In 1869, the Spanish Cortes recognized individual freedom of expression, association, and worship, legalized civil marriage, and introduced the jury system. A wealthy liberal, Carlos Maria de la Torre, was sent to the Philippines as the new governor-general. Once installed, de la Torre banned flogging in the military, lifted restrictions on the press, public demonstrations, and forming of associations aimed at reform, etc. This behavior did not sit well with the long-time Spanish expatriates and clergy, who feared such a display of liberalism would entertain ideas of a free society.
Unfortunately, Amadeo of Savoy was installed as Spanish King, and de la Torre was recalled in 1871 and replaced by Rafael de Izquierdo, who promptly restored the restrictions. He also withdrew the exemption from tribute and forced labor (polos y servicios) that the workers at the Cavite arsenal, the artillery barracks, and the engineer corps of Fort San Felipe had enjoyed since 1740. The abolition of these privileges caused about 200 native soldiers and workers in Cavite City’s arsenal to mutiny on January 20, 1872.
Seven Spanish officers were killed, and the mini-revolt was quickly crashed in two days. Still, the Spanish regime under the reactionary governor Rafael de Izquierdo magnified the incident and used it as a good excuse to punish the leaders of an increasingly incendiary nationalist movement.
This incident provided an opportunity to get rid of Filipino secular priests who had championed the Filipinization of the clergy. This demand had grown to include not only the native clerics but Creoles and Spanish mestizos as well. Among those swept into the net of suspected subversives were figures of social standing and three secular priests: Fr. Mariano Gomez, curate of the nearby town of Bacoor, Cavite; Fr. Jacinto Zamora, parish priest of Marikina Town, a suburb north of Manila; and Fr. Jose Burgos, who had replaced Fr. Pedro Pelaez as the canon of the prestigious Manila Cathedral.
Jose Rizal’s older brother, Paciano Mercado, had been a protégé of Fr. Burgos and had been living with him when he was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny. Jose Rizal, whose full name is Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, was urged by his family to drop Mercado and used Rizal as his surname. His family feared that if he used Mercado, he could be linked to his brother and indirectly to Fr. Burgos.
Of the three priests, the most well-known was Fr. Burgos, one of the most vocal and influential champions of the Filipino secular clergy and who had made his views known to de la Torre. Fr. Burgos accused the friar orders of owning great riches and profitable estate income, which they do their best to keep away from the eyes of the government. This wealth was unhappily available all the time and was too often put to ill use in the indulgence of pleasure, transgression of the law, corruption of justice, and the infliction of harm to their fellowmen. Confrontation with the friars was inevitable, though things would not come to a head for two more decades.
In a mock trial and implicated by one mutineer, the clerics were promptly found guilty of plotting to overthrow the regime. Significantly, Archbishop Martinez of Manila refused to defrock them, an implicit endorsement of their professed innocence, as well as a pointed rebuke of the friar orders, who continually resisted the diocesan bishop’s right to visitation. On February 17, 1872, a month after the failed mutiny, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora were publicly executed at the Luneta using garrote, an iron collar bound around the condemned’s neck and then twisted until the neck was broken. Burgos, the last to be killed, shouted out his declaration of innocence, to which one of the attending friars is said to have chillingly remarked, “So was Jesus.” Ironically, the mutineer who had implicated the trio hoping to be pardoned or at least spared the death penalty, a man by the name of Saldua, was also garroted.
Others were imprisoned, and twenty-two others, including nine native priests, were banished to Marianas Island. A few of the banished laymen managed to make their way to Europe. The trials were patently unfair since the Supreme Military Council in Madrid delivered to the colonial government in Manila, stating that its conduct violated the law and warned against a repeat. No punishment was decreed, however, for such a violation.
Some Filipino intellectuals were seized and accused of complicity with the mutineers. The ensuing martyrdom of indio priests ignited the sparks of revolution to get rid of the Spaniards. Cavite was among the first provinces to rise in arms in 1896. Cavite produced many revolutionary leaders and saw much action in the struggle for independence, and the three priests became martyrs to the cause of Philippine independence.
The Cavite Mutiny emboldened a much larger one when, on September 2 of the same year, close to 1200 laborers in the same Cavite shipyards went on the first recorded strike in Philippine history. Numerous people were arrested and interrogated but could not find the mastermind, and eventually, all were released. The peaceable strike was to protest the suspension of their privileges – the same cause that sparked the brief armed insurrection.
The 1872 Gomburza Affair, as it came to be called later, planted the seeds of nationalist awakening and politicized the younger generation, culminating in the 1896 Revolution against Spain. One indication of how the martyrdom of the Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora still resonated more than two decades later was the use of “Gomburza” as a password among the revolutionaries.
Philippines Handbook by Carl Parkes
A History of the Philippines by Luis H. Francia