The El Filibusterismo

© 2013 by Jensen DG. Mañebog

El Filibusterismo’ is Jose Rizal’s second novel written as the sequel of his ‘Noli Me Tangere’. Commonly nicknamed ‘El Fili’ or simply ‘Fili’, the novel was written also in Spanish. Its commonly known English alternative title is ‘The Reign of Greed’.

The writing and printing of Fili

Rizal started writing El Filibusterismo in October 1887 in Calamba during his first homecoming. The novel was thus written against the background of threats and oppressions he and his family suffered because of the Noli and the so-called Calamba agrarian trouble.

He continued working on it, making some revisions, in London in 1888. Rizal then went on to write the novel in Paris, and then in Brussels where distractions were less and the cost of living was cheaper. Being able to focus on finishing the book, Rizal had finally completed it by March 29, 1891 in Biarritz.

Jose Alejandrino, Rizal’s roommate in Belgium related that he was the one who canvassed printing press for El Fili. He delivered proofs and revisions to F. Meyer van Loo in Ghent. For his assistance, Rizal gave him the El Fili’s corrected proofs and the pen used in doing the corrections. Unluckily, these historical souvenirs were either lost or destroyed during the revolution (Ocampo, p. 111).

Alejandrino, who later became a general in the Philippine revolution, may have been the first person to read the novel aside from the author. However, the honor of being called ‘the savior of the Fili’ had gone to Valentin Ventura—Rizal’s friend who partially financed the novel’s publication. (Ventura’s steal of the title, one may argue, is another classic elucidation of the expression, “That’s what money can do.”)

Initially, Rizal financed El Fili’s printing by pawning his properties. In a letter to Jose Basa dated July 9, 1891, he related: “For the past three months I have not received a single centavo, so I have pawned all that I have in order to publish this book. I will continue publishing it as long as I can; and when there is nothing to pawn I will stop …”

Rizal’s next letter to Basa carried the sad news that the printing had to be suspended for lack of funds, and it was at this point where Valentin Ventura came into the picture. Having known Rizal’s predicament, Ventura offered him financial help. In hindsight, we can assume that Ventura was bothered by his conscience, hence his generous monetary assistance for Rizal’s novel. Remember that Ventura was one of the Filipinos who promised to co-author Rizal’s proposed first book but ended up contributing nothing.

But even with Ventura’s help, Rizal found it necessary to fundamentally shorten the novel, erasing 47 whole pages from the 279-page manuscript to save expenses (Ocampo, p. 111). Thus, the printed El Fili, which came off the press by the middle of September, 1891, turned out comprising only 38 chapters compared to the 64 of the Noli—contrary to his original plan to make a longer sequel.

For Ventura’s salvific act, Rizal gave him the novel’s original manuscript, a pen, and an autographed printed copy. In 1925, the Philippine government bought the El Fili manuscript from Ventura for a large sum of 10, 000 pesos (Zaide, p. 194). It is now being kept in the National Library.

Filibustero and Gomburza

The ‘Filibusterismo’ in the novel’s title is derived from the simpler term ‘filibustero’. Rizal defined the word (‘filibustero’) to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt who encountered but did not fully comprehend the word in the ‘Noli’. Rizal thus explained in a letter:

“The word filibustero is little known in the Philippines …I heard it for the first time in 1872 when the tragic executions [of the Gomburza] took place. I still remember the panic that this word created. Our father forbade us to utter it, as well as the words Cavite, Burgos (one of the executed priests), etc. The Manila newspapers and the Spaniards apply this word to one whom they want to make a revolutionary suspect. The Filipinos belonging to the educated class fear the reach of the word. It … means a dangerous patriot who will soon be hanged or well, a presumptuous man.”

The word ‘filibustero’ thus contextually means subversive, dissident, revolutionary, seditious, insurrectionary, and treasonous. Fittingly, Rizal dedicated the book to the memory of the Gomburza, the three Filipino patriotic priests who were accused of being ‘filibustero’ and thus executed. In his dedication, Rizal fearlessly declared his conviction that the Spanish officials’ treatment of the priests’ case was unjust “as [their] complicity in the Cavite Mutiny is not clearly proved”.

The dedication partly reads: “To the memory of the priests, Don Mariano Gomez (85 years old), Don Jose Burgos (30 years old), and Don Jacinto Zamora (35 years old). Executed in the Bagumbayan Field on the 28th of February, 1872 … I have the right to dedicate my work to you as victims of the evil which I undertake to combat…”

Rizal however made mistakes in indicating the ages of the priests and the date of their execution. During their martyrdom on the 17th (not 28th) of February, 1872, Gomez was then 73 (not 85), Burgos was 35 (not 30) and Zamora was 37 (not 35). Like many other students today (especially men), Rizal was perhaps not that good in memorizing historical details like dates and ages.

The foreword of the Fili was nonetheless addressed “To The Filipino People and Their Government”. The original manuscript also includes a “warning” and an “inscription” on the title page written by the author’s friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt.


Indeed a continuation of the Noli, the El Filibusterismo exposes the real picture of Filipino society at the hands of the Spanish authorities. Socio-political issues mentioned in the Noli are also dealt with in its sequel: the abuses and hypocrisy of the members of the Spanish Catholic clergy, superstitions disguising as religious faith, the need for reform in educational system, the exploitation and corruption of government officials, and the pretenses of some social-climbing Filipinos and Spaniards.

What makes El Fili essentially different from its prequel is that it offers various means of attaining social reform and somewhat hinted what the author believed was ideal. Some dialogues and incidents seem to suggest the apparent improbability of any radical socio-political change. The main character’s persistence to push through with the rebellion, on the other hand, seems to suggest that independence is attainable through revolution. However, the closing chapters rather insinuate that freedom must be attained without bloodshed as the story ends with the failure of Simoun’s planned uprising.

The novel’s ending, some scholars explain however, should not be interpreted as Rizal’s categorical stand against revolution. At best, Rizal can be said to be against unprepared and disorganized rebellion of an uneducated people which could have slim chance of victory. It is important to note that Rizal once commented that an upright, patriotic, and selfless individual like Noli’s Elias would be a viable revolutionary leader. In fact, Rizal was said to have confessed that he seriously regretted having killed Elias instead of Ibarra. These seem to prove that Rizal, though practically promoting the attainment of reforms peacefully, also advocated the idea of armed revolution under some conditions. Intelligent as he is, what Rizal would never subscribe to is the “useless spilling of blood,” but not the uprising per se.

Noli vs. Fili

Rizalwrote theEl Filibusterismoabout four years after the Noli. The experiences he had in those four years spelled a lot of differences in the way he treated his two novels.

In depicting the social conditions in the country, both novels employ satires and caricatures. El Fili however is more serious as there is less humor and more bitterness in the treatment of situations.

In the Noli, the author reveals the cruelty and exploitation suffered by the natives at the hands of colonizers. In El Fili, Rizal depicts a society at the brink of rebellion as the natives’ minds have been awakened and revolutionary forces have been formed.

Generally, El Fili presents a gloomier depiction of the country under the Spanish regime. More radical and revolutionary, the novel has less idealism and romance than the Noli. The El Fili manifests Rizal’s more mature and less hopeful attitude toward the socio-political situation in the country. The grimmer outlook and more tragic mood can be attributed to the persecutions and sufferings the author and his family experienced from the Spanish friars and officials in the years he was writing the novel.

Notwithstanding the sufferings caused by the Spaniards to the Rizal family, the Fili, its author claimed, is not a matter of revenge. Jose wrote to Blumentritt: “I have not written in it [Fili] any idea of vengeance against my enemies, but only for the good of those who suffer, for the rights of Tagalogs ..."

Some of Rizal’s friends like Blumentritt and Graciano Lopez Jaena expressed that Fili was more superior than Noli. Rizal himself apparently once believed in the superiority of the Fili. When its printing had to be stopped for lack of funds, he wrote to Basa: “It is a pity because it seems to me that this second part [the Fili] is more important than the first [the Noli].”

