This novel is a sequel to the Noli. It has little humor, less idealism, and less romance than the Noli Me Tangere. It is more revolutionary, more tragic than the first novel.
The hero of El Filibusterismo is a rich jeweler named Simoun. He was Crisostomo Ibarra of the Noli Me Tangere who, with Elias’ help, escaped from the pursuing soldiers at Laguna de Bay, dug up his buried treasure, and fled to Cubs where he became rich and befriended many Spanish officials. After many years, he returns to the Philippines, where he freely moved around. He is a powerful figure not only because he is a jeweler, but also because he is a good friend of the Governor General.
Outwardly, Simoun is a friend of Spain. However, deep in his heart, he is secretly cherishing a terrible revenge against the Spanish authorities. His two magnificent obsessions are (1) to rescue Maria Clara from the nunnery of Santa Clara and (2) to foment a revolution against the hated Spanish masters.
The story of El Filibusterismo begins on board the clumsy, roundish shaped steamer Tabo, so appropriately named. This steamer is sailing upstream the Pasig from Manila to Laguna de Bay. Among the passengers are Simoun, the rich jeweler; Doña Victorina, the ridiculously pro-Spanish native woman who is going to Laguna in search of her henpecked husband, Tiburcio de España, who has deserted her; Paulita Gomez, her beautiful niece; Ben Zayb, a Spanish journalist who writes silly articles about the Filipinos; Padre Sibyla, Vice-Rector of the University of Santo Tomas; Padre Camorra, the parish priest of the town Tiani; Don Custodio, a pro-Spanish Filipino holding a high position in the government; Padre Salvi, thin Franciscan friar and former cura of San Diego; Padre Irene, a kind friar who was a friend of the Filipino priest;Padre Florentino, a retired scholarly and patriotic Filipino priest; Isagani, a poet-nephewof Padre Florentino and a lover of Paulita; and Basilio, son of Sisa and promising medical student, whose medical education is financed by his patron, Capitan Tiago.
Simoun, a man of wealth and mystery, is a very close friend and confidante of the Spanish governor general. Because of his great influence in Malacañang, he was called “Brown Cardinal” or the “Black Eminence”. By using his wealth and his political influence, he encourages corruption in the government, promotes the oppression of the masses, and hastens the moral degradation of the country so that people may become desperate and fight. He smuggles arms into the country with the help of the Chinse merchant, Quiroga, who wants very much to be the Chinese Consul of Manila. His first attempt to begin the armed uprising did not materialize because at the last hour he hears the sad news that Maria Clara died in the nunnery. In his agonizing moment of bereavement, he did not give the signal for the outbreak of hostilities.
After a longtime of illness brought about by the bitter loss of Maria Clara, Simoun perfects his plan to overthrow the government. On the occasion of the wedding of Paulita Gomez and Juanito Palaez, he gives as a wedding gift to them a beautiful lamp. Only he and his confidential associate, Basilio (Sisa’s son who joined his revolutionary cause), know that when the wick of his lamp burns lower the nitroglycerine, hidden in its secret compartment, will explode, destroying the house where the wedding feast is going to be held and killing all the guests, including the governor general, the friars, and the government officials. Simultaneously, all the government buildings in Manila will be blown by Simouns followers.
As the wedding feast begins, the poet Isagani, who has been rejected by Paulita because of his liberal ideas, is standing outside the house, watching sorrowfully the merriment inside. Basilio, his friend, warns himto go away because the lighted lamp will soon explode.
Upon hearing the horrible secret of the lamp, Isagani realizes that his beloved Paulita was in grave danger. To save her life, he rushes into the house, seizes the lighted lamp, and hurls it into the river, where it expodes.
The revolutionary plot was thus discovered. Simoun was cornered my the soldiers, but he escaped. Mortally wounded, and carrying his treasure chest, he sought refuge in the home of Padre Florentino by the sea.
The Spanish authorities, however learns of his presence in the house of Padre Florentino. Lieutenant Perez of the Guardia Civil informs the priest by letter that he would come at eight o’clock that night to arrest Simoun.
Simoun eluded arrest by taking poison. As he is dying, he confesses to Padre Florentino, revealing his true identity, his dastardly plan to use his wealth to avenge himself, and his sinister aim to destroy his friends and enemies.
The confession of the dying Simoun is long and painful. It is already night when Padre Florentino, wiping the sweat from his wrinkled brow, rises and begins to meditate. He consoles the dying man, saying: “God will forgive you, Señor Simoun. He knows that we are fallible. He has seen that you have suffered, and in ordaining that the chastisement for your faults should come as death from the very ones you have instigated to crime, we can see His infinite mercy. He has frustrated your plans one by one, the best conceived, first by the death of Maria Clara, then by lack of preparation, then in some mysterious way. Let us bow to His will and render him thanks!”
Watching Simoun die peacefully with a clear conscience and at peace with God, Padre Florentino murmurs:
“Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land? Where are the youth who will generously pour out their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination? Pure and spotless must the victim be that the sacrifice may be acceptable! Where are you, youth, who will embody yourselves the vigor of life that has left our veins, the purity of ideas that has been contaminated in our brains, the fire of enthusiasm that has been quenched in our hearts! We await you, O youth! Come for we await you!”
Padre Florentino falls upon his knees and prays for the dead jeweler. He takes the treasure chest and throws it into the sea. As the waves close over the sinking chest, he invokes:
“May nature guard you in her deep abysses among the pearls and corals of her eternal seas. When for some holy and sublime purposes man may need you, God will in His wisdom draw you from the bosom of the waves. Meanwhile, there you will not work woe, you will not distort justice, you will not foment avarice!”
There are other characters in El Filibusterismo. There is Cabesang Tales, who is dispossessed of his land in Tiani by the friars like that of Rizal’s father. In desperation, he becomes a bandit chieftain named Matanglawin. His daughter Huli, sweetheart of Basilio, kills herself rather than be dishonored by Padre Camorra. There is Makaraig, a rich student and leader of the Filipino students in their movement to have an academy where they could learn Spanish. There is the bigoted Dominican friar-professor, Padre Millon, who teaches Physics in the University of Santo Tomas without scientific experiments. One of his students, Placido Penitente from Batangas, becomes discontented with the poor method of instruction in the university. And there is Señor Pasta, the old Filipino lawyer, who refuses to help the Filipino students in their petition to the government for educational reforms.