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The history of human civilization is largely filled with tragedies and missteps of certain individuals that would cause more global effects. Many of such tragedies and missteps appear to be more known to have taken place in Europe or Americas. The Civil War, World War I and II, the Holocaust, the 9/11 incident, and the list may go on forever. The Western centric world seems to consider and study these tragedies with greater care, yet even greater historical missteps have taken place on other continents as well. While the tragic execution of three Filipino Catholic priests collectively known as Gomburza has taken place far from the European continent, it managed to largely affect one of the most powerful nations there, Spain, playing an important role in the Spaniard decolonization.
The Martyrdom of Gomburza
The term martyrdom is, perhaps, the most appropriate one to characterize the tragedy that occurred in the Philippines in 1872. On February 17th of that year, the Spanish government that dominated the islands for nearly 300 years at the time, executed three secular priests of the Filipino descent, Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora, known as the Gomburza after the incident (Ocampo). The religious background, apparent injustice of the trial and execution, as well as the global events that the tragedy triggered have all shown that while the priests have suffered, from the Christian perspective, they did so for the greater purpose.
All of the executed priests were known to be from the deep religious backgrounds. As such, Mariano Gomez who was 72 at the time of execution, studied priesthood and theology at Colegio de San Juan de Letran and at University of Santo Tomas respectively. While he was the Filipino clergy rights activist, he was not known for being an active supporter of any kind of propaganda. Jose Burgos, aged 35 at the time of execution, was born into a family of a militia lieutenant and was baptized at an early age. Similar to Gomez, he was a religious scholar. Finally, Jacinto Zamora, aged 36 at the time of execution, studied arts, law, and priesthood, dreaming of becoming a priest at a young age (Modine 8-9). None of the priests known to have ever propagated violence, hence, their execution would widely be deemed unjustified and even spark social resentment that would trigger the transformational processes in the Filipino society at the time.
The premise for the execution of Gomburza is also known to be largely controversial. Two widely accepted or thoroughly documented versions exist. The version recorded seemingly independently by the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines Rafael Izquerido and the Spanish historian Jose Montero claims that the priests were involved in organizing the mutiny of Cavite involving about 200 workers. The mutiny was against the oppressive rule of the Spanish presence in the country, with seven Spanish officers and one worker being killed in the process. Izquerido would present the mutiny as a preparation of the revolution to overthrow the Spanish rule of the Islands. Another version, expressed by the Filipino scholar Trinidad Pardo, provided that there was no preparation for anything greater than a mere mutiny and that Izquerido used the incident to demonstrate power and induce fear among the Filipino population (Piedad-Pugay). The version of the Spanish Governor-General at the time appears largely exaggerate indeed, making the case even harsher and more unjustified.
The execution of Gomburza, however, would trigger important social processes that would take global effect on the Spanish rule in the Philippines as well as other colonies around the world. Various historians agree that the execution would take a completely opposite effect with the Filipino nationalist moves rising for the next 20 years, resulting in the 1896 Philippine Revolution that would in turn result in the state’s independency in 1898 (Piedad-Pugay; Modine 28-29; Brillantes et al. 42). An unjust and outrageous act committed by the Spanish government on the Philippines would, thus, give push to strong global shifts that would steadily end the rule of Spanish Empire by he second half of the 20th century.
The tragedy of Gomburza prove that unjust and reckless acts of the political power might indirectly bring global outcomes. Although, the priests can be truly considered martyrs, their deaths provoked nationalist movements in the Philippines, which would eventually end with the islands proclaiming independence after more than 20 years. The selfless sacrifice of Gomburza managed to cause strong global shifts that would reshape the geopolitics at the time, affecting Europe and America in the process.
Brillantes, Alex B. et al. “An Alternate State of Faith: The Rise of the Militant Christians in the Philippines” in Mathews, Mathew, and Melvin Tay. Religion & Identity Politics: Global Trends And Local Realities. World Scientific, 2021, pp. 37-75.
Modine, Mitchel. "Choosing To Die At The Dictator's Hands: Apocalyptic And The Willing Embrace Of Martyrdom". Journal Of Asian Evangelical Theology, vol 25, no. 1, 2021, pp. 7-31. Proquest, https://www.proquest.com/openview/eaea5e485b1b256b759730a4da47be07/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=5351102. Accessed 25 Apr 2022.
Ocampo, Ambeth. "The Martyrdom Of Gomburza". Presidential Museum And Library, 2014, http://web.archive.org/web/20210217093128/http://malacanang.gov.ph/7695-the-martyrdom-of-the-gomburza/.
Piedad-Pugay, Chris Antonette. "The Two Faces Of The 1872 Cavite Mutiny". National Historical Commission Of The Philippines, 2012, https://nhcp.gov.ph/the-two-faces-of-the-1872-cavite-mutiny/.
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