On February 17, 1872, three Filipino Catholic priests were executed at Bagumbayan in Manila. They were falsely accused of subversion by the Spanish colonial authorities. The allegations were intended to make the priests look like they orchestrated a mutiny of colonial troops and laborers in Cavite that occurred on January of the same year. After their deaths by garrote, their corpses were buried in an unmarked grave in Paco Cemetery, which was usually done to executed enemies of the state. This was perhaps the biggest mistake that the Spanish colonial government has done that exhausted its grip for power. The deaths of the three priests, Mariano Gomez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora, enkindled a wider movement of nationalist revolts. Inspiring the initiation of many others such as Dr. Jose Rizal.
Truth, nationalism, and God
The term “Gomburza” is a blending of the surnames of the three priests. But more than the names are their purpose for life. We shall look a little bit deeper into their lives as to figure out why were they targeted specifically by corrupt authorities.
Mariano Gomez has been known to stand for the truth concerning the current events of his time. He was part of a publication of a newspaper called “La Verdad”, which translates in English as “The Truth”. Through this, he exposed a number of abuses and corruption that happened within the Catholic church in Cavite. Exposing the perverted and rich lifestyles of Spanish priests who went against their vows of poverty and chastity, and even their illicit dealings with other prominent colonial officials and personalities.
Although he was well respected by the people he served, he was not popular among his Spanish counterparts. His popularity among the locals was a threat and an embarrassment to the Penisnulares (top of the social class with full European blood), after all, he was only a Torna Atrás, or someone below the systematized social classes of that era.
He was well educated and was an active advocate of the agriculture and cottage industries and often championing the laborer’s rights for fair wages. His popularity and advocacies obviously did not go well with the foreign landlords who migrated to the Philippines in search of power by exploiting the systematized social classes.
At age 72, he was the oldest among the three executed priests.
José Burgos was a fervid nationalist. He engaged himself in lectures, debates, and other forms of publications that favor the rights of the native Filipino clergymen. In fact, it is this attitude that made him the primary accused suspect for the Cavite mutiny of 1872.
His nationalism made him question the intentions of Spanish priests and civilians who migrated to the Philippines. He viewed Filipino priests as just as competent as the Spaniards, and sometimes even more, with regards to their Christian duties. In line with these ideas, he pushed for both political and ecclesiastic reforms that would give a chance for native Filipinos to serve their country and church without the racial biases to hinder them.
He was popular among students of universities and even lead rallies of student protesters in the University of Santo Tomas. His death was a deep blow and inspiration to Jose Rizal since he was a close friend of his brother, Paciano Rizal.
With his nationalistic works and closeness to students, he was accused off recruiting rebels for the mutiny in Cavite and for other uprisings and rebellions.
Jacinto Zamora was known to favor secularism within the church. He believed that native born Filipino clergymen should be allowed to lead the higher offices of the church as it would be more fitting to have a native priest performing pastoral duties in service of the native people of the land. Trust and respect was more mutual in this sense allowing the church and its people to prosper in line with their faith in God. This belief of course threatened the social status for the Spaniards.
Father Zamora was a Mestizo (upper middle class person with mixed European blood) in the social class system. Which meant, having a Mestizo join a secular and nationalist movement further adds credibility to their cause. A sentiment of a Mestizo clergyman can influence other Mestizos or even other people of both higher and lower classes.
Unfortunately, his statement in a card game with a friend, of which had nothing to do with what is being accused of him, was used against him in court. In gambler’s language, he stated that he had “Powder and Munitions” that only meant he had plenty of money to gamble with. This was taken out of context in court and Father Zamora was portrayed to be the weapons provider of the January mutiny in Cavite.
The Gomburza priests still wield a great influence and moral benchmark on the Filipino people. Many places and organizations are a named after them and in remembrance of their causes.
Filipinos reflect on their advocacies during their death anniversary (February 17) with today’s current issues and topics. Topics about race superiority, national identity, press freedom, and fairness of court and law rulings.
Although it can be argued that these three priests were reluctant of their unfair trial and deaths, it is however undeniable to say that these priests were the seeds of modern democracy in the Philippines. One that today still fights for truth, nationalism, and God.