After the Fili was published nonetheless, Rizal appeared to have a change of heart. In his October 13, 1891 letter to Marcelo Del Pilar, he said: I appreciate what you say about my work and I value your opinion highly that considered my Filibusterismo inferior to the Noli. I, too frankly, without irony or words with a double meaning, share your opinion. For me, the Filibusterismo as a novel is inferior to the Noli… You are the first one to tell me the truth and I agree with you. This flatters me as it proves that I still know how to judge myself. “

As regards his friends who told him that Fili was better, Rizal explained in the same letter: “Blumentritt, all those in Paris and Barcelona, for their benevolence towards me say it [the Fili] is superior. I attribute it only to their benevolence.”


The story in El Filibusterismo revolves around its main character Simoun who is an affluent jeweler. Simoun is actually Crisostomo Ibarra of the Noli whom everyone thought had been killed by the Guardia Civil at Laguna de Bay. He had in fact escaped, fled to Cuba, become wealthy, and made connections with influential Spanish officials. Upon his return to the Philippines after many years, he becomes very influential as the governor general, who owes so much to him, consults him in making decisions.

In reality however, everything Simoun does is just part of his grand plan to take revenge against the Spanish officials and rescue Maria Clara from the convent. Planning to stage a revolution, he smuggles arms and looks for followers, mainly from the exploited and abused natives. One of his recruits is Basilio, the son of Sisa, who with Capitan Tiago’s help was able to study in Manila. Simoun also makes an alliance with the revolutionary group of Kabesang Tales, a former ‘cabeza de barangay’ who suffered maltreatments from the hands of the friars. Using his influence, Simoun encourages corruption, decadence, and more oppressive government policies so that the citizens may become more infuriated.

However, the planned revolt one night was not carried out because Simoun, upon hearing that Maria Clara died in the nunnery, decided not to give the signal for the outbreak of the uprising.

Another plan was made some months later. At the venue of the wedding reception of Juanito Pelaez and Paulita Gomez, Simoun planted many explosives—enough to kill the invited guests, primarily the friars and government officials. According to the plot, the big explosion shall be started by the gift he would give to the newlyweds at the reception—a kerosene lamp with an explosive. When the lamp flickers and someone turns the wick, it will result into a big explosion that will become a signal to the revolutionary troops to simultaneously attack all the government buildings in Manila.

During the reception, Simoun gives his gift to the newly-weds. Before hurriedly leaving the venue, he leaves a piece of mysterious paper bearing the message “You will die tonight” signed by Juan Crisostomo Ibarra.

Meanwhile, Isagani, the rejected lover of Paulita, is standing outside the reception. His friend Basilio tells him to leave the place because the lamp will soon blow up.

When Father Salvi identifies the handwriting in the note and confirms that it was indeed Ibarra’s, the guests begin to panic. When the lamp flickers, Father Irene tries to turn the wick up. But Isagani, wanting to save Paulita’s life, rushes into the house, grabs the lamp, and throws it into the river where it explodes.

Simoun’s revolutionary plot was thus known and he is thus hunted by the law enforcers. He managed to escape but was seriously wounded. Carrying his jewelry chest, he finds shelter in the home of Padre Florentino by the sea. Learning of his presence in the house of the priest, the lieutenant of the Guardia Civil informs Padre Florentino that he will come in the evening to arrest Simoun.

Simoun then takes poison that he would not be caught alive. As the poison’s effects start to take toll on his body, he confesses to Florentino his true identity and his plan of revenge through bloody revolution. After the emotional and agonizing confession of the dying man, the priest absolves the dying man from his sins, saying: “God will forgive you Señor Simoun. He knows that we are fallible. He has seen that you have suffered … He has frustrated your plans one by one … first by the death of Maria Clara, then by a lack of preparation, then in some mysterious way. Let us bow to His will and render Him thanks!”

The story ends with the priest throwing Simoun’s treasures into the sea so that they would not be used by the greedy. The priest hopes that when the right time comes, they would be recovered and used only for the good.

Noli and Fili Stolen

In Rizal’s time, the Permanent Commission of Censorship recommended the absolute prohibition on the importation, reproduction, and circulation of the Noli. The copies of the Fili, on the other hand, was destroyed by Customs in Manila upon shipment to the Philippines. The rare surviving copies of the novels were secretly purchased and “according to one friend of the family, had to be read in the smallest, most private room in the house—the toilet” (Ocampo, p. 108).

That was the fate of the first edition of Rizal’s novels. But that is nothing compared to what happened to their original manuscripts about 70 years after their publication.

The original manuscripts of the Noli and Fili (along with that of the poem ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’) were stolen from the National Library on the evening of December 8, 1961. After some days, the thieves who outsmarted the building’s sleepy guards sent a ransom note “made of newspaper cutouts” to the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC) (Ocampo, p. 148). The robbers demanded 1.4 million pesos for the return of the original texts, else Rizal’s handiworks would be burned.

To summarize the ‘historic robbery’, the then Education Secretary Alejandro ‘Anding’ Roces personally met with the burglars and, after some various negotiations, had retrieved the documents without paying a single centavo. The manuscripts were returned on installment basis—the ‘Ultimo Adios’ during the first meeting, the ‘El Fili’ on the next negotiation, and lastly, the ‘Noli’. There was a time when the demanded ransom was reduced to 100,000 pesos and then to 10,000 pesos (Ocampo, p. 148). But recognizing perhaps that they would get nothing from the government, the robbers ultimately settled on returning the expensive documents, free of charge.

Many still find this ‘charge-free return of the manuscripts’ strange and mind-blowing. But the following additional details about the story could perhaps shed light on the account.

During the negotiations, one of the burglars related to Roces that on the night of the robbery, “the Rizal manuscripts suddenly became heavy as a cavan of rice”. The thief thus exclaimed, “The manuscript must be holy or haunted!” (Ocampo, p. 148). One robber even claimed that he read Rizal’s handwritten novels and described the feeling, “Ang sarap basahin, kinikilabutan ako!” (Ocampo, p. 148). It’s remarkably funny to note however that the thief did not understand Spanish! Nonetheless, these indicate that the stealers were probably bothered by their conscience, hence the consent to just send back the national hero’s works.

Anding promised not to identify the robbers or to be a witness against them in court. Thus, the hilariously controversial thieves were never known.

The novels’ legacy

For fearlessly depicting the corruptions and abuses by the Spanish clergy and colonial government during the Spanish regime in the Philippines, the two novels arehistorically very significant. Basically a social sketch of the country then, the Noli and Fili reveal the true setting and condition of the Filipino society in the era.

As essential source of sociological and anthropological studies, the books provide rich insights into the culture of the 19th and 20th century Philippines. Their realistic depictions expose a conflicted colonial society seriously split between the oppressors and the suffering local slaves. The novels’ characters mimic the various elements and types of individuals in that society. Furthermore, they show favorable positive traits of the natives then like the sense of gratitude, the fidelity of women to their loved ones, and the yearning for freedom and equality.

For their explicit portrayal of what the locals really wished for their country, the books were instrumental in forming the Filipino’s (Indios) sense of national identity. Indirectly but significantly, the novels influenced the revolution led by the Katipunan as they inspired Andres Bonifacio and other revolutionaries in their cause.

Rizal was arrested, exiled to Dapitan, and ultimately executed in 1896 based principally on his writings. In 1956, the Philippine Congress passed the Rizal Law (Republic Act 1425) requiring all levels of Philippine schools to teach as part of the curriculum the hero’s two novels.

Originally written in Spanish, the Noli and the Fili had been translated into various languages like Filipino, English, German, French, Chinese, and other Philippine languages. In 2007, an English version of Noli Me Tangere was released to major Australian book stores. It was published by Penguin Books Classics as part of the publication’s commitment to publish the major literary classics of the world.  (© 2013 by Jensen DG. Mañebog)



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Jensen DG. Mañebog, the contributor, is a book author and professorial lecturer in the graduate school of a state university in Metro Manila. His unique e-books on Rizal  (available online) comprehensively tackle, among others, the respective life of Rizal’s parents, siblings, co-heroes, and girlfriends. (e-mail:

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TAGS: Jose Rizal, El Filibusterismo, History, Philippine Studies, Filipino Heroes

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