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When Heroes Bleed: The Love-Hate Relationship of Jose Rizal and Marcelo H. Del Pilar

In the song, Superman by Five for Fighting, one line says “I’m only a man in a funny red sheet.” According to Song Facts”Superman may be invincible, but he has feelings too, and while he’s off saving the world he sometimes wonders if anyone thinks about what he is going through” ( If super humans like Superman are invincible, how much more our heroes who were just human beings. They get disappointed at times, they hurt, they bleed.

Rizal’s Disappointments

Jose Rizal experienced a series of disappointments while in Madrid (1890-1891). It was indeed a trying time for him. He failed to secure justice for the oppressed Calamba tenants including his family over agrarian issues. As a result his brother Paciano, his brother-in-law Antonio Lopez, some relatives and residents of Calamba were deported to Mindoro.

At the close of August 1890, he challenged Antonio Luna, to a duel. Luna was hurting because he was dumped by Nellie Bousted. He blamed Rizal for it, who was also trying to win her. In a sudden burst of jealousy, Antonio uttered a slur against Nellie which in turn angered Rizal. Hence, the challenge.

Rizal made the same challenge to Wenceslao Retana who published an article in La Epoca, an anti-Filipino newspaper in Madrid, claiming that the family and friends of Rizal had not paid their rents that’s why they were expelled from their lands owned by the Dominicans in Calamba. Rizal of course, was insulted and challenged Retana to a duel. This prompted Retana to publish a retraction and an apology in the newspapers.

Another disappointment came when Rizal received the news that Leonor Rivera, his girlfriend of more than ten years. He received a letter from Leonor in early December of 1890 while shivering in the cold winds of winter. Leonor announced her coming marriage to a British engineer Charles Henry Kipping. Also in the letter, Leonor asked for forgiveness. This of course, broke Rizal’s heart. It was devastating, a great blow to him while away from home.

The Love-Hate Relationship with Plaridel

Another disappointment ever hit Rizal was his break with Del Pilar.

Marcelo Hilario Del Pilar was born on August 30, 1850 in Bulakan. He used Plaridel, an anagram of his surname, as pseudonym. He had been exposed to local politics as his father, Julian had been three times gobernadorcillo (mayor) of Bulakan. His mother’s surname was Gatmaitan. The prefix ‘Gat’ gives us a hint that noble blood runs in his veins. ‘Gat’ is used to refer to people who belong to the Tagalog nobility or elite class. Plaridel was educated in the Colegio de San Jose with a degree of Bachelor of Arts. He aslo took up law at the Dominican university of Santo Tomas. On his fourth year as a law student, he had a conflict with the friars over baptismal fees. Since then, he had made his hometown as the seat of his efforts to oppose the friars. We can sense the depth of this anti-friar efforts when he published, “Viva España! Viva el Rey! Viva el Ejercito! Fuera los Frailes! (Long Live Spain! Long Live the King! Long Live the Army! Throw Out the Friars!) This and other anti-friar moves was cut-off when governor Terrero, his strongest ally, was replaced by Tenerife. An investigation of the Malolos situation was conducted and just before the order for his banishment was signed, he hastily taken ship for Spain on October 28, 1888.

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The expatriates in Europe were having some difficulties dealing with each other even before Plaridel arrived. Rizal who has been named as the honorary leader of the expatriates was not so happy by the arrival of Plaridel. We can sense his apprehension in his letter to Basa in Hong Kong which, in the words of Guerrero, “was not wholly fair he wrote of del Pilar and another new arrival”: “They would be of greater service to the country if they were in the Philippines; there is nothing like staying there to be of real service ; that is where education is needed, where the work must be done. It is all right for young men to come here to study, but those who already are educated should return and live there : Marcelo del Pilar has already had an education and did not have to come to Europe.” Surely a curious comment from one who was just as far away from Kalamba”! (Guerrero, The First Filipino).

However this misgivings were pacified when their collaboration commenced, especially with regards to Rizal’s work for La Solidaridad, the fortnightly newspaper, which was owned by Plaridel. But their ideas and policies are at times dissimilar. Furthermore, there were some from the colony who were offended by Rizal’s seeming infringement on their private life. Add to it the issue of who will pay for their champagne for their traditional New Year’s Eve Party. It was originally assigned to Rizal and Dominador Gomez but Rizal objected to the idea. According to Plaridel as quoted by Guerrero, “he suggested that the champagne be paid by Modesto Reyes and Mariano Abella, who agreed to do so, in addition to those already named.” Plaridel thought that Rizal did not hear him since they were seated far apart from one another. As such, Rizal initiated a collection of one peseta per person to pay for the champagne. This ‘thriftiness’ obviously, offended some and did not contribute.

This tension and differences among the expatriates developed, and on New Year’s Day of 1891 a meeting was held. About 90 expatriates attended the said meeting. They arrived at a decision to elect a leader which will be called as Responsable. He will be tasked to administer the campaigns of the reform movement. Another tension arose between Rizal and Plaridel, this time on the issue of the subjugation of the Soli to the Responsable. Plaridel rejected the provision because the Soli, according to him, was a private enterprise. This I suppose aggravated the rivalry between these two gentlemen.

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The problem grew and exploded in an election held on the first week of February of that year. The election was meant to ease the tension between the rival parties: the Rizalistas and Pilaristas – Rizal and del Pilar were the candidates. It was agreed that the Responsable be elected by a two-thirds of vote of the participants. Rizal won but failed to muster the required number of votes to be declared Responsable. The election was repeated the following day. He won again but then again, he did not get the required fraction. On the third day, according to del Pilar as quoted by Guerrero, “since Naning had instructions from me to prevent my election, conferred with those whom he knew were voting for me and asked them for the sake of harmony to make the sacrifice of changing their votes to favor Rizal. Dominador Gomez, once this agreement has been made, took the floor and announced that his party desired harmony in the colony and were ready to sacrifice their votes in favor of Rizal’s candidature. The balloting was repeated and Rizal was elected.”

Rizal for his part, was convinced that the election was held in an attempt to embarrass him. He abdicated his post and left Madrid on March of 1891. Guerrero made a good appraisal of Rizal’s political readiness: “Rizal did not have the temperament that makes for success in politics; he was too sensitive to slights inflicted on himself, not sensitive enough to the feelings of others; he was ambitious beyond the reach of his influence; yet not ambitious enough to keep the leadership for which he had paid with humiliation.” (Guerrero, The First Filipino). It appeared that Rizal was not ready to be the leader of the colony in Madrid or he may had other reasons for abdicating his position. In the subsequent exchanges with Plaridel, he refused to continue writing for the Soli and instead will continue working for the El Filibusterismo. Furthermore, Plaridel’s confession that the Soli was “funded by a group of persons who would want to be the ones to choose the editor of the newspaper,”cemented Rizal’s decision to stop writing for the Soli and stated that, “he was writing for the nation, and not for a private group” (Dumol and Camposano, The Nation As Project).

For Plaridel, Guerrero has this to say, “for all his supposed misgivings about ‘a trap laid for Rizal’, did nothing to save his friend from humiliation; did not, as Rizal would point out, withdraw his candidature and instead allowed one inconclusive balloting to follow another, one day after another, rubbing salt in the wounds already inflicted on Rizal’s ego….There is finally a note of barely suppressed gloating in his account of the whole affair, an open sneer at Rizal’s pretensions of undisputed leadership in Manila as well as in Madrid.”

Despite Plaridel’s humility and apology, Rizal admitted that (the) scratches given by friends hurt more than wounds inflicted by the enemy.” He further confessed to being “oversensitive, ‘but, when one has only had goodwill, love and self-abnegation for one’s friends, and in return is met with recriminations and attacks, believe me that one should change one’s conduct and amend one’s action” (Ibid).

Rizal was obviously hurt by what happened in Madrid. In a letter dated October 13, 1891, he held Plaridel responsible for the humiliation he suffered at the hands of his fellow expatriates, as quoted by Dumol and Camposano: “What a pity that the work we two have undertaken has suffered a crack! I understand that at the bottom you esteem me and I esteem you always, even more than you perhaps believe, because with [me] all feelings, all affection, hate, or grudges are lasting…I have this defect, I forgive but I forget with difficulty and so, as I do not forget that you had been my best defender and my best champion, likewise I remember that you were the first weight with which they wished to knock me down. What a pity that we have not been able to continue side by side, and since I represented up to a certain point the direction of the colony, you wished to cast me down to raise yourself and become the first head!”

Disappointment after disappointment weighed heavily on Rizal. Two of which have severely broken his heart: Leonor Rivera’s infidelity and his love-hate relationship with Marcelo H. Del Pilar. Indeed, it’s not easy to be human, to be Rizal or Plaridel. It is good to remember their works and sacrifice for our nation’s liberty, but it is equally good to understand what they have been through.


Dumol, Paul Avirsu and Camposano, Clement C. The Nation as Project. A New Reading of Rizal’s Life amd Works. Manila, Philippines: Vibal, 2018.

Google Images

Guerrero, Leon Ma. The First Filipino. A Biography of Jose Rizal. Manila: National Historical Commission, 1974.

Zaide, Gregorio F. and Zaide, Sonia M. Jose Rizal. Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero. Quezon City, Philippine: ALL NATIONS Publishing Co., Inc., 2014.

Limos, Mario Alvaro. Leonor Rivera: The Tragic Story of Jose Rizal’s Most Significant Love and Heartbreak., Jun 12, 2018.

Mañebog, Jensen DG. The ‘Love-and-Hate’ Relationship of Jose Rizal And Marcelo Del Pilar., 2013. Superman (It’s Not Easy) by Five for Fighting.

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