Simple Life Lessons from The Extraordinary Story of José Rizal
Note: Xiao Chua, assistant professor of History at the De La Salle University and the deputy commander of the Sucesos Chapter of the Order of the Knights of Rizal, presented this paper during the exhibition “Through The Looking Glass: José Rizal” at the Manila Contemporary on 9 June 2012, Whitespace, Chino Roces Ave., Pasong Tamo Ext., Brgy. Magallanes, Makati City in the presence of the Supreme Commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal, Sir Reghis M. Romero II, KGCR. In the spirit of Rizal’s annotations to Dr. Antonio Morga’s “Events in the Philippine Islands,” Dr. Floro Quibuyen, author of A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism, gives his expert annotations to the lecture in footnotes which will enhance or even give a contrary opinion to what the author wrote. This conversation between a young history teacher and a retired UP Professor may well represent the different and even fresh views on Rizal. Edited by Ms. Iris Angela Ferrer, Project Manager of Manila Contemporary.
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Jose Rizal is everywhere yet many think he is not relevant anymore. His monuments, built as reminders of his heroism, stand distant and unreachable on his pedestal, as if deliberately exaggerating our insignificance. It even comes to a point that one may say “I can’t be like him.”
The western construct of a hero was named after the Greek war goddess Hera. It points to a strong-willed and supernatural character who consciously directs his abilities for the good of the people. More often than not reduced to titles and merits, a hero’s humanity may end being forgotten. The Filipino term bayani , on the other hand, depicts the same values but is attributed to someone more grounded. Coming from the Visayan term for warrior or bagani, one immediately finds a totally different perspective. This time, the persona serves others without expecting in return, despite being ordinary.
Historian Zeus Salazar classifies Rizal as a heróe, shaped by Western sensibilities and consciousness, as he was, in many ways, separate from the people. The mythic proportions of his character made it impossible for people to relate to him. He became a symbol, and more often than not, the only hero, of the revolution.
Nothing new about Rizal is going to be introduced in this paper. Instead of adding another academic treatise to the Rizal industry, I aim to give my take on his story by drawing simple life lessons to what many see as an extraordinary life. It is high time that we search our humanity in Rizal, and in turn, find Rizal in ourselves.
The First Emo: Biography of Rizal as a Romantic
Rizal has been given many labels. He has been called a Philippine Nationalist and Martyr by British biographer Austin Coates, The Great Malayan by historical writer Carlos Quirino and even Kristong Pilipino by the Rizalist Religious groups, now appropriated as title of the new book by mountaineer and historian Nilo Ocampo. Diplomat and writer Leon Ma Guerrero poses a bolder claim in naming Rizal The First Filipino.
Why was he first? During the Spanish regime, the creoles or Spaniards-born living in the Philippines were the ones called Filipinos, and not the brown man. Rizal, with his fellow reformists or indios bravos, insisted that the indios must have the same rights as a Spanish citizen. As one of the first indios who insisted that we are also Filipinos, for Guerrero therefore, he was The First Filipino.
However, none of the names we called him stuck as much as babaero. He gained a reputation of a womanizer, a “Papa Pepe” perhaps, but even that I believe is an exaggeration.
As a young student in Manila, Rizal was more or less faithful to his engagement with Leonor Rivera. But unfortunately, Rivera ended up marrying an Englishman. It was then that he decided to consider the gorgeous French-Filipina Nelly Boustead (rebound huh?). This didn’t last either. His last love, his dulce extranjera, was no other than Josephine Bracken. Other women linked to Rizal may be considered in today’s terms as MUs (mutual understanding) and flings, consequences of his travelling. As Rizal enthusiast and member of his 1961 Centennial Commission, Vicente del Carmen, wrote:
Rizal’s relationship with women embodied a wholesome philosophy of life. He was a lover of beautiful women but no one could say that he took liberties. His friendships were joyous and worthwhile experiences without any trace of deception.
...it is pleasing to note that there was never any sources of scandals, heartbreaks and disappointments.
Then, I dared to call Rizal The First Emo.
