FATHER JOSE BURGOS was born in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, on February 9, 1837, to a Spanish lieutenant in the militia of Ilocos Sur, and Florencia Garcia, a native of Vigan.
Upon his father’s death, young Jose was sent to Manila to study. He enrolled at the San Juan de Letran College; and being an orphan of a Spanish officer he paid no fees. But unable to endure the many injustices he saw at school, he left and studied at the University of Sto. Tomas and became a pupil of Father Mariano Garcia. There, his exceptional intellect was brought to full flower, obtaining his doctorates in theology and canon law. Before he graduated, however, in recognition of his ability, he was appointed director of the students in Letran and teacher of Latin.
Ordained on December 17, 1864, he dedicated his life to the priesthood, being appointed, successfully, second curate of the Manila Cathedral, magistrate and chief of the Cathedral, and fiscal of the Ecclesiastical Court. At the same time, the University of Santo Tomas made him in charge of its ceremonies.
When the Jesuits returned in 1859, the Filipino priests who were holding parishes in the archbishopric of Manila were deprived of them. Father Burgos had definite ideas and convictions on this problem. To him, the question “affected not merely the interests of Filipino priests, but the larger interests of the Faith in the Philippines. He knew… “that the Faith could not remain strong and vigorous and rest on solid permanent foundations unless the Church counted with the aid of trained and competent native priesthood.”
Petition after petition were sent to Spain urging the restoration of the parishes to Filipinos; but everything came to naught. On June 27, 1864, he published a splended defense of the Filipino clergy, entitled Manifesto to the Noble Spanish People Which the Loyal Filipinos Address in Defense of Their Honor and Loyalty That Had Been Grievously Offended by the Newspaper La Verdad of Madrid. With Fathers Jacinto Zamora and Mariano Gomez, he became an active member of the Comite Reformador.
On the other hand, the Spanish authorities, misinterpreting his motives as anti-Spanish and separatist, regarded him with apprehension. His activities, particularly during the time of the liberal and much-loved Governor General Carlos Ma. de la Torre (1869-1871), were viewed as altogether treasonable.
Following the infamous Cavity Mutiny on January 20, 1872, Fr. Burgos was arrested with Fathers Gomez and Zamora and falsely accused of sedition. There they were tried at Fort Santiago on February 15, by a military tribunal that was out not to establish their innocence but to declare them guilty, contrary to the spirit of justice. Their counsel, Jose Arrieta, as a matter of fact, pleaded for clemency even at the start of the trial. Father Burgos, outraged, stood up and protested. It was futile. The authorities had made up their minds to have them executed and the sentence meted out was death by the garrote.
On February 17, 1872, amidst the tolling of church bells and against the wishes of the Governor-General Izquierdo, who wanted them defrocked, they were executed still dressed in their priestly habit. Archbishop Martinez had refused to unfrock them, being himself convinced of their innocence.
When Fr. Burgos’ turn came, his executioner knelt before him and said, “Father, forgive me for I’m going to kill you.”
“I forgive you, my son. I know you are but complying with your duty.”