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Rizal and the Franciscans



by: Fr. Jose "Long" D. Gutay, OFM


I taught the subject “Rizal” at OLAS college few years back. Being a Franciscan, one of the most frequently thrown questions to me is why Jose Rizal made use of the Franciscans as the antagonists of his novels (Noli and Fili). In fact one such controversial villain in the novel is a Franciscan friar, the infamous Padre Damaso. Given the importance and impact of Rizal’s novels in the history of the Philippines, albeit fictional, I would think that many, including members of the Franciscan family in the Philippines, would probably ask the same question too.  Please consider the different points that I have outlined below. I hope these would help the readers in coming up with possible answers. (Fr. Long Gutay, OFM)


01.  Noli Me Tangere:  A “Franciscan” novel?


Number of times mentioned in the “Noli Me Tangere”:


        Domincans – 18 x

        Dominican tertiary, St. Thomas, etc.- 5 x

        Augustinians – 6 x

        Jesuits – 4 x

        Franciscans – 155 x (in general, as individuals and as institution)

                                St. Francis of Assisi – 14 x

                                St. Clare – 11 x

                                St. Anthony of Padua – 5 x

                                St. Paschal Baylon – 3 x

                     Noli Me Tangere is a Franciscan novel – in a pejorative (negative) sense.

                     How Rizal portrayed the Franciscans in his novels:

1.      extravagant way of dressing

2.      fanatic and ignorant

3.      immoral (sexuality)

4.      enriched themselves by exploiting their parishioners

5.      accomplices in some criminal activities

6.      looked down by other religious orders in the Philippines.

7.      Only positive trait – their sense of self-identity which makes them feel that they are different from other religious groups and their bond of solidarity.


02.  Rizal’s personal knowledge of the Franciscans:


1.      Rizal is familiar with the life of St. Francis; romanticized the saint’s life and example as seen in some of his works and letters.

2.      His mother, Teodora, is a Franciscan Tertiary.

3.      Must have met the Franciscans in Europe

4.      Encounter with the Franciscan Missionaries aboard the ship “Melbourne” on his way home to the Philippines on October 18, 1891 – positive remarks and observations about the friars in the ship. Rizal, however, made some negative remarks about the Franciscans in the Philippines.


03.  Irony:


1.      Rizal’s limited personal encounter with the Franciscans in the Philippines.

2.      Calamba was already administered by a native secular clergy (Don Leoncio Lopez, good friend of the family, personified by Padre Florentino in his novel Fili.)

3.      He studied with the Jesuits (Ateneo Municipal de Manila) and Dominicans (UST).

4.      The Dominicans owned the hacienda where the Rizal’s are tenants and administrators. They had problems with the OP’s regarding the land.


04. Possible Reasons:


1.      Jose Burgos versus Joaquin de Coria, OFM

        Paciano (Rizal’s elder brother) was mentored by Fr. Jose Burgos (one of the 3 martyred priests – GOMBURZA) when the former was still studying in Letran.

        Paciano was responsible for Rizal’s political and ideological upbringing.

        Manuel Jerez Burgos, cousin of Jose Burgos, was teacher of Rizal at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. Rizal lodged in his house during the early years of his stay in Manila.

        Burgos contributed some articles in the print media in Spain (e.g. El Eco Filipino newspaper in Madrid) exposing the abuses of the missionaries in the Philippines (cfr. “Secularization Movement”).  Friar Joaquin de Coria wrote some articles in the newspapers refuting his accusations.

       Fray  Joaquin de Coria was a missionary in the Philippines.

        Paciano accused the Franciscan friars as co-responsible (c/o Joaquin de Coria) for the death of Gomez, Burgos and Zamora.


2.      Marcelo del Pilar (author of “La Soberania Monacal”) versus Fray Miguel Lucio y Bustamante, OFM

        In 1885 Bustamante, a Franciscan missionary, published in Manila a pamphlet entitled “Si Tandang Basio Macunat” where he criticized the natives for their indolence. He was parish priest of Tanay, Rizal. He was personified by Padre Camorra, parish priest of Tiani, in the novel “El Filibusterismo”

        Marcelo del Pilar wrote a satirical work against the friars entitled: “La Soberania Monacal” (Rule of the Monks / Friars) as a reaction against Bustamante’s work.

        Rizal was very much familiar with these works.


3.      Political Reasons

        Rizal’s novels were primarily intended for Filipino readers in order to expose the problems of the colony.

        To create a greater impact on the Filipinos, Rizal must have chosen the Franciscans to represent the abuses of the regime because the friars were the most visible symbols of Spanish presence in the Philippines.  It is very common that friars in brown habit (Franciscans) are always included in paintings or in any art work depicting the arrival of Magellan and his men in the Philippines. This is a historical error because it is a secular priest (not even a religious) Don Pedro de Valderama, chaplain of the expedition, who accompanied Magellan to the Philippines. He also said the first mass in the Philippines.

        The mission work of the Franciscans covered the most populous areas of Luzon (Laguna, Bulacan, Quezon and Bicol) that are close to the center, Manila.




  • While it is historically true that there were Franciscan friars who committed abuses during the whole duration of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, it would be historically unfair to insist that they had a monopoly over these excesses. Other religious groups (Jesuits, Augustinians, Recollects and Dominicans) were equally culpable of the same accusations too. But again, why the Franciscans only in the novels of Rizal?
  • Jose Rizal was an active member of the propaganda movement in Spain, “La Solidaridad”. One of the objectives of this movement is assimilation - that the Philippine colony be assimilated as a regular province in the Spanish Republic. In other words, the reformists or “ilustrados”, like Rizal and company (del Pilar, Jaena, Ponce, etc.) envisioned a Spanish-speaking “provincia de Madre Espana” in Asia. The truth is that the movement never intended to have an independent Philippines. This would be the objective of a later (revolutionary) movement of the worker and peasant class led by Bonifacio. Shouts of “viva la independencia” were heard from the “katipuneros” and not from the “ilustrados”. It was quite unfortunate that this revolutionary movement weakened after the execution its leader, Bonifacio, by the elitist faction of the KKK led by Aguinaldo. What would happen eventually was the reformists’ conciliation again with the colonialists in the Pact of Biak na Bato which resulted to Aguinaldo’s exile (trip?) to Hongkong.
  • Another objective of the Propaganda movement was the expulsion of the friars (“fuera a los frailes!”).  Many members (like Rizal) of the propaganda movement belonged to families who were administrators / tenants / “inquilinos” of the friar haciendas (the OP’s in Laguna). They have also gained financially from these lands. They own the biggest house in town (e.g. the house of the Rizals in Calamba, the Aguinaldo’s in Kawit, Cavite). No wonder these families could afford to send their children to Europe for their studies. Who will benefit if the friars (owners of friarlands) are expelled from the colony?