Eufemio O. Agbayani III
Historic Sites Development Officer II

Although the three martyred priests whom we collectively call Gomburza—Fr. Jose Apolonio Burgos, Fr. Mariano Gomes, and Fr. Jacinto Zamora—died by garrote as a result of false accusations, their tragic execution on 17 February 1872 became a pivotal point in Philippine history. They were, in the words of National Artist Nick Joaquin, heroes by accident. Yet the tragedy of their deaths clarified the necessity for independence which made the hijos del pais – children of the soil – evolve into mga Anak ng Bayan.

Burgos died as an advocate for the rights of secular clergy, mostly composed of natives or indios and creoles (persons of Spanish descent born in the Philippines). Thus, it made him a symbol of resistance to Spanish colonialism not only to their contemporaries but also to the young people who would grow to lead a national revolution.

Rizal Remembers

The execution of the three martyred priests left an indelible mark on the young Jose Rizal at age ten. He wrote to Mariano Ponce on 18 April 1889 that he would have been a Jesuit had it not been for the events of 1872. He continued: “At the sight of those injustices and cruelties, though still a child, my imagination awoke, and I swore to dedicate myself to avenge one day so many victims.” He would later incorporate the theory of a revolt staged by the friars in his first novel, Noli Me Tangere (1887) and dedicate his second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891), to the memory of the three priests.

It was sadly fitting, therefore, when Wenceslao Retena recalled that when Rizal himself was executed on 30 December 1896, not far from the spot where the Gomburza had been strangled, his lifeless body was buried “on the same spot where Fr. Burgos was interred.” Whether Retana meant this literally or figuratively, it may be impossible to determine. While Rizal’s remains had been positively exhumed and identified, those of Burgos, Gomes, and Zamora have not. The memorial cross for the three priests was erected a few steps away from the spot where bones were supposedly found. It was inaugurated by President Fidel V. Ramos on 17 February 1998.

The connection between Burgos and Rizal was not lost to the people. A kundiman composed in Guimba, Nueva Ecija sings about how in Luneta, two martyrs were killed: “Panganay si Burgos at bunso si Rizal.” (Burgos is the firstborn, Rizal is last).

The Revolution Remembers

The injustice the Gomburza suffered also inspired Katipuneros to commemorate the anniversary of their martyrdom even as they were still an underground movement. As early as 1892, the Gomburza was indicated in the Katipunan foundational documents as victims of oppression. A reflection of their sacrifice was also included in the initiation rituals. It is also believed that the word “Gomburza” served as one of the passwords used during the Katipunan secret meetings.

The earliest commemoration of their death was said to have been held in a house in the interior of Oroquieta Street, Manila on 27 February 1894. (At that time, their execution was mistakenly remembered by many as occurring on 27 February, not ten days prior.) Documents kept in the Archivo General Militar de Madrid allow us a glimpse into how the Katipunan observed that day. The Katipunan Supreme Council, in a meeting held on 21 February 1896 just months before the start of the revolt, mandated the erection of a memorial catafalque decorated with makabuhay wreaths to invoke the immortal legacy of the martyrs.

It was in a draft message by Bonifacio for a memorial service in 1895 that he said in a now popular quote, “May araw ring sisikat ang Araw ng Katuwiran, at magbabayad ang may mga utang.” (The day shall come when the sun of Reason will blaze, and those with debts will have to pay.)

First page of a draft speech believed to be by Emilio Jacinto, c. February 1895

When the Philippines finally gained independence, the people never forgot the Gomburza. The proclamation of Philippine independence read on 12 June 1898 recounted the events of 1872 and concluded that it was “what caused the tree of liberty to bud in this land of ours.” During the first Rizal Day commemoration on 30 December 1898, a wreath was also offered on the temporary monument with the words, “Alaala ng bayan kina Burgos, Zamora at Gómez.”

 The People Continues to Remember

After the clouds of war have settled, the people resumed commemorating the public remembrance of the three priests. On 17 February 1903, the people of Vigan laid the cornerstone of a monument for completion seven years later. On 24 September 1903, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) canonized the three martyred priests, along with Jose Rizal, through a closed convocation. The following Sunday, 27 September 1903, a misa cantada was held to proclaim the canonization with descendants of the four heroes in attendance. The heroes’ images began to be displayed in IFI chapels; one of Burgos still survives in the parish at Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite.

