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The Case of the Mysterious Mrs. Rizal

22 June 2011

One hundred fifty years after Jose Rizal was born, it seems that nothing about this man has escaped the minds of the curious Rizalian.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find this article from the Georgia Constitution, dated 23 September 1897.

The news article refers to a Mrs. “Hozae” Rizal, Mariana Comenot Orbi, who I have never heard of in my many years of consuming Rizal’s life and works.  It continues on with many inaccuracies, from Dr. Rizal’s role as a president of a university she was attending to how the good doctor was shot against a wall.  She was also described by the piece as “typically oriental”.

Did Josephine Bracken ever spend time in Pennsylvania?  Did some poor journalist fall prey to a woman running a con? Or was this simply part of the American campaign against Spain during the height of war?

Excited as I was about my find, I came to learn that this topic has been the subject of study by Nestor Palugod Enriquez of the Filipino American National Historical Society in New Jersey.  According to Mr. Enriquez, this was released via new wires and saw coverage on the New York Times, the LA Times, Deseret News, among others.  He went on to try to find more articles describing Josephine Bracken as a Remington-firing, trench-diving widow nursing the flames of revenge.

I will keep this image in mind when I finally get to read “Romance and Revolution” by Luis Lisa and Javier de Pedro, which has long been sitting on my night stand, alongside others.  The book looks into the lives and times of Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken and was released by the University of Asia and the Pacific in time for Lolo Pepe’s 150th.

Whether or not this woman who claimed to be Rizal’s widow was Josephine Bracken or a con woman playing a fallen insurgent’s wife or the product of yellow journalism of that era is for historians greater than myself to figure out.

In the meantime,  here is the transcript of the Georgia Constitution article I found.  Enjoy — it’s a hoot!

Madame Rizal Forming Expedition to Fight Spanish

PHILADELPHIA, September 22 — Philadelphia is harboring unawares a woman whom Spain would pay a princely ransom to capture – patriotic native of the Philippine Islands, whose courage and bravery for the insurgent cause have resulted in the formation of a monstrous expedition of arms, ammunition and men who are even now en route to Japan, where the formal filibustering crew will be made up and will within two months sail for the islands under the inspired leadership of this fair young rebel.

Mariana Comenol Orbi Hozae Rizal, the widow of Dr Hozae Rizal, who was butchered by Gen Polaviejo on Dec 6, 1896. Dr Rizal was the acknowledged leader and instigator of the revolution which has been smoldering since 1894. As the president of Manila University, he was honored and revered by the residents of the islands. Religious persecution and the atrocities list of tyrannies that are familiar to Cuban and Philippine historians finally grew too grave for Dr Rizal to bear. He was instrumental in gathering together the patriots and took to the field.

Marina Comenol Orbi had been a student in the university. An attachment had sprung up and the brave girl, on December 4, went into the thick of the battle to meet her lover and they were married, with a band of patriots as the only witnesses. Marina returned to Manila and two days later the young husband was captured. The Spanish general visited the prisoner and offered him life, liberty, and passports for himself and wife if he would persuade the insurgents to yield. Rizal courageously and patriotically refused to buy his freedom at such a price. On December 8th he was led to a stone wall and shot down.

The presence of Mrs. Rizal in this city has been known only to two or three of her most trusted friends. She has been here a month and not an idle moment has been spent.

One of the most important steps yet taken by the Philippines has been their resolution to join forces with Cuba for mutual interests. It is said that Mrs. Rizal has been instrumental in drawing up an agreement by which the Cuban junta and the Philippine patriots will act in unison. She has been in consultation with the most influential Cubans and the result will likely be a bond which will mean much for their advancement. Spain has a foe in Mrs. Rizal who is capable of doing much for the cause of liberty. In appearance, she is very beautiful, tall, graceful and typically oriental.

Research Notes:

1. Enriquez, Nestor P.  “Rizal Widow“.  Date published: 2003.  Date accessed:  21 June 2011.

2. Enriquez, Nestor P.  “The continuing saga of Mrs. Jose Rizal“.  Date published: 13 October 2009.  Date accessed:  21 June 2011.

3. “Madame Rizal Forming Expedition to Fight Spanish“.  Atlanta Constitution. Page 4.  23 September 1897.  Date accessed:  21 June 2011

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