By Jose Victor Peñaranda
At one point of his life, Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, chose to leave the country and serve in Cuba. He had no other choice, some historians claim. The Spanish colonial authorities, especially the clergy in the country, were out to exact revenge on Rizal for exposing their relentless greed and abuses, primarily through his two novels: “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” He was also suspected of being a principal actor of an emerging Filipino movement that was subverting the status quo after more than 300 years of Spanish rule. His life was in danger. Others have conjectured that Rizal preferred to leave the islands rather than be part of an impending armed uprising. Some Rizaliana experts have stressed certain documentary evidence that the hero detested violent means to achieve political objectives.
Let us explore this landscape of historical speculation by travelling back in time using the compass and archival information of two books written by Reynold S. Fajardo –– “The Brethren: Masons in the Struggle for Philippine Independence” and “Dimasalang: The Masonic Life of Dr. Jose Rizal.” To the curious mind, a research investigation is a voyage of the imagination. It does not promise to arrive at a destination nor yield to any particular conclusion.
Let us frame Rizal at a particular time and space when he was still residing in exile at Dapitan, a remote coastal station in the northwestern part of Mindanao that is now part of Zamboanga del Norte province.
There was indeed a moment when he applied as a doctor in the service of the Spanish army in Cuba. The opportunity arose when the Spanish colonial government announced its need for medical volunteers to treat the increasing number of soldiers afflicted by malaria in Cuba. On 21 November 1895, he wrote to his mother, informing her about his formal request to Governor-General Ramon Blanco that he be assigned in Cuba rather than remain an exile in Dapitan. Rizal and Blanco knew each other personally. In 1894, when Blanco visited Dapitan, Rizal made an appeal to the Governor-General to allow him to stand trial so he could defend himself in court and finally be exonerated from the charges filed against him. No action was taken, however, by the colonial government.
When Rizal wrote his application as medical volunteer to Cuba, he knew that the uprising in Cuba against Spain had already started in February 1895. A few months later, in May 1895, the leader of the revolution, Jose Marti, died in a skirmish between Cuban freedom fighters and Spanish troops. The martyrdom of Marti stoked the flames of a larger movement for national independence. News about events in Cuba might have reached Rizal through a network of friends, both Filipinos and Europeans, who were Freemasons. Like Marti, Rizal was a Freemason; like Rizal, Marti was a poet. Both Rizal and Marti became national heroes of their respective countries.
Visitor from Manila
In late May 1896 Rizal received a guest from Manila –– Pio Valenzuela. Like Rizal, Valenzuela was a Freemason. He was tasked by the Gran Consejo Regional of Freemasons in Filipinas to facilitate Rizal’s escape from Dapitan, using funds raised for such purpose. The “brothers and sisters” of Rizal in Freemasonry were concerned for his safety. In April 1896 the Spanish authorities started to raid houses where Freemasons met in Manila and Bulacan. They were accused of conspiring against the colonial government and preparing for an insurrection.
On 7 May 1896 local newspapers published an article about the revolutionary activities of Filipino Freemasons in Hongkong and Japan. Those implicated included Jose Ma. Basa and Mariano Marti (no relation to the Jose Marti of Cuba), both Freemasons actively engaged in the Filipino propaganda movement. Basa, a lawyer, had escaped from his exile in the Marianas and had turned to business when he made Hongkong his base of activities. One of his tasks as Filipino patriot was the distribution, openly and clandestinely, of “Noli Me Tangere” and later on, “El Filibusterismo”—the novels of Rizal that the Spanish colonial authorities took pains to ban from public circulation. Both Basa and Marti, had assisted Rizal in establishing his medical practice in Hongkong during his stay from November 1891 to June 1892, while on his return journey to Filipinas.
Rizal travelled back to Filipinas very much convinced that it was time for him and other Filipino patriots abroad to wage a more intense struggle for political rights in the home country. Such an effort required forming an organization united by a common mission and representing the various segments of the population in the archipelago.
In 1890, while they were based in Spain, Rizal and Marcelo H. Del Pilar conceived such a strategy. The organizational machinery would comprise of Masonic groups that will only accept Filipino members and will encompass the entire Filipinas. Both Rizal and Del Pilar were members of the reconstituted Solidaridad Lodge, the first Masonic lodge in Spain composed of Filipinos. One of the main projects of this lodge was the production and distribution of “La Solidaridad,” the publication of the Filipino Propaganda Movement both in Europe and in the Philippines.
