife and sister.  [NOTE: As Rizal departed the town of Dapitan was filled with grief.  The local brass band played Chopin's melancholy "Funeral March."  No doubt they did not recognize how fitting was this piece, often played in Philippine funeral processions to this day. -- RLY]

When the ship bearing Rizal and his family reached Manila, August 5, 1896, Andres Bonifacio prepared to save him, not knowing that he was again a free man. Emilio Jacinto and others, disguised as sailors, went to the S. S. España on a launch. Jacinto started to swab down the deck until he had a chance to speak to Rizal alone. Then he said:

"If they are holding you a prisoner, we will free you, for we are all well-armed."

Rizal replied:

"Do nothing of the kind! Let me work it out, for I know what ought to be done." There was no further chance to talk. (05)

NOTE:  Katipunero Guillermo Masankay was also supposed to have been a part of the rescue attempt. It should be noted that Rizal does not mention this episode in his diary nor was it included in his letter to Blumentritt dated 28, September, 1896. For this reason many biographers do not mention this incident.  If it did occur it might be reasoned that at this point in time Rizal would be intentionally circumspect in both his letters (which were sure to have been read by the Spanish authorities) and his diary (which could be used toward the prosecution of Rizal and / or those seeking to aid him or abet his escape.) -- rly

"Unfortunately," he later wrote Dr. Blumentritt, "we did not catch the mail boat for Spain, and, fearing that my stay in Manila might result in trouble, I remained on board the boat and sent word to the Governor General that I wished to be isolated from all the world. The General sent me to the Cruiser Castilla, where I remained isolated, excepting for my family."

The day before the sailing of his ship from Manila, he wrote this touching letter to his mother.

"Aboard the Cruiser Castilla

September 2, 1896


"My dearest Mother,

"I write you a few lines before leaving. My health is good, thank God, only I am worried as to what will happen to you in these days of confusion and unquiet. God grant that my old parents may have no trouble.

"I will write to you at points where the mail boat stops. I expect to be in Madrid, or at least in Barcelona, at the end of this month. Nothing is certain; we are all in the hands of Divine Providence. Not everybody dies who goes to Cuba. At last one must die at any rate, and it is better to die doing some good.

"Take care of yourself, and take care of my old father, so that we may all see one another again. Loving remembrances to my brother, my sisters, nephews, aunts, etc. . . You are the bond that ties us all together.

"His Excellency, the Governor General, has been good to me; I am going to show him, if God gives me health and opportunity, that I can return his kindness.

"In closing, my dearest mother, I kiss your hand and that of my father, with all the feeling and love of which my heart is capable; give me your blessing for I greatly need it. An affectionate embrace to each of my sisters, and a token of how much I love them all.

Your son,

José (06)

On September 3, 1896, bearing letters of introduction from the Governor General to the Secretaries of War and Foreign Affairs in Spain, he departed for Barcelona. The letters which he carried are both alike. They must have cheered him more than anything had done for months:

Manila, August 30, 1896


Esteemed General and Distinguished Friend:

I recommend to you with genuine interest Dr. José Rizal, who is leaving for the Peninsula to place himself at the disposal of the government as volunteer army surgeon to Cuba. During the four years of his exile at Dapitan he has conducted himself in the most exemplary manner, and he is, in my opinion, the more worthy of praise and consideration in that he is in no way connected with the extravagant attempts we are now deploring, neither those of conspirators nor of the secret societies that have been formed.

I have the pleasure to reassure you of my high esteem, and remain,

Your affectionate friend and comrade,

Ramon Blanco

But meanwhile trouble was brewing fast. During the month of Rizal's waiting came the whirlwind hour in the Philippines. Fifteen days before his departure the Katipunan was betrayed. There are two stories as to how this happened. One story says it was by a sister of Patiño, one of its members, who told the mother superior in a convent school in Tondo that this organization was planning to murder all the Spaniards in the Philippines. (07) The other unpublished story is that Patiños wife told Father Gil. The Spanish population went wild with fear. Members and supposed members of the Katipunan were arrested and tortured until they revealed the names of other supposed members. At last 4,377 persons were arrested. (08) Bonifacio himself and most of the real leaders escaped to safe hiding places and there proclaimed the Philippine Republic.

