Jose Rizal Trial and Execution

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Last Homecoming and Trial by the Spanish Military Court

After being held prisoner in Barcelona, Rizal was ordered by General Eulogio Despujol that he would be shipped back to Manila via the transport ship Colon. On board the vessel, Rizal was told that the Madrid newspapers were full of stories about the revolution in the Philippines and were blaming him for it. News of Rizal's predicament reached his friends in Europe and Singapore. They dispatched telegrams to an English lawyer in Singapore to rescue Rizal from the Spanish steamer by means of a writ of habeas corpus. The writ, however, was denied and Rizal remained prisoner in the ship.

The Colon reached Manila on November 3, 1896 and Rizal was then quietly transferred to Fort Santiago. The preliminary investigation began a few days later, with Colonel Francisco Olive acting as the Judge Advocate. Two kinds of evidence were presented against Rizal, namely documentary and testimonial.

Documentary evidence included letters which allegedly implicate Rizal in the Propaganda movement, several transcripts of speech wherein his name was used by the Katipunan, as well as several of his poems which were highly nationalistic in nature. Testimonial evidence, on the other hand, consisted of the oral testimonies of Rizal's various acquaintances.

After the preliminary investigation, the Judge Advocate General, Don Nicolas de la Peña, submitted the following recommendations: (1) the accused be immediately brought to trial; (2) he should be kept in prison; (3) an order of attachment be issued against his property as an indemnity; and (4) he should be defended in court by an army officer. Such army officer who acted as his defense counsel was Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade, chosen by Rizal himself.

The information of charges was later on formally read to Rizal in his prison cell. He was accused of being "the principal organizer and the living soul of the Filipino insurrection, the founder of societies, periodicals and books dedicated to formenting and propagating ideas of rebellion." Rizal raised no objections to these charges; however, he pleaded not guilty to the crime of rebellion.

On December 15, Rizal wrote a manifesto in his prison cell at Fort Santiago appealing to his people to stop the necessary shedding of blood and to achieve their liberties by means of education and industry. General de la Peña, however, recommended to the newly installed Governor General, Camilo de Polavieja, that the manifesto be suppressed. Thus, it was never issued to the people.

The trial of Rizal commenced on December 26, 1896 at the Cuartel de España. Although Rizal was a civilian, he was tried by a military court composed of alien military officers. The prosecuting attorney, Lt. Enrique de Alcocer, delivered a long speech summarizing the charges against Rizal and urged the court to give the verdict of death to the accused. Afterwards, Defense Counsel Andrade then took the floor and read his eloquent defense of Rizal. He ended his defense with a noble admonition to the members of the military that the judges be just and not vindictive. His admonition fell on deaf ears.

Despite all valid pleadings, the military court, vindictive as it was, unanimously voted for the sentence of death. Polavieja affirmed the decision of the court martial and ordered Rizal to be shot at 7:00 in the morning of December 30, 1896 at Bagumbayan Field.

Rizal's Last Day and His Execution

Rizal spent his last 24 hours in his death cell where he received members of his family and writes his letter of farewell, the first one to his "second brother ' Ferdinand Blumentritt. He gave his sister, Trinidad, an old petroleum lamp and whispered to her in English that there is something inside the lamp. Thus is Rizal's famous farewell poem

"Ultimo Adios", (Last Farewell) was found.

Rizal was said to have married his Irish girlfriend according to Catholic rites in the very last hours of his life, after living with her for sometime in Dapitan. They were previously married civilly. On the morning of December 30, 1896, Rizal set on his walk from Fort Santiago to the Bagumbayan square, the same place where the three priests had been killed in 1872, now Luneta Park, in the center of Manila at 6:30 o'clock. Many details were told about this walk; how Rizal, on this walk, told the priest accompanying him of his earlier strolls in that place; how the military doctor admired the normal pulse rate of Rizal shortly before his execution; how Rizal requested that he be shot in the chest, which was denied him; how he forgave all those involved in his execution.

The Spanish authority set up the ceremony like a fair. Hundreds of men and women of the Spanish colony appeared in their best clothes in order to celebrate the death of their enemy. Troop units were paraded; a musical band celebrated the death of Rizal by playing the national anthem continuously. The firing squad was composed of Filipino soldiers of the colonial army, but behind them stood a detachment of Spanish soldiers with muskets leveled at their "brown comrades" in case they should refuse to shoot their countryman.

Rizal, ready and calm, took his position opposite his executioners. Roll of drums and a volley of artillery accompany the firing of the soldiers. And even at the moment of his fall, Rizal turns his body so that he ends up lying on his back, with his face to the sun. The elegant Spanish ladies wave their handkerchiefs, the Gentlemen applaud. And while the Filipinos see the execution in enraged silence, calls of "Viva Españ;a!" resound thunderously.

The execution of Rizal stirred emotions all over the world. The newspapers, which otherwise hardly took notice of this distant country reported about the execution. The international prestige of the Spanish colonialism, already discredited, suffered a heavy blow. Indeed in the Philippines itself, the death of the man, who for millions ot people had been the embodiment of uprightness, of tolerance, of kindness and helpfulness, but above all of liberalism, of freedom and independence, had the effect of a beacon. Thousands of those who hesitated, who were undecided, who were afraid perceived the death of Rizal as a mute call to join up with the revolutionaries whose ranks swelled in the weeks and months that followed.