Rizal’s execution and his bid ‘to strike the lyre’

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

To strollers in Bagumbayan it was an ordinary day, whether Filipino or Spaniard. They wanted the fresh cool air of early morning. But something was going on in the park. As spectators they were detached and this was like any other day to stroll.

Rizal’s family was there but it was decided the night before that they would not reveal their presence. A niece who was a young girl then said she peeped through spaces in the crowd.

The story goes that a day before he was asked to retract all he said in his writings, if he wanted to marry Josephine Bracken. But he refused so the kangaroo trial convicted him on charges of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. Until today the version of retraction is disputed. Did he or didn’t he? Captain Rafael Dominguez read Jose Rizal’s death sentence. He was to be shot at 7 a.m. of the next day in Bagumbayan.

Rizal who was dressed in a black suit was a few meters behind his advance guards while moving to his slaughter place and was accompanied by Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade, two Jesuit priests and more soldiers behind him. The atmosphere was just like any execution by musketry by which the sound of the drums occupied the air. Rizal looked at the sky while walking and mentioned how beautiful that day was.

Rizal was told to stand on a grassy lawn between two lamp posts in the Bagumbayan field, looking toward the Manila Bay. He requested the firing squad commander to shoot him facing the firing squad but was ordered to turn his back against the squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish army. A backup force of regular Spanish Army troops were on standby to shoot the executioners should they fail to obey the orders of the commander.

Jose Rizal’s death was carried out when the command “Fuego” was heard and Rizal made an effort to face the firing squad but his bullet riddled body turned to the right and his face directed to the morning sun. Rizal exactly died at 7:03 a.m. and his last words before he died were those said by Jesus Christ: “consummatum est” which means it is finished.

Padre Faura, a Jesuit astronomer, tells the story of what he saw of the execution of Rizal from the roof of the Ateneo Municipal.

“His cheeks still ruddy from the sudden sun after the bitter winters In Europe with the year beginning to turn. Salt stings my eyes. I see Pepe (Rizal) as a  blur between the soldiers “With their mausers raised And the early morning’s Star: Still shimmering even if millions of miles away, The star itself Is already dead.

Hours before the execution, Jose Rizal wrote the poem Mi Ultimo Adios,beloved not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well.

Rizal was a writer but also a poet and says so in his poem “they bid me strike the lyre.”


They bid me strike the lyre

so long now mute and broken,

but not a note can I waken

nor will my muse inspire!

She stammers coldly and babbles

when tortured by my mind;

she lies when she laughs and thrills

as she lies in her lamentation,

for in my sad isolation

my soul nor frolics nor feels.


There was a time, ’tis true,

but now that time has vanished

when indulgent love or friendship

called me a poet too.

Now of that time there lingers

hardly a memory,

as from a celebration

some mysterious refrain

that haunts the ears will remain

of the orchestra’s actuation.


A scarce-grown plant I seem,

uprooted from the Orient,

where perfume is the atmosphere

and where life is a dream.

O land that is never forgotten!

And these have taught me to sing:

the birds with their melody,

the cataracts with their force

and, on the swollen shores,

the murmuring of the sea.


While in my childhood days

I could smile upon her sunshine,

I felt in my bosom, seething,

a fierce volcano ablaze.

A poet was I, for I wanted

with my verses, with my breath,

to say to the swift wind: ‘Fly

and propagate her renown!

Praise her from zone to zone,

from the earth up to the sky!’


I left her! My native hearth,

a tree despoiled and shriveled,

no longer repeats the echo

of my old songs of mirth.

I sailed across the vast ocean,

craving to change my fate,

not noting, in my madness,

that, instead of the weal I sought,

the sea around me wrought

the spectre of death and sadness.


The dreams of younger hours,

love, enthusiasm, desire,

have been left there under the skies

of that fair land of flowers.

Oh, do not ask of my heart

that languishes, songs of love!

For, as without peace I tread

this desert of no surprises,

I feel that my soul agonizes

and that my spirit is dead.

Jose Rizal was a complex man. He was more than a hero, he was a good man. He wrestled with the issues of good and evil, of courage and cowardice, of love of country or submission to conquerors.

Dr Hélène Goujat, a French writer, tackled the contradictory traits of his character. She examines the integrally related questions of the future of the indigenous culture, the role of the church, specifically of ‘corporate religion,’ and the decline and eventual disappearance of colonialism.

“I trace the origin of my interest in the Philippines to the four years that I spent in Asia, mainly in Singapore. There I discovered a continent bristling everywhere with passion, but by far the Philippines struck me the most, for its singularity, its variety and its infinite richness of culture and history,” Goujat explained.

Thus did  Rizal heed his people’s cry to “strike the lyre.”



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