Governor General Ramon Blanco

General Blanco was entirely too mild for the friars who demanded that he execute conspirators by wholesale. The Archbishop excoriated Blanco for his failure to deliver Rizal to the torturers. (09) Why was the traitor kept alive awaiting the next boat to Cuba? The friars cabled to Spain for Blanco's recall at once.

Ship: Isla de Panay

Meanwhile the Isla de Panay departed for Spain, bearing José Rizal toward his new work in Cuba. When they reached Singapore, Pedro B. Roxas, a Filipino fellow passenger, and Captain Camus, an agent of Tabacalera, tried to persuade Rizal to step ashore and save his life. "He gave a round 'NO' for an answer." (10) "A fugitive? No! They would declare me an accomplice in the insurrection! . . . Blanco will save me whatever happens," said Rizal. (11) Roxas stayed in Singapore and so saved his life.

But Blanco did not possess final authority. The special military court summoned Rizal to appear before them, and the Governor General felt compelled to obey the court. (12) When the Isla de Panay reached Suez, a cable awaited it, ordering the immediate arrest of José Rizal and his return to Manila for trial. A prisoner again after only six weeks of freedom, he was taken in chains to Barcelona and thrown "into the odious Mantjuich prison", where he lay for a week. Despujol, who when Governor General caught Rizal "in the trap" four years before by promising him safe conduct, was now Commandant of Montjuich prison, and "had the insolence to pay Rizal a visit." Rizal received him courteously and with not a word of reproach.

A week later the prisoner in chains began his trip toward the Philippines on the S. S. Colon.

Rizal's sketches of Singapore

Meanwhile, the news had spread among his friends in all parts of Europe. Dr. Antonio Regidor, Sixto Lopez, and others in London devised a shrewd plan to have Rizal removed from the boat by legal processes when he reached the British port of Singapore. (13) Two long telegrams containing over a hundred words were sent to Mr. Fort, a lawyer in Singapore, asking him to file in the Singapore Court a demand for an immediate writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that Rizal had been illegally arrested without an order of the court. "Funds are being provided by the Chartered Bank of England," said the telegrams. (14) It happened that the great Chinese patriot Sun Yat-sen was saved by the same method the very day Mr. Fort made his affidavit. But the Singapore judge said that the S. S. Colon was practically a warship, since it carried Spanish troops from Spain to Manila, and as such did not come under the law obtaining for merchant ships. While they continued to argue, the Colon weighed anchor and left Singapore for Manila. (15)

Fort Santiago Rizal's Cell Paciano

On November 3, 1896, José Rizal, heavily guarded, reached Manila and was locked in Fort Santiago prison. His brother Paciano was tortured with a screw which was twisted into his left hand, while a pen was thrust into his right hand to make him sign a statement that his brother had been connected with the Katipunan. Paciano would not sign. The torture continued until he fainted. The next day he was tortured again until he began to act insane. But he never signed anything. What courage flowed in the Rizal veins, in father, mother, sons, and daughters! (16)

José determined to make a fight for his life. He would doubtless die, but it must be for true charges and not on the false charge that he favored insurrection. He sent from Santiago prison a "Manifesto to some of the Filipinos" in which he said:

"I am most anxious for the liberties of our country, but I place as a prior condition the education of the people, that by means of instruction and industry our country may have an individuality of her own and make herself worthy of these liberties. I have recommended in my writings the study of civic virtues, without which there is no redemption. . . I condemn this uprising. . . Return to your homes, and may God pardon those who have wrought in bad faith!" (17) In his final prison he was still cherishing the dream of education that had been the hope of his lifetime.

The trial of Rizal began December 3, 1896, before the Spanish Military Court Martial. The charge against him was that he was "the principal organizer and the living soul of the Filipino insurrection, the founder of societies, periodicals and books dedicated to fermenting and propagating ideas of rebellion, as proven by the following declarations." (18)

Spain's case against Rizal

The prosecution then presented fifteen documents against Rizal.

01. A letter from Antonio Luna to Mariano Ponce proving that Rizal helped organize La Solidaridad, a radical periodical.

02. A letter of Rizal to his sister, written August 20, 1890, from Madrid when his family was suffering terrible persecutions. The letter said: "If the authorities were ilustrados there would be no treasonous government trials, nor tricks nor infamies. I see the hand of Providence in the exiling of the (Filipino) ilustrados to distant points, for they keep alive the spirit of the people, not permitting them to sleep in a lazy peace, and they accustom the people not to fear dangers, to hate tyranny, etc."

