One hundred and forty years ago, on January 20, 1872, about 200 Filipino military personnel of Fort San Felipe Arsenal in Cavite, Philippines, staged a mutiny which in a way led to the Philippine Revolution in 1896. The 1872 Cavite Mutiny was precipitated by the removal of long-standing personal benefits to the workers such as tax (tribute) and forced labor exemptions on order from the Governor General Rafael de Izquierdo.
Izquierdo replaced Governor General Carlos Maria de la Torre some months before in 1871 and immediately rescinded Torre’s liberal measures and imposed his iron-fist rule. He was opposed to any hint of reformist or nationalistic movements in the Philippines. He was in office for less than two years, but he will be remembered for his cruelty to the Filipinos and the barbaric execution of the three martyr-priests blamed for the mutiny: Fathers Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora, later collectively called “Gomburza.”
The mutineers were led by Sgt. Fernando La Madrid; they seized the Fort and killed the Spanish officers. Fearing a general uprising, the Spanish government in Manila sent a regiment under General Felipe Ginoves to recover the Fort. The besieged mutiny was quelled, and many mutineers including Sgt. La Madrid were killed. Later, others were sentenced to death or hard labor.
Izquierdo used the mutiny to implicate Gomburza and other notable Filipinos known for their liberal leanings. Prominent Filipinos such as priests, professionals, and businessmen were arrested on flimsy and trumped-up charges and sentenced to prison, death, or exile. These include Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, Jose Basa, and Antonio M. Regidor. It was said that the Cavite mutineers got their cue from Manila when they saw and heard fireworks across the Manila Bay which was really a celebration of the feast of the Lady of Loreto in Sampaloc.
When the Archbishop of Manila, Rev. Meliton Martinez, refused to cooperate and defrock the priests, the Spanish court-martial on February 15 went ahead and maliciously found Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora guilty of treason for instigating the Cavite mutiny. Two days later, the three priests were put to death by garrotte in Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta. (Garrote was a barbaric Spanish method of execution in which an iron collar was tightened around the prisoner’s neck until death occurred.)
Father Burgos was of Spanish descent, born in the Philippines. He was a parish priest of the Manila Cathedral and had been known to be close to the liberal Governor General de la Torre. He was 35 years old at the time and was active and outspoken in advocating the Filipinization of the clergy. He was quoted as saying, “Why shall a young man strive to rise in the profession of law or theology when he can vision no future for himself but obscurity?”
Father Zamora, 37, was also Spanish, born in the Philippines. He was the parish priest of Marikina and was known to be unfriendly to and would not countenance any arrogance or authoritative behavior from Spaniards coming from Spain. He once snubbed a Spanish governor who came to visit Marikina.
Father Gomez was an old man in his mid-’70, Chinese-Filipino, born in Cavite. He held the most senior position of the three as Archbishop’s Vicar in Cavite. He was truly nationalistic and accepted the death penalty calmly as though it were his penance for being pro-Filipinos.
The three priests were stripped of their albs, and with chained hands and feet were brought to their cells after their sentence. They received numerous visits from folks coming from Cavite, Bulacan, and elsewhere. Forty thousand Filipinos came to Luneta to witness and quietly condemn the execution, and Gomburza became a rallying catchword for the down-trodden Filipinos seeking justice and freedom from Spain.
In the dedication page of his second book, El Filibusterismo, published in 1891, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote, “I dedicate my work to you as victims of the evil which I undertake to combat…”
It is well to remember that the seeds of nationalism that was sown in Cavite blossomed to the Philippine Revolution and later to the Declaration of Independence by Emilio Aguinaldo which took place also in Cavite. As for me, the 1872 Cavite Mutiny bolstered the stereotypical belief that Caviteños were the most courageous of my fellow Filipinos.