This statement is one of my most benta jokes during my lectures, on a subject many perceive as boring. I discussed this with the people from Rock Ed Philippines, Aiza Seguerra and Gloc-9, among others, and researchers from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) during a consultation about the Rock Rizal Album in April 2011. One of them, Mona Lisa Quizon, agrees in an article for Philippines Free Press that came out on the week of Rizal’s 150th birthday:
Many of the youth today are crazy about emo, a fad that started in the 80s. According to them, emo is a person who is emotional or may pagka senti, meaning sentimental in many ways and loves to wear black. Being a passionate and sensitive person ...Rizal could have been an emo today.
I have always said that the number one evidence of this was his signature one sided hair. There were also his emotionally-charged writings. For example, this is what he wrote when he left Ateneo:
Paalam, magandang panahong di ko malilimot. Sa karimlan ng aking buhay, ikaw ang sandaling bukang-liwayway na hindi na muling babati. Paalam, maliligayang oras ng aking naglahong kamusmusan.
On the other hand, this is what he wrote in his diary when he left his Japanese flame Seiko Osui (O Sei San):
Walang sinumang babae ang nagmahal sa akin tulad mo. Hindi magmamaliw sa aking alaala ang iyong larawan. Ang pangalan mo ay mananatili sa aking labi sa bawat buntung-hininga. ...Sayonara, sayonara!
Like the prevailing romanticism of that period in Europe, as scholars Ante Radaic and Nilo Ocampo point out, his writings, including his essays and novels, were focused on strong emotions rather documenting reality. However, it is more important to note that, other than having an interesting but trivial fascination about his love story, his passion was for the people and those principles that he lived by. He was focused and tireless, despite homesickness and frustrations, which all paid off as it ignited the fire of nationalism in his community.
Not Born a Hero: It All Begins at Home
Rizal was able to give so much love because he received a lot of it at home.
His father, Francisco Rizal Mercado, was a great provider. He was the stereotypical father figure, strict and silent. Although, behind this façade was nothing but pure concern for his family. Biographers have written about the library of a thousand books in their home and how he would construct nipa huts that became playhouses for his children, particularly a sanctuary for little Pepe’s experimentations in art.
His mother, Teodora Alonso Realonda, graduated from Colegio de Sta. Rosa— a rare feat for native women in that time. The home that she built encouraged learning and was founded on a deep faith in God. This can be seen in how Rizal, in spite of his questioning, never denied the existence of a Supreme Being.
Paciano Mercado, the eldest male among Rizal’s siblings (second of eleven Mercado children), was an influential force in their family’s and in Jose’s future. Father José Burgos, who was later garrotted with two other priests for leading the secularization of Philippine parishes, was once his housemate and mentor. Being involved in various nationalistic movements himself, especially after such incident, inspired young Jose to love the motherland as well. It was also through his connections, funds and efforts that Rizal was able to study at Ateneo and in Europe. So much of the happenings in Jose’s life was being guided by Paciano that it would be safe to say that there would be no Rizal the National Hero without him.
During the revolution, Paciano became a member of the Katipunan, the general of the Philippine Revolution, and treasurer of the Revolutionary Government under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Even their younger sisters, Trinidad and Josefa, became members of the women’s chapter of the Katipunan, the latter becoming its first president.
Aside from their immediate family, one overlooked influence to young Pepe would be his yaya. Fondly writing about his yaya in his memoirs, he would recall how she would tell him tales about supernatural beings such as the aswang and the nuno and how she used to bring him as a young boy to the woods at night. This exposure to folklore was later utilized in writing his novels. His love for nature was also seen early on in his childhood. Growing up in Calamba, right in the middle of Mount Makiling and Laguna de Bai, became sources of inspiration in terms of its rich environment, history and culture.
Not to say that it was all love in their home. Like any other family, it was not perfect and there was also a lot teasing that happened among the siblings. Author Ante Radaic claimed one of the reasons for Rizal’s inferiority complex can be attributed to his having a big head, highlighted by his tiny body as a kid. His grand neice, Asuncion Lopez Bantug, even told a story about how young Pepe kept on falling as he tried to walk. There was another supposed anecdote about how Jose was sculpting a figure of Napoleon Bonaparte when his sisters started teasing him about how he had a big head, much like his work. To this, he gave the retort, “Laugh now. When I die, they’re going to create monuments of me.”
