rizal’s twist of death

i’ve always been fascinated by rizal’s final act of defiance, twisting around to die on his back with his face to the sun.

He took his stand facing the bay, his back to the rising sun. The drums rolled, the shout of command was given, and the Remingtons of the 70th fired. With one last convulsive effort of the will Rizal twisted his body rightward as he fell, his last sight being perhaps the hard empty eyes of the professional soldiers, companions in arms of those who had impassively lowered Tarsilo down the well and hunted down Elias as he swam in his own blood.

that’s from Leon Ma. Guerrero, The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal (Manila: Guerrero Publishing, 1998 [1963]), pp. 443-448 posted in The Diaries of Jose Rizal.

and from ambeth ocampo’s facebook discussion board — Topic: Did Rizal deliberately turn around to face the firing squad during his execution? noel villaroman in a letter to ocampo posits that it was the impact of the bullets that caused the almost 180-degree turn.

At the exact moment the Remingtons were fired, the bullets almost instantaneously hit Rizal at his back because he was less than ten meters away from the frontline soldiers. My guess is that this caused his body to swing to the right in an almost 180 degree-turn because of the impact of the bullets. Now, in the eyes of the witnesses situated 331 meters or more from the firing squad, it seemed that Rizal first turned around (because light waves reached them first) and then after a full second or so they heard the gunshots (because sound waves reached them later).

The Encyclopedia Rizaliana, edited by Jose A Fadul, has an entry that says “Rizal was said to have made a last-moment effort to turn to face his executioners upon hearing ‘Fuego!’” I also recall that, in one of your books, you stated that “Rizal made that carefully choreographed twist he practiced years before that would make him fall face up on the ground.”

finally, from PenelopeVFlores: I was at Dr. Jose Rizal’s Execution: 30 Dec.1896. Bagumbayan, Manila, by Senor Don Perro.  obviously fictional, a dog’s eye-witness account, but interesting:

My master approached the prisoner. I trotted by my master’s heels and heard him tell Rizal that he will soon give the orders to shoot. Rizal asked not to be blindfolded. My master agreed. “Not necessary,” he explained.

Rizal asked if he could face the firing squad. My master answered, “That’s not possible, I have orders to shoot you in the back.”

“In that case then,” Rizal said “spare my head.” My master paused, and I whimpered, “Master, say yes.” “Yes,” he agreed.

Rizal informed my master that he’d point with his elbow and hitch his shoulder to indicate where the soldiers should aim to hit his heart.

“Thanks,” my master said and asked, “Do you prefer to kneel?”

Rizal said, “No, I’ll stand.”

It was 7:02 am.

A muffled drum roll was sounded.

A minute later I heard my master give the order: MARK. Another second later: FIRE! The impact of eight bullets found their mark. Rizal fell down face upwards.

Nota bene.
Have you often wondered how Rizal could fall with his face upward? When he indicated the side where to shoot him, the body action of raising the right shoulder and the twisting of his elbow ensured his body would fall face up when he was shot.

whatever.  it all tells me that rizal had been determined not to die as a traitor, and that pinag-isipan at pinag-aralan niyang mabuti how to manage that epic twist and defy confound the spaniards one last time.  way to go!


  1. baycas

    “the impact of the bullets that caused the almost 180-degree turn”

    this one has to be tested…that is, if all rifles have live rounds (or if there are no “conscience rounds”).

    please read here:

    http://www.csmn.uio.no/img/articles/seumas_miller.pdf (page 6)

    http://www.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=3z9EpgisKOgC&oi=fnd&pg=PA357&dq=live+round+firing+squad&ots=3TsemWbMRq&sig=K1AmE8ZbVEoECgMbXu7fObi7x4s#v=onepage&q=live%20round%20firing%20squad&f=false (page 359)

  2. as an eye doctor and a genious at that, rizal could have calculated the aiming and trigging of the rifle gun by soldiers will have enough time to twist and face his executioners and show he was not a traitor to his country.

  3. Penelope’s details aren’t fictional pala: ‘I used Elizabeth Medina’s “Rizal According to Retana: Portrait of a hero and a revolution. Santiago de Chile: Virtual Ediciones, 1998. I also read Nick Joaquin’s and Austin Craig’s Rizal biographies. … I just edited my blog. The sources are now cited within the blog. Next time, I’ll make sure I give the sources. I did not realize that researchers and scholars like you are reading my blog…Now I know better.”


  4. Hello ladies and gentlemen:

    Thanks for you comments.:

    You may be interested in looking at the speech I gave at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center on Celebrating Rizal 150.

    As usual I give a “twist” on Rizal history.

    see: penelopevfloresblogspot.com

  5. @penelope: ah so you’re a grandniece of the mysterious viola who lent rizal the 300 pesos to publish noli! glad to “meet” you :) was googling him earlier for endnote to a book i’m coming out with soon and couldn’t find anything more than that.