IN THE SPOTLIGHT: What ‘Maria Clara at Ibarra’ reminds us about confronting our dark past

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Scenes in ‘Maria Clara at Ibarra’ that deviated from Jose Rizal’s books

/ 10:05 AM February 27, 2023
Dennis Trillo

Dennis Trillo as Simoun and Barbie Forteza as Klay in “Maria Clara at Ibarra.” Image: Instagram/@dennistrillo

Reimagined tales of our country’s history would often make its way into mainstream culture to remind audiences of the past, but the hit teleserye “Maria Clara at Ibarra” is a refreshing and timely recollection of our country’s dark past.

Perhaps ‘90s kids would note that the GMA drama, which aired its final episode last Feb. 24, has hints of the TV series “Bayani” where Noli and Aya would be transported into historical events through the “Aklat ng Kasaysayan”. Yet the soap opera reimagines the events of “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” through the lens of an avid reader — wondering what would happen if certain key points of the novels are changed, which is quite a callback to the Marvel series “What If…?”


In a virtual conference, Dennis Trillo himself even said the series was “experimental”, as he looked back on his experiences of starring as the titular Crisostomo Ibarra and Simoun. So, while it takes a village to bring the historical novels into the screen, it also takes a talented team of writers and researchers to bring the reimagined storylines into life, as well as a ton of dedication into the original source materials, in hopes of staying true to its purpose.

In contrast with the characters in the novels, the soap opera showed the characters reacting differently to their impending fates — notably Padre Salvi desperately informing the town about a “mahiwagang libro” which the public took as a joke.


Take a look at how “Maria Clara at Ibarra” retold some scenes of “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” without straying too far from Rizal’s novels.

Maria Clara died of illness, not a gunshot wound

While Maria Clara de los Santos y Alba lived through the end of Noli as a distraught nun, she died after falling ill in the sequel — which was confirmed by Basilio to Ibarra in the 23rd chapter of El Fili. The news left Simoun in anguish, and he even accused the young physician of making up a story in a fit of weakness.

Prior to her death, she appeared to fall into insanity upon entering the convent. Noli’s epilogue said she climbed on the church’s roof during a stormy night, which was spotted by some guards. She was then visited by authorities where she begged to be freed from the “violence of hypocrisy,” but was ignored. Visits to the convent were prohibited soon after.

The heroine, however, met a tragic end in the teleserye after being shot by Padre Salvi who earlier discovered Simoun’s true identity. Before breathing her last, she tearfully asked Klay about the ending of El Fili, as she noted her inevitable death. “Malaya mong magagawa at masasabi kung anong gusto mo. Doon, makakaramdam ka ng walang hanggang kaligayahan,” Klay said in response. Maria Clara looked into the firmament, as she recalled her moments with Ibarra before dying.

Fidel didn’t exist in the novels

Even from the beginning, one of the most obvious giveaways was that there was no such character as Fidel Reyes y Maglipol. Even if we flip through various translations of Rizal’s novels, the charming ginoo was just created for the teleserye.


Klay herself was desperate to look for Fidel’s purpose in the novels, until she ultimately discovered that he was meant to be a symbol of the country’s unsung heroes who never had a chance to be recognized by history itself. In many ways, she realized that the battle for freedom should not fall on the hands of historical figures alone.

Elias did not live long enough to continue his fight for freedom

Another drastic change in “Maria Clara at Ibarra” was Elias living long enough to revolt against the ruling class. Whereas in Noli’s 61st chapter, he jumped into the river to save Ibarra’s life when they were pursued by the civil guards. Ultimately wounded, he desperately made his way to the tomb of the hero’s grandfather where he met a young Basilio weeping over the death of his mother Sisa, and asked him to build a pyre to cremate their bodies.

The fugitive, however, didn’t make it before the young boy’s return. In the darkness of its 64th chapter, he uttered the line, “I die without seeing the dawn break in my country. You who are about to see it, greet her, do not forget those who have fallen during the night” before his death.

On the other hand, Elias was able to live long enough to continue the pursuit for freedom. The river scene was not shown in the teleserye as well, since the fugitive became overwhelmed with anger after discovering that Ibarra is a descendant of Don Pedro, the cause of his family’s misfortunes.

“Tumakas ka na habang may panahon pa. Ngunit tandaan mo ‘to, Crisostomo Ibarra. Mag-isa ka na lamang sa iyong hangarin,” Elias said before their escape. He also took on different disguises to escape from being put into prison.

