LAST Tuesday, the Filipino nation commemorated the 157th birthday of arguably one of the most controversial figure in Philippine history, Dr. Jose Rizal.
Rizal was born in 1861 in the mystical town of Calamba in the scenic province of Laguna to Francisco Mercado, a Filipino-Chinese merchant; and Teodora Alonzo, who is originally from Bulacan, a province north of Metro Manila. He had nine sisters and one brother.
Rizal was well educated and traveled man. His social-critique novels, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are well regarded by his contemporaries and even Filipinos of today. But the novels are not taken well by the Spanish friars and this disfavor eventually brought him to exile in Dapitan, and ultimately execution at Bagumbayan by the Manila Bay, now Rizal Park.
Although his heroism has never been in doubt, there are many who question the legitimacy of his being designated as the country’s national hero like the nationalist historians Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino.
It was during the American period that Rizal was officially made a national hero.
According to another historian, Esteban de Ocampo, it was during one of the meetings of the Philippine Commission between 1902 to 1909 when its members were prodded by American Civil Governor William Howard Taft to decide on a national hero. He noted that except for three mestizos – Trinidad Pardo De Tavera, Benito Legarda and Jose Ruiz de Luzuriaga – all members of the commission were Americans.
Considering that only three mestizos, who are not known for their sympathy to the “Indio,” represent us in the commission, it is not wrong to say that we, Filipinos, are underrepresented in that body.
Aside from Rizal, the choices of heroes that day for the commission include the father of the Philippine revolution Andres Bonifacio, master strategist Gen. Antonio Luna, the treacherous Emilio Aguinaldo, lawyer Apolinario Mabini, journalist M.H. Del Pilar and orator Graciano Lopez Jaena.
Rizal won the vote as he was clearly favored by Taft and all American members of the commission. He was much liked by our American colonizers because aside from his immense popularity brought about by his novels, dramatic exile and execution, Rizal was a safe bet.
He never was a militant organizer like Bonifacio or Del Pilar and having been executed by the Spaniards before the American conquest, he never fought the Americans or had anything bad against them unlike Luna and to a certain extent Aguinaldo, and there is no contest in popularity between Rizal and the always unkempt Jaena.
Rizal was an advocate of system reformation as evidenced by his desire to make Filipinos co-equal with the Spaniards via a representation in the Spanish Cortes or parliament. He was also an educator and this is why his statues and busts adorn the yard or lobby of almost every significant educational institution in the Philippines.
Rizal is a pacifist and just like Simon in El Filibusterismo, he repudiated the Katipunan revolutionaries and condemned the revolution for being “dishonorable” in an apparent attempt to save himself from Spanish prosecution. His excuse was that the Filipinos are not ready for a revolution.
Nevertheless, despite allegations of being a sell out, to the conditioned mind of the Filipino elite, Rizal was the national hero.
Conservative historians and Rizal apologists like Gregorio Zaide noted that he was so popular that even prior to his martyrdom, Bonifacio and the Katipunan openly venerated him and even tried to recruit him several times while in exile in Dapitan and in Manila, right after he boarded the ship that supposedly would take him to Cuba to serve the Spanish king.
Unfortunately for Rizal, he never made the journey since he was arrested and later executed.
Furthermore, Rizal’s other apologists claim he has the qualities that every Filipino and Malay aspires to be. Rizal was a novelist, poet, ophthalmologist, journalist, sculptor, linguist among many others.
Nevertheless, the point of progressive historians like Renato Constantitno Sr. is that there is no question that Rizal is an accomplished lot, but it is also an undeniable fact that he repudiated his people at the time of their greatest need.
Yes, Rizal is a hero but he should be placed in his proper place and not in the pedestal where he is “venerated without understanding.”
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