Let us now praise a not-so-famous man
New York—On January 20, 1872, the workers at the Cavite Arsenal—across Manila Bay from Intramuros—mutinied when their exemption from tribute and forced labor that they had enjoyed since 1740 was withdrawn by the new right-wing Governor-General Rafael de Izquierdo, who had replaced the liberal, reformist Carlos María de la Torre. The uprising was easily quelled, though not before seven Spanish officers were killed. The matter might have ended there; after all, throughout Spanish colonial rule, violent protests against the abuses of the state were numerous, but, until 1896, never took on the character of a national (and nationalist) movement, and thus remained localized.
Anyone familiar with this period in Philippine history knows that the 1872 Cavite Mutiny became the infamous occasion in which the nascent move to Filipinize the clergy was nipped in the bud by the friars, or so they believed. Among those unjustly implicated in this failed rebellion were three secular priests: Mariano Gomez, curate of Bacoor, Cavite; Jacinto Zamora, parish priest of Marikina; and José Burgos, a curate at Manila Cathedral, a doctor of theology and canon law, and a brilliant advocate of Filipinizing the parishes. In a mock trial, the three were judged guilty of aiding and abetting the mutineers, and at the end of February that year, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora were garroted at the Luneta—as well as a mutineer by the name of Saldua, who had fingered the trio, probably in the hope (futile, it turned out) of being pardoned or at least spared execution. The last to have his neck broken was Burgos, who shouted out his declaration of innocence, to which a friar is said to have retorted, “So was Jesus.”
The Archbishop of Manila, who of course knew Burgos, refused to defrock the three, implicitly casting doubt on the impartiality of the proceedings, as well as pointedly rebuking the friar orders, which continually resisted the diocesan bishop’s right of visitation and oversight. The Gomburza affair, as it came to be known, resulted in others being imprisoned and twenty-two being banished to the Marianas, including nine native priests. Some of the banished laymen managed to make their way to Europe, among them Joaquin Pardo de Tavera and Antonio Regidor, who went on to form the nucleus of an expatriate, ilustrado community that later would give rise to the Propaganda Movement, among whose central figures were José Rizal, Mariano H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Mariano Ponce.
Paciano Rizal, José’s kuya, or older brother by a decade and protégé of Fr. Burgos, had witnessed the garroting of the three curates and been, along with his generation, radicalized by it. His retelling to the sensitive eleven-year-old in Calamba in turn left an indelible impression on the young man, about to leave for Intramuros to study at the Ateneo. Later on Rizal said of the martyrdom, “Without 1872 there would be now neither Plaridel nor Jaena nor Sancianco, nor the valiant and generous Filipino expatriates in Europe. Without 1872, Rizal would have been a Jesuit and instead of writing the Noli Me Tangere would have instead written something entirely different.” Rizal dedicated his second novel El Filibusterismo (really a continuation of the Noli) to the memory of the three martyrs.
Last year saw the commemoration cum celebration of the younger Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary, but not much has been said (at least, not much that I am aware of) about Paciano’s invaluable role in shaping the path his younger brother took, always there to lend a hand, a quiet, rock-solid presence Pepe could rely on. Paciano arranged, along with an uncle, for Pepe to embark for Europe in 1882, whose heady Enlightenment zeitgeist further sharpened Rizal’s critique of Spanish colonial rule. For at least five years Paciano sent him a monthly stipend, and once the Propaganda Movement had gotten off the ground helped raise funds for it.
In 1896 he was imprisoned and tortured, to force him to implicate José in the revolution that had begun that August but the stouthearted Paciano would not break. He was released and once José was executed, Paciano volunteered for Aguinaldo’s army, and was made a general, his field of operations being Central Luzon. The revolution against the Spanish metamorphosing into the 1899 war against the U.S., General Rizal continued to fight, but was captured in 1900. Thereafter, despite offers of a government position as well as entreaties from prominent Laguna politicians to run for public office, Paciano, already married, chose the quiet life of a gentleman farmer, and died in 1930 at his home in Los Baños, not far from Calamba, at the age of 79.
Paciano’s love for and devotion to his younger brother meant a life behind the scenes, dramatic certainly in many instances but rarely in the limelight, never in the scene-stealing manner of José. Kuya Paciano’s life made the latter’s transformation into the icon every Filipino knows possible. He would have distanced himself from the label but in my book Paciano Mercado Rizal y Alonso is every bit the hero.
[email protected] Francia 2012
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