04. Kundiman, a poem calling for Liberty, but mistakenly ascribed to Rizal. He denied having written it.

06. A Masonic document bearing the dreadful words: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

07. A letter of Rizal from Hong Kong dated May 24, 1892, saying that "I am now devoting myself to preparing a secure refuge in Borneo for our countrymen in case of persecution, and I am writing a few articles for propaganda."

13. Copy of a speech by Emilio Jacinto in a Katipunan meeting saying, "Viva Filipinas! Viva la Libertad! Viva el Doctor Rizal! Union!!!" and by José Turiano Santiago in the same meeting: "We all cry together: 'Viva Filipinas! Viva la Libertad! Viva the eminent Dr. José Rizal! Death to the oppressive nation!"

15. The poem Rizal wrote for his boys in Dapitan, "To the Talisay tree".

The documents 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, and 14 which we omitted from the list, were harmless. The testimony of the ten witnesses, as we read it now, seems to be as weak as the documents. Pio Valenzuela, the young doctor whom Andres Bonifacio had sent to Dapitan and whom Rizal had made so angry, had a chance to witness and so gain revenge on Rizal. "Some Filipinos agreed in Pasig that they would go to Japan and wait for the decision of Rizal!" That was all Valenzuela could tell.

Two of the witnesses said Dr. Rizal was Honorary President of the Katipunan! They did not say how angry he was to have his name used without his consent! Several witnesses said they believed the Liga Filipina planned separation from the Islands. One witness said that Rizal's sister had gone to Singapore to charter a boat and to help Rizal to escape from Dapitan. (19)

When they cross-questioned Rizal, he said that the Liga Filipina had no revolutionary purpose at all, that it was based upon the general idea of Masonry, that it sought to unite all the divided classes of people, Spaniards and Filipinos alike, in a bond of friendship, and that it hoped to establish a kind of cooperative society for mutual welfare. (20)

For a time, it looked as though Rizal might have had a chance to win his case, for his opponents did not use their strongest evidence. Scores of far more damaging documents have appeared in this book.

General Polavieja

But in the midst of the trial, December 13, Governor General [Ramon] Blanco, who had become Rizal's sincere friend, lost his position, and Governor General [Camilo] Polavieja took his place. It was a triumphant event for the enemies of Rizal, for they knew, and doubtless he knew, that he was doomed.

Polavieja at once sent to the Military Court a terrific attack on Rizal which the Governor General's secretary had prepared. The heart of his accusation was "that Dr. Rizal, with the publication of his works Noli Me Tangere, Annotations to the History of the Philippines by Morga, El Filibusterismo, and endless pamphlets, proclamations and printings of all kinds, against religion, the friars and the Spanish authorities, has been inculcating in the Philippines the ostensible idea of expelling the religious orders, as the more or less secret method of obtaining the independence of this territory." (21)

Rizal's Lawyer

Rizal's family urged him from the beginning to employ legal advice but this he declined to do. The government presented him with the names of a hundred lieutenants from whom to choose one man to act as his defense attorney. He recognized among them only one name, that of the brother of Lieutenant José Taviel de Andrade, the man who had been appointed by Governor Terrero in 1887 as his body guard, just before he had left for Japan. Rizal did not know Andrade's brother personally, but knew that he must have heard glowing words from the former guard. So Lieutenant Luis Taviel de Andrade became the legal adviser. He worked feverishly and almost tearfully to save Rizal's life, but he had no experience at all. So Rizal prepared his own case for Andrade to read.

The trial was interrupted by Christmas. On December 26, the fiscal presented a very long list of accusations and ended by demanding "the penalty of death". (22) Andrade made an earnest reply, and Rizal added a brief but masterly supplement to Andrade's defense. The Council of War then retired and immediately condemned the prisoner to death "for the crime of having founded illicit associations and for having incited and promoted rebellion". (23)

Governor General Polavieja

The Governor General thereupon decreed that Rizal should be shot at seven o'clock on the morning of December 30th on Bagumbayan Field "with the formalities the law requires." (24) Rizal did not hear the verdict until two days later, but he did not need to be told that he was doomed.

