Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

by
Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

 
A Race with Revolution

Blumentritt does not know that by that time, history has taken its course and Rizal is in a fatal race with the revolution, to which he himself has indirectly contributed. Since the professor and his friends were continuously making every effort to get Rizal free, so Blumentritt, together with his Filipino friend, Antonio Regidor, devised the plan of Rizal to offer his services as military physician in Cuba, where the Spanish army stood in battle against the revolutionaries. In this martner Rizal could be doubly helped. He could prove his loyalty to Spain through this employment and, therefore, could silence the information and rumors against him about subversive activities, and that he could leave the hot ground of the Philippines, where the revolution was drawing nearer and nearer.

Apparently, Rizal caught on to the idea at once. For the time being, any means, was, to all appearances, right, in order to get away from the banishment. "As regards your advice of my going to Cuba as a physician, this seems to me to be an excellent idea and I will immediately write to the Governor-General," Rizal answers his friend. That was November 20, 1895.

The Spaniards were, however, obviously not in a hurry. Months passed without the authorities responding to the request. In the meanwhile, the events in the capital city began to follow in rapid succession. At the end of June 1896, Rizal received a visit from Dr. Valenzuela, likewise a physician. He did not come, however, to conduct professional conversations with Rizal. He is the secret emissary of the Katipunan with no less an assignment than to oblige Rizal to assume the leadership of the approaching revolution. In a debate lasting till the crack of dawn and assuming time and again a tumultuous character, Rizal declines the task. He approves of the objectives of the revolution, but considers the time as premature and the arms as absolutely inadequate. The Katipuneros, however, have no other choice but to start the revolution with Rizal leading it personally, or as a spiritual leader, since Rizal has become a symbol of the liberation of the Philippines. And thus, it comes to pass that Rizal cuts a figure in the fiery call of the revolution, that his picture is found in the secret meeting places, that the soldiers of the new revolutionary army toast cheers to Rizal and that he is found in their songs.

All this without the knowledge of Rizal, who in the meantime, has fallen into a rut, out of which an escape seems to be more and more difficult. For hardly a month after the destiny-laden secret meeting, Rizal receives the approval of his application for Cuba. He has long since not reckoned with it anymore. Rizal is released from exile on July 31, after exactly four years and thirteen days and goes to Manila. Rizal knows that the outbreak of the revolution is a matter of days. If he refuses to go to Cuba now, then he will certainly be suspected of wanting to stay in the country in order to lead the revolution. But if the revolution does break out before he leaves the Philippines; then he will be suspected of being the one who pulled the trigger that will start the revolution, and of fleeing after he has set the revolution in motion.

And thus begins Rizal's race with the events. He misses the mailboat by a day. Rizal is quarantined on the cruiser Castilla for almost a month up to the departure of the next steamship, while around him history is being made, the history which he helped write. The conspiracy is discovered; Bonifacio calls for a general revolution; the first battle takes place in San Juan; Martial Law is proclaimed; Aguinaldo makes his appearance. Is Rizal aware of all this? Once, Emilio Jacinto, Bonifacio's most loyal adjutant even ventures upon the attempt to rescue Rizal. He refuses the offer to be rescued and departs for Singapore on September 3, furnished with a letter of the Governor-General to each of the Ministers of War and the Colonies, in which Rizal is most highly commended and, above all, absolved of every guilt for the conspiracy and the revolution. Everything seems to be in order.

Yet, three weeks later, on September 29, it is as if Rizal was struck by lightning, when he suddenly receives the order not to leave his cabin, after the ship dropped anchor at Port Said. He is watched closely up to the time the ship disembarks in Barcelona, and after that he is brought to a ship which is to transport him back to Manila.

Blumentritt is unaware of all this. He has not received any news from his friend since May. Then all of a sudden, the silence was shattered through the arrival of Rizal's lefter from the Mediterranean.

In this letter he gives an account of his fate in details. Rizal admits that he was taken by surprise by the belated summons to go to Cuba because he no longer thought about it. Nevertheless, he seems to have known that he would have to go, so as not to be linked with the outbreak of the revolution. He himself asked to be quarantined on the cruiser during the time he was waiting for the next steamship out of Manila, Rizal discloses to his friend. He makes Blumentritt privy to the full text of the letters to the Ministers and concludes: "I still cannot believe it because this would be the greatest injustice and the most detestable infamy, unworthy not only of an officer, but also of the lowliest bandit . . . I am not guilty, and my reward is being arrested! I cannot believe it . . . yet if it turns out to be the truth, then I shall have thereby informed you so that you can judge the situation . . . "

Evidently, Blumentritt comprehended the last sentence as containing the request for help. Within a few days, the professor gets in touch with his Filipino friends in London. And they in fact succeed in sending a petition to the supreme court in Singapore, even before Rizal arrives there. Supported by prominent British lawyers, they cite the writ of habeas corpus (the English Law of 1679 protecting personal freedom). And since the Spanish constitution forbids arrest without judicial order and the ship in the port of Singapore is subject to English law they demand the extradition of Rizal. But in vain, the "Colon" in which Rizal travels has troops on board which are to quell the revolution and is therefore acknowledged as a warship of a foreign state with sovereign rights.

Rizal arrives in Manila on November 3, 1896 and is immediately brought to the infamous Fort Santiago under heavy guard. A week later, the revolutionaries under Aguinaldo attain their greatest victory over the Spanish troops in the battle at Binakayan. That is bound to bear on the case of Rizal: Blumentritt shall no longer receive any sign of life from his best friend - till that letter of farewell, written on the evening before the execution. . . .

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