Marcelo Hilario del Pilar y Gatmaitán (August 30, 1850 – July 4, 1896), better known by his nom-de-plume Plaridel, was a celebrated figure in the Philippine Revolution and a leading propagandist for reforms in the Philippines A master polemicist in both the Tagalog and Spanish languages, he helped the Propaganda Movement through his speeches and liberal writings on the plight of the Filipinos as a result of the abuses of the Spanish friars in the country. He was the editor and co-publisher of La Solidaridad (The Solidarity), a newspaper advocating reforms for the Philippines.
Early life and Education
Marcelo H. del Pilar was born on August 30, 1850 in Cupang, Bulacan, Bulacan. He was the youngest son of Julián H. del Pilar, a gobernadorcillo and Blasa Gatmaitán. His brother, Fr. Toribio del Pilar, was exiled to Guam for his involvement in the 1872 Cavite Mutiny. The family adapted the surname del Pilar pursuant on the decree issued by Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa in 1849. He was descended from the illustrious lineage of Gatmaitán, one of the sons of the pre-colonial ruling families of Bulacan and Pampanga. He married Marciana del Pilar (Tsanay) in February 1878. They had seven children (of which five died in infancy).
He learned his first letters from his paternal uncle Alejo del Pilar. Because his family was highly cultured, it was not long before he played the guitar, piano, violin and flute. In Manila he took a Latin course in the school of José Flores and then transferred at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, where he finished his Bachiller en Artes. He also studied at the Universidad de Santo Tomas (sister school of Letran College), where he earned his licenciado en jurisprudencia (equivalent to a Bachelor of Laws) in 1880.
As a student, he favored overthrowing the Spanish government. Often, he met with his classmates like Mariano Ponce, Pedro Serrano Laktaw and Apolinario Mabini in his Binondo house, and expounded on the need to peacefully fight Spanish rule. His mastery of Spanish language would help hasten development led him to teach Spanish to children in his neighborhood while he was a boarder of Mariano Sevilla, a Filipino secular priest. Then about the time of Cavite Mutiny, he used to meet regularly in a goods store in Manila with liberal Spanish creoles, mestizos, and Filipino intellectuals by whom he was politically indoctrinated about the affairs of the country. Fortunately, suspicion was not turned on him and he escaped persecution in 1872.
Publications assailing the spanish friars
Del Pilar was the first to publicize his criticisms against colonial misrule. He began on August 1, 1882, when he published and edited his Diariong Tagalog (Tagalog Newspaper), the first newspaper that used the native language. It advocated for assimilation and other political demands. He featured in his newspaper the poem of José Rizal, El Amor Patrio (The Love of Country), which del Pilar translated into Tagalog language. It ceased publication on October 31, 1882 due to lack of funds.
Del Pilar believed that the unmitigated power of the Spanish friars was the root of oppression and corruption in colonial Philippines. He wrote articles against the friars, such as Dasalan at Tocsohan (Prayerbook and Teasing Game), Pasióng Dapat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Tauong Babasa (Passion That Should Inflame the Heart of the Reader), Cadaquilaan ng Dios (God's Goodness), Sagot ng España sa Hibic ng Filipinas (Spain's Reply to the Complains of Filipinos), Dudas (Doubts), La Frailocracia Filipina (Frailocracy in the Philippines),and Caiigat Cayó (Be Like the Eel). Copies were smuggled into the Philippines and were read by the revolutionists.
His primary work, La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas (Monastic Sovereignty in the Philippines), traces the evolution of the monastic rule in the Philippines. Published in 1888 under his pseudonym, Plaridel, he took note of the government's failure in delivering prosperity in the archipelago that was first promised by the blood compact between Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna of Bohol.
Diariong Tagalog, published fortnightly in 1882, was the first to publish ideas for reforms in the Philippines.
Escape from Clerical Prosecution
el Pilar began his campaign in 1869 writing petitions to the colonial authorities, exposing abusive local civil and religious officials. In 1885, he urged the cabeza de barangay of Malolos to resist the government order giving the friars blanket authority to revise the tax lists. He instigated the gobernadorcillo of Malolos to denounce the town curate who violated government prohibition against the exposure of corpses in the churches. In 1887, he denounced the curate of Binondo for consigning Filipinos to poor seats in the church while assigning the good ones to Spanish half-castes.
On March 1, 1888, the populace of Manila staged a public demonstration against the friars. Led by the lawyer Doroteo Cortés, this document was signed by most of the native officials of Manila and neighboring towns, accusing the archbishop of Manila, the Dominican Pedro Payo y Piñeiro, and the friars of disobedience and treason and demanded the friar’s expulsion from the Philippines. The same year del Pilar founded a secret society called El Cinco. Its aim was to separate the Philippines from Spain.
Sought by the religious and civil authorities, he escaped to Spain. Before his departure, he organized Caja de Jesús, María y José intended to provide scholarship grants to poor but intelligent children and the Junta de Programa, which functioned to collect funds to support the propaganda work and constitute liaison between the propagandists in Spain and those in the Philippines. After he left Manila, he spent his time with the Filipinos in Hong Kong led by José María Basa, a propagandist and businessman.
Reform Movement in Spain
Del Pilar arrived in Spain on January 1, 1889, leaving his family behind. He headed the political section of the Asociación Hispano-Filipina de Madrid (Hispanic Filipino Association of Madrid) founded by Filipino ilustrados and Spanish sympathizers, the purpose of which was to agitate for reforms from Spain.
He succeeded Graciano López Jaena as editor of the Filipino reformist periodical La Solidaridad on December 15, 1889. Even before he had chief burden of the editorship, and when he assumed the post, he transferred the editorial office from Barcelona to Madrid.
Under del Pilar, the aims of the newspaper were expanded to include removal of the friars and the secularization of the parishes; active Filipino participation in the affairs of the government; freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly; wider social and political freedoms; equality before the law; assimilation; and representation in the Spanish Parliament. The colonial authorities in the Philippines did not favor these reforms even if they were more openly endorsed by Spanish intellectuals like Miguel Morayta Sagrario, Miguel de Unamuno, Francisco Pi y Margall, and others.
Less than a year after he arrived in Spain, del Pilar realized the futility of the Filipino campaign for reforms. Before his death, del Pilar rejected the assimilationist stand and began planning an armed revolt. Thus he conceived the Katipunan, a secret revolutionary organization. He tried to establish it in 1890 but succeeded only in July, 1892 with the help of Andrés Bonifacio and Deodato Arellano.
Rizal's Spanish biographer Wenceslao Retana and Filipino biographer Juan Raymundo Lumawag saw the formation of the Katipunan as del Pilar's victory over Rizal: "La Liga dies, and the Katipunan rises in its place. Del Pilar's plan wins over that of Rizal. Del Pilar and Rizal had the same end, even if each took a different road to it."
La Solidaridad, the official organ of the Propaganda Movement.
Later years and death
After years of publication from 1889 to 1895, La Solidaridad had begun to run out of funds. Its last issue appeared on November 15, 1895. He himself was by then a much emaciated man, suffering from malnutrition and overwork. Having very little money to spend in a faraway country, he often missed his meals and smoked discarded cigarette butts to keep himself warm and to forget his hunger.Months before the revolution, he circulated in Manila and neighboring provinces his political works entitled La Patria (The Homeland) and Ministerio de la Republica Filipina (Ministry of the Philippine Republic) in preparation for his return to personally lead a revolution.
He died of tuberculosis in Barcelona on July 4, 1896. The following day, he was buried in unmarked grave at the Cementerio del Sub-Oeste where his remains stayed for the next twenty-four years. News of his death reached La Politica de España en Filipinas, a pro-friar publication in Manila. This leading newspaper paid homage to del Pilar:
Del Pilar, the Tagalog who, as publicist, inspired us (Spaniards) with the greatest esteem. As a propagandist, he is doubtless the greatest produced by the Tagalog race.
A renowned Christian member of the Philippine magistrate, Norberto Romuáldez, made all the necessary procedures of exhuming the body of del Pilar in Barcelona. His remains were brought back on December 3, 1920 and was buried initially at the Manila North Cemetery. It was later transferred to his birthplace in San Nicolas, Bulacan, Bulacan on August 30, 1986, now known as Dambana ni Plaridel under the National Historical Institute. To this shrine, students and patriotic groups flock throughout the year viewing his memorabilia in the small museum building erected after the first centennial of his death in 1996.
Father of Philippine Masonry
Considered the Father of Philippine Masonry, del Pilar spearheaded the secret organization of Masonic lodges in the Philippines as a means of strengthening the Propaganda Movement.
He was made a freemason in Spain in 1889, one of the first Filipinos initiated into the mysteries of freemasonry in Europe. He co-founded Lodge Revoluccionin Barcelona and revived Lodge Solidaridad when it floundered into stormy seas where he became its Worshipful Master and with Rizal as the orator. He was crowned 33° by the Grande Oriente Español.