Jose Rizal: The Philippines’ gift to humanity

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JAIME J. YAMBAO

IN the Philippines, June 12 is known as Philippine Independence Day.

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It is also known, especially abroad, as the National Day of the Philippines. Countries like the Philippines that have experienced colonial rule or have suffered under an oppressive ruler or regime mark their National Days on the anniversary of their liberation. The few countries that have not experienced colonial or tyrannical rule usually celebrate their National Day on the birthday of the sovereign.

The National Day of the Philippines coincides with that of the Russian Federation since 1992 when a sovereign Russian Federation was proclaimed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, the embassies of the two countries make an arrangement between themselves on the separate timing of their national receptions.

They usually alternate between giving a noontime vin d’honneur or an early evening reception.

National Days celebrate not so much a historical event as the entire nation.

They project the greatness of the nation. They therefore showcase the treasures of the country. Principal of these of course are the people of the Philippines themselves and their rich, diverse cultural heritage.

Rizal and National Day together

An absolute treasure that the National Day must showcase is the national hero, Jose P. Rizal. There is of course a Rizal Day observed on December 30. Quite inconveniently, it falls in the midst of the jollity of the yearend holidays. The timing of Rizal’s executioners, the friars, can only be deplored by itself as high cruelty and an added outrage.

Perhaps by happy happenstance, Rizal’s birth anniversary falls a mere one week from Independence Day.
Why not make National Day also a celebration of the life of Rizal? He played a key role in the making of the Filipino nation and in the nationalist movement that gave rise to the struggle for independence from Spain. He made vital contributions to the world of ideas, where indeed the greatness of countries lies.

The awakening of Asia to the concept of nationalism began in the Philippines through the single-handed work of Rizal. Later Asian nationalists were to acknowledge their debt to Rizal, with Gandhi calling him “a forerunner and martyr in the cause of freedom.” Rizal foreshadowed the People Power revolution in the Philippines and elsewhere in the late 1980s with his fundamental belief in the application of morality to politics, in the power of truth, and in the possibility of change by non-violent action.

Resonating with relevance

The young generations in the world for whom the novels of Rizal have been made easily accessible through the publication of paperback Penguin editions and all his works available online may possibly find the ideas of Rizal even today resonating with relevance.

Take Rizal’s concept of nationalism. Rizal was the first to give the name Filipino, in writing, to the people of the Philippines. Before then, it applied only to Spaniards who lived in the archipelago; the natives were called Indios. In his Annotations to Morga”s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, Rizal pointed out that Filipinos had their own culture before the coming of the Spaniards. In first championing nationalism in Asia, Rizal became the pioneering exponent in Asia of the universal rights of man. Rizal saw that the real obstacle to the reforms he and the others in the Propagaqnda Movement saw was the presumption of the racial inferiority of the Indios. In life and in his works he recognized the equality of cultures, presaging the basic principle of equality of cultures behind the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). From his childhood works, he took pride in his native language and culture.

Of vital importance to Rizal’s nationalism is education. Rizal believed that the real liberation of his people lies in education, Rizal paid particular attention to the education of women. The case of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan who the Taliban tried to kill for her advocacy of girls’ education is reminiscent of Rizal’s “Letter to the Women of Malolos” where he praised and encouraged the crusading women for “it is the women who open the minds of men.”

Rizal’s nationalism is of the inclusive, caring kind. This he spelled out in the aims of La Liga Filipina: mutual protection in every want or necessity, defense against all violence and injustice, and encouragement of instruction, agriculture, and commerce. It is a kind of nationalism that is compatible with a caring, globalizing and interdependent world.

Rizal in Noli Me Tangere writes, to borrow an expression from Faulkner, of a past that is not past. The Noli is at the moment of immense topicality when one considers that the novel is about the cruelties and abuses of a tyranny that enslaves under the name of religion. Many parts of the world, including parts of the Philippines apparently, are threatened by movements to impose this tyranny. The ways of the friars live on in the refusal of the Church to leave couples’ exercise of their reproductive rights to their own judgment.

Reformist or revolutionary

There are quarters which consider Rizal a marginal figure in the struggle for Philippine independence and prefer Andres Bonifacio as the national hero. Andres Bonifacio, however, was a follower of Rizal and only thought of organizing a revolutionary movement when Rizal was exiled to Dapitan. Bonifacio’s move made the plot of Rizal’s novels real. The Fili warned that if the secular authorities do not heed the call for reforms and do not check the frailocracy, revolution was inevitable. Bonifacio made Rizal the honorary chairman of the Katipunan and conducted meetings under a portrait of Rizal. It is quite likely that Bonifacio himself would have been happy with the proclamation of Rizal as the national hero. The national outrage that followed Rizals martyrdom turned Bonifacio’s revolt of the masses into a national revolution with the educated classes joining in.

From a reading of the two novels of Rizal, the writer appears to be aware that being a reformist or a revolutionary is not a matter of choice and depends on external circumstances, especially the caprices of the friars. Both are subject to the same risks as the friars don’t distinguish between the two. In the first novel, the main character is a reformist who becomes a revolutionary in the second novel. In “Mi Ultimo Adios,” Rizal pays tribute to all those who dedicated their lives to their love of country, whether they wielded a sword or a pen.

We have taken up only a few of Rizal’s political ideas. We have hardly touched the surface of his being a polymath, a man of encyclopedic learning and of multifarious skills.

The memory of Rizal’s accomplishments is truly a treasure that the Filipino people should cherish and be proud of. In fact, I agree with General Ricarte’s suggestion that the Philippines be renamed after Rizal. It has been a nice name for a province and many towns. ‘Republic of Rizal’ sounds more euphonious and seems more meaningful than the present country’s appellation.

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