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A Biography of Jose Rizal



with an introduction by


(Awarded First Prize in the Rizal Biography Contest held under the
auspices of the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission in 1961)


All about the author: Leon Ma. Guerrero

Leon Maria Ignacio Agapito Guerrero y Francisco, to give his full baptismal name, was
born on March 24, 1915, in the district of Ermita, Manila, the son of Dr. Alfredo Le6n
Guerrero and Filomena Francisco, the first Filipino woman pharmacist. His family had
been prominent residents of Ermita as long as they could remember that genteel suburb
south of Intramuros noted during the Spanish era as the producer of finely woven hand-
embroideries and fine-mannered and beautiful mestiza women. His grandfathers were
Leon Maria Guerrero, after whom he was named, a distinguished botanist and a
delegate to the Malolos Congress as well as a member of the first Philippine Assembly;
and Gabriel Beato Francisco of Sampaloc, a journalist who had been manager of El
Comercio, the foremost mercantile newspaper during the Spanish regime. One of his
uncles was Fernando Maria Guerrero, the revolutionary poet and journalist; another was
Manuel Severino Guerrero, the discoverer of tiki-tiki, a local cure for beri-beri or scurvy.
With such intellectual forebears, it is not surprising that young Leoni, neck and neck with
his two friends and rivals for eight years, Father Horacio de la Costa and the late Jesus
A. Paredes, Jr., was made a bachelor of arts summa cum laude by the Ateneo in 1935,
equalling the scholastic record set two generations earlier by our hero from Calamba.

He studied law at night in the Philippine Law School while working as a staff member of
the Philippines Free Press. One result of this journalistic interlude was a serialized
novel, "His Honor the Mayor", which satirized the foibles of Manila politics. One year
prior to his law graduation, also summa cum laude, he married the beauteous Anita
Corominas of Cebu. Lawyer, diplomat, and bon vivant, Guerrero has never forgotten his
first love, writing, now mainly historical and political writing. He belongs to the
generation of Filipinos, now in their late forties, who use English as their vehicle of
expression. With Nick Joaquin, Jose Garcia Villa, N. V. M. Gonzalez, Horacio de la
Costa, Teodoro M. Locsin, Estrella Alf6n, Leopoldo Ya bes, Re care do Demetillo,
Manuel Viray, Kerima Polo tan, Celso Carunungan, and others, among them his sister
Carmen Maria Guerrero Nakpil, he has fashioned an adopted language into a new
tongue which is neither the English of the Americans nor that of the British, but is
distinctly that of the modern educated Filipino. Nick J oaquin writes English with a
Spanish flavor; N. V. M. Gonzalez cannot escape his Tagalog background; but, among
all his contemporaries, Guerrero is nearest to the King's English because of his Ateneo
education and his seven and a half years in London. He writes as a pragmatist who
analyzes motives and deeds from a faintly cynical point of view. The reader will surely
gather this as he goes through the pages of this biography of Dr. Jose Rizal

Our story begins with an execution which prefigures its end.

Late in the night of the 15th February 1872 a Spanish court-martial found three secular
priests, Jose Burgos, Mariano G6mez, and Jacinto Zamora, guilty of treason as the
instigators of a mutiny in the Kabite navy-yard a month before, and sentenced them to

The Spanish newspaper, La Naci6n,01 described Burgos as "a Spaniard born in the
Philippines, parish priest of the Manila Cathedral, and a man of rather valuable social
graces. Although to all appearances modest, he was ruled by the contrary passion,
which, according to some, explains his political errors."

Zamora, according to the same newspaper, was also a Spaniard born in the Philippines
and parish priest of Marikina. "He was a troublesome character, not very friendly to
Spaniards, and had given serious offence to the authorities, mainly Brigadier Oran,
governor of Manila in 1867, to whom, on a trip he made to Marikina, Father Zamora
denied the honors due to any provincial governor."

G6mez, parish priest of Bacoor, was "a native of Ka1bite, a Chinese half-breed and very
old, perhaps more than 70. He had aroused the suspicions of the Spanish authorities
more than once, but in view of his age and experience in the cure of souls he had been
made his archbishop's vicar in the province, having under his jurisdiction a number of
Dominican and Recollect friars who had parishes in it.

The news of the judgment appears to have spread rapidly, and thousands of Filipinos
gathered in the field of the new town called Bagumbayan where the executions would
take place. The three priests were to be taken in a closed coach to an improvised
death-cell set up near the scaffolds, but when it was delayed the commanding officer of
Fort Santiago ordered the condemned men to be taken in his own carriage. Thus it was
in an elegant burnished carriage, whose magnificent horses were led by two infantry
sergeants, that the three priests were taken to their death-cell; it was, we are told, more
of a "triumphal march" than a funeral cortege, for the Filipinos in their thousands saluted
the three priests with their handkerchiefs. Burgos, G6mez and Zamora had been
stripped of their priestly robes and were chained hand and foot. When friars and Filipino
seculars offered to shrive them, the court-martial's advocate-general mocked the
condemned men.

Seventeen years later Rizal would write to Ponce: "If at his death Burgos had shown the
courage of G6mez, the. Filipinos of today would be other than they are. However,
nobody knows how he will behave at that culminating moment, and perhaps I myself,
who preach and boast so much, may show more fear and less resolution than Burgos in
that crisis. Life is so pleasant, and it is so repugnant to die on the scaffold, still young
and with ideas in one's head .... "

Among those who thought it prudent to leave Manila at this time and lose themselves in
the relative seclusion of the provinces was a young student at the Colegio de San Jose
by the name of Paciano Mercado, who had been a housemate of the unfortunate
Burgos. Paclano was the eldest son of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso, an
affluent family of Kalamba in the province of La Laguna. The Mercados would have
tended to sympathize with the seculars. F9r one reason or another, Kalamba, although
properly speaking it was In friar territory, was served by Filipino parish priests. The
couple's younger son, Jose, had been baptized by a Batanguefio, Father Rufino
Collantes, who had been succeeded by another Filipino, Father Leoncio L6pez. The
latter was on the closest terms with the family, and his nephew Antonino, a
schoolmaster from Morong, would in fact marry their second daughter, Narcisa. A third
Filipino priest, a town mate, Father Pedro Casa iias, had stood as godfather at Jose's
baptism, and one of his nephews, Mariano Herbosa, a farmer, would in turn marry
another sister, Lucia. But the family fortunes were entirely dependent on the Dominican
friars. Don Francisco leased from the Order's great estates in the lake region the lands
which he cultivated with such skill, energy and success. Even ten years later Paciano
would warn his brother against offending the Dominicans. "These lands," he would
write, "cost us nothing and were given to us by the Order in preference to anybody else;
we should show them a little gratitude for this since, having no obligation towards us,
they desire the good of the family. No doubt you will tell me that I forget the work we do
on the land and the rent we pay; I agree, but you will also agree with me that these
Fathers were under no obligation at all to give us the Pansol lands exclusively, ignoring
the persistent petitions of others. We should avoid doing anything that might offend
them in the least.

Do:fia Teodora was, after all, a lady of some consequence. Yet she was roughly seized
and marched off on foot some fifty kilometers to the jail in the provincial capital of Santa
Cruz. "The mayor," in turn, "who from the start had swallowed the charges whole and
was lost to any impulse of nobility, treated my mother with contumely, not to say
brutality, afterward forcing her to admit what they wanted her to admit, promising that
she would be set free and re-united with her children if she said what they wanted her to
say. What mother could have refused, what mother would not have sacrificed her very
life for the sake of her children? My mother was like all mothers: deceived and terrorized
(for they told her that, if she did not say what they wanted her to say, she would be
convicting' herself), she submitted to the will of her enemies. The affair grew more
complicated until, by some providence, the mayor himself begged my mother's
forgiveness. But when? When the case had already reached the Supreme Court. He
begged forgiveness because he was troubled by his conscience and because his own
baseness horrified him. My mother's cause was defended by Don Francisco de
Marcaida and Don Manuel Marzano, the most famous lawyers in Manila. In the end she
secured an acquittal and was vindicated in the eyes of her judges, her accusers, and
even her enemies- but after how long? After two years and a half”.

It is not without significance that Rizal could not bring himself, except as an adolescent
in his anonymous student diary, to write openly of his mother's tragedy. He must
recollect it only in fiction, as something so unbearable that it must have happened to
somebody else, a creature of his imagination. When it came to rationalizing his hatred
of the regime he preferred to cite a less intimate grievance, the contemporaneous
execution of Burgos, G6mez and Zamora, perhaps as vivid a memory because of his
brother's peril, but not so agonizing or so personal as his beloved mother's shame. Thus
it was to the three priests that he dedicated his second novel, and it was their fate that
he gave as the justification of his career. "Had it not been for the events of 1872, Rizal
would have been a Jesuit !"

But the three priests had not been the only ones who had been shamefully imprisoned,
unfairly tried and unjustly condemned.

One gathers from Rizal's own account of his boyhood that he was brought up in
circumstances that even in the Philippines of our day would be considered privileged.
On both his father's and his mother's sides his forbears had been people of substance
and influence well above the average of their times.

Dofia Teodora's family was perhaps the more distinguished. Rizal himself wrote his
Austrian friend Blumentritt: "My mother is a woman of more than average education ...
Her father [Lorenzo Alberto Alonso], who was a deputy for the Philippines in the Cortes,
was her teacher; her brother [the cuckolded Jose] was educated in Europe and spoke
German, English, Spanish and French ; he was also a knight in the Order of Isabel the
Catholic." We are told that her maternal grandfather, Manuel de Quintos, had been a
well-known lawyer in Manila. Both Don Lorenzo and his father Don Cipriano had been
mayors of Biniang.

Rizal's family on his father's side, the Mercados, had been originally merchants, as their
surname, which in Spanish means market, suggested. But they had added a second
surname under circumstances described by Rizal himself. "I am the only Rizal because
at home my parents, my sisters, my brother and my relatives have always preferred our
old surname, Mercado. Our family name was indeed Mercado but there were many
Mercados in the Philippines who were not related to us, and it is said that a provincial
governor, who was a friend of the family, added Rizal to our name."<s> Whoever the
provincial governor was, his choice was prophetic for Rizal in Spanish means a field
where wheat, cut while still green, sprouts again.

Jose himself had an aya, that is to say, a nanny or personal servant, although he had
five elder sisters who, m less affluent circumstances, could have been expected to look
after him. When he was old enough his father engaged a private tutor for him, a former
classmate called Le6n Monroy who lodged with the family and gave the boy lessons in
reading, writing, and the rudiments of Latin.
Later he would study in private schools, go to the university, finish his courses abroad. It
was the classic method for producing a middle-class intellectual, and it does much to
explain the puzzling absence of any real social consciousness in Rizal's apostolate so
many years after Marx's Manifesto or, for that matter, Leo XIII 's Rerum N ovarum. Don
Francisco, and later Paciano when he took over the management of the family
properties, might lease these from the Dominicans, run the risks of drought, pests and
falling prices, and spend long hard days on horseback, planning, overseeing, driving
their braceros. But it was after all these field-hands who had to sow and reap and mind
the sluices and the primitive mills: what they had in common with these rude unlettered
peasants was the disability of race and the lack of human rights and political liberties,
and it was, naturally enough, these grievances which aroused Rizal's nationalism, a
nationalism which, as we shall see farther on, was essentially rationalist, anti-racist,
anticlerical-political rather than social or economic.

But the Mercados and the Alonsos, for all their land and money and horses and stone
houses, were much closer to their field-hands than the absentee landlords of a later
day. They were ilustrados, that is to say, they could read and write and figure, they took
newspapers and went to court and sometimes travelled abroad; they were of the
principalia, that is to say, they could vote for the town mayor, they collected taxes, they
had the preference, after the Spaniards, in town church and town hall, in civic and
religious processions, and they could wear a European jacket or wield knife and fork
properly on occasion.

