Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

by
Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

 
The Cry of Balintawak

Weapons which were hoarded piece by piece were stolen from the arsenals of the army, purchased from Chinese merchants and bought from corrupt soldiers. By August,1896, the time has come for Bonifacio to immediately prepare the beginning of the armed insurrection. However, during those very days the authorities received more and more information about suspicious subversive activities. According to another version, it was a female member of the Katipunan, who out of orthodox loyalty, imparted during confession the information about the preparations for the uprising, whereupon the priest did not waste time warning the authorities without even worrying about the protection of secrets divulged in the confessional.

Bonifacio and the "Katipunan" were then forced by the circumstances to take action. They had to attack or risk the annihilation of their organization. On August 26, Bonifacio assembled the leaders and hundred of comrades-in-arms in the hills of Balintawak north of Manila. In an emotion-laden ceremony, the fighters tore their residence certificates to symbolize the termination of their loyalty to Spain while shouting the battle cry: "Long live Philippine independence!" The event went down in Philippine history as the "Cry of Balintawak" and is regarded as the starting signal for the Philippine revolution. Today, a monument marks this site which shows a Philippine peasant swinging the "bolo", the national variation of the machete.

The next day, Bonifacio issued the call for a general revolt in the whole country. The first encounter between the revolutionaries and the Spanish troops was staged in San Juan del Monte, today a suburb of Manila. Faced with force much superior than theirs, Bonifacio had to retreat but the fire of the revolution could no longer be controlled.

One city after the other rose in revolt under the flag of the "Katipunan", which was actually a red flag with "KKK," the initials of the organization. After a few days, the center of the revolution shifted to Cavite, where 24 years earlier, the mutiny, which ended with the execution of the three innocent priests, broke out. In Cavite, however, the uprising was led by Emilio Aguinaldo, a man who would become the symbol of the successful revolution and the establishment of the Philippine republic. Eight years younger than Rizal and a son of a middle class peasant, Aguinaldo was not able to finish his education. He had to support the family by farming and retail trade after the death of his father. Aguinaldo joined the "Katipunan" in 1894 and a year later, became the mayor of his hometown like his father before him.

Within a short period of time, Aguinaldo turned out to be a military genius. He was able to defeat the Spanish troops decisively in several battles. Apparently, the governor-general underestimated the fighting power and enthusiasm of the revolutionaries. He placed eight provinces under Martial Law and tried to avenge the defeats with terrorism, mass arrests and killings without respite, the confiscation of the properties of the rebels, and immediate execution by the firing squad, without the benefit of court proceedings, on mere suspicions that one has supported the rebels with information and food.

Subsequently, differences of opinion which, in the first place, were unheeded by the Spaniards, arose in the camp of the revolutionaries. These finally led to a power struggle between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo. The fight ended in May,1897. Bonifacio was condemned and executed for betraying the revolution. The motives for this tragedy have since then been interpreted in different ways. It seems, Bonifacio had fulfilled his role as initiator and organizer of the revolution. He wanted to adhere to the traditional methods of the secret brotherhood; the faction of Aguinaldo championed the disbandment of the 'Katipunan' and its replacement by a revolutionary government. Others perceive in this duel the difference of opinions between classes: the proletarian element, represented by Bonifacio, and Aguinaldo, who is considered the representative of the middle class and the intelligentsia, which was increasingly supporting the revolution and leaving its bourgeois stamp. Last but not the least, personal reasons cannot be precluded. The military victories of Aguinaldo made him a national hero, a key figure of the revolution, while Bonifacio receded into the background more and more, robbed of the fruits of the uprising which he has laboriously prepared. Nevertheless, up to this day, Bonifacio is looked upon as the father of the revolution, the first democrat who had faith in the masses and who conveyed the idea of the xevolution to the people, which till that time was limited to a small group of emancipated individuals.

