The March 9 remembrance of the birth of Dr. Jose P. Laurel turned out to be an occasion for a deep evocation of pathos. This should be particularly true for anybody who has made a substantial study of his actual service to the nation. By any reckoning, such a service has been so great that in commemorating his 126th birth anniversary, the least that could be expected from the people is homage in their thousands. But who attended the commemorative event but an unseemly crowd fewer than 200, mostly consisting of minor personalities in the government bureaucracy, a few officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and members and close colleagues of the Laurel family. But of the masses who are the prime beneficiaries of the heritage of Dr. Laurel, what came was a veritable microscopic sprinkle of young students in their green-skirt-and-brown-blouse outfit, the uniform of the Jose P. Laurel High School. I distinctly remembered that apparel as the one worn by my departed wife when she was just seventeen and I first saw her standing there. On the JPL birth anniversary celebration, there were fewer than 30 seventeen-year-olds standing in the heat of the sun – testimony to how little remembered is the greatest hero the Philippines has ever had.
There are many and varying yardsticks for heroism. For this reason, we will be hard put to determine what the true one is.
But let’s just begin from the top: Dr. Jose Paciano Rizal, the acknowledged National Hero of the Philippines.The academic and intellectual credentials of Rizal have been so well disseminated and pursued endlessly, particularly in the education curricula of the country, that repeating them here would be superfluous.
What needs to be dwelt upon in this particular discussion is the degree and quality of service to the Filipino nation Rizal did in his time. That service can be quantified and qualified in terms of his actual role in the Philippine struggle to shake off the yoke of three centuries of Spanish colonialism; Rizal’s time was at the end of the third century of the Spanish colonial period.
With the intensification of the hacienda system propagated over the archipelago by the Spanish colonial administration as an imperative of the development of capitalism in Europe which required raw materials, like sugar, from the colonies, the Catholic friars resorted to untrammeled appropriation of encomienda lands. Among those directly hit by these friar attacks were the Mercados of Calamba who were the encomienderos of the town.
The animosities engendered between the Mercados and the friars by this development resulted in that name being a liability, prompting Jose’s elder brother Paciano to cause his surname “Mercado” to be changed to “Rizal”. This, too, is a popular information. What is little known is that Rizal joined the La Solidaridad group doing propaganda work in Spain beginning 1884 less as a pure nationalist undertaking but as a promotion of the class interests of the propertied people, the encomienderos and their offsprings called illustrados. They agitated for reforms in the colonial administration in the Philippines, specifically pinning their hopes on an expected victory of Praxedes Mateo Sagasta as Prime Minister of Spain.
Under the above circumstances, Rizal wrote “Noli Me Tangere,” chiefly exposing friar abuses in the colonial administration of the country and advocating reforms as redress for those abuses. But with the defeat of Sagasta in the election to the premiership in the Spanish Parliament, the hopes of the propaganda movement were dashed, and thus Rizal turned to writing another book, El Filibusterismo, in which he was agitating for revolution against the Spanish rule in the Philippines.
Historians tend to attribute the development of the political consciousness of Andres Bonifacio in organizing the Katipunan and the revolt against Spain to these two writings by Rizal. This might be the case in a small respect; some accounts point to Bonifacio’s familiarity with the American Revolution and the American Constitution. In any case, the greater respect is the fact that upon Rizal’s return to the Philippines in July 1892, he immediately sat down to organizing the La Liga Filipina, with the following setup agreed upon by the convenors present: at the top of the league was the Comite de los Compromisarios (departed historian comrade Alfredo Simbulan spells it “compresemarios” in a yet unpublished book on Rizal), headed by one Don Francisco Roxas-Chua; on the lower level was the organization of the basic masses of nascent proletarians and peasants led by Andres Bonifacio, the Katipunan. The arrangement was for Roxas-Chua and his group to worry about logistics for use in an armed uprising and for Bonifacio and the Katipunan to bother about recruitment of personnel for the revolt.
That was all that Rizal knew about the revolution he already was instigating upon his return to the country. Two days after his organization of the Liga, Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, failing in a last-ditch effort to convince the Spanish governor general to allow him to take 100,000 Philippine inhabitants and establish a Filipino colony in Borneo.
During the subsequent four years that Rizal lived in exile in Dapitan, he solely bothered about establishing personal fortune that by 1896 had been estimated to amount to one million pesos. This was the economic standing of Rizal when in 1896 Dr. Pio Valenzuela came to the Rizal exile spot and delivered to him a message from Bonifacio: that a sister of a Katipunero had confessed to a priest about the existence of the Katipunan; that Katipuneros were now being hunted by the guardia civil; that a Japanese ship had dropped anchor on Manila Bay, laden with arms; but that the Japanese ship captain refused to release the arms to Bonifacio because the cargo was consigned to Don Roxas-Chua; and so would Rizal authorize the release of those arms to the Katipunan now that the discovery of the revolutionary secret society was imminent. Rizal agreed to the outbreak of the revolution but demanded that Antonio Luna should lead it. At this condition, Bonifacio, upon being informed by Valenzuela about it, cussed: “Putang inang Rizal. Sino ang me sabi sa kanyang kailangan ang armas para magrebolusyon (That son of a bitch Rizal. Whoever told him that arms are necessary in order to revolt?)”
This was the reason why when the Katipunan Revolt of 1896 broke out, the Katipuneros were pitiably just wielding bolos and bamboo lances, because Rizal refused to give them the arms.
So what did Rizal do?
While Bonifacio and the Katipuneros were fighting and dying but nonetheless winning battles, Rizal was aboard a ship enroute to Cuba, having volunteered to serve as physician in the Spanish army fighting at the same time the revolutionists in Cuba. A timely discovery by the Spanish authorities of Rizal’s complicity with the Katipunan revolt prompted them to recall Rizal from the sea voyage to Cuba, arrest him, imprison him in Fort Santiago, and then after trial execute him at Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park).
All the above narrative of facts of Rizal’s heroism is rendered as a prelude to knowing why and how Dr. Jose P. Laurel deserves to be in fact the greater, and true, hero.
(To be continued on Saturday)