After intense discussion, Solidaridad Lodge supported the strategy to fast-track the formation of a broad Masonic organization in Filipinas. The following reasons were given: first, Masonry as a brotherhood of humanity could help unify the Filipinos in the whole archipelago because it represented “a universal protest against the ambitions of tyrants” and served as a “supreme manifestation of democracy;” and second, the organizational work of Masonry as a brotherhood could transform the country “from a downtrodden Spanish colony, poor and sickly, without rights and liberties, into a dignified, free and prosperous nation.”
The Filipino Freemasons had in their minds two models: The American Revolution –– many of whose leaders, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were Freemasons and the South American Revolution against Spain –– many of whose leaders, like Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin, were Freemasons. Both Bolivar and San Martin once belonged to a Masonic lodge in Spain. According to one account, an estimated 150 lodges existed in colonial America at the outbreak of the revolution against English rule.
Not long after, the Gran Oriente Español, the principal federation of Spanish lodges that accepted members from the colonies, consented to establish lodges in the Philippines among Filipinos with Solidaridad Lodge taking the lead. The approval was given only after serious debate and consideration. Many Spanish Freemasons were cautious about granting such an authority. In previous years, Gran Oriente had chartered five lodges in the country comprising mostly of Spaniards. They were concerned that creating a network of Filipino lodges might replicate the experience in South America wherein the role of Freemasonry in the liberation movement became well-known and controversial. Gran Oriente was headed by Miguel Morayta, one of several Spanish politicians who openly supported the Filipinos’ struggle for political reforms in their homeland.
Solidaridad Lodge promptly assigned Antonio Luna and Pedro Serrano Laktaw to accomplish the mission in the Filipinas. Luna was mainly responsible for designing the organizational system that would allow the lodges to operate in the open as Masons and to pursue their propaganda activities as filibusteros. Due to previous commitments, however, Luna had to join his brother, Juan, in Paris. Laktaw returned to Filipinas in October 1891, after receiving his certificate of Maestro Superior from the Escuela Normal de Madrid.
On 6 January 1892, Nilad, the first Masonic Lodge in the Filipinas having all Filipinos as members, was formed. (The word “nilad” refers to a type of mangrove tree that grew abundantly in the estuarine areas of the Pasig River and Manila Bay.) The creation of a lodge required the affiliation of seven Freemasons; the creation of a triangle (triangulo), a preparatory stage to lodge formation, required only three Freemasons. In the tradition of Spanish Freemasonry, the initiates and leaders adopted symbolic names. The first set of officers was composed of Jose A. Ramos (Socorro); Moises Salvador (Araw); Lorenzo Tuazon (Kamuning); Tomas Tuazon (Gunting); Pedro Serrano Laktaw (Panday Pira); Timoteo Paez (Raxa Matanda); and Romualdo Cacnio (Timawa). Ramos, Salvador and Paez were still members at that time of the Comite de Propaganda which consistently maintained the political pressure, at great risk to themselves, on the Spanish clergy and civil authorities in the Filipinas. Marcelo H. Del Pilar (Kupang) was an active leader of the Comite before he left for Spain.
Dimasalang was Rizal’s symbolic name as a Freemason. He joined the Acacia Lodge in Madrid when he was a university student in 1883. Morayta of Gran Oriente was one of his professors. Masonic researchers claim that Rizal also became a lodge member in Germany where he went for further medical studies. Some of his German acquaintances were also Freemasons: Dr. Rudolf Virchow, an anthropologist, and Dr. Feodor Jagor, an ethnologist. These Masonic brothers of Rizal sponsored his membership in the Berlin Anthropological Society and the Berlin Ethnological Society. It’s possible that Rizal also became a member of a Masonic Lodge in France where he helped form the all-Filipino association, Los Indios Bravos.
Return to the Homeland
Rizal (Dimasalang) arrived in Manila from Hongkong on 21 June 1892. The Nilad Lodge had already been formed and he became one of its officers. There was a surge to organize Masonic triangles and lodges. A month later, he mobilized the members to form another organization, La Liga Filipina. Rizal believed that the project of political and social transformation in Filipinas should be a project of Filipinos, not just of Freemasons. He viewed La Liga as the wider organizational vehicle for building one nation. This sense of national identity was crucial, according to Rizal, to significantly achieve political unity and democratic ends. It was founded on 3 July 1892 during a special assembly of Freemasons at the house of Doroteo Ongjunko in Ilaya Street, Tondo. Rizal was present on this occasion and openly encouraged the members of the new organization to participate and support the propaganda campaign for political rights that was already in motion.