Several scholars have debated about his height. However, based on the measurements of his clothes, Ambeth Ocampo authoritatively claims that he is 5’2”, average in comparison with his contemporaries. Regardless, what Jose lacked in appearance, he compensated with wanting to have not just a sound mind but a sound body. He was an able fencer, a chess player who made his own sets, a body builder who trained with a dumbbell, which fitness experts proclaimed as being too heavy for his built, and an expert marksman.
In spite of these petty tauntings, the support for each other and the bayan always remained, especially when it mattered most. Teodora Alonso, when offered a pension by the Americans after her son’s death, refused and said, “The Rizals offered their lives to their mother country because of their inherent patriotism and not because of money.” The Rizals teach us how learning about the good starts at home, not only in principle but by example.
Eyes Wide Not Shut: Developing Love of Fellowmen at a Young Age
To have the Rizalian heart is to be aware of the injustices around us.
His initial encounter with injustice happened in 1871, when his mother was unjustly taken away by the authorities and jailed for two years. He was eleven years old. She and her half-brother, Jose Alberto, was accused of poisoning her sister-in-law. The friars and friends, who they thought were close to them, left in this time of need. Teodora Alonso was only released by the governor-general after petitioning for two years.
Another was when Rizal won a prize for his play The Council of the Gods. Spaniards refused to clap for a brown boy. The only sound heard was of mockery. Then one night, while walking in his hometown, Calamba, he passed by the lieutenant of the guardia civil. When he was unable to salute, Rizal was whipped. He tried petitioning at the office of the governer -general, but to no avail. These personal experiences, alongside the suffering of others, instigated his novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which were cited by Penguin Classics as the first major artistic manifestations of Asian resistance against European colonialism.
He also joined the propaganda movement in Spain, which lobbied for the colonized Philippines to be considered as Spanish citizens. This meant having representation in the Spanish parliament or the Cortes, and also the power to expel the friars from Philippine lands. They were young students in a foreign land, yet they were not afraid to think big. Spain did not listen to their proposals, but the noise that they produced resonated all the way home.
From this, Rizal teaches us that it’s okay to leave the country in order to get the appropriate intellectual capital, but only in order to be able to come back and return the favor to one’s motherland. Though he was just one person, his determination and passion for his country drove him to greatness.
Heroes Just Want to Have Fun: Rizal’s Parisian Life
In 1885, while in Paris, studying ophthalmology under Dr. Louis de Wecker, and in all his subsequent travels there, Rizal never forgot to have fun. With his best pals and multi-awarded painters, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, he would discuss sentiments about the country, and at the same time, goof around like any other barkada.
For instance, the controversial painting Parisian Life by Juan Luna actually includes Physician Ariston Bautista Lin, Luna himself and Rizal taking notice of a very beautiful coquette in a café. A series of photographs of Rizal in costume were particularly interesting, a precursor of today’s cosplay. In an 1889 photograph, they were recreating Luna’s masterpiece The Death of Cleopatra as a tableau with Rizal wearing an Egyptian hat in front of Cleopatra, played by Juan Luna, in her deathbed.
There’s also a photo of Juan Luna, Hidalgo, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Rizal playfully posing inside an empty picture frame. Another image shows them playing different musical instruments: Juan Luna on the viola, Hidalgo on the violin and Rizal, wearing an old Spanish conquistador’s hat and uniform, playing the flute. Two more photographs of the same group sit in what appears to be a Parisian Restaurant, but was actually Luna’s studio. On the first one, they were all seriously discussing, while Luna looks at the camera with a foolish grin. The next frame shows Hidalgo and an unknown companion drunk, while Rizal was about to throw something at Pardo de Tavera who was on the floor. A number of photos kept by his family and his friends’ families depict Rizal in a foolish and mischievous manner, a total opposite to how we see him today. One photograph, kept by the de Tavera’s, is, according to Ambeth Ocampo, the only one which shows Rizal to be smiling. Howie Severino says, he was smiling for one reason and that is the presence of his love (at that moment), the French-Filipina Nelly Boustead.
