Thursday, April 7, 2011

I was at Dr. José Rizal's Execution: 30 Dec. 1896. Bagumbayan, Manila, by Señor Don Perro

Dr. José Rizal's execution by firing squad, Bagumbayan Field, Manila, 30 December, 1896. 

I was at Dr. José Rizal’s Execution, Bagumbayan, Manila, 30 December 1896.

Hola! Me llamo Perro.

Call me Señor Don Perro.  Yes, I’m a dog.

Take a look at the official photo of Dr. José Rizal’s execution on 30 December 1896.  Zero in between the two white poles in the foreground.  Do you see me?  I’m the dog sitting right in front of a government official wearing white.

I’m the mascot of the firing squad commanded by my Master, Artillery Commander Señor Manuel Gomez Escalante.  Under his command were the following: two companies from the 7th Battalion of Expeditionary Forces, one company from the 8th Hunters Battalion, a company from the 70th Line Regiment (composed of native soldiers)  and another from the Battalion of Volunteers.  All in all, there were more than 400 men who formed the military escort (because rumors were rife of revolutionarios swooping down to rescue the prisoner.) The government soldiers formed a three-sided square around Bagumbayan Field, as you can see from the photograph.

At six thirty in the morning of 30 December, the city musicians and the army drum and bugle corps sounded the start of Dr. José Rizal's march from Fort Santiago to Bagumbayan.  Elbows tied behind him, he was accompanied by priests, and there followed a lengthy procession of solemn church ecclesiastics, high government dignitaries, officers of the cavalry and almost the entire Spanish population of Manila and suburbs. At the execution site, a viewing entablado or stage was erected for the Governor General and high government and church officials. The roof tops of chaises or calesas  served as a makeshift entablado used by the friars.  

Look at the picture again.  Do you see what appear to be white clouds in the background?  Those are the white billowing soutanas of the  Agustinian, Dominican, Franciscan, and Recoleto friars standing atop the calesa tops cheering on.

The atmosphere was surreal.  On one hand, the natives were cowed, melancholy, gazing through hopeless eyes, solemn and hushed.  On the other hand, the Spaniards were in an anticipating mood, dressed in fancy clothes and in attendance of an elaborate espectaculo or an auto da fé.

In Spain, the Spanish Inquisition established auto da fé as a public ceremony during which the sentences upon those heretics brought before a Spanish Inquisition tribunal were executed.  The heretics are burned on a stake in an auto da fé.  But since 1835, burning at the stake was banned.

As expected in an auto da fé  men and women were required by the Archbishops of the Inquisition to attend under pain of severe punishments and penalties.  Similarly, this condition had also been preached by the Archbishop of Manila, hence the presence of many Spaniards in holiday garbs and ready for an execution of  Rizal, the prisoner, as if attending an auto da fé.

I heard my master give orders for the firing squad formation.  Eight pre-selected marksmen from the 70th Line Regiment were to be in the first row.  The second line would be eight soldiers:  four from the 7th Battalion and four from the 8th Hunters Battalion.  They had their guns trained on the first row of native soldiers, in case they failed to execute their orders.

Drum roll.

My master approached the prisoner.  I trotted by my master’s heels and heard him tell Rizal that he will soon give the orders to shoot.  Rizal asked not to be blindfolded.  My master agreed.  "Not necessary," he explained. 

Rizal asked if he could face the firing squad.  My master answered, “That’s not possible, I have orders to shoot you in the back.” 

"In that case then,"  Rizal said  “spare my head.”  My master paused, and I whimpered,  “Master, say yes.”    “Yes,” he agreed. 

Rizal informed my master that he’d point with his elbow and hitch his shoulder to indicate where the soldiers should aim to hit his heart.

"Thanks," my master said and asked, “Do you prefer to kneel?”

Rizal said, “No, I'll stand.”

It was 7:02 am.

A muffled drum roll was sounded.

A  minute later I heard my master give the order:  MARK.  Another second later:  FIRE! The impact of eight bullets found their mark.  Rizal fell  down face upwards.

My heart raced. I ran to Dr. Rizal.  For a minute I thought the body seemed to be fixed on the spot.  Then I saw the body crumple, as in a slow motion, to the ground.  I circled his body.  It was lying in blood.  My master approached and gave  him the final honors--the firing at close range with a pistol-- the shot of grace, which ended his life.  In proper protocol as well as in fact, Rizal did not die a traitor’s death by a firing squad but by a tiro al gracia.

I continued circling round and round the lifeless body as I whined uncontrollably; “You shot an innocent man,”  I wailed. 

My master heard me whimper and whine loudly and soothed my feelings by pulling the handkerchief from Rizal’s pocket and covered the dead man's face. Crimson satin soon marked the whiteness of the hankie’s edges and the taint of the blue sky was mirrored in the pool of blood.  Red, White, Blue.  An emblematic symbol of the tricolor flag.

The music played the national Cadiz March and the Spaniards cried out “Viva España!"  Applause from the Spanish crowd was heard for it was a social event of the day with breakfasting parties on the Intramuros walls.

It was 7:03 am.  The golden sliver of dawn was fingering Manila Bay's skies and touched Bagumbayan Field. I stood beside the lifeless body of the martyred hero as the soldiers filed out of the killing field.  As maskot of the firing squad, this was what I was trained to do--to sit on guard.

Then, head up, I gave out a sharp bark followed by long and sustained howl that pierced the morning mist. It gave a shiver to the Filipino crowd that augured something sinister.  My continued high piercing ululating howl proclaimed the beginning of the end of Spanish colonial rule in the islands.

Nota bene.

1. Have you often wondered how Rizal could fall with his face upward? When he indicated the side where to shoot him, the body action of involuntarily raising of the right shoulder because of the twisting of his elbow to point at the heart (it was the hand which pointed, according to Austin Craig: p 248) ensured that his body would fall face up when he was shot, (Wenceslao Emilio Retana y Gamboa.  (1905) . Vida y escrito del Dr. José Rizal, in Elizabeth Medina's "Rizal According to Retana" 1997.  

2. The  Artillery Commander Manuel Gomez Escalante was a person who was, according Spaniards at that time,  called a Filipino:  meaning a Spaniard of Spanish heritage, born in the Philippines.  His father, the noted trial lawyer, Señor Juan Gomez was also a Filipino,  also born in the Philippines of Spanish parents from the Iberian peninsula (Medina, p 219).

3.The eight soldiers who formed the firing squad  first row formation were natives  (Indios) or what we now call Filipinos.

4.  Strange as it may sound, Rizal was shot by Filipinos!