AT around 7:30 in the morning of Dec. 30, 1896, Remington shots rang out under a clear sky in the Bagumbayan field (now the Luneta) in Manila. A firing squad consisting of Filipino soldiers had carried out the death sentence of the now national hero Jose Rizal on orders of the Spanish colonial government.

Defiant to the end, he haggled with authorities on how he ought to face his death. He rejected suggestions that he be blindfolded with his back to the firing squad, which appeared to be the protocol for the execution of traitors.

The court martial that found Rizal guilty of sedition, rebellion and conspiracy completed a “judicial process” in 56 days, starting with his arrest on board a ship bound for Spain on Nov. 3, 1896. The formal trial itself, commencing with the appointment of judges on Christmas Day of that year, lasted only two days. The colonial government imposed the penalty of death for offenses like the ones he allegedly committed; on December 26, the court issued its decision:

“The Ordinary Court Martial of the Post declares that the fact in question does constitute the crimes of founding illegal associations and of promoting and inciting to the crime of rebellion, the first being a necessary means to the commission of the second, and that the accused Don Jose Rizal is guilty of said crimes in the capacity of principal agent.

In virtue of which the Court declares that it ought to condemn, and does condemn, the said Don Jose Rizal to the pain of death.”

An article titled “The Trial of Rizal” by Miguel A. Bernad, SJ reveals a good amount of detail on how those fateful days went. Apart from the obvious conjectures, such as the railroading of the whole process, there were glaring signs of “red-tagging” that the court generously accorded an approximation of truth. For example, the prosecution presented as evidence a couple of excerpts from Rizal’s poems, namely a kundiman and a stanza from his “Himno a Talisay.”

Part of the kundiman (some say this was authored by Pedro Paterno) goes: “In the fair Eastern region where the sun rises, a beautiful, enchanted land lies prostrate under the heel of tyrants. Alas, she is my country, the country I love. She languishes, a slave laden with chains; happy is the man who can set her free.”

Bernad, citing works of Wenceslao Retana and Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ, continues:

“The ‘Hymn to Talisay’ was composed by Rizal in Dapitan as a kind of school-song for his pupils. The following stanza was brought as ‘evidence’ of guilt by the prosecution:

‘We are children, we are the latest born. But our hearts beat high, and tomorrow we shall be full-grown men who will know how to defend their hearts and homes. We are children, yes, but nothing daunts us, neither wave nor storm nor thunder. With strong right arm and unclouded brow we shall know how to fight in the hour of danger. Our hands shall take up in turn those instruments of sovereign reason: the sword, the pen, the spade.’

“Included in the materials gathered by the investigating judge as evidence of Rizal’s complicity as author of the revolution, were the concluding sentences of two speeches delivered at a meeting held in Santa Cruz, Manila, on June 23, 1893. One was by Emilio Jacinto, one of the top leaders of the Katipunan and considered by many as its ‘brains’:

‘In the meantime, let us keep our spirits up with these battle cries: Long live the Philippines! Long live liberty! Long live Dr. Rizal! Unity!’

“The other was that of the conclusion of a speech on the same occasion by Jose Turiano Santiago:

‘Let us all shout with one voice: Long live the Philippines! Long live liberty! Long live the great Dr. Rizal! Death to the nation of the oppressors!’

“Rizal was far away in Dapitan when those cries were raised. Yet his name was invoked. In his absence and without his consent, he was declared honorary president of the Katipunan.... This was the real reason why he was sentenced to death. Not because he had anything to do with the Katipunan or the Revolution, but because without him, there might not have been any revolution. Without his doing anything, he was ‘the very soul’ of the movement that led to the revolution.”

That Rizal was found guilty of crimes by association had for its basis a sprinkling of documents that the prosecution presented to the court. In addition to the ones that have been mentioned, there was a letter of Marcelo H. del Pilar from Madrid, dated June 1, 1893 addressed to Juan Zulueta, which mentioned that the Liga Filipina must be independent from masonry. The inference was that the Liga was designed for armed revolt, “and that Rizal, who wrote its statutes and encouraged people to join it, was therefore the principal author of the armed revolt.” (Note: the Liga which Rizal helped establish soon disbanded when he was exiled to Dapitan. When it was revived months later, Rizal knew nothing about it. In fact, Rizal from Dapitan, history books would show, had advised the Katipunan against starting an armed uprising, something which Andres Bonifacio however rejected.)

Reference to masonry had something to do with disagreements among leaders of the revolution on how supposedly linked organizations were to play their respective roles.

(Rizal, del Pilar, Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, among many others, were freemasons at the time.) This footnote of Philippine history prompts one to recall how the Illuminati came to life as a “secret organization” within another secret organization (masonry) in Europe as a result of disagreements among freemasons who figured prominently in the brain trusts that fueled the French and American Revolutions in the 18th century.

Of course, it is no longer secret that throughout the world since the founding of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717, freemasons have dominated governments, the professions, military and police establishments, and the judiciary, among other power bases of consequence. What is less known is the fact that the Catholic Church, since 1738, has prohibited its members from joining freemasonry. The Church says, “Christianity and freemasonry are essentially irreconcilable, so that enrolment in one means separation from the other.” A member of the Catholic Church who joins freemasonry puts himself in grave sin (at some point in Church history this was ground for excommunication).

This may explain why the Jesuit priests (Jose Vilaclara, Estanislao March, Federico Faura, Luis Misa, et al.) appeared to be “makulit” during the last 24 hours of Rizal’s earthly life. They took turns in visiting him in his Fort Santiago prison cell to try to convince him to renounce his masonic affiliation. (Vilaclara and March were beside Rizal on his death walk from Fort Santiago to the Luneta, a distance of about 1.8 kilometers.)

The retraction, accompanied by an act of penance, was what would, in Catholic belief, open doors for the condemned man to receive the holy sacraments and thereby put himself back under God’s grace. In short, saving Rizal’s soul was the Jesuits’ priority; they needed to get him to sign a retraction letter (no matter how awkward it looked) in a situation where the clock was ticking.

The matter of whether Rizal did sign a retraction letter or not became a lingering debate in the years and decades that followed after his death. Recently discovered wikileaks-like documents, however, as discussed in a 2019 paper by De La Salle University professor and National Historical Commission chairman Rene Escalante, tend to show that Rizal did re-embrace his Catholic faith, although not exactly with the kind of proof that the Jesuits have managed to present, such as an affidavit and the supposedly original copy of the retraction letter, whose authenticity, however, has been questioned, mostly by freemasons.

At any rate, that Rizal sought the company of the Jesuits, and not anyone else, during the “last two minutes” of his history-changing life, remains unchallenged as historical fact. This, to me, speaks more convincingly than any document, fake or not, of whether Rizal died a Catholic or not.

After 124 years, society may still do well to learn the lessons from Rizal’s martyrdom. I suspect he found it hard to agree to sign the retraction letter prepared by the Jesuits because something in it (at least in one version) declared that he was renouncing his anti-Catholic works. Unless as a freemason he preached something hostile to the Church, which I know nothing about, I cannot consider the message of clerical abuse and hypocrisy proclaimed loudly by his novels (especially Noli Me Tangere) as anti-Catholic. On the contrary, the Church could have used that message as a meta card for introspection. I would venture to argue that had the hierarchy of the Church taken Rizal seriously, none of the scandals could have reached anywhere near the levels of disgust that the Church is facing today.

Over at the opposite fence, the state — managed by the government — can learn from Rizal by trying to understand that those who speak against it are not antigovernment. By allowing dissent, a nation learns to heal itself, and the road to peace is less bumpy, less bloody and less costly.

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