Squeezed between Christmas and New Year holidays, the annual December 30 Rizal Day celebration does not get the spotlight that historians would want national hero Jose Rizal to have.
National Historical Institute (NHI) chair Ambeth Ocampo has been seeking to move the observance of Rizal Day to June 19, which is the birthday of Rizal.
“The present observance of Rizal Day on December 30 has lesser effect since people, especially students, are on their Christmas vacation,” he lamented in a September 12, 2008 letter to House committee on revision of laws vice-chair Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr.
Besides, Ocampo said it is “more appropriate to celebrate the birth anniversary than the death anniversary of our heroes.”
Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896 by a firing squad on Bagumbayan Field (now Rizal Park) on orders of Spanish authorities. He was convicted of rebellion, sedition, and for supposedly forming an illegal association.
It was General Emilio Aguinaldo who, in 1898, declared that December 30 of every year be a day of national mourning. In 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 245 declaring it Rizal Day and made it one of the official holidays in the Philippines.
Approved by the lower House
Ocampo wrote Gonzalez to express his approval to two pending bills seeking precisely to move Rizal Day observance to June 19. The consolidated bill, House Bill 5408, was already passed on third reading by the House of Representatives on Dec. 10, 2008.
This means that it is only waiting for the Senate approval--and President Arroyo's signing--for it to take effect next year.
“Jose Rizal as our national hero needs a better day for his heroism to be remembered,” said Gonzalez in a statement.
“As we in the House of Representatives have done our part, I call on our senators to also approve the bill so that by next year, we will celebrate Rizal Day on June 19 and give Rizal the proper commemoration that he deserves,” Gonzalez added.
Gonzalez is among the co-authors of the bill. The others are Manila Rep. Jaime Lopez, Laguna representivatices Justin Chipeco and Maria Evita Arago, Pampanga Rep. Carmelo Lazatin, and Bulacan Rep. Ma. Victoria Sy Alvarado. Moving the celebration date requires amendments to Executive Order No. 292 or the Administrative Code of 1987.
This move in the lower House is reminiscent of the policy decision of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, who moved the commemoration of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. The first is the date that the Americans recognized our independence. The latter is the date of Philippine independence from Spanish colonial rule.
More Impact on June 19
The observance of Rizal Day will have more impact if it is celebrated on June 19, Ocampo stressed in the letter.
“Rizal’s birthday on June 19 falls close to significant days in the formation of Filipino nationhood such as the National Flag Day on May 28 and the Independence Day on June 12. With the momentum generated by the commemoration of the said days, the observance of Rizal Day on June 19 would have more impact,” Ocampo said.
Unlike December 30, classes would have started, too, by June 19. Thus, students would be able to actively participate in the commemoration activities.
Ocampo also wants to make sure that the Rizal Day should be observed regardless of which day of the week it falls on.
Partly to encourage tourism, the government has allowed the movement of the observance of holidays that fall on Wednesdays to the following Monday. This is to allow Filipinos to take a vacation and visit local tourist sites.
“The NHI maintains that the observance of Rizal Day should be done on June 19, his actual date of birth. It is declared a holiday for its historical significance. Commemorating its significance on some other day would somehow lessen its meaning,” Ocampo argued in the letter.