Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

Cadiz, Cavite and the Consequences

The navy under Admiral Topete mutinies in the Spanish naval base of Cadiz on September 18, 1868. Generals Prim and Serrano join the mutiny against the autocratic rule of Queen Isabella II, who flees to France on September 30. Three days later, a government of the liberal union is formed under Serrano. It proclaims general suffrage for men. A new constitution promulgates freedom of religion and of the press, juries, civil marriage and decrees the disbandment of monasteries and the prohibition of the jesuit Order. After a complicated political war of opinions lasting for five years, the republic is finally proclaimed in February 1873, nevertheless followed soon by the restoration of the monarchy.

A year after the incidents in Cadiz, in the year 1869, the Suez Canal is opened and, with that the gate to the western world, is pushed open for the Philippines, since as long as this country was part of the Spanish world, contact with the east, specially, was maintained via Mexico.

The first demonstrations for reforms, in which civil servants and women participated, took place on July 12 and September 21 of the same year in Manila. With the slogans "Freedom! Sovereignty for the People!", the demonstrators marched with red neckerchiefs, colored flags and Chinese lanterns in front of the governor's palace, where a new cry resounded: "Lorìg live General de la Torre!" The reason for this was that the governor-general did not only invite the demonstrators to a toast for freedom in his place but also decreed a series of measures, which proved that the new Spanish wind had begun to blow on the Philippines too; he lifted the censorship of the press, allowed the establishment of the first secular university and abolished corporal punishment in the army.

However two years later, the dream disappeared when General Izquierdo assumed office. Izquierdo proclaimed that he will govern with the cross in one hand and the sword in the other. And forthwith, he let actions follow too: liberal education acts were revoked, educated Filipinos were discharged hom higher posts in civil and military service, the most stringent censorship was instituted once again, and the conditions for forced labor were made worse.

A few months after this reactionary restoration, the incidents said to be decisive in the further development of the Philippine revolutions, took place. On January 20, 1872, the crew of the naval base in Cavite, which was close to Manila, mutinied. Approximately 200 Filipino marines took up arms; they were joined by sailors and gunners. They captured the arsenal and fort. Seven Spanish officers were murdered. The mutineers, whose only reason was indignation about the introduction of new taxes, hoped for aid from the native troops from the capital city, but in vain.

The suppression of the mutiny gave Governor Izquierdo an opportune occasion to strike at the democratic reform movement and the Philippine priests. As mentioned earlier, the mock trial of the three priests, who today have become the symbol of the resistance against the Spanish rule, followed the mass executions of the mutineers. Charged with the crganization and the conduct of the mutiny of Cavite were Jose Burgos, 35 years old, a Spaniard born in the Philippines, the priest of the Cathedral of Manila. Blumenhitt writes that Burgos was considered the spokesman of the native priests, after he succeeded the canon Pedro Pelaez, who met his death under the ruins of the Cathedral during the earthquake in Manila in the year 1863.

Jacinto Zamora, 37 years old, likewise a Spaniard born in the Philippines, was the parish priest in Marikina.

Mariano Gomez, at 73, the oldest and the only "genuine" Filipino among the three, was a respected priest and vicar of the Archbishopric of the province to which his native Cavite belonged.

The military court hardly made the attempt to give even just the semblance of legality to the legal proceedings against the three priests. They were sentenced to death within 24 hours and, following the Spanish method, they were executed by the garrote, the strangulating apparatus, on February 17,1872 in the park of Luneta, on the same site where 24 years later, Rizal would be executed too. The memorial stone of "Gom-Bur-Za:' - even in this instance, the Spanish mania for abbreviation was used - is found in the Park not far from the Rizal monument.

The effect of the execution of the three priests was protracted, to be sure, in a manner other than expected by the regime. Even the Spanish Archbishop of Manila refused to obey the order of the Governor to excommunicate the three. On the contrary, he had church bells ring at the time of their execution. And Rizal, for whose family the fate of the three priests meant a stirring experience, said later that without the event in the year 1872, perhaps he would have become a Jesuit and would have written sacred books instead of the Noli me tangere. Although he was only a child then, Rizal was just 11 years old - the event ripened his decision to avenge the martyrs one day.