Nothing ever written by his enemies shows the tremendous power Rizal yielded over his countrymen better than the report which the Governor General endorsed from the Auditor General, in signing the death sentence: (25)

"Dr. José Rizal y Mercado Alonso. . . whom the smiles of fortune raised in past days to be the idol of disloyal rebels, and whom the reverses of fortune brought to death without glory or honor; Rizal, a student for his profession of natural sciences and physio-chemics; tireless and active beyond any of his countrymen, an indefatigable traveler in Europe, master of several living tongues, admired by his less cultured countrymen, and applauded by his teachers and friends without distinction of race, launched out upon a course of moral sciences and sociological studies, that required much profound preparation; but then he turned to the active propagation among the inhabitants of these Spanish regions, of ideas disloyalty and treason, doctrines contrary to national unity. . . Rizal has been the Word of revolt, the most intelligent director of the separatists, the idol, in short, of the ignorant multitude, who have seen in the ceaseless agitator a being supernatural, whom they called Supreme. . . ." This from his enemy!

The prohibition against friends seeing the prisoner was lifted on December 26, after the Court reached its decision. Trinidad at once visited her brother, José, who said to her: "Ask for my corpse when I am dead. In my right shoe you will find something" (26) Probably a guard heard and reported that statement. Not a scrap of paper of any kind could be gotten past the guards, not even an order for food. During the last two days the guard would not accept any of the food the family had been sending José. His sisters say he was starved.

Rizal's Mother Pleads for his life

Early on the morning of December 29 Rizal heard the death sentence read to him without evidencing the slightest signs of fear. Protesting against the sentence as unjust, he signed it, and was then taken over to the chapel of Fort Santiago, where he remained for the next twenty-four hours. All Manila was wild with excitement. Nobody talked about anything but the death sentence of José Rizal. (27)


(01) Wenceslao E. Retana. Vida y Escritos del Dr. José Rizal. (Madrid: Liberia General de Victoriano Suarez, 1907), p. 341.

(02) Ibid., p. 345.

(03) Ibid., p. 332.

(04) Pedro Paterno may have written this poem.

(05) Manuel Artigas y Cuerva. "Andres Bonifacio y el Katipunan," Manila: La Vanguardia [Vol. No. and Issue No. unknown], Manila, 1911 p. 58.

(06) Retana, op. cit., p. 349.

(07) Ibid., p. 346.

(08) Russell, Charles E. and Eugilio B. Rodriguez. The Hero of the Philippines. (New York: Century Company, 1923), p. 284.

(09) John Foreman, The Philippine Islands: a Historical, Geographical, Ethnographical, Cocial and Commercial Sketch of the Philippine Archipelago and Its Political Dependencies. London: S. Low, Marston, 1892. p. 376, and Russell and Rodriguez, op. cit. p. 285.

(10) Dia Filipino, June 19, 1930.

(11) Retana, op. cit., p. 351.

(12) Ibid., p. 348.

(13) Dia Filipino, op. cit., p. 351.

(14) Retana, op. cit., p. 352.

(15) Dia Filipino, op. cit.

(16) Russell and Rodriguez, op. cit., p. 290.

(17) Retana, op. cit., p. 374.

(18) Ibid., p. 367. The entire proceedings of the court may be found in "Proceso del Dr. José Rizal" by Epifanio de los Santos Cristobal, but the picture given by Retana is clearer to the layman.

(19) Trinidad Rizal says she did plan for that in Hong Kong, but José would not consent to escape. How the court must have smiled inwardly at this witness, for Rizal could have escaped almost any month of his four years' exile, if he had consented.

(20) Retana, op. cit., pp. 354-366.

(21) Ibid., p. 391.

(22) Ibid., pp. 375-388. The entire speech is printed.

(23) Ibid., p. 409.

(24) Ibid., p. 413.

(25) Ibid., p. 409.

(26) Ricardo R. Pascual. Rizal Beyond the Grave (Manila: Pedro B. Ayunda & Co., [reprint] 1964) p. 54. A year and a half after Rizal's death, when the American government replaced Spain, the Rizal family dug up the remains of José but found nothing in the shoes. Dr. Leoncio Lopez-Rizal, has the hat and shoes in a large frame covered with glass, and in a bottle has a vertebra showing where a bullet has broken the bone. Perhaps Rizal had intended to leave "My Last Farewell" in the shoes, and then had found his lamp to a better place for it. But Josephine had another theory: see chapter 17.

(27) Retana, op. cit. p. 415.

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The Life and of Dr. José Rizal
Dr. Robert L. Yoder