Sunday, August 30, 2015

Domingo Franco

Faceless martyrs have long fascinated me. While tapping out this article, I’m looking at an old photo showing thirteen valiant men, standing in a row about eight feet apart from each other, facing the firing squad. That was the “killing fields” of Bagumbayan in the early morning of January 11, 1897. On that day, El Supremo of the revived La Liga Filipina, and twelve of his compatriots sprawled on the ground, “kissing the soil of their beloved country” for the last time.

It is said that a nation without heroes is a sad nation. True, because without heroes there can be no inspired leadership among our people and that makes our nation even sadder. But what difference does it make if we, as a people, limit ourselves with historical bywords like Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and other towering figures of the Philippine Revolution? Sadly, as I look around the corridors of heroes, there are still many unknown patriots that deserve the sidelights of history. One such obscure figure that needs illumination is— Domingo Franco. His name is not a byword in Philippine history. Nor was he even mentioned in our history textbooks except that fact he was one of “The Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan.”

Who was Domingo Franco?

Scantily, history tells us that Domingo Franco was a native of Mambusao, Capiz, who later rose to become a highly successful leaf tobacco businessman in Manila. With the emergence of Masonic societies in the Philippines, Franco, together with his friend Numeriano Adriano joined the seminal Filipino Masonic Lodge Nilad in 1891. The great Mabini, on the other hand, joined the Lodge Balagtas. Franco took the symbolic name “Felipe Leal” (Loyal Philip) and was said to be the man in whom Rizal and Mabini reposed “the greatest confidence.” True to form, it was Franco who courageously received the first shipment of Noli that was sent by Rizal, clearing the “contrabands” in the Customs to avoid confiscation, and took care of distributing them.

The revived La Liga Filipina

After Rizal’s disengagement from La Solidaridad, he went on to challenge Mother Spain in the home country and launch La Liga Filipina—a front organization of the movement for reforms and unification of the Filipino nation. Upon Rizal’s return to Manila in June 1892, it was Franco, along with Timoteo Paez, who organized that historic meeting at the Onjunco house in Tondo where Rizal proposed the idea of La Liga. Three days later, however, Rizal was arrested, and the Liga was quickly dispersed.

The paragon reformist that he is, a year later, he and other patriots sought the revival of Liga; not only to carry on the goals as formulated by Rizal but also to raise funds for Soli. Soon, Franco was elected President of the revived La Liga Filipina and Mabini became Secretary of the Supreme Council. In charge of recruitment in the outskirt provinces was no less than the supreme revolutionist from Tondo, Andres Bonifacio. Altogether, they ran the gamut of the organization, from vice to virtue, from opposing views to winged innocence.
Rise of Katipunan—fall of La Liga

Rizal’s deportation to Dapitan, however, signaled the coming of revolutionary radicalism. For Bonifacio and the working class, the time for armed revolution had come. And so, although he was one of the active members of the revived Liga, in truth, Bonifacio balked the idea of having to use Liga as an instrument for raising funds to support reformist ends. To him, the Spanish masters could no longer be won by words. Franco and Adriano, of course, disagreed. And so, the organization splintered into two factions: the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, composed of moderate ilustrados, who still wanted to carry on openly seeking reforms without bloodshed, and the Katipunan, the plebian base of La Liga, which already believed that reforms were no longer possible except by secretly preparing for violent upheaval.

At this stage, we could say that Bonifacio was indeed an excellent organizer, but he just wasn’t good at keeping secrets, at least not for too long. A month later, the Katipunan was discovered, and many were arrested. One of them was Antonio Luna, the chemist who later became a famous revolutionary general. It was Luna who admitted to the authorities, wittingly or unwittingly, that Rizal’s La Liga was the parent organization of the Katipunan.

Path to martyrdom

Two weeks later, first to be arrested was Domingo Franco, a non-Katipunero. It was said that Franco was arrested in his office while playing with his six-year-old daughter, Conching. There, his elbows were tied up behind his back, shoved him into a horse-drawn rig and paraded him all the way to the dungeons of Fort Santiago. For several weeks, Franco endured all forms of torture while confined in a small cell. He was chained, flogged, and given the water cure. But Franco, the “Felipe Leal” of his compatriots, remained loyal to the end and never confessed to authorities the ‘truths’ they wanted to hear.

Just twelve days after Rizal’s execution, Domingo Franco, with twelve others, calmly faced the Spanish firing squad in Bagumbayan. Like Rizal, they too suffered humiliation at the hands of the colonizers even unto death. Their lifeless bodies were unceremoniously piled up to on a horse drawn cart and dumped them in an unmarked grave. To this day, the remains of the “thirteen martyrs” have not been found.

Franco’s legacy

Domingo Franco never thirsted for office, power, and the chance to make history. But without Franco and his paisanos, La Liga would have been almost dead at birth after the arrest of Rizal; it was them who resuscitated Rizal’s vision to work for reforms. Without the revival of La Liga, Bonifacio would not have had a front organization to disguise the work of the Katipunan; consequently, without the Katipunan there would not have been a revolution and no Philippine Republic to begin with.

Not much has been written about Franco, even historians of today have failed to highlight his contributions, and the travails he went through just to support the seemingly impotent propaganda movement at the turn of the century “One of the tasks of grateful generation,” as one Filipino statesman sought to remind us, “is to give due recognition to all our heroes, especially those who are unsung.” Thus, it is fitting after more than a hundred years to remember a genuine patriot like Domingo Franco— one of the unsung heroes of the Philippine Revolution.


Celia Diaz-Laurel. My Lolo Domingo Franco. Philippines, 2011.

Agoncillo, Teodoro. The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: UP Press, 1956.

Photo credit: The Pinoy Pulse

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It is most unfortunate that Domingo Franco's heroism is almost unheard of in his hometown - Mambusao, Capiz. May he be given the recognition that he truly deserves.