The Same 24 Hours: Rizal Used His Time Wisely
The greatness of Rizal is also seen in how he used his time. Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture José Abueva installed the Rizal and Josephine in Bed for the Rizal@150 exhibit at the Yuchengco Museum. It shows the couple making love, and upon reaching climax, Rizal thinks of an idea and reaches out to his side to write. This is, of course, not historically proven, but it shows his sense of urgency in accomplishing what was needed to be done.
As part of his being detail- oriented, he taught himself how to draw. Self -sketches show him as a teenager and as a young adult. The latter was sent to his pen pal Austrian Filipinologist Ferdinand Blumentritt, so he can be recognized on the train station on their first meeting. Some noted how he painted himself like a gentle and even feminine guy, which in my opinion is a portrayal of his conscious feminine side. He also liked preserving his memories of Manila, especially during his first trip to Europe in May 1882. Sketches of the Intramuros skyline and different mountain ranges can be seen in his file. He is also regarded as the Father of Filipino Komiks. His different projects include drawing the fable Monkey and the Tortoise for Juan Luna’s sketchbook for kids; doing a rendition of his German host Pastor Karl Ullmer in a strip about two friends crossing the river; and drawing about kulam or indigenous witchcraft and exorcism while in exile in Dapitan. He also had a collection of drawings about a guy who farted so hard that it blew people and animals away, and illustrated and translated to Tagalog Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales, including Thumbelina, which he translated as Gahinlalaki, for his nephews and nieces.
Aside from sketching, Rizal was also a sculptor. He made busts of loved ones, and of the ordinary people around him, drawing inspiration from Greek Mythology and other classical themes. For me, the most striking pieces are the diptych titled Triumph of Death Over Life and the Triumph of Science Over Death. In the former, a naked woman representing life is being embraced by a skeleton representing death. The latter shows a naked woman above a skull. The base of the statue shows a book with an inscription that says SCIENTIA. Ambeth Ocampo clarifies that in Latin this word doesn’t only mean Science but Knowledge. This gives deeper meaning to the second statuette. This means that all knowledge surpasses death, which is not just physical but can also pertain to poverty and enslavement. Another meaningful statue was one made by Rizal in exile, which shows his affinity to animals. One day, he heard that a puppy of his dog Syria was eaten by a crocodile. He was so grief-stricken that he sculpted Syria attacking the crocodile. This became known as A Mother’s Revenge and is now displayed at the National Museum.
He is also the most famous Filipino lottery winner. Early in his exile in 1892, he picked and bought a lotto ticket numbered 9736 with the military commandant of Dapitan, Don Ricardo Carnicero and another friend. He won second prize and got a share of Php 6,200.00. He paid his debts, purchased land for farming, and founded a free school and a public clinic. The rest he left to his family. He dabbled in engineering as well. Rizal constructed the dam and waterworks for his land which he called Talisay, and even created a relief map of Mindanao, which eventually became the inspiration for the relief map of the entire country.
As his earnings increased from farming, he created a cooperative for abaka trading. This taught them farm technology that eventually led to an increase in production and profit of those in Dapitan. In between his public service, he would get bored, and document and collect various species of animals and insects around him. These species which he sent to European friends in the scientific community were eventually named after him: Draco rizali (Rizal’s lizard/ dragon), Rhacophorus rizali (Rizal’s frog) and Apogonia rizali (Rizal’s beetle). His Dapitan years are overlooked but they are actually his most productive years. In Dapitan, he showed how he would work if given a chance to be a public servant. He literally became a one-man NGO.
Rizal developed many talents because he used his time wisely. He was able to balance his time for his interests with his time for serving others. The good news is, like Rizal, we also have the same 24hours which was can easily discipline ourselves to make use of properly.
Time well spent can easily turn you to a bayani, as assured by Emilio Jacinto who talked about time management in the seventh Kartilya ng Katipunan, “Huwag mong sayangin ang panahon; ang yamang nawala'y mangyayaring magbalik; ngunit panahong nagdaan na’y di na muli pang magdadaan.” and Gregoria de Jesus, wife of Andres Bonifacio, presenting ideals about developing your interests, “Pagsikapang magkaroon ng anumang karunungan na tumutugon sa kanyang hilig upang pakinabangan ng bayan.”
