2022 marks the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Fathers Mariano Gomes, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora or more well known as Gomburza. Historians like Teodoro Agoncillo recognize this event as the precursor to the rise of Filipino nationalism. But one must look back first the incident that paved the way to their martyrdom: the Cavite Mutiny of 20-22 January 1872.
The Capture of Fort San Felipe Neri
On 20 January 1872, a mutiny in the Spanish naval base of Fort San Felipe Neri at the Cavite Puerto (now Cavite City) happened. It began when they misinterpreted that the fireworks from the feast of Our Lady of Loreto in Sampaloc, Manila were rockets signaling the rebellion. Around 200 people were involved, composed of Filipino soldiers, marines, sailors, workers, and some Cavite resident. They were headed by Sergeant Lamadrid, a native of Bicol. The mutiny was staged just as most of the Spanish forces in the Philippines were preoccupied by the operations against the Muslims in Sulu. The uprising spread in other military installations as the Cavite Puerto. Lamadrid hoped that other Filipino units stationed in Manila would also rise and take over the defenses of Intramuros.
Several Spanish officials were either taken as hostages or killed. Upon receiving the information about the mutiny, Governor-General Rafael de Izquierdo immediately mustered a force under General Felipe Ginoves to reinforce the Spanish defensive positions and the contingent of Spanish Marines. The gunboat Samar sailed to Bacoor Bay to blockade Bacoor, Cavite, preempting the impeding advance to Manila.
The following morning, the rebels retreated to Fort San Felipe Neri owing to the advance of nearby Filipino regiments who did not join the uprising. On January 22, the Spaniards outnumbered mutineers and regained the control of the fort after an hour of fighting. Lamadrid died during the siege.
Spanish Reaction to the Mutiny
Spanish authorities initiated an intense manhunt. Arrested leaders and members of the uprising identified several liberal personalities both in the church and society. Izquierdo reported to Madrid the involvement of the aforesaid liberals, while historian Jose Montero y Vidal claimed that the uprising was an attempt to overthrow Spaniards.
Francisco Zaldua, one of the arrested leaders of the uprising, implicated the following personalities, among others: Frs. Pedro Dandan, Mariano Sevilla, Ancieto Desiderio, Vicente del Rosario, and Toribio H. Del Pilar, liberals like Agustin Mendoza, Miguel Laza, Jose Ma. Basa, Pio Basa, Antonio Ma. Regidor, Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, and Maximo Paterno, and most especially the Gomburza. All in all, 52 were sentenced to death, but 39 of the number were later reduced to life imprisonment. Others were banished to the Marianas. The incident happened while Spain was under the republican leaders promoting liberalism—yet progressiveness was suppressed vis-à-vis secularization of Philippine churches affected. Some units involved in the munity were reassigned to Mindanao while the Artillery were placed under pure Spaniards from Iberia.
On 17 February 1872, the public witnessed how the Gomburza were sentenced to death by garrote at Bagumbayan, Manila. Despite being a witness, Zaldua was not spared to death sentence. Jose Rizal, in his dedication of El Filibusterismo, remarked that only God knows if the three martyred priests were innocent of the accusations to them.
The Rise of Nationalism
Filipino scholar Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera, nephew of one of the implicated liberals, Joaquin H. Pardo de Tavera, lamented how Cavite Mutiny was overshadowed by myths and intrigues. For him, the mutiny had no intention to advance Philippine independence but more on social reforms such as the Filipinos’ enjoyment of the rights held by an ordinary Spanish citizen.
To Agoncillo, the death of the Gomburza inspired the young generation to continue clamoring for an ideal society and eventually the independence of the Filipino people. One of the leading reformists and feared by the Spaniards Marcelo H. del Pilar, for example, witnessed how his brother Fr. Toribio was inhumanely arrested by the authorities. A number of Filipinos also witnessed the public exaction of the three priests at Bagumbayan—even visiting Fr. Burgos on the eve of the execution at Fort Santiago, the latter reminded his students of a wisdom and a mission as a Filipino:
Get educated. Use the schools of our country for as much as they can give. Learn from our older men what they know. Then go abroad. #If you can do no better, study in Spain, but preferably study in the freer countries. Read what foreigners have written about the Philippines for their writings have not been censored. See in the museums of other lands what the ancient Filipinos really were. Be a Filipino always, but an educated Filipino.
In 1891, Rizal published El Filibusterismo dedicated to the Gomburza. His elder brother, Paciano, was among the friends of Fr. Burgos. The brother introduced the genius priest to the young Rizal through anecdotes. The death of the three martyred priests also motivated the Katipunan to avenge their death by overthrowing the Spaniards and proclaiming Philippine independence. They even commemorated the death anniversary of the Gomburza every February 17 and used the acronym as one of the passwords of the society. In various occasions, the memory of the priests was evoked by the Philippine Revolutionary Government in 1898, even founding the Instituto Burgos in Malolos.
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