The wave of persecution against Filipino Freemasons started when Rizal (Dimasalang) started visiting and attending the meetings of the Masonic groups formed by the Filipinos. It continued while he was in exile in Dapitan and then intensified after Andres Bonifacio and members of the revolutionary Katipunan attacked a Spanish military installation in San Juan del Monte in August 1896. Like Pio Valenzuela, Bonifacio (Sinukuan) was a Freemason. They both belonged to the same lodge, Taliba. By the time Rizal received Valenzuela in Dapitan, the organizing work of the Freemasons stretched from Ilocos in the north to Zamboanga in the south.
In April 1893 Bonifacio (Sinukuan), together with Domingo Franco and Apolinario Mabini and several Freemasons, revitalized a weakened La Liga Filipina after Rizal was deported to Dapitan. The re-organized La Liga did not last long. It initially split into two factions that held divergent political convictions. One group firmly believed that political reforms could still be attained through non-violent means, while another group believed that national independence was the main goal—if necessary, by force of arms. La Liga was finally dissolved in October 1893.
The reform-minded members organized the Cuerpo de Compromisarios under Apolinario Mabini (Katabay), Domingo Franco (Felipe Leal), Timoteo Paez (Raxa Matanda), Faustino Villaruel (Ilaw), Jose A. Ramos (Socorro), Moises Salvador (Araw) and Ambrocio Reyes. The revolutionary group formalized the existence of the Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Assembly of the Children of the Motherland) or simply, Katipunan. It was formed earlier on 7 July 1892, right after Rizal was forced to exile in Dapitan. The founders were Freemasons who belonged to Taliba Lodge in Manila and were also members of La Liga: Andres Bonifacio (Sinukuan), Teodoro Plata, Jose Dizon (Montgomery), Valentin Diaz, Deodato Arellano (Buan) and Ladislao Diwa (Baguio).
Most of the leaders of the Cuerpo de Compromisarios eventually joined ranks with their Katipunan compatriots when the struggle for independence was fought against Spain and later on, against the United States.
Escape from Exile
Three years after the La Liga was dissolved and the Katipunan emerged as mass movement, Pio Valenzuela met Rizal (Dimasalang) in Dapitan. Valenzuela came as a brother Freemason and as a member of the Katipunan. Valenzuela was tasked to inform Rizal that the outbreak of hostilities between Spanish government and the Katipunan was inevitable. The arrests, incarceration and torture, and killings of Freemasons and suspected Katipuneros had reached a point that the revolutionaries, in order to survive and become a viable force, had to confront the Spanish onslaught with military action.
The leaders of the Katipunan wanted to consult Rizal before launching the armed revolution. It was obvious to everyone that Rizal in exile would be a helpless target to the Spanish political and religious authorities once the uprising began. Foremost in their minds was the attempted assassination of Rizal in Dapitan by Pablo Mercado, who was later exposed as an agent of the Spanish clergy. So a plot was also designed for Rizal’s escape from exile.
Perhaps, because of the secrecy involved in the meeting of Rizal and Valenzuela, no documentation on this matter has been found by historical researchers. It’s possible, however, that Rizal was meant to be smuggled out of the archipelago and to go into hiding in North Borneo which was then a British territory. The place had been surveyed previously by Rizal himself. During his stay in Hongkong from November 1891 to June 1892, Rizal was able to arrange a trip to North Borneo. He reached the place in early March 1892. With the support of British officials in Borneo, he determined the feasibility of establishing an agricultural colony by Filipinos. The arrangements he had with the British authorities must have been quite positive.
On 21 March 1892, he wrote a letter to Governor-General Eulogio Despujol (the predecessor of Blanco), asking him permission to establish a Filipino colony in Borneo. Shortly after Rizal arrived in Manila, on 29 June 1892, he met Despujol. During their discussion, Despujol rejected Rizal’s project in North Borneo. More than a week later, on 7 July 1892, Despujol ordered Rizal to be deported to Dapitan.