Rizal Controversial: Questioning Rizal’s Heroism
Despite his many admirers, Rizal’s heroism has been continuously questioned on both historically probable and extremely crazy grounds.
For instance, some have suggested that Rizal is the biological father of Adolf Hitler, leader of the German People and the architect of the holocaust that killed millions. This is based on the similarity of their emo-hairstyles and moustache, and the fact that Rizal studied in Heidelberg University where he would have met and had a one night stand with Hitler’s mother Klara Pölzl Hitler, as he was considered a babaero. But truth is, Hitler was born in Austria, not Germany, and was probably conceived in June 1888. By that time, Rizal was in London, busy copying with his own hand Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas for his own annotated version. However, this rebuttal brings up another crazy conspiracy. This time, he is suspected to be the one responsible for the serial murders with the use of medical equipment or better known under the name of Jack The Ripper. True, during the time of the killings, Rizal was indeed in London and was studying to be an ophthalmic surgeon. Oh and, hold your breath for this, Rizal’s initials are JR—Jack the Ripper!
Leftist writer Renato Constantino presented strong and valid points on Rizal’s heroism in his pamphlet Veneration Without Understanding , written during the time of great nationalist fervour in the 1950’s. He questions the following: Why was Rizal named the National Hero when he was made as such by the initiative of American colonizers, done not in proclamation but with a series of decrees such as naming the province of Morong as Rizal, the erection of monuments in all town plazas and by initiating a contest for the design of the national monument at the Luneta. In fact, the Philippine Commission was said to have chosen him due to his non-radical ways and his giving great importance to education, a significant program for the Americans.
Rizal’s first biographers, a Spanish enemy who turned to be an admirer in his death named Wenceslao Emilio Retana and American professor named Austin Craig, emphasized that Rizal’s campaign for reforms with the propaganda movement aimed for Hispanization of the Philippines and not for complete separation from Mother Spain. If he was not for the formation of the Philippine nation, then why is he the national hero?
Especially since looking at the different national heroes of other countries, one realizes that they were all leaders of the revolution. Rizal, on the other hand, can even be considered as anti-revolution, opposing the clamor of the people for change that would lead for the formation of the first democratic constitutional republic in Asia. In an unpublished manifesto, dated 15 December 1896, to a certain group of Filipinos, he wrote:
Fellow countrymen: Upon my return from Spain, I learned that my name was being used as a rallying cry by some who had taken up arms…. Now, rumors reach me that the disturbances have not ceased. It may be that persons continue to use my name in good or in bad faith; if so, wishing to put a stop to this abuse and to undeceive the gullible, I hasten to address these lines to you that the truth may be known. From the very beginning, when I first received information of what was being planned, I opposed it, I fought against it, and I made clear that it was absolutely impossible…. I was convinced that the very idea was wholly absurd -- worse than absurd -- it was disastrous…. For I was convinced of the evils which that rebellion would bring in its train, and so I considered it a privilege if at whatever sacrifice I could ward off so much useless suffering....
Fellow countrymen: I have given many proofs that I desire as much as the next man liberties for our country; I continue to desire them. But I laid down as a prerequisite the education of the people in order that by means of such instruction, and by hard work, they may acquire a personality of their own and so become worthy of such liberties. In my writings I have recommended study and the civic virtues, without which no redemption is possible. Thoroughly imbued with these ideas, I cannot do less than condemn, as I do condemn, this ridiculous and barbarous uprising, plotted behind my back, which both dishonors us Filipinos and discredits those who might have taken our part. I abominate the crimes for which it is responsible and I will have no part in it. With all my heart I am sorry for those who have rashly allowed themselves to be deceived. Let them, then, return to their homes, and may God pardon those who have acted in bad faith.
Then why is he the National Hero?
This intially brought me confusion, as with any other Filipino who comes in contact with these facts. Ironically, Constantino does not question his love for country or his contributions. What he brings up is his position as the top hero of our country:
Today, we need new heroes who can help us solve our pressing problems. We cannot rely on Rizal alone. We must discard the belief that we are incapable of producing the heroes of our epoch, that heroes are exceptional beings, accidents of history who stand above the masses and apart from them. The true hero is one with the masses: he does not exist above them. In fact, a whole people can be heroes given the proper motivation and articulation of their dreams.
