Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rizal: 150th Birth Anniversary

"Will my fate be that of water,
Never to be lost in nothingness?"

~José Rizal, Heidelberg, 6 August 1886

Doctor José Rizal
On June 19, 1861, José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda was born to Francisco Rizal Mercado and Teodora Alonso at Calamba, Laguna. He is the greatest national hero of the Philippines and more importantly, the greatest Asian nationalist leader of the 19th Century. He belongs to the great generation of Asian nationalist leaders (Andres Bonifacio, Rabindranath Tagore, Mohandas Gandhi, and Sun Yat-Sen) born in the decade of 1860s.

On December 30, 1896, he was executed through firing squad in Bagumbayan (modern day, Rizal Park). His death brought a struggling revolution to a greater height and at the same time leads to power struggles for the revolutionary leadership between the founders (Bonifacio faction) and the rich elite usurpers (Aguinaldo faction) in March 1897. If Rizal was not executed by the Spaniards and was a willing participant of the revolution then the Aguinaldo faction might not have taken the leadership away from Bonifacio. In fact, he (Rizal) could have been elected President, a more acceptable outcome for both Magdiwang and Magdalo factions.

Some Filipinos out there try to belittle the heroism of Doctor José Rizal. Some of those are because they are from different alma maters. Since Rizal is associated to Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST), some Filipinos tend to belittle him since his alma maters are their university’s rivals. It is kind of childish but hey
“Onli en da Pilipins!”

Some Filipinos belittle Rizal’s heroism simply because for them Andres Bonifacio is the greater hero, the man who started the revolution and Rizal is merely providing the inspiration. Of course, some of those who thought that Bonifacio should be the greater hero of the two are being biased towards their leftist ideology. Bonifacio was from the lower class started a proletariat revolution where few rich Filipinos participated at the beginning while others (rich Filipinos) conspired with the Aguinaldo faction for the rich elites to take over the revolution. Rizal, on the other hand, belongs to the
ilustrado class himself.

Some Filipinos belittle Rizal’s heroism simply because he opposed the revolution. During his trials in December 1896, Rizal issued a manifesto condemning the revolution. However, Rizal already warned the revolutionaries, way before the Cry of Pugadlawin. He warned them that without enough armaments, the revolt is bound to fail but he acknowledged them (the revolutionaries) in his farewell poem,
Mi Ultimo Adios: 

“In fields of battle, deliriously fighting,
Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret;
The place matters not: where there’s cypress, laurel or lily,
On a plank or open field, in combat or cruel martyrdom,
It’s all the same if the home or country asks.”

In his novel, El Filibusterismo, he wrote: 

“I do not mean to say that our freedom must be won at the point of the sword; the sword now counts for very little in the destinies of our times, but I do say that we must win freedom by deserving it, by improving the mind and enhancing the dignity of the individual, loving what is just, what is good, what is great, to the point of dying for it. When a people reaches these heights, God provides the weapon, and the idols and tyrants fall like a house of cards, and the freedom shines in the first dawn.”

He wrote (in El Filibusterismo) that to deserve independence majority of Filipinos must be educated and well learned not just the few (the rich) because he also warned about the few as well:
“The words of him who abuses others in order to mock them; while we see them 
wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most 
iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of 
the booty--why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they 
would always be the same, and perhaps worse! Why independence, if the
slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?
And that they will
be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.

Many of those rich Filipino elites eventually joined the revolution or cooperated with the Spanish Colonial government (for he who submits to tyranny loves it) or even those who remained neutral during the revolutionary wars took over the lands and haciendas left by the Spaniards. To these very days, those elites managed to elect themselves to the two-chambered Philippine Congress and made sure to block any attempts of land reforms and distributions. Any attempts that threaten their class interests are blocked and labeled as anti-democratic or pro-communism. During the Spanish colonial era, they are just like us despite their social status, discriminated and looked down by the ruling Colonial Spaniards, and yet they became tyrants themselves when the get hold of the land. Slaves of yesterdays became tyrants of today!

Anyway, there are some Filipinos tend to forget or belittles Rizal’s heroism because of the yellow ribbons of EDSA Revolution. Ever since the
people power euphoria, the yellow army (Aquino supporters) has been manipulating the ignorant majority that Ninoy Aquino, who died for our democracy, and his wife Cory are way greater heroes than José Rizal himself, who died for our INDEPENDENCE.

Well for me, Ninoy Aquino was a hero in some way; Cory Aquino was just a benefactor simple as that. She was not present at EDSA until majority of the military swung their support to the Ramos faction. However, to see them way ahead of greater national heroes, such as José Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, are just plain unacceptable, a pure insults to those who died in the beaches of Mactan, in the hill of Balintawak, in the mountainous terrain of Tirad Pass, in Bataan and Corregidor, in Korean Peninsula, and to that condemned man of the early morning of December 30, 1896 at Luneta. Our revolutionary heroes sacrifice themselves in the past only to die in vain because modern-day Filipinos believed that fighting and dying for our elite-dominated and flawed democracy are more important than fighting and dying for our national independence.

Anyway, what separate Rizal from the rest is that
he was not one of those popularity-seeking, self-styled patriots who are ever mouthing “My country, right or wrong;” his devotion was deeper and more disinterested (from Austin Craig). Unfortunately, heroism these days are so degraded that whenever someone claimed their merits through their parents’ surnames or launch failed military coups, pointing a finger to corrupt public officials, and causing a senior officer to commit suicide is enough to merit a person of heroism. If Rizal ever comes out of his grave, he will probably burn half of Manila shouting in the street: “This is not what I died for!”

Filipino Individualism

Doctor José Rizal
One of the social cancers that Filipinos are known for is selfish individualism. For years greed and corrupt leaders are keep getting elected because of the selfish mindset of individuals, regardless of their social status, thinking that it doesn’t matter what the candidate’s merits and political platforms as long as they are getting paid to vote or the candidate is popular or a son/daughter of some individual who serve the country in the past.

Rizal’s biographer Austin Coates pointed out, that in José Rizal’s first year in Madrid there had been in existence a Circulo Hispano-Filipino. The Circulo Hispano-Filipino was organized by Filipino students, together with some former Spanish residents in the Philippines. The Circulo had a small magazine to which Rizal contributed but neither the Circulo nor the magazine lasted long. Everlastingly borrowing money from one another to recoup what they have lost from gambling, the students were a difficult group to raise funds from, and as Rizal noticed, the most unwilling to subscribe [to the magazine] were frequently those with the most [money]. The Circulo suffered also from a besetting problem of which from this time he became conscious -
misplaced individualism, which made each member of an organization feel secretly aggrieved if he was not elected president of it, each member thus stubbornly wishing to go his own way, the whole disintegrating into discontented factions scheming against each other. This particular characteristic among his (Rizal) own people, the difficulty they had in combining forces in any endeavor, due to excessive INDIVIDUALISM, provided in fact a problem which was to dog him throughout his political years.

If you read, the
italic part above you will see the similarity of some Circulo members and some modern-day Filipino politicians who will jump from one political party to another because their colleagues did not elect them to important positions in the party caucus or their colleagues did not nominate them to elective public offices. In other words, selfish ambitions and personal interests are far more important for them than party loyalty. They failed to emulate Rizal, who simply isolate himself from the selfish Overseas Filipino scholars in Spain and wrote novels instead while communicating with few trusted Filipino individuals such as Doctor Maximo Viola and Valentin Ventura.


In case you wonder what is today. Today is the 150th Birth Anniversary of Doctor José Rizal who in my opinion, far more revered in neighboring countries (Malaysia, Indonesia) than in the Philippines these days (but hey, I could be wrong!).

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