Some Not Very Well Known Facts About Rizal’s Trial and Execution

Jose Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan (Source:

Jose Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan (Source:

As we celebrate on 30 December, 2014, the 118th Death Anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, I wonder of how many of us are aware of the following:

1. On 29th December, 1896 when Rizal was notified of the Report (sentence by the Council of War), he refused to sign it stating that he was innocent of the charges against him and that he was not a Chinese mestizo as stated in the Report but an Indio.

2. That it was a firing squad composed of eight native (Filipino) soldiers who shot Rizal at Babumbayan field.

3. That he was not only shot once but twice.

4. That a dog (mascot) ran around the lifeless body of Rizal, whining.

5. That Rizal was buried at Paco Cemetery without a coffin.

6. That it was only in 1911 during the American Occupation of the Philippines that Rizal’s remains where transferred to where a monument now stands in his honor.

The following tidbits of history attest to the abovementioned facts:

I. The Trial of Jose P. Rizal

On 20th December, 1896, Rizal together with his counsel, Lt. Taviel de Andrade of the Spanish Artillery, prepared for his defense.

Five days later, on 25th December, Christmas Day, Rizal was informed that on the following day, at 10:00 am, the Council of War would convene.  Rizal wrote his counsel Taviel, asking for a conference prior to appearing before the Council.  However, it was not known whether such pre-trial conference between Rizal and his counsel took place.

On 26th December, at the Cuartel General de Espana, a soldier’s dormitory was converted into an improvised courtroom.

The trial proceeded with the reading of the accusations against Rizal “as principal organizer” and “moving spirit of the Philippine insurrection, founder of societies, of newspapers and [who] has written books designed to foment and propagate ideas of rebellion and sedition among the people, as well as the principal leader of the anti-government in the country.”

Taviel de Andrade, Rizal’s defense counsel, argued that in the law applying the Penal Code of Spain in the Philippines, none exists to establish the guilt of the accused; he likewise challenged the veracity and impartiality of those who had given statements incriminating Rizal; he closed his defense requesting the court to reject the images of war, for they could only provoke ideas of vengeance, and that judges should not be vengeful but fair and just.

After giving Rizal an opportunity to speak in his defense, the Court after deliberations rendered its decision finding Rizal the author of rebellion and sentenced him to death.

On 28th December, Governor General Polavieja approved the sentence of the Council of War after knowing that none of the members of the Council of Authorities recommended the commutation of the sentence against Rizal.

On 29th December, Judge Dominguez went to Fort Santiago to notify Rizal officially of the sentence. Rizal read the report or verdict but refused to sign it, stating that he was innocent.  He also alleged that he was not a Chinese mestizo as stated by the auditor in the report but a pure Indio. Rizal was informed that no modifications were allowed in the text of the judgment.

In the morning of 30 December, 1896, Rizal was executed at Bagumbayan field by musketry.

Eight native soldiers composed the firing squad. Behind them were eight Spanish soldiers with Mauser rifles, ready to shoot the native soldiers if they refused to shoot Rizal.

II. The Execution of Rizal

At 6:30 a.m. on 30 December 1896, Jose Rizal, bound elbow-to-elbow, left Fort Santiago by foot for Bagumbayan field, accompanied by a bugler, a drummer and two Jesuit priests, Fr. Estanislao March and Fr. Jose Villaclara.  They took the Paseo de Maria Cristina, now called Bonifacio Drive.  Behind Rizal was his defense counsel Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade.  A squad of soldiers surrounded them as they walked slowly.  Upon reaching Bagumbayan field, Rizal placed himself in the middle of the square, filled with 400 men, with a band playing.

Eight native soldiers composed the firing squad. Behind them were eight Spanish soldiers with Mauser rifles, ready to shoot the native soldiers if they refused to shoot Rizal.

Rizal refused to be shot in the back, saying he had not been a traitor to the country or to Spain. But the Spanish captain in charge of the execution told him that he had orders to shoot him in the back. Rizal reluctantly agreed, but he firmly refused to kneel or be blindfolded.  One last request of Rizal was that the soldiers spare his head and instead shoot him in the back near the heart. The captain agreed.  Rizal then shook hands with his defense counsel, Lt. Taviel de Andrade and thanked him for his efforts in defending him.  A military doctor came to take his pulse; it was normal. The Jesuits raised a crucifix for him to kiss, but Rizal had already turned away silently and prepared himself for death.

The order to fire was given.  Before the shots rang out, Rizal shouted,“Consumatum est!” (It is finished!).  When the bullets hit their mark, Rizal made a last effort to turn around, thus, falling lifeless with his back on the ground, his face to the sky.  Another soldier gave the body a “tiro de gracia” -- one last shot to make sure Rizal was dead.  Shouts of “Viva Espana!” rent the air.  The band of the regiment struck the first chords of “Marcha de Cadiz.”  By 7:03 a.m. the execution was over.

It is said that a dog (mascot) ran around the lifeless body, whining.  Whose mascot was it?  Nobody knows, or nothing was written about it except that it was captured by the camera’s eye as being among the crowd that witnessed the execution that morning.

III. Rizal Buried Without a Coffin

After the execution of Rizal his body was placed in a van and with utmost secrecy

buried in the old Paco Cemetery. Sra. Teodora, the mother of Rizal, wanted to comply with the last wish of her son, that the family take charge of his remains. After several objections on the part of some Spanish officials, Civil Governor Manuel Luengo agreed to her petition. However, when the funeral coach left, they had already secretly taken the body away, and Rizal's sister, Narcisa, went to all the cemeteries of Manila looking for the remains in vain.

On the way back, she saw, through the open gate of the Paco Cemetery, some guardia civiles. This gave her a hint. She entered the cemetery and after much searching found a freshly dug grave covered with earth. She gave the gravedigger some money and placed a plaque with the initials of her brother in reverse, R.P.J., which means Rizal, Protacio Jose. (Jose Rizal, Filipino Doctor and Patriot, by Jose Baron Fernandez, Paragon Printing Corporation, Manila, 1992, pp 370-371).

A few days after the Americans occupied Manila in August 1898, Rizal's sister Narcisa asked permission from the new authorities to exhume the remains of Rizal. Permission was granted. When the body was exhumed, it was discovered that Rizal's body had not even been placed in a coffin. The shoes were identified, but whatever had been hidden inside them had already disintegrated (Fernandez, p. 393).

In 1911, Rizal’s remains were transferred from the Paco Cemetery to the base of the monument which had earlier been erected at the Luneta (now Rizal Park). His aged, beloved mother was still able to attend the ceremonies of the transfer. A few weeks later Sra. Teodora Alonso Quintos died.  It appears she made the effort to survive her son, to go on living until such time that her son’s memory would be officially vindicated. 

Rizal's tomb, December 30, 1907 (Source:

Rizal's tomb, December 30, 1907 (Source:

Rodolfo A. Arizala

Rodolfo A. Arizala

Rodolfo A. Arizala is a retired Philippine Ambassador to Chile and currently resides in Santiago, Chile.  He was also assigned before as Counsellor Philippine Embassy, Tehran and Consul General, New York City.