José Rizal and the Propaganda Movement

Between 1872 and 1892, a national consciousness was growing among the Filipino émigrés who had settled in Europe. In the freer atmosphere of Europe, these émigrés--liberals exiled in 1872 and students attending European universities--formed the Propaganda Movement. Organized for literary and cultural purposes more than for political ends, the Propagandists, who included upper-class Filipinos from all the lowland Christian areas, strove to "awaken the sleeping intellect of the Spaniard to the needs of our country" and to create a closer, more equal association of the islands and the motherland. Among their specific goals were representation of the Philippines in the Cortes, or Spanish parliament; secularization of the clergy; legalization of Spanish and Filipino equality; creation of a public school system independent of the friars; abolition of the polo (labor service) and vandala (forced sale of local products to the government); guarantee of basic freedoms of speech and association; and equal opportunity for Filipinos and Spanish to enter government service.

The most outstanding Propagandist was José Rizal, a physician, scholar, scientist, and writer. Born in 1861 into a prosperous Chinese mestizo family in Laguna Province, he displayed great intelligence at an early age. After several years of medical study at the University of Santo Tomás, he went to Spain in 1882 to finish his studies at the University of Madrid. During the decade that followed, Rizal's career spanned two worlds: Among small communities of Filipino students in Madrid and other European cities, he became a leader and eloquent spokesman, and in the wider world of European science and scholarship--particularly in Germany--he formed close relationships with prominent natural and social scientists. The new discipline of anthropology was of special interest to him; he was committed to refuting the friars' stereotypes of Filipino racial inferiority with scientific arguments. His greatest impact on the development of a Filipino national consciousness, however, was his publication of two novels--Noli Me Tangere (Touch me not) in 1886 and El Filibusterismo (The reign of greed) in 1891. Rizal drew on his personal experiences and depicted the conditions of Spanish rule in the islands, particularly the abuses of the friars. Although the friars had Rizal's books banned, they were smuggled into the Philippines and rapidly gained a wide readership.

Other important Propagandists included Graciano Lopez Jaena, a noted orator and pamphleteer who had left the islands for Spain in 1880 after the publication of his satirical short novel, Fray Botod (Brother Fatso), an unflattering portrait of a provincial friar. In 1889 he established a biweekly newspaper in Barcelona, La Solidaridad (Solidarity), which became the principal organ of the Propaganda Movement, having audiences both in Spain and in the islands. Its contributors included Rizal; Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austrian geographer and ethnologist whom Rizal had met in Germany; and Marcelo del Pilar, a reformminded lawyer. Del Pilar was active in the antifriar movement in the islands until obliged to flee to Spain in 1888, where he became editor of La Solidaridad and assumed leadership of the Filipino community in Spain.

In 1887 Rizal returned briefly to the islands, but because of the furor surrounding the appearance of Noli Me Tangere the previous year, he was advised by the governor to leave. He returned to Europe by way of Japan and North America to complete his second novel and an edition of Antonio de Morga's seventeenth-century work, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (History of the Philippine Islands). The latter project stemmed from an ethnological interest in the cultural connections between the peoples of the pre-Spanish Philippines and those of the larger Malay region (including modern Malaysia and Indonesia) and the closely related political objective of encouraging national pride. De Morga provided positive information about the islands' early inhabitants, and reliable accounts of pre-Christian religion and social customs.

After a stay in Europe and Hong Kong, Rizal returned to the Philippines in June 1892, partly because the Dominicans had evicted his father and sisters from the land they leased from the friars' estate at Calamba, in Laguna Province. He also was convinced that the struggle for reform could no longer be conducted effectively from overseas. In July he established the Liga Filipina (Philippine League), designed to be a truly national, nonviolent organization. It was dissolved, however, following his arrest and exile to the remote town of Dapitan in northwestern Mindanao.

The Propaganda Movement languished after Rizal's arrest and the collapse of the Liga Filipina. La Solidaridad went out of business in November 1895, and in 1896 both del Pilar and Lopez Jaena died in Barcelona, worn down by poverty and disappointment. An attempt was made to reestablish the Liga Filipina, but the national movement had become split between ilustrado advocates of reform and peaceful evolution (the compromisarios, or compromisers) and a plebeian constituency that wanted revolution and national independence. Because the Spanish refused to allow genuine reform, the initiative quickly passed from the former group to the latter.

Source: A Country Study: Philippines from The Library of Congress with minor modifications.

Copyright (C) 2015 Matthew Blake. All Rights Reserved.