José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896), was a Filipino nationalist and revolutionary. He is considered one of the national heroes of the Philippines, together with Andres Bonifacio. Studying in Europe, he was the most prominent advocate for reform in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. He was wrongly implicated as the leader of the Katipunan Revolution, and that led to his execution on December 30, 1896, now celebrated as Rizal Day, a national holiday in the country.
Rizal was born to a wealthy family in Calamba, Laguna and was the seventh of eleven children. He attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, earning a Bachelor of Arts diploma and studied medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid in Madrid, Spain, earning the degree of Licentiate in Medicine, making him eligible to practice medicine. He also attended the University of Paris and earned a second doctorate at the University of Heidelberg.
Rizal was a polymath; besides medicine, he was also an artist who dabbled in painting, sketching, sculpting and woodcarving. He was a prolific poet, essayist, and novelist whose most famous works were his two novels, Noli me Tangere and its sequel, El filibusterismo.[note 1] These social commentaries during the Spanish colonization of the country formed the nucleus of literature that inspired peaceful reformists and armed revolutionaries alike. Rizal was also a polyglot, conversant in twenty-two languages.[note 2][note 3]
As a political figure, José Rizal was the founder of La Liga Filipina, a civic organization that subsequently gave birth to the Katipunan led by Andrés Bonifacio,[note 4], a secret society which would start the Philippine Revolution against Spain that eventually laid the foundation of the First Philippine Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo. He was a proponent of achieving Philippine self-government peacefully through institutional reform rather than through violent revolution, and would only support "violent means" as a last resort. Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people,[note 5] saying "Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?" The general consensus among Rizal scholars is that his execution by the Spanish government ignited the Philippine Revolution.