(From Malacañan Palace: The Official Illustrated History)

Rizal and the Palace

Things now moved a little slower and more true to form that was seen with [General Joaquín] Jovellar under whom papers and funds had moved with admirable dispatch, but the new azotea may well have been completed when Rizal, the most celebrated and notorious proponent of liberal reform of his generation, was ordered to visit [Lieutenant General Emilio] Terrero at Malacañan in late August or early September 1887. Ordered to give an explanation for his novel Noli Me Tangere – a scathing portrayal of the Spanish administration and the religious orders branded immediately as subversive and subsequently banned – Terrero confronted Rizal in his office at the Palace and actually asked for a copy of the book that he may know what all the fuss was about. Rizal returned a second time to bring one to Terrero who “received me with more friendliness.”[i]

Terrero was to suffer for his relative leniency in matters such as this – behavior that was anathema to the conservatives. Probably due to their influence in Madrid, he was relieved from office in March 1888 after an alarming and sizeable public demonstration, which was held against the Archbishop and the religious orders. His replacement was the more intimidating Marqués of Tenerife, General Valeriano Wéyler…

…Malacañan as the stage for the display of Spanish prestige would find its most exquisite expression in Wéyler’s successor. Lieutenant General Eulogio Despujol, the Count of Caspe, arrived on the last day of November 1891. From a noble Catalan family, and with a wife, Vicenta Vasquez Queipo de Despujol, of equal stature, both Count and Countess would set a new standard for entertainment and display at the Palace as well as usher in an Indian summer of relative tolerance and many reforms before things would change forever after the handful of years to follow…

Despujol’s reputation as “the fairest, most honorable and most liberal Viceroy the Philippines have ever known” had reached Hong Kong, where the leading Filipino reformer José Rizal had settled the previous year.[ii] Inspired by the possibilities of the new regime, he returned to Manila in June 1892, informing the Governor and Captain General of his intention to call at Malacañan upon his arrival. In his diary, Rizal records five visits to Despujol at the palace, the last of which, on Wednesday, July 13, ended with being led to Fort Santiago and exile to Dapitan in Mindanao. What had turned the initially receptive Governor, who was a devout Catholic, against Rizal was the discovery of literature, supposedly within Rizal’s luggage denouncing the church and papacy as well as the colonial regime…

The conservatives could never have allowed the liberal Despujol to serve a complete term in office – and indeed he was suddenly relieved in February 1893 and replaced by Lieutenant General Ramon Blanco y Erenas, Marqués of Peña Plata.

The Palace and the Revolution

By this time, being all too aware of the forces behind Despujol’s recall, a climate of unrest had gathered in Manila among the Filipinos, and security for the Governor became a renewed concern.

February 1896 saw a proposal, based on security concerns, – timely in view of the events which would take place six months later – to build a stone perimeter wall on Malacañan’s northeast side. “The residence of the highest authority of these islands must be surrounded with all due conditions of security.”[iii] Apparently, such a wall had still not been built. The project was approved and the contractor, Moises Salvador, hired.[iv]

Ironically, Salvador himself was a member of the Katipunan, a secret society founded to overthrow Spanish rule, and with its discovery and the consequent outbreak of the revolution on led by Andrés Bonifacio at the end of August, the last days of Spanish Malacañan began. Gone certainly were the Despujol days of ceremony and society and the symbol of a benevolent motherland.

Blanco removed himself from Malacañan during Bonifacio’s campaign in the hinterland behind San Juan del Monte. But while the General’s political enemies would accuse him of running off to the safety of Intramuros in an act of cowardice, Blanco would later, back in Madrid, tell the Senate that he had moved to the city (most likely the Palace of Santa Potenciana once again), “because it is well known that at the distance which Malacañang is from Manila, it is not possible to direct any [military] operation with precision and skill.” His family, however, remained, attended by the major domo, who was a peninsular Spaniard, and the 54 native servants “who for all functions are at Malacañang” – and none of which deserted to join the rebels.[v]

The Palace was actually not far from defensive perimeter established by Blanco against Bonifacio’s forces and later against the fighting led by Emilio Aguinaldo to the south of Manila in Cavite. Advanced posts were established at nearby Sampaloc, Nagtajan, Santa Mesa and Pandacan across the river. The honor guard at Malacañan was included as support for the soldiers along this reach as well as responsible for policing the river.[vi]

Despite his relocation, Blanco seems to have maintained his general presence at Malacañan – which was therefore to play its part in the ending of Rizal’s life. For after Rizal, shortly after leaving Dapitan for Cuba, had been arrested for alleged complicity in the Katipunan uprising, the results of the preliminary investigation and the approval of the charges prepared against the Filipino were referred to the Palace. For instance, on December 13, 1896, the papers concerning the charges, testimonies, evidence, and refutations were sent back to Malacañan for a final decision.[vii]

On this very day, however, Blanco – whose policy of regarding the uprising as a localized incident did not please those who believed sterner measures were called for – was replaced by a general who had just arrived in Manila.

This man, Camilo García de Polavieja, Marqués of Pidal, must also likewise have kept a presence at Malacañan, because after the court martial had found Rizal guilty and passed a death sentence on him, the judgment was endorsed to Malacañan which passed it on to the Judge Advocate General who agreed with it and recommended execution by firing squad at a place and time of the Governor’s choosing. Thus it was that within the walls of Malacañan, on 28 December 1896, Polavieja gave the order for Rizal to be shot at seven in the morning of the 30th in the field of Bagumbayan. [viii]

The Palace would see one final and famous drama in this affair that became a defining moment for a nation yet unborn, when that very evening Rizal’s sisters waited at the Palace gates to appeal to the Governor, who declined.[ix]

[i] Letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Calamba, September 5, 1887. (Original in German), translated from the Spanish translation as given in the Epistolario Rizalino, V, Letter No. 35, pp 201-2

[ii] “Priestly Persecution in the Philippines”, The Hong Kong Telegraph, July 30, 1892, p.2

[iii] Jefe Ingeniero Francisco de Castro a la Inspección de Obras Públicas, Documento No. 611, Manila, 7 de Febrero de 1896

[iv] Director General de Administración Civil de las Islas Filipinas al Ilustrisimo Sr. Gobernador Civil de la Provincia de Manila, Manila, 14 de Febrero de 1896

[v] Memorial directed to the Senate by General Blanco about the last events that happened in the island of Luzón, Madrid, 1897, pp.44-52

[vi] Ibid., pp. 81-85

[vii] Guerrero, op.cit, p.377.

[viii] Guerrero, op.cit, p.378-379.

[ix] Wenceslao Emilio Retana, Vida y Escritos del Dr. José Rizal, 1907, citing a telegram by correspondent Santiago Mataix to the Heraldo de Madrid which was published in the evening edition of December 29, 1896