Diorama of the Execution of The 3 Martyr-Priests. Credit: marilil.wordpress.com
Published: July 11, 2012
On the night of January 20, 1872, about 200 Filipino soldiers and workers in the Cavite arsenal rose in mutiny under the leadership of a certain Lamadrid, a Filipino sergeant. The mutineers had a secret understand with the Filipino soldiers in Manila for a concerted uprising, the signal being the firing of rockets for the walls of Intramuros.
Unfortunately, the suburb of Sampaloc, in Manila, celebrated its fiesta that night with a brilliant display of fireworks. Thinking that the fireworks had been set off by the Manila troops, the Cavite plotters rose in arms. They killed their Spanish officers and took control of the arsenal.
Government troops under Felipe Ginoves rushed to Cavite the following morning. A bloddy battle ensued. Many of the mutineers, including Lamadrid, were killed in the fighting. The survivors were subdued and take to Manila as prisoners.
The Mutiny was magnified by the Spaniards into a “revolt” so as to implicate the Filipino priest-patriots. It was in reality just a mutiny of the Cavite soldiers and workers who had resented the government action in abolishing their old-time privileges, notable their exemption from the tribute and from forced labor. But Spanish writers alleged that it was a seditious revolt directed against Spanish rule and fomented by Fathers Burgos, Gomez and Zamora and by other Filipino leaders. This allegation was false, but it was accepted by the government authorities because it gave them a pretext to get rid of the Filipino leaders they did not like.
Conviction and Execution of GomBurZa
Immediately after the Cavite mutiny was suppressed, many Filipino patriots were arrested and thrown in prison. Among these were the three priests—Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, the three men who championed the cause of the Filipino priests who had not been receiving their due from the Spanish authorities. Talented and patriotic, they carried on the nationalist movement of Father Pedro Pelaez, who had perished in the Manila earthquake in 1863.
Their movement was popularly called the Filipinization or secularization of the clergy because it advocated the equality of right between the native secular priests—priests who lived among the people—and the Spanish friars, who lived in religious communities separated from the towns and cities. At that time the Filipino priests were not allowed to hold high and profitable positions in the church because of their brown skin and Asian ancestry.
After a farcical trial by a military court, Fathers Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora were sentenced to die by the garrote, a strangulation machine. The court verdict was approved by the harsh General Izquierdo, who then immediately asked Archbishop Gergorio Meliton Martinez of Manila to deprive them of their priestly robes before their execution. The archbishop denied this request, for he believed the three condemned priests were innocent.
On the morning of February 17, 1872, the three priests were garroted to death at the Bagumbayan. This execution was a calamitous blunder of the Spanish authorities. The Filipinos deeply resented it, for they regard the three priests as the public martyrs of their fatherland. In their indignation, the Filipinos forgot their regional boundaries and differences and rallied as a united nation to fight the Spanish injustice. The blood of the martyrs of 1872 was thus the fertile seed of Filipino nationalism.
Birth of Jose Rizal’s Patriotism
At the time of the three priests’ martyrdom, Jose Rizal was an eleven-year-old boy in Calamba, Laguna. Paciano, his older brother, who was a student and friend of Father Burgos, told Jose the tragic story of the three priests’ martyrdom. The young Jose was deeply impressed and swore to carry on the unfinished work of the three martyrs. His second novel, El Filibusterismo was dedicated to the memory of these three priests. His dedication read as follows:
The Church, by refusing to degrade you, has placed in doubt the crime that has been imputed to you; the Government, by surrounding your trials with mystery and shadow, causes the belief that there was some error committed in fatal moments; and all the Philippines, by worshiping your memory and calling you martyrs, in no sense recognizes your culpability. Insofar, therefore, as your complicity in the Cavite mutiny is not clearly proved, as you may or may not have been patriots, and as you may or may not have cherished sentiments for justice and for liberty, I have the right to dedicate my work to you as victims of the evil which I undertake to combat. And while we await expectantly upon Spain someday to restore your good name and cease to be answerable for your death, let these pages serve as a tardy wreath and dried leaves over your unknown tombs, and let it be understood that everyone who, without clear proofs, attacks your memory stains his hands in your blood!
Such touching tribute to the martyr priests by Jose Rizal, who was himself to be a great martyr for freedom, is unsurpassed in world of history. Never in any country has a martyr offered such magnificent tribute to his martyred predecessors and himself suffered martyrdom too—and at the same place and for the same cause—freedom, justice, and racial equality.