Nevertheless, two more decades had to pass before the seed of Cavite sprouted. It consisted of d parts: Firstly, the surge of repression, which succeeded Cavite and the natural counter-reactions by the people. "From this day on begins an era of persecutions and conspiracies fawning servilities, in a way no longer found in Christian countries, with the exception of Russia perhaps." Thus Blumentritt describes the period after Cavite. ( Unzere Zeit (Our Time), Leipzig, 1889).

Secondly, the persistent and everhardening refusal of Spain to carry out reforms even gradually. This refusal confirmed the belief of increasing groups of people that a change of the conditions cannot be attained through peaceful means. Here Blumentritt cites Austria for a historical comparison with the Spanish policy of agreement with the friars: "Austria abetted the despotism of the Italian princes and thereby incurred the mortal hatred of the entire Italian nation and thus it was no wonder that when the thrones of Naples, Florence, Modena, and Parma collapsed, Austria lost not only her ally but also her own Italian provinces."

The indefatigable work of Rizal and his allies in the home country and abroad, the publication of the books, the Solidaridad , all the propaganda and the enlightenment activities can be named as the third element which, when one evaluates the events of Cavite, had accelerated the Filipinos' overcoming the regional and tribal differences and the growth of Philippine nationalism. All of this is unthinkable without the valuable contribution of Ferdinand Blumentritt. He must be acknowledged as one of the forerunners of this revolution, even if he could not participate directly in the events in the country itself.

On the night of July 7, 1892, three men met in Tondo, the slum sector of Manila, and created the KATAASTAASANG, KAGALANG-GALANG NA KATIPUNAN NG MGA ANAK NG BAYAN, which for western ears and eyes would be difficult to comprehend. Roughly translated into English, it is the "Supreme and Most Venerated Brotherhood of the Sons of the Country". This time abbreviating is most welcome; only the word 'Katipunan' has remained in linguistic usage.

KKatipunan was the first workers' and people's movement in a colonized country. So far, reform movements have always been the creation of the middle class, of the officialdom, the intelligentsia, enlightened through their studies in the mother country. The Katipunan was, no doubt, a secret society, but it was a genuine association of the proletariat. This is certainly symbolized by its leader and subsequent chairman, Andres Bonifacio, who came from a family of daily wage earners, was orphaned of mother and father at fourteen and grew up with five brothers and sisters in the poorest circumstances and had obtained only an elementary education. The youthful Andres acquired the knowledge of Spanish through self-study and he read, above all, the French writers of his time, while he earned his living by selling bamboo, walking sticks and paper fans, which he himself made. Eventually, he rose to the position of an office messenger, furniture salesman, and lastly a storeman of a foreign trading firm in Manila.

Since any reorganization was prohibited by law, the Katipunan was forced to assume the character of a secret society and to take precautions against possible discovery. lnitially, members were accepted only according to the triangle-system. Three members formed a unit, which in turn gathered three men each again. Nevertheless, only the originator knew the other two, who did not know each other. Admission into the Katipunan was done in a ceremony of underground rituals, in which the prospective member was tested and had to take a vow of loyalty. Only then was he allowed to sign with his blood the name he assumed for disguise in the membership roll.

The Katipunan had no political program. Real demands like freedom and independence were completely missing. On the contrary, the credo of the organization was a collection of romantically embellished worldly expressions of wisdom which preached charity, love of one's fellow-men, patriotism and equality of all people.

For all that, the organization apparently satisfied the need of the moment, because the society existed for four years without being discovered by the remarkably effective network of friars and police. This alone is evidence of the unity and common determination of at least a portion of the population to take action. With no appreciable financial means and help of the ilustrados, the number of members rose from 300 in the years 1893 to over 30,000 by the summer of 1896. The preparations for that one objective, the revolution, which never appeared in the precepts of the Katipunan, moved laboriously in detail.

[Austrian-Philippine WebSite] [Culture and History]
[Rizal-Blumentritt Friendship] [Up]
created: March 08, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger