pop Graciano López Jaena

by Dr. Robert L. Yoder, FAPC


On December 18, 1856, saw the birth of Graciano López Jaena in Jaro, Iloilo to Placido López and Maria Jacoba Jaena. His parents were poor, as his mother was a seamstress and his father, a general repairman. His father, however, had been to school and his mother was quite religious. At the age of six, young Graciano was placed under the watch of Father Francisco Jayme who noted his intellectual promise, especially his gift of speech.

His mother, feeling that the priesthood was the most noble of occupations and sent him to the Seminario de San Vicente Ferrer in Jaro which had been opened under the brief liberal administration of Governor General Carlos de la Torre. Here again, his talents were noted. While studying at this seminary, López Jaena served as a secretary to an uncle, Claudio López who was honorary vice consul of Portugal in Iloilo. He even took charge of some minor matters that were brought to that office.

Despite his mother's desires, it was Gracianoís ambition to be a physician and he finally convinced his mother that this was the better course of action. He sought enrollment at the University to Santo Thomas but was denied admission because the required Bachelor of Arts degree was not offered at the seminary in Jaro. However he was directed to the San Juan de Dios Hospital as an apprentice. Unfortunately, financial backing ran out and his poor parents could not afford to keep him in Manila. He returned to Iloilo and practiced medicine in outlying communities with such knowledge as he had.

During this time his visits with the poor and the common people began to stir deep feelings about the injustices that were common. At the age of 18 he had the audacity to write the story "Fray Botod" which depicted a fat and lecherous priest. Botodís false piety "always [had] the Virgin and God on his lips no matter how unjust and underhanded his acts are." This naturally incurred the fury of the friars who knew that the story depicted them. Although it was not published a copy circulated in the region but the Friars could not prove that López Jaena was the author. However he got into trouble for refusing to testify that certain prisoners died of natural causes when it was obvious that they had died at the hands of the mayor of Pototan. López Jaena continued to agitate for justice and finally left for Spain when threats were made on his life.

López Jaena sailed for Spain. There he was to become a leading literary and oratorical spokesman for the cause of Filipino freedom. Historians regard López Jaena, along with Marcelo del Pilar and José Rizal, as the triumvirate of Filipino propagandists. Of these three López Jaena was the first to arrive and may be said the Genesis of the Propaganda movement.

He pursued his medical studies at the school of medicine at the University of Valencia but did not finish the course. Once Rizal reproached Lopéz Jaena for not finishing his medical studies. Graciano replied, "On the shoulders of slaves should not rest a doctor's cape." Rizal countermanded, "The shoulders do not honor the doctor's cape, but the doctor's cape honors the shoulders."

He then moved to the field of journalism. It must be said that López Jaena had his faults. Often careless and, indeed, lazy, he perhaps enjoyed the café life of Barcelona and Madrid a bit too much. However, his friends would forgive him these indiscretions due to his appeal with words and oratory. Mariano Ponce who was another of the Filipino propagandists in Spain observed, "... a deafening ovation followed the close of the peroration, the ladies waved their kerchiefs wildly, and the men applauded frantically as they stood up from their seats in order to embrace the speaker."
Rizal noted, "His great love is politics and literature. I do not know for sure whether he loves politics in order to deliver speeches or he loves literature to be a politician."

In addition he is remembered for his literary contributions to the propaganda movement. He founded the fortnightly newspaper, La Solidaridad (Solidarity). When the publication office moved from Barcelona to Madrid the editorship went to Marcelo H. del Pilar. A student will discover his talent in the publication Discursos y Artículos Varios (Speeches and Various Articles).

Unfortunately, López Jaena died of tuberculosis on January 20, 1896. His death was followed on July 4th by Marcelo H. del Pilar and on December 30th of José Rizal by firing squad, thus ending the great triumvirate of propagandists. He died in poverty just shy of his fortieth birthday and two and a half years before the declaration of independence from Spain by Emilio Aguinaldo. Had he lived longer, his accomplishments would have doubtless been greater.

See also by the same author:
"Philippine Heroines of the Revolution: Maria Clara they were not" and "Mabini: Wounded Hero"

E-mail to the author: r.yoder@prodigy.net

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created: August 7, 1999
updated: August 7, 1999
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger