Fort Santiago
Intramuros, Manila - November 25, 2011
Way back in the time of Columbus, before America was discovered, Europeans were crazy about spices. They loved seasoning their food with it -- nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. They slathered their roasted animals with spices to impress their guests.

But spices were expensive. Only the wealthy can afford them. They were imported from the Moluccas (part of modern day Indonesia) and took a long way to reach Europe. By the time it reached Europe -- after middlemen and pirates jacked up the price -- one pound of nutmeg traded for seven oxen. Spices were the day’s equivalent of oil today. And so sea merchants schemed to find sea routes for importing the spices themselves, eliminating the middlemen, and striking it rich.

Christopher Columbus was one such scheming sea merchant. Sailing under the Spanish flag, he had to find a different route because the eastward passage (down the tip of Africa then turn left for the Indian Ocean) had already been discovered and owned by the Portuguese through its explorer, Vasco de Gama. Incursion by Spain on Portugal’s route meant a bloody battle at sea.

So with the widely held belief that the world was round, Columbus, hoping to reach the same Moluccas islands, sailed west. But instead he discovered America.

Believing that America was Asia, Columbus would sail no further. He searched for the Moluccas in the Caribbean and never found it. It was Ferdinand Magellan who, also sailing for the Spanish flag, later rounded the continent that Columbus discovered and crossed the Pacific to continue Spain’s quest for a westward passage.

Magellan, in turn, discovered the Philippines which he then claimed for Spain.

During the so-called “Age of Discovery” when long distance maritime travel became every country’s means of ascending to global power, the practice was for explorers -- or “discoverers” -- to fortify their encampments wherever in the world they may be by encircling them with impenetrable walls. They did this to protect themselves not just from the hostile natives but from fellow explorers, too, who would surely breach unprotected bastions.

When the Spanish government set itself up in the Philippines, the same fortification was created. A stone wall eight feet thick was constructed to surround its seat of power in Manila. The walled encampment was called, “Intramuros”, or translated from Latin, “within the walls”.

For three hundred years, the Philippines lay under the rule of Spain. That was a long time. Even if none of the atrocities that the natives alleged the occupying Spaniards committed happened, surely, a revolt was bound to happen.

Dr. Jose Rizal was one such revolutionary. A well-to-do Filipino intellectual and moderate who had been to Spain and seen better living conditions there, he wrote scathing literature aimed at pushing reforms locally. But instead of hearing Dr. Rizal's pleas for change, the local Spanish authorities saw him as incendiary, charged him with sedition, and sentenced him to die. Dr. Rizal spent his last days in a dungeon at Fort Santiago within the walled city of Intramuros never recanting a word he made in exchange for freedom until his death by firing squad.

Anyway, I thought I’d share this piece of history hopefully from an outsider’s perspective. I first learned about Dr. Rizal when I was in grade 3 elementary school and my perception of him has been cemented since. Even when my college history professor proposed alternate versions with elements like the Spice Trade, personal motivations by some of our heroes, that Rizal was chosen by the Americans as national hero because of his friendliness to the West, I found such views radical and, a romantcist at heart, I refused to relinquish my grade three, picture-perfect-patriotism impression of Dr. Rizal.

And come to think of it, penning a lengthy poem in his final hours to say goodbye to a country first and foremost, mention the hardships that its people endured for so long, and then say goodbye to his loved ones only as if in afterthought (without naming them as he did his country, the Philippines), pouring his heart out for the country of his birth and seemingly content to die in it at a young age (as opposed to dying somewhere else) -- forget the flowery scenes in his poem if you’re not into that sort of thing, just remember that it is the sum of the deliberate and intentioned parts that matter -- and then marching to his own death, as far as casting national heroes go, I'd say there are few, if any, in the world and throughout history, who could play the role better than Dr. Jose Rizal.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Fort Santiago entrance.
Fort Santiago grounds.
Rizal Shrine.
Dungeon.“The horrible ‘hole of death’ was instituted at Fort Santiago. The military thought torture could scare the revolutionists into submission...Having but a small hole for air to enter, everyone packed inside as many as 170 at a time died of asphyxiation overnight.” (source:Traveler on Foot)
When water flows in from Pasig River into the dungeons during high tide, a prisoner can only wonder if this will be the day he finally drowns. (source: Ding Carpio)
Guard post.
Pasig River looking east. The Philippine Post Office building is in the distance.
Pasig River looking west toward Del Pan Bridge.
Fort Santiago building.
Rizal family furniture.
Period pieces.
Period clothing and other artifacts.
Rizal's handiworks encased in glass.
Imagine if one was to tell you, “You are to die by firing squad tomorrow.” Alone in your cell, it dawns on you that the prospect of death has suddenly become real  as real as the cot you sit on, as real as the crucifix hanging on your wall, and as real as the metal bars that clang shut to seal your fate for good. 

Ever the optimist that you are, you never saw this coming. You believed a solution always lay ahead. Now, for the first time in your life, death is at the forefront of your mind. And for the first time ever, you panic. 

You set aside thoughts of divine intervention because that would be too easy. Life, you already know, is not like that. Instead, you begin to rationalize your fear. You ask, aren’t our bodies simply a mass of molecules that decompose once the heart stops regulating the coursing of blood in our veins? After death, as some philosophers have already argued, don’t we just cease to exist? Your body may lay there, your vision slowly darkening and your hearing disappearing into a quiet lull, but after that, you will no longer be around to witness your skin turn pale and your body decompose. How could you when you are nothing? What then is so fearful about death? 

The knowledge that there may be pain could perhaps bring this fear. Even then, how bad can a gunshot wound be? Once the bullet hits your heart, you will have only moments to live. But, should the bullet miss your heart, you can bleed and die a slow, agonizing death. You will be writhing and gasping down on the ground yet no one will step forward to ease your suffering. The crowd is there merely to watch the spectacle of dying -- yours -- and nothing more. Try as you might, you cannot shake these gruesome thoughts from your mind.

You shift your gaze to the book lying on your cot. You were reading it a while ago. All your life you loved books. They were a source of inspiration and blotted out reality whenever immersed in them. But whiling the time away with it now is pointless. Even if you could will your arm to reach for that book, your eyes will not focus on the words, not when the specter of death occupies your mind. 

You held steadfast to your beliefs. You had even gone so far as to say that life is meaningless without them. You were certain of this. Yet now as death stares you in the face while your heart pounds and your stomach knots with every breath, you have to ask. Are your convictions -- indeed, is any conviction -- worth dying for?

You could beg for your life. Forget about raising a family or having grandchildren in the future, but wouldn’t it be nice to be free again, pack your bags for the trip home, and caress your lover’s cheek once again with the back of your hand right here and now? You can then watch the sunset while sitting in a chair, a drink in your hand, and a book on your lap. Such imageries fanciful as they may seem are not beyond reach. All it would take is for you to recant and do what the powers that be -- “cancer” you called them -- ask of you. Retreating into the countryside away from the public eye you can finally rest. Just have mercy and spare your life. 

But maybe it is not fear you feel but sadness. You think of your small band of friends who will remember you when you are gone. And within this small band maybe two, or even just one, who truly understands and will stand by you to the very end. But, you ask, will this friend die with you? You think not. In a deep and profound sense, you learn the meaning of being alone. 

Martyrdom or being remembered by a grateful nation for all time is a stretch of the imagination that it does not even graze your thoughts. You can only hope that the ideals you have put in writing bring change from the top, and not from the foolhardy bravery that your radical comrades are right now scheming while you pen this farewell within these walls. You are certain they will gain nothing but violence and more deaths. You will die resigned to the knowledge that you have lost. 

Time is slowly ticking and it plays tricks on your mind. Being the smart man that you are, you know that the only way to remain sane is to keep your mind busy. So you formulate a plan. You do not know what your state of mind will be in the final minutes, but, you figure, it shouldn’t be too hard to do. You decide, at the last moment, you will turn to face your executioner, and, futile as it may sound, make sure that the bullet pierces your heart. 

(December 29, 1896)
Play actresses.
Mi Ultimo Adios.
Play in progress.
Josephine Bracken.
Play actor.
Kuya (my elder brother) with Josephine Bracken actress.
The Manila Cathedral in front of Fort Santiago.
Carlos IV of Spain statue in front of the Manila Cathedral.
Manila Cathedral interior.
Rizal Park (a.k.a. Luneta) monument is the exact spot where Dr. Jose Rizal was executed.
Kuya with Jose Rizal actor. Kuya made possible all my trips while in the Philippines including this.
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