Religious movements such as the cofradía and colorumsexpressed an inchoate desire of their members to be rid of the Spanish and discover a promised land that would reflect memories of a world that existed before the coming of the colonists. Nationalism in the modern sense developed in an urban context, in Manila and the major towns and, perhaps more significantly, in Spain and other parts of Europe where Filipino students and exiles were exposed to modern intellectual currents. Folk religion, for all its power, did not form the basis of the national ideology. Yet the millenarian tradition of rural revolt would merge with the Europeanized nationalism of the ilustrados to spur a truly national resistance, first against Spain in 1896 and then against the Americans in 1899.
Following the Spanish revolution of September 1868, in which the unpopular Queen Isabella II was deposed, the new government appointed General Carlos María de la Torre governor of the Philippines. An outspoken liberal, de la Torre extended to Filipinos the promise of reform. In a break with established practice, he fraternized with Filipinos, invited them to the governor’s palace, and rode with them in official processions. Filipinos in turn welcomed de la Torre warmly, held a “liberty parade” to celebrate the adoption of the liberal 1869 Spanish constitution, and established a reform committee to lay the foundations of a new order. Prominent among de la Torre’s supporters in Manila were professional and business leaders of the ilustrado community and, perhaps more significantly, Filipino secular priests. These included the learned Father José Burgos, a Spanish mestizo, who had published a pamphlet, Manifesto to the Noble Spanish Nation, criticizing those racially prejudiced Spanish who barred Filipinos from the priesthood and government service. For a brief time, the tide seemed to be turning against the friars. In December 1870, the archbishop of Manila, Gregorio Melitón Martínez, wrote to the Spanish regent advocating secularization and warning that discrimination against Filipino priests would encourage anti-Spanish sentiments.
According to historian Austin Coates, “1869 and 1870 stand distinct and apart from the whole of the rest of the period as a time when for a brief moment a real breath of the nineteenth century penetrated the Islands, which till then had been living largely in the seventeenth century.” De la Torre abolished censorship of newspapers and legalized the holding of public demonstrations, free speech, and assembly–rights guaranteed in the 1869 Spanish constitution. Students at the University of Santo Tomás formed an association, the Liberal Young Students (Juventud Escolar Liberal), and in October 1869 held demonstrations protesting the abuses of the university’s Dominican friar administrators and teachers.
The liberal period came to an abrupt end in 1871. Friars and other conservative Spaniards in Manila managed to engineer the replacement of de la Torre by a more conservative figure, Rafael de Izquierdo, who, following his installation as governor in April 1871, reimposed the severities of the old regime. He is alleged to have boasted that he came to the islands “with a crucifix in one hand and a sword in the other.” Liberal laws were rescinded, and the enthusiastic Filipino supporters of de la Torre came under political suspicion.
The heaviest blow came after a mutiny on January 20, 1872, when about 200 Filipino dockworkers and soldiers in Cavite Province revolted and killed their Spanish officers, apparently in the mistaken belief that a general uprising was in progress among Filipino regiments in Manila. Grievances connected with the government’s revocation of old privileges–particularly exemption from tribute service–inspired the revolt, which was put down by January 22. The authorities, however, began weaving a tale of conspiracy between the mutineers and prominent members of the Filipino community, particularly diocesan priests. The governor asserted that a secret junta, with connections to liberal parties in Spain, existed in Manila and was ready to overthrow Spanish rule.
A military court sentenced to death the three Filipino priests most closely associated with liberal reformism–José Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora–and exiled a number of prominentilustrados to Guam and the Marianas (then Spanish possessions), from which they escaped to carry on the struggle from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Europe. Archbishop Martínez requested that the governor commute the priests’ death sentences and refused the governor’s order that they be defrocked. Martínez’s efforts were in vain, however, and on February 17, 1872, they were publicly executed with the brutal garrote on the Luneta (the broad park facing Manila Bay). The archbishop ordered that Manila church bells toll a requiem for the victims, a requiem that turned out to be for Spanish rule in the islands as well. Although a policy of accommodation would have won the loyalty of peasant andilustrado alike, intransigence–particularly on the question of the secularization of the clergy–led increasing numbers of Filipinos to question the need for a continuing association with Spain.