On 1 July 1896 Rizal (Dimasalang) received a letter from Blanco indicating that his offer of voluntary service in Cuba had been accepted. Rizal eventually dismissed the escape plan to North Borneo because the opportunity to go to Cuba as a medical volunteer seemed to be a more viable scheme. He was anxious that if he escaped, members of his family, including his wife Josephine Bracken, would be subjected to further oppression and the people he worked with in Dapitan to reprisals. Paciano, his elder brother who later on became a respected leader of revolutionary forces in the Southern Tagalog region, was once deported to Mindoro and was again being threatened to be deported to Jolo. His mother and some of his sisters were being evicted from their land and were recommended for deportation after they accused the friars of landgrabbing in their Calamba hometown.
Rizal was well aware that the links between his family and Freemasonry made them vulnerable to violence. His brother Paciano associated with Freemasons during his student days in Manila when he worked with Fr. Jose Burgos in the Comite de Reformadores. Members of the Comite were implicated in the Cavite Revolt of 1872 and led to the execution of Fr. Burgos and two other Filipino priests, Fr. Mariano Gomez and Fr. Jacinto Zamora.
He was well aware that his sisters Josefa (Sumikat), Narcisa and Trinidad (Sumibol) were Freemasons; so were his nieces, Angelica Rizal Lopez and Delfina Rizal Herbosa. They were initiated in July 1893 and became members of Logia de Adopcion. A few weeks after their initiation, Narcisa and Trinidad together with their mother, traveled to Dapitan to join Rizal. Josefa, Angelica and Delfina later joined the women’s chapter of the Katipunan.
Perhaps, it was reasonable and feasible for Rizal to be a volunteer in Cuba than to be a fugitive in North Borneo. It gave him the legitimacy to support the patriotic work in Filipinas and, if opportunity permitted, to be of assistance to the “brotherhood” in Cuba and even in Puerto Rico, where renewed agitation for national independence was brewing. Collaborating with Cubans and Puerto Ricans was not new to Filipinos like him who once lived in Spain.
Much earlier in April 1886, a group of Filipinos, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Spaniards formed the first Solidaridad Lodge in Barcelona. The Filipinos who joined this lodge of fraternal and political solidarity were Graciano Lopez-Jaena (Bolivar) of Iloilo; Julio Llorente (Danton) of Cebu; and Evaristo Aguirre of Cavite. Lopez-Jaena left the Philippines to escape persecution after he wrote “Fray Botod,” a satire on the excesses and hypocrisy of the Spanish friars in the islands. He was one of the “most applauded orators in the lodges.” Most the Filipinos were there for studies. Alfredo Bentancour of Cuba and Herminio Diaz of Puerto Rico would later figure in the political struggles of their respective countries against both Spain and the United States. The original Solidaridad lasted only a year and a half.
On 2 April 1889, the Filipinos and Cubans teamed up again to form Revolucion Lodge. The Filipino organizers were Lopez-Jaena, Marcelo H. del Pilar (Kupang), Mariano Ponce (Kalipulako) and Jose Ma. Panganiban, a medical student from the Bicol region. Lopez-Jaena and Del Pilar had been working together to produce the fortnightly newspaper, “La Solidaridad,” which first appeared in 15 February 1899. The Cubans were Juan Jose Cañarte (Caridad) and Justo Argudin. The seventh member of the lodge was Celso Mir Deas, a former Spanish Army officer who served in Filipinas. The founders were unanimous in affiliating their lodge with the Gran Oriente Español which was established primarily by Miguel Morayta (Pizarro) on 9 January 1889. Not only did they know Morayta but they found comfort and assurance in the preamble of the Gran Oriente constitution which read:
“The provinces beyond the seas shall be our care for they are so much in need of justice, so hungry for their lawful rights, and so desirous of equality. If there is any place where our doctrines of peace and charity are direly needed, it is undoubtedly in those unhappy territories. There is where our Masonic fraternity must be strongly organized; there is where it must make evident its expansive, liberal and democratic character; there we must emphasize our ideals of fraternity; and there we have to show that if, unfortunately, there are men in Spain, spurious sons of greatness, who would make enemies of the people in those territories through despotism and tyranny, there are also true sons of noble Spain, the great Spain who loves equally all her sons whether from the motherland or overseas.”
