Gomburza and Rizal’s execution

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 17,2023 - 08:30 AM

Every year on Feb. 17, a floral offering is made at the white obelisk in Rizal Park that is ignored the rest of the year. The spot marked by the obelisk, between the Rizal Monument and the fenced off Rizal Light and Sound area, is the site where Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomes [with an “s” not a “z”], and Jacinto Zamora were executed by garrote on Feb. 17, 1872. The martyrs are better remembered by an acronym “Gom-Bur-Za.” Or, in jest, as “Ma-Jo-Ha.”

Jose Rizal dedicated his second novel “El Filibusterismo” to the martyred priests. He even declared in a letter that “without 1872, there would have been no Plaridel, Jaena, or Sanciangco; nor would the brave and generous Filipino colonies in Europe have existed. Without 1872, Rizal would now have been a Jesuit and instead of writing ‘Noli Me Tangere,’ would have written the opposite…”

Andres Bonifacio inspired Katipuneros to face a superior enemy in the battlefield by distributing black pieces of cloth said to have been cut from the cassocks of Gomburza.

Nationalist historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo asserted in the 1960s that “there is no Philippine history before 1872.” He explained that Filipinos started charting the course of their own history from the execution of Gomburza, and that before 1872, what passed for Philippine history was nothing but the history of Spain in the Philippines.

Textbook history taught us about the garrote that brought the condemned men to a swift end by breaking their necks, but we were not given the details of the execution. There was a fourth man, Zaldua, who provided testimony that nailed the three priests. He was promised a pardon that never came, and he was executed first. A dramatic eyewitness account of the execution was written by Edmond Plauchut, a French journalist, who provided a description of how each of the doomed men faced death:

“Burgos cried like a child, but managed to greet with a shake of his head all his friends whom he recognized in the huge crowd. Zamora was like one dazed and unconscious of what was going on. (He had suffered a mental breakdown and was, for all intents and purposes, already dead before they did him in.) But Padre Gomes, with eyes open and with furrowed brow, blessed the multitude who knelt at his feet as he passed by.”

Gomes, the oldest of the three, had made peace with God and his natural son. Resigned to his fate, he said: “I very well know that not a single leaf can move, except at the will of the Divine Creator. Since it is His will that I die at this place, may his will be done.” Burgos was the opposite; he stood up from the garrote and shouted, “What crime have I committed? Shall I die in this manner? Is there no justice in the world?” A group of friars then went up and pushed him into the garrote, and that made Burgos struggle more as he shouted, “But I am innocent!” Burgos only calmed down and accepted his fate when one of the priests holding him down hushed him with the words: “Even Jesus Christ was without sin.”

Poor executioner asked for forgiveness. I imagine he must have uttered “trabaho lang ito,” or words to that effect, that moved the compassionate Burgos to give his blessing, and as he did so, the crowd of uziseros attending the execution knelt in a silence that terrified the Spaniards in the killing fields that was then known as Bagumbayan, or “new land,” in reference to the old walled city of Intramuros.

Rizal, in a letter to his friend Mariano Ponce, said: “If at his death, Burgos had shown the courage of Gomes, the Filipinos of today would be other than they are. However nobody knows how we will behave at that culminating moment, and perhaps I myself, who preach and boast so much, may show more fear and less resolution than Burgos in that crisis. Life is so pleasant, and it is so repugnant to die on the scaffold, still young and with ideas in one’s head.”

Twenty-four years later, in Bagumbayan, Rizal remembered Gomburza, and showed the enemy that Filipinos knew how to live and die for their principles. His request to face the firing squad was refused, and not wanting to be shot in the back as a traitor, he executed what I call the “Rizal twist,” so he did not fall face down on the ground but on his side, his eyes left open in defiance and death.


Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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