As we shall hereafter see, Rizal and the ilustrados, of whom he was to be the exemplar,
the teacher, and tacitly but genera.lly acknowledged leader, would do this above all: he,
through them, would arouse a consciousness of national unity, of a common grievance
and common fate. He would work through his writings, writings in Spanish, which could
be read only by the principales, and not indeed by all of them, but which were read,
overleaping the old barriers of sea and mountain and native dialect, from Vigan to
Dapitan. Without this new middle class, now ·national by grace of school, the printing
press, and newly discovered interests in common, a class to whom peasants and arti·
sans still gave the natural deference of the unlettered to the educated, of poverty to
wealth, of the simple subject to the office-holder, and to whom they still looked, rightly or
wrongly, for guidance, instruction, and leadership, the Kabite insurrection of 1896 might
not have had a greater significance than that of 1872. Instead what might have been
only one more peasant rebellion, what might have been a Tagalog uprising to be
crushed as before with docile levies from Pampanga or the Ilokos or the Bisayas, was
transformed into the re· volution of a new nation. It was Rizal who would persuade the
principales, and with them, and sometimes through them, the peasants and the artisans
that they were all equally "Filipinos", and in so doing would justify the opportunities of
his privileged birth.

Jose had been born on the 19th June 1861 "between eleven and twelve o'clock at night,
a few days before the full moon". It was a difficult delivery that endangered his mother's

He was the seventh of eleven children, the younger of two boys. Don Francisco and his
wife were a prolific pair: they had Saturnina in 1850, Paciano in 1851, Narcisa in 1852,
Olimpia in 1855, Lucia in 1857, Maria in 1859, Jose in 1861, Concepci6n in 1862,
Josefa in 1865, Trinidad in 1868, and Soledad in 1870. Paciano was thus a full ten
years older than Jose, and more of a second father than an elder brother, especially
when Don Francisco to all effects and purposes left the management of the family lands
in his hands.

Jose had few recollections of his childhood, which suggests that it was happy. He
found it delightful to listen to the birds in his father's fruit orchard, and many years later
could still remember the name of every tree. In the evenings he would be taken for
walks along ihe river or listen entranced to his aya's fairy stories as they sat in the
moonlight on the azotea after saying the Rosary. Sometimes it was his mother who had
a story to tell.

When he was nine, his private tutor having died in the meantime, he was taken by
Paciano to Biniang one Sunday; he would lodge in an aunt's house there and continue
his studies in a private school. He was not to stay there very long; it would not be
enjoyable at all. He did not like the town; it struck him as being "large and rich, but ugly
and dismal". Nor was he particularly fond of his schoolmaster, Justiniano Aquino Cruz,
"a tall, thin man with a long neck and a sharp nose and a body bent slightly forward,"
who knew by heart the Spanish and Latin grammars of the medieval Nebrija and the
more modern Dominican Gainza, but who believed in transmitting this know ledge by
way of his pupils' buttocks.

For all that he was immensely happy when he left Biniang for good on the 17th
December 1870. He was going by himself on his first real steamship voyage; the vessel
"seemed to me very beautiful and admirable when I heard my cousin, who had taken
me aboard, discuss the way it worked with one of the sailors." Off Kalamba at last "I
wanted to jump immediately into the first banca that I saw but a cabin-boy took me in his
arms and placed me in the captain's boat .... It would be impossible to describe my joy
when I saw the servant who was waiting for me with the carriage. I jumped in and there
I was again, happy in my own house with the love of my family." For Christmas he was
given "a well-painted and decorated rabbit hutch with real live rabbits."

Although the Spanish educational system in the Philippines at that time was neither so
bad nor so good as it has been made out to be, there were only three secondary
schools in Manila to which a boy of Jose's wit, means, and connections could be sent:
the San Jose Seminary where Paciano had studied, the Dominican College of San Juan
de Letran, and the city school run by the Jesuits, the Ateneo Municipal. Paciano's
experience in San Jose had not been happy, and perhaps he reminded Don Francisco
of the execution earlier that year of Burgos and the two other seculars, generally
attributed to their enemies, the friars. In any case, Paciano was instructed to them all his
younger brother in the Jesuit school. However, the Dominicans at that time exercised
certain powers of inspection and regulation over the municipal Ateneo and Jose took
the required entrance examinations at Letran on the 10th June 1872. The subjects were
Christian doctrine, arithmetic and reading, in all of which he was given a passing mark.
He returned to Kalamba for the town fiesta, "well pleased with himself."

