The following is a guest post by Kaycee Conover, a former intern with the Digital Resources Division of the Law Library of Congress. She is a graduate of Tufts University and is currently pursuing a dual master’s in history and library & information science at Simmons University.
A revolutionary leader who has since been heralded as a national hero of the Philippines, José Rizal posthumously contributed to the passing of the Philippine Organic Act of 1902 (32 Stat. 691), which provided a start to Philippine self-government under U.S. authority.
José Rizal was born in 1861 to a Filipino father and a Chinese mother. Though the family was wealthy, his family suffered discrimination because neither of his parents were Spanish. Even so, Rizal’s wealth allowed him to receive a higher education at a private high school before attending university in Manila and Madrid and then traveling through Europe and studying medicine in Germany.
Rizal published Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) in 1887, which stirred Filipino nationalism by condemning the Catholic Church for its promotion of Spanish colonialism. In July of 1892, Rizal founded La Liga Filipina, a peaceful organization that called for reforms under the Spanish administration, such as Filipino representation in the Cortes, the Spanish legislative body. However, Rizal was arrested for sedition and exiled three days later. La Liga collapsed with his departure. It was replaced by the Katipunan, which focused on independence through armed revolution, which came about during the Spanish-American War.
On December 30, 1896, Rizal boarded a ship under the guise of protection, but became a prisoner and was sent back to Manila, on the island of Luzon, for execution on the grounds of treason (35 Cong. Rec. 470). In his jail cell, José Rizal wrote Mi último adiós, or My Last Farewell, a poem describing his love for his home, the unity of the Philippine people, and his hope for independence.
Six years later, after the United States purchased the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris and were deliberating the Philippine government, Congressman Henry A. Cooper shared Mi último adiós on the floor of Congress.
“On the night before his death he wrote a poem,” said Cooper. “I will read it, that the House may know what were the “last thoughts” of this “pirate,” this” barbarian,” this” savage” of a race “incapable of civilization!” … How many of the civilized, Caucasian slanderers of his race, could ever be capable of thoughts like these, which on that awful night…poured from the soul of the martyred Filipino? Search the long and bloody roll of the world’s martyred dead, and where – on what soil, under what sky – did Tyranny ever claim a nobler victim?” (35 Cong. Rec. 471.)
“The Filipino people earnestly desire the popular assembly. It will be the means of educating them in self-government and will not, I believe, expose us to the danger which some members of our party fear,” wrote William Howard Taft, then the Governor-General of the Philippines. (35 Cong. Rec. 471.)
While deliberating the Philippine Bill of 1902 (S. 2295), which would establish a bicameral legislature with, eventually, a popularly elected house, some members of Congress expressed disbelief that Filipinos could self-govern. However, Cooper’s reading of Rizal’s final work convinced the hesitant members, and the bill was passed as the Philippine Organic Act. (32 Stat. 691.)
Following its passage, the Philippine assembly had its first elections in 1907. Though the other house, the Philippine Commission, consisted of appointed Americans, the national election became a historical event as the first popular election in the Philippines and as a taste of political participation that would be fully realized upon Filipino independence in 1946. (39 Stat. 545.)
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