According to changing military success, the revolutionaries transferred their headquarters to the mountain fort of Biak na Bato, in the province of Bulacan, north of Manila, where in November 1897, the first republic was proclaimed under the presidency of Aguinaldo. It may not have had a long life span, but it certainly had a great political significance. Because six weeks later, an unprecedented document, the pact of Biak na Bato, in which the colonial power and the revolutionaries agreed on peace, was concluded. Signed by Governor-General Primo de Rivera and General Aguinaldo, the pact was the documentary admission of both sides that they were not in a position to change the stalemate situation created and to win over the enemies. The revolutionaries discontinued the battle and surrendered their weapons. In return for it, the leaders were granted safe conduct to an exile in Hongkong; general amnesty was proclaimed and an indemnity of a total of 1.7 million pesos, as well as a series of reforms, was promised the revolutionaries.

The grotesque situation became clear when Aguinaldo and his loyal followers marched across the country to their ship and were honored by the people as national heroes. Both sides were then to prove guilty of a breach of the peace pact. The Spaniards persecuted numerous revolutionaries despite the amnesty, paid only a fraction of the indemnification and did not think of carrying out the reforms promised. Likewise, by no means did the revolutionaries surrender all their arms and they deposited a portion of the Spanish indemnification in a Hongkong bank in order to use it for the preparation of the next uprising. Time and again there would be hostile encounters between the armed forces of both sides. Spaniards, as well as Filipinos, probably knew that the peace afforded just a breather in the undecided battle. What certainly neither side might have surmised was that the hour of death of the Spanish rule in the Philippines would strike just a year later and Aguinaldo would return triumphantly to his native land as an ally of the USA.

Rizal would live through the beginning of this revolution at the end of the year of 1896. Before he sets out for his second - and, as it would turn out to be, his last - homecoming, in the years 1891 to 1892, the debate between the two friends about the problem of Rizal's home begins. Blumentritt turns out to be vehemently against it. He sees the danger of what Rizal considers a duty. "Do not go to the Philippines now," the professor writes, "rather go to Madrid where in these wretched times you can render better services, than in Calamba, to your fatherland as well as to your family."

This discussion regarding Rizal's plans continues for almost a year and ends with Blumentritt warning his friend urgently and angrily in what seems to &thron;e a premonition again: "I do not at all agree with your going to the Philippines now. You expose yourself to the greatest dangers and your fatherland needs your great mind and your freedom." He says, he is looking forward to a better time for Rizal, the fights in the home country and abroad are not futile. He says, Rizal should wait till a favorable opportunity arises when Rizal could assume his place in the Philippines. In the meantime, he could render valuable work by publishing a Tagalog dictionary and this work alone - together with the Noli - would immortalize his name "not only to your people and to your fatherland" but also to the whole world.

Rizal would hear nothing of this. "I must return to the Philippines, life will be a burden to me. I must give the example of not fearing death even if it is frightful ... " Rizal intimates that one of his followers (in the Philippines) allegedly complained about those who agitate in safety in a foreign country while the fighters at home are in constant danger. At thirty, Rizal is an old battle-weary man who - with a suspicious foreboding at least in those days and weeks before his final home-coming - has reconciled himself with his destiny: "I shall meet my fate; if I die, then you shall remain. But life in Europe is impossible for me. Dying is better than living miserably..."

Once more Rizal communicates, describes how his native land draws him; he would like to embrace his parents and brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, his friends advise him against it, in the same manner as Blumentritt, whom he would like to see once again: "If only I had the means for it, then I would have gone to you, in order to be able to embrace you for the last time, because it seems to me that I shall never see you again. My future stands before me, dreadfully desolate ... "

Did Rizal go to his doom deliberately and voluntarily? Did he want to be a martyr? In any case, his next letter will already come from the steamer "Melbourne" from the Mediterranean and on November 20, 1891, Rizal arrives in Hongkong. There he is to learn that his father, two sisters and a brother have been banished from their hometown of Calamba. His blind mother succeeds in escaping to Hongkong. With his usual cleverness, Rizal is able to make both ends meet swiftly. He puts up his practice as ophthalmic surgeon and is soon the recognized specialist for the British and Portuguese colonists as well as for hundreds of Chinese, whom he treats free of charge when they cannot afford to pay.

Soon he is able to tell Blumentritt that his father and brother are able to go to Hongkong as well. Everything seems to turn out for the better. Blumentritt is happy for his friend: "The letter I received from you today is pleasant. At last you have gathered all your loved ones around you." And Rizal, likewise, in good humor answers: "All of us, my parents, sisters and brothers, are living peacefully together here, far from the persecutions which they suffered in the Philippines." He writes that his parents are very contented with the English government (in Hongkong), that they want to die there and no longer want to return to the Philippines where life is unbearable.

For all that, Rizal can find no peace. He thinks of the settlers in his hometown of Calamba who are oppressed and driven away. Again and again, he talks of those who are persecuted because they read his books, are acquainted with him, or correspond with him. He feels responsible for their sufferings, he feels guilty for living safely in a foreign country. And despite all warnings, Rizal decides to return home. His family is horrified.

Rizal disembarks in Manila on june 26, 1892 after leaving behind two letters, again with some foreboding - one to his family and friends, the other one to the Philippine nation - both of which should be opened after his death. In this letter to his family and friends, he asks his family for forgiveness for the sorrows he has caused them. It seems to emerge plainly from the second letter that Rizal, not without pride and satisfaction, seems to have resolved, if necessary, to set a signal for patriotism and liberation through his martyr s death.

Was it naiveté or self-confidence that Rizal conducts himself in Manila in no way like a conspirator, rather like an altogether normally repatriated citizen, if not perhaps a guest of honor? He puts up at the "Orient", the best hotel in the city. He receives and visits friends and well-known personalities; he pays his respects to the governor-general himself. The next day, Rizal finishes a lightning tour through the provinces in order to, as he will later say, find out how his books were received, how he stands, what the people think about the political solution. Having returned from the trip, Rizal's activism reaches its peak with the creation of a union which he calls Liga Filipina. The following were stated as objectives of the Liga: the realization of the unity of the entire archipelago, the mutual protection against violence and injustice, the development of training for industry and trade, and the study and realization of reforms. It can be gathered from the somewhat vague formulations that the Liga was dedicated to the furtherance of national unity, self-defense against governmental encroachments, professional preparation for independence and for the fight for reforms.

In spite of all the practical import, the Liga is surrounded by something mystical, which is reminiscent of the freemasons. It was organized in the form of a pyramid: the local councils formed the base, the heads in turn formed the supreme council. Although it was said in the statutes that anyone who had the interest and the welfare of the fatherland at heart can be a member, in the internal directives, however, absolute obedience, strictest secrecy and obligation to inform the leaders were required of every member.

The establishment of the Liga meant a turning point for Rizal, a break with the past, a new beginning. The shy, somewhat naive physician, poet, philosopher, scientist, suddenly became an agitator. He who had always rejected any form of organization, now travelled through provinces, held meetings, spoke to the masses in their national language, received leading personalities for conferences in his house. Rizal is hailed in 1892 differently from the way he was hailed five years ago: as a renowned man with an illustrious name, as author of his books, as a contributor to the Solidaridad. Everywhere, he reiterates the formula comprehensible to the masses: Unity, organization, nationalism! A parallelism with Sun Yat Sen, a contemporary of his who was five years his junior, is foisted into our minds; Sun Yat Sen who formulated the essential elements of the Chinese revolution with his slogan of the three basic precepts of the people. "San-Min-Tsu-I" - nationalism, democracy, people's welfare. The Manchu dynasty was overthrown through the revolution which he led in 1911 and the first republic set up. Since the Liga had just a short life span, its significance lies perhaps more in the fact that it was established at all and that Rizal, its Nestor, treaded on new paths with it. Rizal's spectral and almost operetta-like appearance lasted for 21 days only. On July 6, 1892, he is put under arrest by Governor-General Despujol himself and brought to Fort Santiago. Eight days later, Rizal is on the way to his place of exile, Dapitan, which is located in the northern coast of Mindanao, the southernmost of the islands of the archipelago.

And so it was hardly just a coincidence that the Katipunan was set up on July 7, exactly a day after Rizal was arrested. Bonifacio had, after all, been himself a member of the Liga and knew Rizal from several meetings. The arrest and banishment of Rizal apparently convinced the founder of the Katipunan that the peaceful efforts towards the realization of reforms were finally exhausted and only a violent solution, the revolution, could lead to changes.

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created: March 08, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger