Jose Rizal dedicated his novel, "El Filibusterismo" to the three priests, Mariano Gomez, 85 years, Jose Burgos, 30, and Jacinto Zamora, 35, executed at Bagumbayan Field on February 17, 1872.

History books state that with this tragic event, Philippine nationalism was born. The assumption is that, before this date, the people did not feel they were one nation, and any sign of protest against the foreign presence that was Spain was a localized act of rebellion to which the rest of the country did not relate.

The execution of three Filipino priests, one of them an octogenarian, for something nobody believed they had anything to do with in the first place, stirred a current of sympathy for the martyrs and of revulsion against the alien rulers who could bring the ax down on the necks of the innocent. After three and a half centuries of foreign domination characterized by unenlightened government, outright exploitation of people and natural resources, now and then half-hearted attempts at reform and, on the part of the governed, sporadic and desultory shows of resistance, the common enemy now took shape and the people felt as one in their fight for the right to rule themselves, shape their own destinies, and take the consequences.

Father Gomez, Father Burgos and Father Zamora were summarily tried and sentenced to death by the garrote for the Cavite arsenal revolt of January 20, 1872. The priests, who were active in the fight for the secularization (or, in effect, nationalization) of the clergy were creating trouble for the despotic Governor Rafael Izquierdo and the powerful regular religious orders in the country. By linking them with the uprising in the Cavite arsenal, whether they indeed had anything to do with it or not, the administration found a convenient way of doing away with the troublesome trio.

Were the three really involved in the uprising? Establishing the truth of the case will take painstaking investigation since the records of the trial have disappeared and the star prosecution witness himself had been ordered executed along with the three against whom he testified. The question will probably remain one of the great unsolved mysteries in the Filipinos' fight for freedom. Until he breathed his last, Father Burgos protested innocence of the crime imputed to him and Rizal, in dedicating the Filibusterismo to the three condemned men, underscored the doubt shared by the Filipinos over their guilt.

Msgr. Meliton Martinez, Archbishop of Manila, was served a copy of the death sentences with a request that the priests be defrocked. In reply, the archbishop said he needed more convincing proof of their guilt and refused to be instrumental in effecting the crowning touch to their humiliation.

The secrecy which shrouded the alleged trials, the mysterious way records and papers of the court martial findings had disappeared, and the suspicious haste with which the sentences were carried out, contributed to the widespread belief that the three had been condemned on trumped-up charges. Sentenced to death on February 15, they were led to the garrote two days later, on February 17.

But even if irrefutable evidence against Father Gomez, Burgos and Zamora had been cited, the three ­ one an octogenarian known for the charities, another turned half-crazed at the prospect of a ghastly death, and the third widely admired for his courageous espousal of the rights of the Filipinos, in particular the clergy ­ would just the same have been looked on as martyrs by their compatriots. The time was ripe for revolt and the fact that the people believed that the executions were a miscarriage of justice only hastened the march of history. Public indignation rose to a peak. The job became easier for those who had by now seen the necessity of uniting. The first seeds of nationalism were sown and took root. The then constituted authorities, in deciding to set the priests up as an example to the populace of what was in the store for them if they continued being insolent, were fast sealing their doom. The groundwork for the inevitable revolution that was to come a quarter of a century later was laid.

Edmund Plauchut, a Frenchman residing in Manila at the time of the revolt, gives a dispassionate account of it and its causes in an article published in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1877. He traced the immediate cause to a peremptory order from the governor, Izquierdo, exacting personal taxes from the Filipino laborers in the engineering and artillery corps in the Cavite arsenal, and requiring them to perform forced labor like ordinary subjects. Until then, these workers in the arsenal had been enjoying exemptions from both taxes and forced labor. January 20, the day of the revolt, was payday and the laborers found the amount of taxes as well as the corresponding fee in lieu of the forced labor deducted from their pay envelopes. It was the last straw. That night they mutinied. Forty infantry soldiers and twenty men from the artillery took over command of the Fort of San Felipe and fired cannonades to announce to the world their moment of triumph. It was a short-lived victory. Apparently, the mutineers had expected to be joined by their comrades in the 7th infantry company assigned to patrol the Cavite plaza. They became terror-stricken, however, when they beckoned to the 7th infantry men from the ramparts of the fort and their comrades did not make any move to join them. Instead, the company started attacking them. The rebels decided to bolt the gates and wait for morning when support from Manila was expected to come.

But Manila was quiet. What the Cavite rebels had mistaken for a pre-arranged signal for the uprising coming from the general direction of the city, turned out to be the burst of rockets in celebration of the feast of St. Loreto, patron of Sampaloc. Augustinian Friar Casimiro Herrera, writing a thesis on the revolt later, was to say this was an "act of Divine Providence", for the Sampaloc fiesta, traditionally celebrated in December, had been postponed to January 20 that year.

Informed of the mutiny, Governor Izquierdo dispatched two infantry regiments and an artillery brigade with four cannons, under the command of General Felipe Ginoves Expinar. General Ginoves arrived in Cavite by sea on the boats of Filipino, Manila, Isabel I and Isabel II, to find the 7th infantry company under the command of Lt. Col. Sawa successfully keeping the rebels at bay in the front. From then on, it was just a matter of hours before the mutineers, out-numbered, out-armed and ill-prepared even in the matter of provisions to enable them to weather a siege, began filing out of the fort waving the white banner of surrender. But the first to march out were met by a volley of shots from General Ginoves' men. They fell to a man and Gen. Ginoves then ordered a charge into the fort. The rebels inside the fort did not offer any resistance. Plauchut mentions a Spanish friar (Father Antonio Ruffian of San Jose de Dios) whose presence inside the fort "has never been explained to date", as well as the Filipinos and the suicide of one of them. This would tend to corroborate reports from other sources that the Spanish officers in the fort as well as the men under them had joined with the laborers in the revolt. These reports mention Spanish Lts. Montesinos and Morquecho, who with a Sgt. Lamadrid, took charge of the force of 200 marines and artillery men at the arsenal. When General Ginoves and his soldiers arrived, it was Sgt. Lamadrid who first tried to repel them. He died in the attempt. Other accounts, however, conflict with these reports. They state that the rebels themselves put to death the Spanish officers inside the fort, as well as the wife of one of them and her maid.

That those who staged the revolt in the San Felipe fort were counting on help from comrades in other military establishments in Cavite and Manila is highly plausible. The native soldiers in these establishments had long been chafing from discrimination in treatment. One of Governor's Izquierdo's first acts on taking over the reins of the government was to order the fusion of the two artillery battalions in Manila. One of these was composed of Spaniards (peninsulars) and the other of mestizos and Filipinos. Before the fusion, the two battalions were being maintained separately and independently of each other to avoid clashes that would arise because of the differences in race. Governor Izquierdo not only ordered the two merged, but decreed that the peninsulars would form the first companies and the Filipinos, second. He also filled all vacancies for the posts of corporals and sergeants with Spaniards. When the two battalions were being maintained separately, the natives were blissfully unaware of the fact that their Spanish comrades in other battalions were getting better pay and better food. With the merger, the discriminations became obvious. The feeling of discontent spread. The Cavite uprising was one of the manifestations of this dissatisfaction over conditions in the army. It could very well have been part of a concerted plan to revolt among the native elements in the rest of the military establishments.

When he quickly quelled the revolt, Governor Izquierdo demonstrated the futility of mutiny. He should have rested on his laurels, assured that the other discontented groups contemplating similar acts of defiance would have learned their lesson and desisted from resorting to violence. But Governor Izquierdo had to turn the incident into a terrible example that the insolent filibusters (as anyone who showed any radical tendencies was then called) should never forget. Apparently, Governor Izquierdo had a dossier on who the filibusters were. He had them all rounded up, their homes searched thoroughly and their letters intercepted. The Council of War set up a court martial under Manuel Boscasa. Some seventy people were condemned to death. Later, several of the death sentences were commuted to exile or imprisonment. Among those banished to far off and lonely Marianas Islands were Antonio Maria Regidor, Maximo Paterno. Agustin Mendoza and Joaquin Pardo de Tavera. Given jail terms were Maximo Inocencio, Enrique Paraiso and Crisanto de los Reyes. Doomed to the garrote were the three priests, Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora, as well as one Francisco Saldua. The latter had been the principal informer against the three priests. His statement had been the main basis for the convictions and he had been promised pardon in exchange for his testimony. To his consternation, however, he was condemned along with the three. His was the first of the heads to roll on February 17.

The court martial proceedings appear to be highly anomalous. Evidence to support the charges did not accompany the decision which merely stated that the court had found them guilty of conspiring to overthrow the government and proclaim a Republic of the Philippines, with Father Burgos as president. The defendants were given a counsel chosen by the court. The counsel, a Dr. Jose Arrieta, on reading his brief, said it was not possible to defend Father Burgos because he had already confessed. The priest was surprised on hearing the "defense". He protested, "That is not my defense. The course has changed it. I have not confessed and I deny every charge brought against me as having no foundation in fact or in act."

That Governor Izquierdo committed a blunder when he had the priests executed and the other suspects exiled or otherwise sentenced for scarcely proved complicity in the Cavite revolt, is something that most historians admit. If Governor Izquierdo had desisted from such punitive action, the revolt would not have attained the importance it was to take on subsequently. One may not guarantee, however, that otherwise, the fire of nationalism would not have caught on and spread. As it happened, with the execution of the three priests, Governor Izquierdo was merely setting the pattern for his reign of terror, only too well known in Philippine history. The fuse was ready, all that remained to be done was set it off.

Abroad, events had in fact been working up to the Cavite revolt. Spain herself had just undergone a revolution. Four years earlier, in 1868, the queen had been dethroned and a Republican had been installed. The revolution in the mother country had repercussions in the Islands. In 1869, the liberal Governor de la Torre was sent over. All progressive-minded elements in the country were to enjoy a brief spell of liberalism under the new governor. There was going to be freedom of speech and the Governor even encouraged his subjects to visit with him at his Sta. Potenciana palace and exchange views on how the government should be run. The loss of Spanish colonies in the Americas at about this time resulted in the displacements of a great number of government officials and employees. These were soon to find their way to the only colony left, the Philippine Islands. The opening of the Suez Canal was to facilitate this influx of newcomers who were to bring with them modern ideas of government and the spirit of reforms then pervading in the mother country as well as throughout Europe and the new world.

One articulate historian writes of the period. Not until the nineteenth century would the Filipino nation present a united, self-conscious front. The rarefied air from Europe had found its way into the nipa hut. The red beret of the liberated Frenchman had its counterpart in the red ribbon worn by the Señora Maria de Sanchez, hostess of the Manila celebration of the new Spanish constitution. Pouring in lieu of the invalid wife of the liberal Governor de la Torre, she presented a strange, exciting sight to the heretofore repressed Filipino. On the ribbon wound around her hair were printed the words "Long Live the Sovereign People" and around her neck a red tie bore the message "Long Live Liberty" at one end, and "Long live General la Torre" on the other. On a frivolous ribbon around a Castillian señora's hair was the slogan that would send many a Filipino who was present at the reception, among them Father Jose Burgos, to jail or to the garrote.

But liberalism was not going to last long in Spain, and certain circles in the Islands, who looked on the radical ways of Governor de la Torre as a serious threat to their existence, were going to conspire to have him removed. These circles were typified by the Augustinian friar, Herrero, who, assuming an "I told you so" attitude in his thesis on the Cavite revolt, was to say later, "The insurrection at Cavite has the same origin and result as those in France, Spain, Italy, American and other European countries. They are all fruits of the corruption of the intelligence and of the heart . . . The freedom to think and the freedom of the press which brought bitter fruits in Spain were transported to these islands and they were encouraged by ambition, passions and ignorance of men . . . "

On April 4,, 1871, De la Torre was replaced by Izquierdo. The moment the new governor took over the reins of government, he made it clear that the regime he was going to establish was one of total reaction to De la Torre's liberal policies. But the seeds of liberalism and of desire for reform had been sown and these were to thrive, even more so, under Izquierdo's oppressive rule. It is a lesson of history that revolutionary movements feed on tyranny.

Father Burgos, then a coadjutor in the Manila Cathedral, had been very active in the fight for the retention of Filipino curas in parishes. This dispute over parishes between the seculars (the curas) and the regulars (members of religious order) is best explained in a letter Archbishop Martinez of Manila sent the Regent of the King in Madrid at the height of the dispute, shortly before the Cavite revolt. The archbishop, as head of the parishes, naturally sided with the seculars and warned that the controversy had better be resolved to their satisfaction if it was desired to stave off a deterioration of the situation with unfortunate results. Because the seculars were native priests, mestizos or creoles, and the regulars were peninsulars, the dispute over the parishes was eventually to take on racial overtones.

Archbishop Martinez traced the beginnings of the religious question to the issuance of the Cedula of July 8, 1826. This ecclesiastical order emanation from Madrid authorized the transfer of administration of the parishes in the Islands from the seculars to the regulars. The seculars had been occupying these parishes since fifty years ago, when there was a shortage of priests from Spain. Few of the Spanish priests like the idea of coming to the wilds of the Philippines, and the local church authorities were forced to train natives to become priests and administer the parishes. The 1826 cedula naturally affected the seculars adversely, since then they were to be demoted to mere auxiliaries and sacristanes while the friars were to take over as heads of the parishes. In almost all instances, however, there was virtually no transfer of work: the native priests still carried on the actual work of the curas, while the friars, enjoying the privileges of curas, only took charge of the soft job of receiving the moneys due the curates from the parishioners. A second Cedula issued on March 9, 1849, authorized the transfer of seven specific parishes in Cavite from the seculars to the regulars. The last straw was the Royal Order of September 10, 1861 giving all curates in Cavite and Manila to the members of the Recollect Order. The Royal Order was issued to recompense the Recollects for loss of benefices in Mindanao which had been given to the Jesuits, just returned from exile. The Jesuits, banned from Spain and the Indies (the Philippines included) in 1767, were restored to favor in 1861. There were limited to missionary work, however, and in the Islands were assigned to Mindanao, then in the administration of the Recollects. To compensate the Recollects, they were awarded the lucrative parishes in Manila and Cavite at the expense of the native clergy which had hitherto been holding them.

There were other instances of what the historians of the time called despoliation, which was the awarding of lush plums to favored parties to the discrimination of underdogs. When the priest of San Rafael, Bulacan, a native, died, his curate was given over to the Augustinians. Curates of Zambales, Bataan and Pampanga, long held by native priests, were given over to religious corporations. Father Burgos led the protests against what he charged were intrusions on the part of the regulars into what properly and legally belonged to the local clergy. He organized a clerical party to fight for secularization. The party subsidized the newspaper El Eco Filipino, published in Madrid, which became the organ of the champions for secularization of the churches and later of civil reforms. Burgos and his followers argued that the turning over of the parishes to the regulars contravened the provisions of the Council of Trent agreement which expressly prohibited the friars from holding curates. Under the Trent agreement, only secular priests were supposed to hold parishes and administer the spiritual needs of the populace while regulars were to live in their monasteries and devote their time to religious contemplation and to missionary and educational work.

The regulars on the other hand countered that the seculars were not competent to hold the parishes and that, moreover, they had been holding these curates at the indulgence of the Crown in Madrid which had the right to take away at its pleasure. What really made the curates such a big bone of contention, besides of course the fact that they were good sources of revenues, was the fact that those holding them became spheres of influence, social and political, in the communities. The regulars, realizing that they would be reduced to political impotence if they retired to their monasteries, refused to give up the parishes that they had maneuvered to get from the native priests through high-powered and obviously successful lobbying in Madrid. It was this friar faction which believed to have insisted on laying the extreme penalty for Father Burgos, his fellow cura del sagrario in the Cathedral, Jacinto Zamora, and the octogenarian Gomez, for complicity in the Cavite Revolt. In one fell swoop, they would do away with an annoying threat to the comfortable positions they had been able to wangle from Madrid, as heads of the most lucrative parishes in the Islands.

But the stories circulated that the evidence against the three priests had been fabricated, and that in fact the revolt had been instigated by the friars (Friar Ruffian's presence in the besieged fort San Felipe was never satisfactorily explained) to frame up Burgos, Gomez and Zamora. One take (noted in Blair and Robertson's The Philippine Islands Vol. 11) was that some friars had brought from Zambales a native who looked like Father Gomez, rigged him up in priest attire and thus managed to implicate the good man in the mutiny.

These stories were to serve as fodder to the steadily growing fire. Because those put to the garrote for a crime never satisfactorily proved included a creole (Burgos), a half-Chinese (Zamora) and a pure-blooded Tagalog (Gomez), the various elements represented by these three races, saw in the unjust execution a common cause which was not just creole, or mestizo, or indio (as natives were then deprecatingly termed). Up to then, these various groups had held each other in distrust, a result of the "divide and rule" policy maintained by most despotic regimes and so successfully practiced by the peninsulars in the Islands. With the executions, Burgos, Zamora and Gomez emerged as martyrs. The various active groups became bound in anger over the atrocity and on this union was laid the foundation for a Filipino nation. Some of the liberal elements had been advocating mere assimilation with Spain (the country to take on the status of a province). Now they were asking themselves whether assimilation, and not complete independence to run their lives and their country, was what they wanted.

Austin Craig in his Lineage, Life and Labors of Rizal recalls that Father Burgos' ante mortem advice to the Filipinos was for them to seek education abroad because only through education could they hope for progress. It was advice that was well taken. Rizal, whose older brother, Paciano, was a close friend of Burgos, was soon to leave his native shores for Madrid and other points overseas, where he was to crystallize his ideas for reform.

Meantime, the laymen who had also been implicated in the revolt and punished with exile to the Marianas, were to escape to places like London, Hongkong and Tokyo, where the air was much more progressive. Here they were to start Filipino communities where many a plot to liberate the "patria adorada" was very likely hatched. Some of these exiles were to return to their country, and their contact with liberally-run governments was to open their eyes wide to the despotism in Manila. These were the men destined to take historic roles in 1898.