by Augusto V. de Viana

      The 19th century forms a crucial part in the development of Philippine nationalism and the Filipino nation. Developments within and outside the Philippines led to the emergence of factors that led to the creation of a Filipino sentiment and identity. The country had entered a new period of international trade. Though officially prohibited by Madrid, foreign merchants were already trading with the Philippines by bringing in western goods and exporting Philippine products like sugar and dyestuff.

      The presence of new players was an important factor in the formation of a middle class. This middle class rose from entrepreneurs and middlemen who gained a level of wealth and enabled their families to provide their children with education. Since the country’s educational system was centered on the promotion of religion, it was inevitable that many of the families sent their sons to take up the religious vocation. Also having a member of the family as one of the cloth was seen both as a status symbol and a fulfillment of religious obligation. At that time the shortage of priests allowed natives to assume the leadership of some parishes.

Divine right of kings vs. equality of rights for all men

      Around the same time the world was experiencing events which would change the course of history. The French Revolution in 1789 and the fall of Napoleon toppled the old monarchies of Europe. In its wake came the arrival of a new thinking that preached the equality and rights of all men against the divine right of kings. With its monarch deposed, Spanish patriots enacted a liberal constitution at Cadiz that promised equality even to Spain’s colonies. However, the restoration of the monarchy following Napoleon’s fall restored the old order. This led to revolts in the Spanish empire that resulted in the loss of most of Spain’s colonies in the Americas.

      Two oceans away in the Philippines, Spanish rulers reeling from the events imposed a tight grip on the colony. The concessions given by Spain in the Cadiz constitution applied only to Spaniards. Two revolts by Mexican born soldiers advocating the separation of the Philippines were ruthlessly suppressed. A local movement led by Apolinario de la Cruz was also squashed for fear that it might be used as a platform for an independence movement. The measures only drew the Filipinos together in the coming years.

      With the loss of the American colonies was the reduction of the vital subsidy for the Philippines. The country had to be self-sufficient and for this purpose the government enacted measures to increase revenues by imposing monopolies. The reduction of revenues also meant the reduction of services. Meanwhile the middle class was getting stronger by the decade. In 1859 the return of the Jesuits and the demand of the Recollects for the native clergy to give up their curacies struck a nationalistic chord. Native priests requested that the government respect their rights granted by the pope and the ing and their abilities in administering their parishes. This clamor fell on deaf ears.

Taste of liberalism and reprisals

       A brief liberal administration in Spain and in the Philippines under Governor General Carlos Ma. De la Torre allowed native priests to be joined by laymen demanding greater freedom and liberalism. These laymen who comprised the cream of Filipino intelligentsia demanded the end of the domination by the friars and representation in the Spanish Cortes. The end of the brief liberal administration and the restoration of the old order under Gov. Gen. Rafael de Izquierdo targeted them for reprisal. The Cavite Mutiny of 1872 was seen as a separatist movement and members of Filipino clergy led by Mariano Gomes, Jacinto Zamora, and Jose Burgos and prominent Filipinos led by Jose Basa, Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, Crisanto de los Reyes were considered plotters of the movement. The three priests were given a swift trial and publicly executed while the laymen were deported never to return to the Philippines. The events of 1872 practically decimated the ranks of the early reformers.

Reforms not secession; provincia not independencia

      By the 1880s a new breed of reform-seeking Filipinos began to emerge. These were Gregorio Sanciangco, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Mariano Ponce, Jose Rizal, and others. They were joined by some survivors of the first wave of reformists. All of them came to Europe particularly Spain because the conditions were more tolerable there than in the Philippines. Actually they were exiles and used Spain as a forum to ventilate the plight of the Philippines. One characteristic of their struggle for reforms was that they were all loyal Spanish subjects and they called Spain as the mother country.

       Sanciangco in his Elprogreso de Filipinas drew up ways on how Spain could best administer the Philippines and earn the needed revenue to allow it to become a productive colony. Del Pilar and the rest of the reformists were one in advocating for the conversion of the Philippines from a colony to that of a province. They demanded the expulsion of the friars and the institution of free speech and the right to education. They made their presence felt through publications like the La Solidaridadfirst edited by Lopez Jaena, then by del Pilar. Jose Rizal made two allegorical novels about the conditions of the Philippines, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which were aimed to awaken the Spanish authorities on the conditions of the Philippines. At the same time, he wrote to remind the Filipinos of the greatness of their race buried by centuries of colonization and the shameful habit of the Filipinos to discard their own culture. For making their thoughts heard through the press, their movement for reforms was called the Propaganda Movement.

      The movement, however, was not totally united. Problems emerged caused by factionalism and personal ambitions. The movement failed because of the more pressing problems faced by Spain. Lack of funds and the loss of enthusiasm of its members also led to its failure. Graciano Lopez Jaena berated the Filipino community for allegedly not supporting his political ambitions. He left the movement and became its nemesis. He died alone and friendless. Jose Rizal also left the movement to lead a new one in the Philippines, where he said, the struggle should properly take place. Upon arriving in the Philippines he established the La Liga Filipina in a bid to organize the people. Marcelo del Pilar tried to keep the movement afloat until a bout with tuberculosis cost his life.


      In the Philippines, Rizal’s La Liga suffered a stillbirth when authorities arrested him four days after its foundation and deported him to Dapitan. The organization was judged to be subversive because of its aims of advocating unity against perceived oppression. The organization lingered for a while under leaders like Numeriano Adriano and accepted new members which included Apolinario Mabini. It evolved into a new organization, the Cuerpo de Compromisarios— the body of the committed. At the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in August 1896, members of the Liga and the Cuerpo were targeted for arrest because of the allegation that these were subversive organizations. The sentiment of those in the movement was that of desperation. As early as 1890, del Pilar wrote to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, telling him to prepare an organization that would launch a revolution against Spain. Del Pilar was actually the spirit that inspired the Katipunan. It was only achieved in 1892 right after the arrest and deportation of Rizal in 1892. From then on Spain will not be the mother country but an exploiter and an oppressor and from then on the goal of the Filipinos will not be a provincia but independencia – freedom.


Dery, Luis C. Awit Kay Inang Bayan: De La Salle University Press, 2003. Joaquin, Nick. AKA Quijano de Manila: A Question of Heroes. Serialized in Philipine Free Press, 1972. (NHI file) Sanciangco, Gregorio. The Progress of the Philippines. Manila: National Historical Institute, 2003.