Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Revisiting" the Account by a Witness to Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal's Execution

by WB Celso B. Hilbero, PM (#270)
The Cabletow, Vol. 86 No. 4, November - December 2009, pp 24-27

On December 30, this year (2009), we commemorate the 113th anniversary of Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal's unjust execution at the Bagumbayan field.

Bagumbayan field was not what the Luneta or Rizal Park is today.  In those days the waters of the Manila Bay still reached the other side of the Malecon Drive (now Bonifacio Drive); the Luneta then went as far back as the site of the old Bagumbayan police station, near where the lush bamboo thickets grew.

Let us "revisit" what a witness to the execution, Hilarion Martinez, narrated to a certain Alberto B. Mendoza, which was  published in the Sunday Times Magazine on December 25, 1949.  At the time his first person narrative was published, Martinez was already 72 years old.  But at the time of Bro./Dr. Rizal's execution, he was only 20 years old.

Martinez's First-Person Account
 Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan field

Bro./Dr. Jose P. Rizal, photo taken in early August, 1890 when he arrived in Madrid, Spain

"It was six o'clock in the morning of December 30, 1896, when we woke up at our quarters at the corner of Sta. Potenciana and Magallanes Streets, in Intramuros, to attend the execution of Jose Rizal, about which we had already been briefed the day before.  We were the Leales Voluntarios de Manila, a semi-military organization under the command of Capt. Manuel LeaƱo.  Our immediate officer was a youthful Spanish lieutenant named Juan Pereira.  I was twenty years old then, and a member of the drum corps."

"We marched out of Intramuros through the Puerta Real, or where Nozaleda (now General Luna) Street out through the walls on the south, clad in our camamo uniforms and with our cajas vivas (or drums) strapped around our waists.  We proceeded to what is now Padre Burgos Street, under an overcast sky and in a chilling December morn."

"As we rounded the corner of P. Burgos and General Luna Streets, we got a glimpse of the cuadro, a square formation of about ten companies of Filipino and Spanish soldiers.  The former occupied the inner portion of the quadrangle, while the latter were at the rear.  This formation was strategic because the Filipino soldiers' position with-in the cuadro signified that the Spanish authorities wanted Rizal to die in the hands of the Filipino soldiers.  If the latter disobeyed the command to fire upon Rizal, the Spanish soldiers positioned at the rear would fire upon them."

"There were civilian spectators, too.  The side of the cuadro near the bay was open."

"As we approached the quadrangle, we saw some Spanish military officers earnestly talking in low voices.  Rizal was not yet anywhere to be seen.  Not having had a glimpse of the man before, I began to wonder what he looked like.  I remembered what my mother had told me about Rizal: that he was so learned that he could not be poisoned by anybody because he always carried with him his own spoon and fork, by means whereof he could detect whether his food was poisoned or not;  that many other legends had started to be woven around him;  and that he was fighting for the cause of his country and countrymen."

"Soon the small crowd heard the muffle sound of our approaching cajas vivas (or drums) draped with black cloth during  execution ceremonies.  A slight commotion broke out at the right end of the cuadro near the bay as some soldiers with fixed bayonets entered, followed by a man in black suit, his elbows tied from the back, on his head a chistera (or black derby hat), on one side a Spanish officer and on the other a Jesuit priest."

This was probably how Rizal might have looked like when he was escorted
to Bagumbayan by the Spanish soldiers and Jesuit priests.

"When I saw the man, I knew he was Rizal."

"A group of Spanish officers who were standing nearby opened into a media luna (i.e., a semicircular formation).  Then a Spaniard (we would learn later he was Lt. Luis Andrade, one of Rizal's popular Spanish defenders and sympathizers) affectionately shook the latter's hand.  When Rizal was near the center of the quadrangle, the mayor de la plaza, a colonel, announced at the bandillo: 'En el nombre del Rey, el que se levante la voz a favor del reo sera ejecutado' (In the name of the King, he who raises his voice in fovor of the criminal will be executed)."

"A deep silence enshrouded the whole assembly."

"The commanding officer accosted us and gave us this injunction:  'Should Rizal attempt to speak aloud, beat your drums so hard as to drown his voice'."

"I looked at Rizal.  He was regularly built, unshaven, and quite pale, perhaps as a result of his detention.  But he was visibly composed and serene.  A Jesuit priest approached him, prayed, and blessed him."
"Then a colonel approached Rizal likewise, as the commanding officer ordered us to move two paces backwards.  The firing squad, composed of six Filipinos, came forward and took our former position behind Rizal."

"I saw Rizal exert effort to raise his right hand, which was tied at the elbow, and take off his chistera."

"My heart beat fast, and as in all other executions I had witnessed before, I felt tense and nervous.  Amid the silence, I saw Rizal move his head very slowly up and down, his lips moving as if he was praying."

"Then the commanding officer raised his saber - a signal for the firing squad to aim.  Then he dropped his saber to a fuego position.  The simultaneous crack of rifle-fire shattered the stillness of the morning.  Jose Rizal exerted one last effort to face his executioners and toppled down with a thud, his face towards the sky and his derby hat thrown ahead.  He fell dead at his feet in the direction of the bay."

Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan field

"Many of the reos or offenders had been caused to kneel and be hoodwinked before they were shot on the head.  But Rizal was spared that humiliation."

"Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a small dog appeared and ran in circles around Rizal's fallen body, barking and whimpering.  (This incident would much later be the subject of our talk in our quarters.  To some of my comrades, it was an omen of a coming misfortune.)"

"Then the capitan militar de la sanidad (i.e., medical officer) stepped forward, knelt before the fallen man, and felt his pulse.  Looking up, he beckoned to a member of the firing squad to come forward and give the final tiro de gracia (i.e., another close-range shot to the heart), probably to ensure that Rizal could not come up with the miracle of life anymore.  I thought I saw a faint haze from Rizal's coat, but it might have been a wisp of morning mist.  Seeing the body of the fallen Rizal in front of me, I felt very weak."

"The officers began to show animation again.  They fell in formation and marched to the tune of the Spanish national air, the paso doble Marcha de Cadiz."

"As in previous executions, we members of the drum corps filed past the body to view it for the last time.  When I heard to command "Eyes left", I did not shut my eyes as I had done at the sight of the several roes whose heads were blown off by rifle-fire.  I really wanted to take a close look at the man one last time.  He lay dead on the dewy grass.  The day had already progressed, and little did I realize then that I was gazing at the face of the greatest Malayan, and that I was witnessing history of in making."

The original burial site of Bro./Dr. Jose P. Rizal, where he was
interned right after his execution, at Paco Cemetery.

 The newly finished Rizal monument, the final resting place of the remains
of our national hero, Bro./Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Concluding Statements

Hilarion Martinez was, indeed, lucky to have lived in historic times.  He subsequently joined the Philippine Revolution.  During the Filipino-American War he was a member of the "Batallon de Manila" under General Pantaleon Garcia and Col. Rosendo Simon.  He distinguished himself in several engagements, so that he was promoted later to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  In an assault on the American cavalry stationed in the church of Tondo, he was captured and imprisoned for about eight months in Intramuros and later in Cavite, where he was released shortly after the cessation of hostilities.

We, too, are fortunate because a man sacrificed his life on Bagumbayan field - a sacrifice which hastened the birth of our nation and which led to the savoring by us and our children of the sweet fruit of freedom and independence.

To Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal, at least two factors were of paramount importance for a revolution to succeed.  First, proper motivation.  And the proper motivation should be "Bayan muna bago pamilya, bago sarili" or "Tayo muna bago kami."  He suggested this motivation in the first two stanzas of his untitled valedictory poem, as follows:

"Farewell, country I adore, region loved by the sun, Pearl of the sea of the Orient, our eden lost.  I'll be happy to give you my sad, withered life.  Were it more brilliant, more fresh, more flowery, I'd also give it to you, I'd give it for your good."

"In the fields of battle, fighting with delirium, Others give you their lives without doubt, without regrets."
"The place matters not: cypress, laurel or lily, Scaffold or open field, combat or cruel martyrdom, 'Tis all the same if country and home demand it."

Second, proper timing.  He did not join the armed struggle against Spain initiated by Bro. Andres Bonifacio because he thought the Filipino insurgents were not yet well prepared for a protracted fight with the Spaniards.  But by the time he was about to be executed, he felt the Filipino revolutionaries were already quite prepared.  He eloquently enunciated the importance of proper timing in this stanza:
" I die when I see your sky being colored
And announces the day after the dark night.
If you need coloring with which to dye your dawn,
Turn my blood, pour it out in the right hour,
And let it gild its newly-born light."

Let us strive hard to have the proper motivation and the proper timing in order not to suffer the supreme sacrifice of Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal and other Filipino heroes to go to waste.  With proper motivation and proper timing, we will serve as vanguards against abuses and corruptions in government; we will also be beacon lights for our children, so that they, too, will clear the path towards a peaceful, progressive and prosperous Philippines.  With Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal in our minds and hearts, I know we can develop our nation into, metaphorically speaking, "a pearl of the sea of the Orient" - a nation imbued with the priceless principles of  pagkakaisa, pakikisama, pagsasarili, pagkabayani, and pakikipagkapwa-tao.

Speaking through Elias in Chapter 63 of his immortal Noli Me Tangere, entitled "Noche Buena," Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal said, "Mamamatay akong di man nakita ang ningning ng bukang-liwayway sa aking Inang Bayan!  Kayong makakakita, batiin ninyo siya... at huwag kalilimutan ang mga nalugmok sa dilim ng gabi."

No, we must not forget Bro./Dr. Jose Rizal and other Filipino forebears who labored and fought hard for our country and people to be free and independent.  Rather, we must remember them for their noble deed of giving their lives for our nation's welfare and happiness.  No, my brethren, we must not forget their supreme sacrifice!
- - - - - -
"I now more firmly believe in the existence of a creative being through reasoning and by necessity, more than my previous belief through faith."
"No one can pass judgment on the beliefs of others using his own beliefs as a norm."
"I believe in the redemption by the Word, and humanity rising again triumphant and glorious."
                           - Jose P. Rizal 


1 comment:

  1. Went to Calamba Shrine and saw a piece of that coat Rizal was wearing during his execution... I stood inches from it imagining that December morning when he saved us all...