Ibarra died in hiding after confessing his sins to Padre Florentino

Only quite a few people were aware of Simoun’s identity in El Fili since he made sure to give the impression that Crisostomo died during the civil guards’ pursuit in the river. And towards the end of the sequel, he dropped off a dynamite-laden lamp in the wedding of Juanito Pelaez and Paulita Gomez in hopes of killing the government officials and priests in attendance.

The plan, however, was foiled by Isagani when he made known Simoun as the mastermind of the revolution. The protagonist then fled to Padre Florentino’s shelter and took poison, where he also confessed his sins and true identity to him before dying. His jewel chest was tossed into the ocean by the priest in hopes of freeing the people from more trouble.

MCAI also showed the jeweler’s death through suicide — but by drinking the argon from the explosive lamp after exposing himself as Crisostomo. He was also not alone in his final moments as Klay, Basilio, Padre Florentino, Fidel, and Elias mourned over his death. While it’s unknown if he ultimately regretted his ways in the novel, the soap opera showed the tragic hero begging for forgiveness for allowing anger to overwhelm him.

“Hindi ikaw ang kalaban at lalong hindi ka lason gaya ng sinasabi mo,” Klay tearfully responded, as she assured him that he would reunite with Maria Clara in paradise.

Juli committed suicide after being raped by Padre Camorra

Juliana de Dios was in anguish in El Fili after discovering the imprisonment of her sweetheart Basilio. In desperation, she begged for Padre Camorra’s help, but was ultimately raped by the parish priest. “When Basilio is dead, then remorse will come. But as for myself, I owe him no favors, so he can’t reproach me,” she said in her final words, and her suicide spread throughout the town moments later.

The poor girl, however, emerged as a woman hungry for justice after her rape in MCAI. Like many victims, she was shaken about the priest’s abuse but she was able to seek comfort with Basilio’s love and the support of her fellow rebels.

“Isipin mo ang importante na buhay siya, may pagkakataon pa siyang maghilom,” Klay told Basilio, after finding out what happened to the love of his life.

Padre Damaso died after being transferred to a remote town

Still reeling from the shock of Maria Clara’s intention to enter the convent, the former town curate fell into despair after he was ordered to transfer to a distant town. The epilogue of Noli said Padre Damaso took the news so badly that he was found dead in his office the next day.

“Some say he died of apoplexy; others, from a nightmare, but the doctor dispelled all doubts by declaring that he died suddenly,” the novel said.

The curate, however, outlasted his daughter Maria Clara in the show’s 98th episode. He still remained in depression and was even notified by a bitter Simoun about her death. The news sent him into a heart attack, where he begged the jeweler for water. But instead, he was left to die soon after discovering the tragic hero’s identity.

Ibarra and Maria Clara never reunited

Many newbie readers would probably be heartbroken after discovering that Ibarra and Maria Clara were not able to reunite in El Fili. The jeweler, who initially wanted to rescue his great love from the convent, was overwhelmed with anger and heartbreak after learning the news of her death from Basilio.

“Dead! Dead without my having seen her, dead without knowing that I lived for her — dead,” he said in response. The novel’s 23rd chapter said he was unstable soon after, where he cried without any words and sobbed “without tears.”

The couple, however, had a chance to meet after years of separation in MCAI with the help of Klay. Their tearful reconciliation was cut short when Maria Clara was shot by Padre Salvi in a desperate attempt to save her greatest love.

Maria Clara did not resist orders to keep her mouth shut

Arguably, Maria Clara’s character is not well received by many modern-day readers since she did not have the liberty to speak up against the ruling class and fight for herself when she was raped by Padre Salvi in the convent. But her kindhearted personality is not to be shamed, since she was written as a symbol of women forced to preserve their femininity for the sake of others’ welfare.

One of the most noteworthy changes in MCAI is the shift of Maria Clara’s meekness to one of defiance, especially when she was informed about Crisostomo’s apparent death.

“Ayoko nang tumahimik pa. Buong buhay ko, palagi akong sinasabihan na tumahimik, sumunod, makinig, paulit-ulit akong sinasabihan nang ganoon. Paulit-ulit niyo akong tinatanggalan ng boses,” she exclaimed, after Padre Salvi appeared to gaslight her into thinking that her lover’s “death” was his fault for supposedly rebelling against the government.

Her desire to fight back was also shown when she was raped by Salvi. In a fit of anger, she hit the town curate’s head with a broken bottle and even threatened that she would commit suicide in front of him. EDV


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TAGS: Barbie Forteza, David Licauco, Dennis Trillo, Julie Anne San Jose, Maria Clara at Ibarra
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