My confusion was cleared when I met Dr. Floro Quibuyen, through my teacher, Dr. Jaime B. Veneracion. His book entitled A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism answered in detail points posed by Constantino and other historians.
On his being an American-Sponsored Hero, Quibuyen agrees with other historians who say that Rizal was already a figurehead in his lifetime. His name was used as password and his photo displayed in meetings of the Katipunan. More so, even if the indios were not able to read his novels, for it was originally aimed at a Spanish audience, they talked about his inspiring and brazen acts against the Spaniards. When he eventually returned to the country, after finishing his first novel, the locals stood in awe of him, not only for the already circulating stories but also for his ability to make the blind see. In their consciousness by reading the Pasyon, the only one who was able to do that before him was Jesus Christ. So, the common folk who reverently practiced Catholicism looked up to him as a Messiah. Rizal became the Tagalog Christ, the reincarnation of Jesus, who would save the country from Spanish bondage.
Next, on Rizal’s wanting hispanization, similar to what Father John Schumacher wrote in his opus The The Propaganda Movement, 1880-1895: The Creation of a Filipino Consciousness, The Making of the Revolution, Quibuyen summarized this point in his book:
...in Rizal’s discourse, assimilation does not mean Hispanization; it simply refers to a non-violent, legal, gradual process that would lead eventually to independence.” In short, to be Hispanized is the logical first step so that Spain would eventually peacefully let go of the Philippine nation.
In after, upon completion of his first novel, a letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt dated 21 February 1887 says, “The Filipinos had long wished for Hispanization and they were wrong in aspiring for it. It is Spain and not the Philippines who ought to wish for the assimilation of the country.” Even in his second novel, El Filibusterismo, he expressed the consequences of Hispanization through the character of Simoun:
A, kayong mga kabataan! Nanaginip pa rin kayo! …Gusto n’yong maging mga Kastila din kayo, pero hindi n’yo nakikitang ang pinapatay n’yo ay ang inyong pagkabansa! Ano ang inyong magiging kinabukasan? Isang bansang walang pagkatao at kalayaan? Lahat sa inyo ay hiniram, pati na ang inyong mga depekto. Mamamatay kayo bago pa man dumating ang inyong kamatayan!
Quibuyen pointed out that his ideas of a nation came from Johann Gottfried von Herder who wrote about the nation not based on race but on everyone sharing a national, cultural and moral sentiment. Rizal ideal nation is explicitly written in his aims for La Liga Filipina, established after returning from abroad in July 1892:
(1) To unite the whole archipelago into one compact, vigorous, and homogeneous body; (2) Mutual protection in every want and necessity; (3) Defense against all violence and injustice; (4) Encouragement of instruction, agriculture, and commerce; (5) Study and application of reforms, motto: Unus instar ómnium (One like all.)
This shows that for Rizal, it is necessary that one builds the nation using grassroots movements, particularly in the shared intentions of each individual. This proves that in fact, Rizal’s La Liga Filipina and Andres Bonifacio’s revolutionary movement, Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan were motivated by the same principle. As one would notice, Bonifacio was present during the first meeting of La Liga. Unfortunately, Rizal got arrested and eventually was thrown in exile in Dapitan three days after. Due to the sudden turn of events, Bonifacio, frustrated about the entire thing, ended up establishing the Katipunan.
Many stereotype the Katipunan as an organization of uneducated masses, who without strategy, fought and attacked. Accusations were hurled to its founder for being a man of violence and barbaric means. This was in comparison with Rizal, who was considered a man of sophistication and peace. However, the only real difference is in how Rizal was grounded on Western ideals, while Bonifacio based his views on more indigenous consciousness. As Father Schumacher wrote in our 29 October 2010 correspondence:
When one of Rizal's correspondents, Ariston Bautista, was writing to him in early 1892, he spoke of "that katiponan [sic] that you are planning" [not the exact words except for katiponan, but the idea]. He is clearly talking about the Liga, but thinking in Tagalog, he calls it katiponan. You are a better judge than I, but I think that is a good translation of Liga. Hence when Rizal was deported, Bonifacio continues his program of the Liga, but speaking in Tagalog, calls it Katipunan. Thus I don't think Bonifacio founded a new organization on that day but continued with Rizal's program of formation of Filipinos, but gradually introducing revolutionary ideas.
In other words, Bonifacio was continuing Rizal’s project, only with a more radical approach.
A closer look at the literature produced by the Katipunan will provide a more rounded view of their concept of a nation: Under the mother country (Inang Bayan), we are all brothers and sisters (kapatiran), bonded by one blood (sandugo: ancient ritual denoting that datus or chieftains constructing the bayan based on brotherhood of all). We are not just mere citizens. Freedom (kalayaan or katimawaan) means not only political freedom as expressed in the West, but is a prerequisite to well-being (kaginhawaan). A man with civil liberties and can vote but can’t eat three times a day is not really free. In Filipino psychology, kaginhawaan can only be attained if you have good intentions (matuwid or malinis na kalooban). With this stance, the Katipunan’s constitution, written by Emilio Jacinto, talked more on discipline and values, rather than legality. As with Rizal, the Katipunan aimed for social justice and enlightenment through unity among countrymen:
Ang kabagayang pinag-uusig ng katipunang ito ay lubos na dakila at mahalaga; papagisahin ang loob at kaisipan ng lahat ng tagalog (*) sa pamagitan ng isang mahigpit na panunumpa, upang sa pagkakaisang ito’y magkalakas na iwasak ang masinsing tabing na nakabubulag sa kaisipan at matuklasan ang tunay na landas ng Katuiran at Kaliwanagan.
(*)Sa salitang tagalog katutura’y ang lahat nang tumubo sa Sangkapuluang ito; samakatuwid, bisayà man, iloko man, kapangpangan man, etc., ay tagalog din.
Lastly, Rizal’s attitude towards the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was more often than not inconsistent and ambivalent. Sometimes, he would side with Hispanization, condemning all types of revolutions. Other times, he would claim to prefer a separation from Mother Spain, even to the point of strategizing taking arms with his friends. To this, some would use Rizal’s El Filibusterismo as proof of his anti-revolutionary inclination. But José Alejandrino, his roommate in Belgium, would claim otherwise. He quotes Rizal upon finishing his second novel:
...I regret having killed Elias instead of Crisostomo Ibarra; but when I wrote the Noli Me Tangere, my health was badly broken and I never thought that I would be able to write its sequel and speak of a revolution. Otherwise, I would have preserved the life of Elias, who was a noble character, patriotic, self-denying and disinterested— necessary qualities of a man who leads a revolution—whereas Crisostomo Ibarra was an egoist who only decided to provoke the rebellion when he was hurt in his interests, his person, his loves and all other things he held sacred. With men like him, success cannot be expected in their undertakings (Alejandrino 1949, 3-4).
All things considered, his final statement upon death can easily be surmised as a reflection of his real intentions. Quibuyen recounts that Rizal praised the revolution and the revolutionaries, which included his brothers and sisters, in the second stanza of his farewell poem:
In barricades embattled, fighting with delirium,
others donate you their lives without doubts, without gloom,
The site doesn’t matter: cypress, laurel or lily;
gibbet or open field, combat or cruel martyrdom,
are equal if demanded by country and home.
Clearly, we see that Rizal did not want unnecessary bloodshed to attain independence, with unnecessary being the key word.
Rizal’s Death: Conscious Hero
The first time I went to the Rizal Shrine at Fort Santiago was in October 1994. I was ten years old. I saw National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francsico’s 1961 wall painting of Rizal being shot at his back. This was of course very intriguing for a ten-year old! At that time, I read books that said that he intended to face the firing squad before the bullets reached him because he would not allow a traitor’s death, falling face down. These, with seeing Rizal brass-plated final footprints added to the interest that I was slowly having on his venerated person named Jose.