Since then, however, public admiration of the three priests has somehow diminished. It was sustained from time to time through the erection of monuments mostly of Burgos but also of Gomes (built in Bacoor in 1923). Towns were named after Burgos in Ilocos Norte (1914) and in Quezon (1917). Burgos was also included in a lithograph by Guillermo Tolentino in 1911 entitled Grupo de Filipinos Ilustres in which Burgos sits with Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini and many respected men.

During the prewar years, two major commemorations were held in memory of Burgos. A program was held in the Zorrilla Theater in Manila on 17 February 1916 to mark the 44th anniversary of the three priests’ martyrdom. Speaker Sergio Osmeña and Vicente Singson Encarnacion spoke during the event which was organized by the city’s Ilocano community.

In February 1938, the country celebrated Burgos’ centennial birth anniversary for three days. It was delayed by a year to give way to the International Eucharistic Congress, the largest ecclesiastical event which the country hosted at the time. On 7 February, an exhibition was mounted at the Session Hall of the Senate (which had been abolished during this time) in the Legislative Building. The following day, programs were held in schools throughout the country. On 9 February, a stone bust was unveiled in the University of Santo Tomas campus in Intramuros and a cornerstone was laid for a monument which, unfortunately, never materialized.

Jorge Bocobo speaks in front of a portrait of Burgos in the old Senate Session Hall, 9 February 1938


In connection with these festivities, the Philippine Historical Research and Markers Committee, a precursor of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, unveiled markers at his birthplace in Vigan, his residence in Intramuros, and at the site of the barracks where he spent his last night in Rizal Park, Manila.

Symbol Utilized in War

The imagery of a people resisting Western domination was employed by the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic. In its second year, it promoted Burgos, along with Rizal and Mabini, as national heroes. On Burgos’ birth anniversary, the State released a series of stamps depicting the three priests. A ceremony was also held in the Manila Cathedral where Burgos and Zamora once served. To represent the remains of the three priests which were never recovered, three skull caps were placed on a simple catafalque alongside a missal, a crucifix, and a chalice. It was considered a national memorial, with President Jose P. Laurel and Speaker Benigno Aquino Sr. seated beside the Archbishop of Manila Michael O’Doherty and Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Guglielmi Piani.

Monsignor Cesar Ma. Guerrero blesses the symbolic remains of the Gomburza in the Manila Cathedral, 17 February 1944

Revived Interest

 Despite the central role of the Gomburza’s martyrdom in history, an annual holiday on its anniversary was never declared. In 1964, President Diosdado Macapagal proclaimed a holiday in Ilocos Sur on the anniversary of Gomburza martyrdom. In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos, through his Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor Jr., issued a proclamation to mark significant dates on the martyrs’ life and death as public holidays. Recently, the anniversary of their martyrdom is marked as a non-working holiday in Padre Burgos, Quezon.

Nevertheless, Burgos was commemorated through stamps released in 1944, 1955, and 1963 while an icon of him, with Gomes and Zamora, was featured on the 20 peso bill from 1949 to 1969. Markers were also installed on their execution site in 1953, the birthplace of Zamora in 1954, and the church of Bacoor where Gomes had served in 1971 (replaced in 2021).

 The centennial anniversary of the three priests’ martyrdom spurred further interest among the public. A centennial commission conducted research, published monographs, and most notably, commissioned a monument which was inaugurated in Plaza Roma, Intramuros, Manila on 17 February 1972. Designed by Solomon Saprid, the monument shows three human shrouded men, bound and kneeling. When restoration of the walled city began, the monument was moved in front of the old Legislative Building (now the National Museum of the Philippines) in 1980. It was recently declared as a National Monument on 17 February 2021.

The Gomburza also lent its name to an organization of progressive priests, seminarians, and laity who organized in 1977 against the Marcos dictatorship.

Seminarians carry a Gomburza banner in front of the Gomburza National Monument to call
for genuine agrarian reform
Published in the Daily Mirror, 26 January 1988

Thanks to consistent state commemorations through the years, more and more Filipinos are becoming more familiar of Burgos, Gomes, and Zamora and the significance of their deaths in Philippine history. The challenge today is to how to go beyond the curiosity generated by these monuments and commemorative programs, and explore their lives, their ministry, the circumstance of their tragic deaths, and how these affected the lives of our people then and now.


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