The Ateneo had no reason to regret the admission of the young Rizal, at least in the
scholastic field, for the unprepossessing little provincial proved to be _an outstanding
student. The Jesuit curriculum for the six-year course leading to the degree of bachelor
of arts was considerably tougher than the present equivalent for high school and
college. Besides Christian doctrine, it included Spanish, Latin, Greek and French, world
geography and history, the history of Spain and the Philippines, mathematics and the
sciences (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, mineralogy, chemistry, physics,
botany and zoology), and the classic disciplines of poetry, rhetoric and philosophy. In all
of these subjects Jose was consistently to be graded "excellent"

We are usually given the impression that Rizal as a student was a grind, an abnormally
precocious bookworm, immune to all the whims and caprices of the ordinary youngster,
and it is just as well to realize that he was neither a boy genius nor an unendurable
freak. He was lodged in the beginning with a spinster who owed his family money and
presumably worked off her debt by taking him in as a boarder. The following year,
having found the twenty-five minutes' walk to school tiresome, he moved to another
boarding-house, run by a widow, Dona Pepay, in the Walled City itself, although he had
once found the old Spanish quarter "much too dismal". That year he seems to have
done better: "I was able to win prizes in all the semesters and I would have won a medal
if some mistakes in Spanish, which unfortunately I spoke badly, had not enabled a
young European to have the advantage of me." He might have kept up his record or
even improved it in his third year for he moved once again, this time to a boarding-
house where the landlord was "very strict with me, which was all to the good because I
had to keep regular hours". But after two months and a half a room was vacated at the
widow's whose four grandsons seem to have been great distractions, and Jose
"relapsed into the same life I had led before," with the result that he received only one
first prize, a medal in Latin.

The young Jose was a pious child even before entering the Ateneo. From an early age
his mother had "taught me how to read and say haltingly the humble prayers that I
raised fervently to God". Dona Teodora, like most native women in the Philippines, was
indeed most devout. When her second son was born, she had made a vow of
pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Antipolo for safe delivery, and Jose had kept it
for her. The family would pray the Rosary every night. When he was sent to Biniang,
Jose heard Mass every day, usually at four o'clock in the morning and, so he records,
"went often to the chapel of Our Lady of Peace". His student journal is loud with
invocations to the Deity. "How fervently I went into the chapel of the Jesuits to hear
Mass,"' what fervent prayers I raised to God!" he exclaims, remembering his very first
day at the Ateneo. "In my loneliness I knew no one else to invoke." On the eve of his
graduation, as we have seen, he "prayed fervently in the chapel and ·commended my
life to the Virgin". He was a leader in the Sodality and the Apostolate of Prayer. A letter
he received shortly after his graduation from an old professor, Father Jacinto Febres,
gives a taste of the Jesuits' solicitude for the spiritual health of their students.

Evaluating "the two years [his last in the Ateneo collegiate course] which I consider the
happiest in my life, if happiness can be said to consist in the absence of disagreeable
cares", Jose found that the study of poetry and rhetoric "had elevated my feelings" ; also
that "patriotic sentiments as well as an exquisite sensibility had developed greatly in
me". We are bound to interpret those "patriotic sentiments" in the light of his successful
experiments in racial capacities. A Spaniard was Elcano", and he was not, but the
young poet had discovered that he was not less of a man for all that.

"My mother said that I knew enough already, and that I should not go back to Manila,"
Jose noted in his journal. "Did my mother perhaps have a foreboding of what was to
happen to me? Does a mother's heart really have a second sight?" He himself thought
that her "foreboding" concerned nothing more-although it was serious and painful
enough to him at the time than an unfortunate infatuation, which will be dealt with farther
on. But his mother's "second sight" was clearer and more penetrating than he could
have imagined at the time. What she foresaw when her Jose was still a schoolboy with
no idea of the fatal mission he was to undertake for his people, was nothing less than
that "they would cut off his head".

But Don Francisco had no intention of cutting short his younger son's scholastic career,
particularly since Paciano had had to leave the university himself. Jose was sent back
to Manila even though he was "still uncertain as to what profession to follow". This
question was to bedevil him for years. At first he had been attracted to the priesthood
("Rizal would have been a Jesuit!") but this is a natural propensity in young boys and
girls in religious schools. The Jesuits themselves seem to have suggested that he take
up farming. But his real choice was between literature and the law and medicine. As late
as 1883, when he was already in Madrid, Paciano can be found arguing with him on the