Through the Gran Oriente, the lodge waged a campaign against the deportation of Filipinos through administrative orders. The lodge wanted judicial intervention on such matters. If the formal petition had been acted upon resolutely by the Cabinet ministers of Spain, Rizal wouldn’t have been deported to Dapitan. The inability among Spanish liberal and progressive groups to influence decisively their government’s policies on the colonies shifted the weight of effort by Filipinos from seeking reforms in Spain to organized militant action in the archipelago.
The Final Journey
On 31 July 1896, at midnight, Rizal departed from Dapitan after staying there for four years and 13 days. He left on board the ship España to fulfill his assignment in Cuba. The ship arrived in Manila Bay on August 6. He found out that he missed by a day the boat that was to transport him to Spain. The colonial authorities arrested and detained him inside the ship, Castilla, which was anchored off the coast of Cavite. While in detention, he received another letter from Governor-General Blanco endorsing his assignment to Cuba to the Spanish Minister of War. Blanco even mentioned that Rizal’s conduct as an exile in Dapitan was exemplary.
The existence of the Katipunan was uncovered by the Spanish authorities while Rizal waited for an opportunity to sail to Spain and then to Cuba. Bonifacio (Sinukuan) launched his attack on San Juan del Monte on 30 August 1896, but the assault failed. The following day, Governor-General Blanco declared martial law in the city of Manila and the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. On August 31, Emilio Aguinaldo (Colon), Candido Tirona, Baldomero Aguinaldo, Mariano Alvarez and Santiago Alvarez launched simultaneous attacks on Spanish troops in Cavite province. Revolutionary forces of Nueva Ecija province, under the leadership of Mariano Llanera of Triangulo Centeno in Cabiao and Pantaleon Belmonte of Triangulo Morayta in Gapan followed suit by staging a concerted assault on the provincial capital of San Isidro on September 2. Many of the leaders of the uprising were members of Masonic triangles and lodges and of the Katipunan.
Since the Katipunan was an underground organization, the Spanish authorities went after Freemasons who were suspected of being affiliated with the Katipunan. Those who were imprisoned included the writers Aurelio Tolentino (Pangahas) and Severino Reyes; the brothers Juan and Antonio Luna (Gay-Lussac); Vicente Lukban (Victor Emmanuel) who later became the politico-military chief of Bicol region and eventually, of the Samar-Leyte front during the First Republic; and Rosario Villaruel (Minerva), the first Filipino woman initiated to Freemasonry. Among those who were harassed and detained were Filipino priests who had been asserting their rights to be recognized by the Catholic Church.
Finally, on 3 September 1896, Rizal departed from Manila for Spain on board the ship Isla de Panay. When he landed in Spain on 6 October 1896, Spanish soldiers brought him straight to the prison castle of Montjuich in Barcelona. A military officer informed Rizal that various newspapers in Madrid identified him as one of the leading conspirators of the revolution in Filipinas. After being detained for eight hours, he was deported back to the colony on board the boat S.S. Colon. His chances of reaching Cuba vanished. Rizal arrived in Manila on November 3 and was immediately imprisoned in Fort Santiago.
Governor-General Blanco, who refused to impose the death sentence on Rizal, was undermined by the Spanish clergy, who wanted a written retraction by Rizal of his Masonic membership. He was replaced by Camilo Polavieja. On December 29 the new Governor-General affirmed the death sentence of Rizal for being “the principal organizer and living soul of the insurrection in the Filipinas.”
In his memoir, The Katipunan and the Revolution, Gen. Santiago Alvarez of Cavite relates how leaders of the Katipunan prepared a plan to snatch away Rizal from his guards while on his way to the execution grounds. Rizal, however, rejected the plan because its implementation would involve the loss of many lives.
Early morning on December 30, Rizal was killed by firing squad at Bagumbayan field. On 11 January 1897 another group was executed on the same site, 10 of them were Freemasons. Another 13 Filipinos from Cavite, 10 of them Freemasons, died by musketry on September 11 and they are remembered today because one of the towns in that province is now called Trece Martires (Thirteen Martyrs).
The Philippines declared its independence on 12 June 1898. The first commemoration of Jose Rizal’s death happened on 30 December 1898. It was Emilio Aguinaldo (Colon), as President of the First Philippine Republic, who assigned that day a public holiday for recalling the life and deeds of one also known as Dimasalang.
Revised: 12 January 2013 / Bay, Laguna