It was 6:30AM of December 30, 1896 when Rizal began his final walk from Fort Santiago. Quibuyen, in his talks, always emphasized that Rizal chose to walk rather than be brought to the execution place in a carriage. He wanted his death to dramatic and walking would give it better theatrical momentum. In his 20 June 1892 letter, meant to be opened only after his death, Rizal said “I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our country and convictions. What matters death if one dies for what one loves, for native land and cherished ones.” He did not want to die like Father Burgos who was crying before the garrote.
To his companions Father Vilaclara and Father March, his former Jesuit teachers at the Ateneo, he would mutter while in exile, “What a beautiful morning! On mornings like this, I used to take walks here (the beach) with my sweetheart....Is that the Ateneo? I spent many happy years there.” Rizal would continue to try to lighten things up with jokes, but none of them would laugh.
An overtly familiar scene to all Filipinos, recounted numerous times by biographers and historians alike, is the walk to his death:
Rizal arrives. Many are waiting, as executions were considered a pasttime in the time of the revolution. He asks the captain if he can face the firing squad. The captain declines, saying that this is unacceptable for he was a traitor. Rizal argues that he is neither traitor to his motherland nor Spain, but eventually agrees to be shot at the back as long as his head is spared. Even if it was customary at that time, he refused to be blindfolded or to kneel down. Why should he? He was wearing his Sunday best, complete with coat, tie and hat.
A curious medical doctor took his pulse for posterity. It was normal. He was not afraid to die. This is it. This is the moment he has been waiting for. He was being brave for all Filipinos, so as to prove Spain wrong about his countrymen being cowards.
And the captain raised his sword and shouted “Preparen!” Eight indio soldiers loaded their guns ready to shoot their kababayan. At their backs, eight Spanish soldiers ready to shoot the indio soldiers if they hesitate to shoot the traitor. The captain shouted “Apunten!” Soldiers take their aim. The crowd holds their breath. Rizal shouts “Consummatum est!” His mission is done. The torched had been passed.
With a drop of the sword, the captain shouted “Fuego!” Shots are fired. At the last moment, he resists and turns himself to face his executors. He falls down, and dies facing the sky...
It was 7:03 AM.
Towards A Rizal We Can Emulate
A well-meaning Ambeth Ocampo once wrote that Rizal was a conscious hero. He planned everything, even his death. This apparently offended some in the Rizal family because nagpakabayani has negative connotations, as it presents a guy who does heroic acts or who offers his life for an unworthy cause.
To this, I respectfully disagree. Being a conscious hero is not a bad thing. Rizal consciously and sincerely chose to offer his energies for his countrymen. Yes, he did not see the fruits of his efforts, but the nationalistic spirit and the revolution that he ignited is priceless. Rizal was a man full of love who harnessed all this passions and emotions into actions. Although always branded as an elitist hero, one can never deny that love transcends class. Nationalism is not a monopoly of the poor. Even if he was not a member of the working class, one cannot deny his love for the country, to the point of offering his life for it. A lot of other people in his time were more brilliant than him, but they were all forgotten. It is not in the number of languages that he can speak, his accomplishments, or the talents that he had. He was a hero because he gave it all for the bayan.
Andres Bonifacio, the father of the Filipino Sambayanan, saw that our greatest resource is love. In Jacinto’s Kartilya, they envisioned a country where the first priority is “ang tunay na pag-ibig sa bayang tinubuan at lubos na pagdadamayan ng isa’t isa.” Bonifacio, Rizal, and countless other
Filipinos have proven this to be true. This country may not be wealthy with material things, but we are overflowing with pag-ibig, especially when it comes to people loving and caring about each other.
How do we prove it? The next time you see your mom, dad, a sibling or a loved one, give them a hug. You’ll see that no family or people have the greatest capacity to love but the Filipino.
Bottomline, Rizal exemplified this great emotion of love and this is something each one of us can emulate. If every Filipino did the same, a better future would be more concrete. To harness this resource for the development of our nation, by loving our work and dedicating every action to the service of others, will be our greatest sesquicentennial birthday gift to Jose Rizal, Indio Bravo, Heroé Nacional, The First Emo.
For Ambeth Ocampo, Nilo Ocampo and Floro Quibuyen, June 2012
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