OUTSTANDING ORATOR, EDITOR, PATRIOT
By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes
Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers
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E WAS a mystery man carrying the name "Diego Laura." Based in Spain, he paid a four-day visit to Manila on a fundraising mission. The Propaganda movement needed money, and compatriots based in the Islands could not send enough of it for the expatriates' work. Without even seeing his family, he had to leave the Islands for Hong Kong, disguised as a waiter on a Spanish ship. He arrived back in Spain a few months later to resume his work as a journalist. That was late in 1891, just a little over four years before he died in poverty and sickness a full century ago.
On January 20, 1896, Graciano Lopez Jaena succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 39 in the charity ward of a hospital run by nuns.
This was the man who had distinguished himself as an orator and prolific writer to promote and defend the cause of our people using as forums the plazas, halls and publications in Spain.
It is lamentable that of the 1,000 speeches he delivered while in Spain, only nine had been preserved. Among these were his talk delivered at at the Ateneo Barcelones about the Universal Exposition of Barcelona, and the speech he delivered in Madrid honoring Filipino painters Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo.
One of his most notable articles castigated Spanish officials in charge of the Madrid Exposition of 1887. Several Igorots died there of extremely cold weather and unsanitary conditions while being exhibited as specimens of indios from the Philippines.
Graciano Lopez Jaena of Iloilo was the founder and first publisher-editor of La Solidaridad, the journal that was the flagship organ of the expatriate Propaganda Movement later edited by Marcelo H. del Pilar and of which Jose Rizal was a columnist.
He was also into literature. His self-exile in Spain was caused by a sharp satirical novelette, Fray Botod (Fat Friar). Angered by the obvious allusion, the Spanish friars moved to have him arrested. To evade arrest, he went to Spain, leaving behind his loved ones with finality. And he passed up the only opportunity he had to see them again.
The man who sneaked into the country for four days was "Diego Laura," the anti-friar "insurrecto," not openly the Graciano Lopez Jaena they would have wanted to embrace.
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