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Legal Argumentation at the Trial of Rizal

(Article published in the Dec 30, 2009 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

At the end of his edition and translation of Wenceslao Emilio Retana’s transcription of the official Spanish documents from the Segovia Achives relating to the trial of Jose Rizal, Fr. Horacio V. de la Costa, S.J. wrote the following caveat:

“No attempt is made to evaluate the legality or justice of the proceedings to which these documents bear witness.  Some day, perhaps, someone both learned in the law and familiar with Rizal’s tragic history will undertake such an evaluation. Meanwhile, it seems fitting to let the record speak for itself.”

Since I do not profess to possess either qualification, I will not attempt to provide it the needed evaluation.   Instead, I propose to simply make an exposition of how the prosecution and defense argued their respective cases, hoping to learn a technique or two in trial advocacy. Not confident with my grasp of the Spanish language (despite the compulsory 24 units required by the DepEd during my college days), the material I will use is De la Costa’s translation and not the original text.

The prosecutor, Enrique de Alcocer, begins his brief with indignation, noting that the “natives of this country…have so far forgotten their obligations as Spanish subjects as to raise the standard of rebellion against the Mother Country” and that Rizal, “who owes all that he is to Spain…is one of the principal if not the principal figure in the present uprising.”  He then went through highlights in Rizal’s life, including the writing of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, ending with “Such is the man on whom you must pass judgment, a man who stands perfectly revealed by his actions as being obsessed by an overwhelming hatred for Spain.”


He then proceeded to describe Rizal’s admitted association with the masons and the La Liga Filipina.  The masons, he claimed, to have disseminated in the Islands, “ideas contrary to religion” and “tendencies against Spanish rule”, resulting in the conversion of the indio from one who is “ so loyal, so faithful, so respectful toward the Peninsular Spaniard” into the latter’s “most relentless enemy.”  And the  La Liga Filipina, he described as an illegal association which is the “means by which industry and commerce would be developed, and the people, once they had made themselves prosperous and united, would achieve not only personal liberty but  even national independence.”

The prosecutor also argued that Rizal implicitly admitted to the crime of instigating rebellion when in his sworn statements he confessed that he cautioned those who saw him at Dapitan against an armed uprising at that time because it was premature.  “He failed to take into consideration”, said the prosecutor, “the fact that in crimes of this nature, which chiefly involves the stirring up of popular passions against authority, the greatest guilt is incurred by him who stirs up dormant resentments and holds up hopes for the future.”

He ends with a stirring appeal to emotions: “Gentlemen…I beg of you to bear in mind that justice is demanded at your hands by the host of the fallen who in consequence of the present revolutionary movement sleep the sleep of death…;by the hands of the wives and daughters of honorable officers, our womenfolk, basely violated by a shameless and pitiless rabble;…by thousands of mothers who with tears in their eyes and anxiety in their hearts follow step by step the vicissitudes of this campaign, keeping close in spirit to their sons who with that valor that has ever distinguished the Spanish soldier, carry on the fight amid the rigors of a tropical climate and the snares of a treacherous enemy in order to defend the honor and integrity of the fatherland; and finally…by the Prosecution, the representative of the Law.”

The defense, handled by Rizal’s chosen friend, First Lieutenant of Artillery, Luis Taviel de Andrade, immediately counters with an emotional appeal of his own, reminding the court that Rizal comes to court greatly disadvantaged.  He said, “ …the case of Rizal comes to before his judges enveloped in such a tissue of prejudices and tossed about by the turbulent winds of a prevailing opinion which, if it has not altogether misdirect, has at least deflected it from its true orientation, making it extremely difficult for those judges, even with the best of will in the world, to disregard entirely this climate of opinion and to dismiss all prejudices from their minds.”  The name of Rizal has had “for many years now…the overtones of rebel cries and his person has been regarded as the symbol of the Philippine revolutionary sentiment.” Additionally, by an unfortunate circumstance, Rizal was no longer in Dapitan but inside the Manila harbor on board the Castilla when the uprising was discovered.

Then, Rizal’s lawyer, like any good defense attorney, harps on the fact that, by law, the guilt of the accused must be proven beyond reasonable doubt and only through means permitted by law.  He points out that the accusations were brought against Rizal by his co-accused.  The testimony by a co-accused, according to him, is not among the means permitted to prove an offense and thus have no probative value.  Neither can the co-accused be called “witnesses” because a witness is one who observes the commission of a specific act without being a participant and with having nothing to gain by testifying.  Rizal’s co-accused are obviously to benefit from putting the leadership on him and downgrading their participation to that of just being followers.  On either or both grounds, therefore, the charges, according to the defense, must be thrown out. 

The heart of the defense is a very technical treatment of what the law requires for conviction of rebellion which is all academic in our present day and age.  What is interesting to read, though, is the defense’s reply to the peroration that ended the prosecutor’s brief.  The last paragraph itself is the best proof of its eloquence:

“I call upon you to banish from your mind the image of beloved companion-in-arms killed or disabled by wretched traitors; of noble matrons and innocent maids villainously violated; of mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who with the eyes of the spirit the brave men who bravely fight and bravely die to keep unsullied the honor of Spain’s glorious flag, and whose prayers rise to the God of Mercy to preserve them from the chances of war and restore them safe and sound to their arms.  No; such imaginations at this solemn moment can only engender sentiments of revenge.  Leave them where they belong, in the minds of those who go forth to battle.  You are judges and judges cannot be avengers; judges cannot be anything but just.”

The Ampatuans who are facing investigation and trial now for the Maguindanao massacre of November 23 would certainly appreciate a lawyer of Luis Taviel de Andrade’s caliber by their side.