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The period after the Cavite Mutiny of 1872 and the execution of the three martyred GOMBURZA priests, gave birth to a new breed of Ilustrados, such as Marcelo H. del Pilar, Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Mariano Ponce and others who sought social and political reforms. These men, who came from wealthy families, went to Europe to continue their studies where they met other Filipino students, who had already established themselves there. They later joined the Propaganda Movement, which advocated for the conversion of the Philippines from a colony to that of a province of Spain. Likewise, the propagandists demanded Filipino rights, which can only be made possible through the expulsion of the abusive friars who denied the Filipinos their political rights. This was forcefully reiterated in their official organ La Solidaridad. Although Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere was published in Berlin in 1887, the idea of writing this novel that was meant to expose the backwardness of Philippine society and its social maladies was conceived in Spain when he was a medicine student in the Universidad Central de Madrid.

The events that transpired in the last part of the 18th century and first part of the 19th century in France, namely the French Revolution in 1789 and the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, which deposed the old monarchies of Europe, saw the advent of new political ideas that rejected the divine rights of kings while on the other hand, injected equality and rights for all men. These periods of awakening weakened the power of the monarchs in Europe and gave power and privilege to the middle class.  On the other hand, the Cadiz constitution, which was said to be more liberal than the previous constitutions and enacted in Spain to grant reforms in its colonies, was not realized to its potential.

Student activism in the 19th century had inculcated a new brand of political culture in the country that was meant to sweep the repressive political system of the Spanish colonial government. The ideology of liberalism that the student activists had imbibed while studying in Europe motivated them to seek for reforms. Young Filipinos who studied in Spain were surprised to see there the powerless Church in the face of the government. Newspapers openly attacked the Church, and some professors like Miguel Morayta, Grand Master of the Masonic Gran Oriente Espanol, took advantage of their university positions to challenge Catholic doctrine under the pretext of academic freedom.

The Ilustrados also saw the better living conditions of the citizens in Spain compared to the distressing plight of their fellow Filipinos in their mother country. This ignited their dream for reforms to improve the conditions of the Filipinos who were denied freedom of expression and equal access to politics and education in contrast to citizens of Spanish blood. Disillusioned with the hope of change in the government system, student activism emerged both as a political and cultural revolt against the status quo largely due to the rampant abuses of the friars and Spanish colonial officials.  The impact of student activism had proved to be far reaching and culminated in the Revolution of 1896.

Prior to the establishment of the Propaganda Movement in Europe, a student movement, known as the Juventud Escolar Liberal led by Felipe Buencamino, emerged in 1869. Prominent members in the student group were Paciano Rizal, Mariano Alejandrino, Gregorio Sancianco and Basilio Teodoro. The students called for educational reforms in the University through anonymous leaflets scattered through the University.

During his student days in the country, Jose Rizal found a clandestine organization known as  Compañerismo or Compañerismo de Jehu in 1880, which Galicano Apacible described as an organization promoting civic and patriotic education among its members, and mutual protection and support. Marcelo H. del Pilar, on the one hand, made use of student groups to campaign for freedom against the encroachment of the friars in local government affairs. He even organized the Comite de Propaganda before he left for Spain which was in charge of distributing the propaganda materials, with the help of the students.

Other heroes who became involved in the movement were Emilio Jacinto, who occupied an important role in the Katipunan while taking up his law at the University of Santo Tomas; Apolinario Mabini,  who divided his time between his law studies and his involvement with the revived Liga Filipina, the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, and the Masonic lodges, which were contributing funds to the Propaganda work in Spain; and Pio Valenzuela who was an incoming fourth year student of medicine at UST when he joined the Katipunan. However, student movements, such as the Propaganda movement, intensified in Spain because student demonstrations in universities were considered normal. In the Philippines, the students who were suspected of participating in political activities suffered persecutions.

One of the legacies of student activism in the 19th century was its active role in stimulating nationalism in both organizational and ideological sense.  Student activism did not arise from a vacuum but was a response to the prevailing social conditions and a demonstration of discontent to the status quo. Although their nationalism sprang in Philippine soil, Europe became the breeding ground for student activists, which nurtured subversive ideas to the students and instilled in them a strong nationalist ideology. They took us to the road of independence by fostering strong nationalistic mood, which paved the way to the Revolution of 1896.