Between 1872 and 1892, a national consciousness was growing among the Filipino émigrés who had settled in Europe. In the freer atmosphere of Europe, these émigrés – liberals exiled in 1872 and students attending European universities – formed the Propaganda Movement, whose specific goals were: representation of the Philippines in the Cortes, or Spanish Parliament; secularization of the clergy; legalization of Filipino and Spanish equality; creation of a public school system independent of the friars; abolition of the polo (labor service) and vandala (forced sale of local products to the government); guarantee of basic freedoms of speech and association; and equal opportunity for Filipinos and Spanish to enter government service.

A prominent propagandist was Graciano Lopez Jaena who, in 1889 started the newspaper, La Solidaridad, that circulated both in Spain and in the Philippines, and was the medium of the Propaganda Movement. Another propagandist was a reformist lawyer, Marcelo H. del Pilar. Active in the anti-friar movement, Del Pilar fled to Spain in 1888, and became editor of La Solidaridad.

The most outstanding propagandist was Jose Rizal, who spent several years in the study of medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, and in 1882 went to the University of Madrid to complete his studies. His greatest impact on the development of Filipino national consciousness was his publication of two novels: Noli Me Tangere

(Touch Me Not) in 1886 and El Filibusterismo (Reign of Greed) in 1891,
portraying the authoritarian and abusive character of Spanish rule in the colony. Although the friars had Rizal’s books banned, they were smuggled into the Philippines, and rapidly gained wide readership.

Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1892 and founded La Liga Filipina, a national organization for peaceful reform, but was soon arrested for revolutionary agitation, and exiled to Dapitan in Mindanao. The Propaganda Movement languished after Rizal’s arrest and the collapse of La Liga Filipina. In November 1895, La Solidaridad went out of business, and in 1896 both Del Pilar and Lopez Jaena died in Barcelona, worn down by poverty and disappointment. An attempt to reestablish La Liga Filipina failed, the national movement having been split between ilustrado advocates of reform and peaceful evolution, and a plebeian constituency that wanted revolution and national independence. With the Spanish refusal to allow genuine reform, the initiative quickly passed from the former group to the latter.

On the night of Rizal’s arrest, Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a secret society, which he gradually built to a strength of 30,000 members. Having learned of the Katipunan, the Spanish began making arrests, and Bonifacio had little choice but to issue a call to arms, the Cry of Balintawak, on
August 26, 1896.