Rizal, a born polemicist, with a talent for self-expression and a keen sense of justice,
would have made a splendid lawyer. In any case Jose marked time by enrolling both in
the Ateneo for a course in land surveying and in the Dominican University of Santo
Tomas in the course of philosophy and letters, apparently because his father wanted
him to study metaphysics. "But so little taste did I have for it," he was to recall, "that I did
not even buy the textbook in common use." This did not prevent him from being graded
"excellent" in cosmology, theodicy and the history of philosophy. He also engaged
successfully in the final test of the course, a public defense in Latin of "the most intricate
and complicated propositions" in metaphysics, although he professed himself
dissatisfied with his performance. "I acquitted myself very indifferently, since I had not
prepared myself as well as I should have." In the Ateneo he won two medals, one in
topography and another in agriculture. He was later to qualify as a surveyor and expert
assessor with the grade of "Excellent".

In the next term he made up his mind to study medicine because his mother's sight was
failing. He was far below his usual standard; in the pre-medical and medical courses
which he took in the University he was given in sixteen subjects three passing grades,
eight "goods", three "very goods" and only two "excellents".

To be wholly fair it must be remarked that Rizal's mediocre showing at the University
may have been due to other causes, one of them, surely, the exciting distractions of
youth. Boys who are brought up among sisters are not usually noted for their virility but
Jose, either by way of compensation or because he had been kept so long in boarding-
school away from feminine company, displayed an early interest in it. His first
infatuation-and clearly it cannot have been more than that-was with a saucy little
Batanguenia by the name of Segunda Katigbak. He tells this story best himself. "I had
nothing to do in Manila. A schoolmate of mine, who had left school three months before
[this was July 1877, more or less] and who lived at the time on the same street as I did,
was the only friend on whom I could count then. . . My friend M. [Mariano Katigbak]
went every Sunday as well as on other days to the house where I was .staying, and
afterwards we went calling together at the house in Trozo of a grandmother of mine who
was a friend of his father. The days passed quietly and uneventfully for me until on one
of our Sunday visits to Trozo we came upon a young girl, perhaps about fourteen years
old, virginal, attractive, engaging, who received my companion with such familiarity that
I gathered she was his sister. I had already heard about her and that she was going to
be married to a relative of hers whose name I did not then recall. Indeed we found there
a tall man, neatly dressed, who seemed to be her fiance. She was rather short, with
eyes that were eloquent and ardent at times, and languid at others, rosy-cheeked, with
an enchanting and provocative smile that revealed verv beautiful teeth, and the air of a
sylph; her entire self diffused a mysterious charm. She was not the most beautiful
woman I had ever seen but I have not met another more alluring and beguiling."
Jose never found himself alone with the fascinating Segunda. They would see each
other on their Sunday visits to the Trozo holise, but always in company. He made a
sketch of her portrait, and it turned out badly.

He played chess and chequers with the tall spruce fiancé, and lost. "From time to time
she looked at me, and I blushed." The conversation turned to novels and other literary
matters "and then I was ·able to join with advantage." A fresh opportunity for meeting
arose when Olimpia, Jose's sister, was enrolled in the Colegio de la Concordia, the
same convent school on the outskirts of the city where Segunda was a boarder. The
two girls became fast friends and on visiting days, when their two brothers called on
them, they often made a sedate but "animated group," although Mariano Katigbak was
more interested in speaking to a third girl whom he was to marry.

Jose was spending the summer holidays in Kalamba after his first year in medical
school when, going along a street one dark night, he failed to doff his hat to a
constabulary lieutenant, who promptly cut him with a native whip across the back, threw
him in jail despite his wound, and threatened him with deportation. Even then Rizal was
not one to take this lightly; he complained to the Governor General himself but "they did
not give me justice". His wound took two weeks to heal.
My recommendation:

The book “The first Filipino” by Leon Ma. Guerrero talks about the life of our National
Hero, Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Realonda Alonso. The details are being
specifically stated on how Rizal has grown as a very well known man.

All I want for a book who talks about someone’s life are to be specifically detailed and
talks about the facts and I guess this book of Leon Ma. Guerrero about the life of Jose
Rizal met my expectations. Therefore, I don’t have any recommendations for I am
already satisfied as I have read some of its parts and knowing that it won the first prize
during Rizal Biography Contest held under the auspices of the Jose Rizal National
Centennial Commission in 1961.