Home LATEST Dr. Jose P. Rizal: A writer who ignited a revolution

Dr. Jose P. Rizal: A writer who ignited a revolution

by Admin-Phmp

Text by Henrylito D. Tacio

Photos from Wikipedia

“Even before his death, he was ready because of his love for the country. He wrote: “I want to show to those who deprive people of the right to love of country, that when we know how to sacrifice ourselves for our duties and convictions, death does not matter if one dies for those one loves – for his country and for others dear to him.”

It has already been 150 years since Jose Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda – the man saying the above statement – was born in Calamba, Laguna. His parents, Francisco Rizal Mercado y Alejandro and Teodoro Alonso Realonda y Quintos, were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm by the Dominicans. A hacienda, in the colonies of the Spanish Empire, is an estate, similar to a Roman latifundium.

He was the seventh of 11 siblings. Before him were Saturnina (1850-1913), Paciano (1851-1930), Narcisa (1852-1939), Olympia (1855-1887), Lucia (1857-1919), and Maria (1859-1945).

After him were Concepcion (who died at the age of three in 1865), Josefa (an epileptic who died a spinster), Trinidad (also a spinster and the last of the family to die in 1951), and Soledad (1870-1929).

Rizal was sort of a precocious child. He learned the alphabet from his mother at three and could read and write at age five. A brilliant student, he went to Manila and attended what is now the Ateneo de Manila University.

Originally, he wanted to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree in Ateneo. Simultaneously, he took up a course on law at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). But this didn’t go through after he learned that his mother was going blind. So, he switched to medical school in UST and specialized in ophthalmology. 

In 1882, Rizal decided to complete his medical degree abroad and so he travelled to Spain and attended University of Madrid. In 1886, he went to Germany and attended the University of Heidelberg with the goal of furthering his study on ophthalmology. He trained in an eye clinic under the tutelage of Dr. Otto Becker. It was here that he penned the nostalgic poem, “A Las Flores de Heidelberg.”

Rizal travelled extensively in various parts of Europe, where he lived for 10 years (1882-1892) before he returned to the Philippines. He said then: “Travel is a caprice in childhood, a passion in youth, a necessity in manhood, and an elegy in old people.”

Rizal was a man of several skills and talents. The website, theculturetip.com, stated: “Apart from being known as an expert in the field of medicine, a poet, and an essayist, Rizal exhibited other amazing talents. He knew how to paint, sketch, and make sculptures. Because he lived in Europe for about 10 years, he also became a polyglot – conversant in 22 languages. Aside from poetry and creative writing, Rizal had varying degrees of expertise in architecture, sociology, anthropology, fencing, martial arts, and economics to name a few.”

As a fiction writer, Rizal was known for his two novels: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. These two are now widely known as the country’s national epic, which are adapted in many forms, such as operas, musicals, plays, movies and other forms of art.

The title of the first novel comes from John 20:13-17 of the Bible, the technical name of a particularly painful type of cancer. So much so that English translators used The Social Cancer (1912) as the title of the novel. Earlier versions used An Eagle Flight (1900) as the title. Originally written in Spanish, it explored the perceived inequities of the Spanish Catholic friars and the ruling government.

While in Europe, Rizal conceived the idea of writing a novel that would expose the ills of Philippine society after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1887, the book was banned by Spanish authorities in the Philippines, although copies were smuggled into the country. 

“My book made a lot of noise; everywhere, I am asked about it,” Rizal was quoted as saying. “They wanted to anathematize me (“to excommunicate me”) because of it. I am considered a German spy, an agent of Bismarck (a conservative German statesman who masterminded the unification of Germany), they say I am a Protestant, a freemason, a sorcerer, a damned soul and evil.”

El Filibusterismo is the sequel to Noli Me Tangere. Also originally written in Spanish, the English translators used The Reign of Greed as the title. It was first published in 1891 in Ghent, Belgium. 

Rizal said of his writings: “I do not write for this generation. I am writing for other ages. If this could read me, they would burn my books, the work of my whole life. On the other hand, the generation which interprets these writings will be an educated generation; they will understand me and say: Not all were asleep in the nighttime of our grandparents.”

His writings paved the way to the country’s independence from Spain. “Both of Rizal’s novels had a profound effect on Philippine society in terms of views about national identity, the Catholic faith and its influence on the Filipino’s choice, and the government’s issues in corruption, abuse of power, and discrimination, and on a larger scale, the issues related to the effect of colonization on people’s lives and the cause for independence,” Wikipedia writes. “These novels later on indirectly became the inspiration to start the Philippine Revolution.”

When he returned to the Philippines in 1892, Rizal formed a civic movement called La Liga Filipina, which advocated moderate social reforms through legal means. He believed that “pen is mightier than the sword.” The government, however, disbanded it as he had already been declared an enemy of the state because of the publication of his novels.

Incidentally, he was implicated in the activities of the nascent rebellion and was deported to Dapitan, Zamboanga. During his four-year exile, he built a school, a hospital and a water supply system; he also taught and engaged in farming and horticulture.

After his exile, he returned to Manila. Just when everything looked rosy for him, Katipunan – a nationalist movement founded by Andres Bonifacio – revolted against the government. Though Rizal had no ties to the group and disapproved of its violent methods, he was arrested just the same.

After a moro-moro trial, Rizal was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death by firing squad. A few days before his execution, while confined in Fort Santiago, he wrote “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell), which was hidden in an alcohol stove.

The house of the Rizal family in Calamba, Laguna

In his final letter to his closest confidant Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal wrote: “Tomorrow at 7, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion. I am going to die with a tranquil conscience.”

Rizal’s public execution was carried out in Bagumbayan (now called Luneta) on December 30, 1896; he was 35 years old. His last words were reportedly those of Jesus Christ: Consummatum est – “It is finished.” He was secretly buried in Paco Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave.

Rizal’s death didn’t stop the Philippine Revolution which continued until 1898. With support from the United States, the country defeated the Spanish army in due time. On June 12, 1898, the Philippines declared independence from Spain, becoming the first democratic republic in Asia.

There were some reports that it was the Americans who declared Rizal as the legislated national hero of the Philippines. Other sources stated that General Emilio Aguinaldo declared Rizal as such.

Some argued that it should be Andres Bonifacio who should be declared the country’s national hero. The Philippine national hero, unlike those of other countries, prominent 20th-century historian Teodoro Agoncillo opined, is not “the leader of its liberation forces.” In his own opinion, Bonifacio should not replace Rizal as national hero but he should be “honored alongside him.”

Historian Rafael Palma, on the other hand, believed that the revolution of Bonifacio was “a consequence wrought by the writings of Rizal” and that although the Bonifacio revolver produced an immediate outcome, the pen of Rizal generated a more lasting achievement.

Rizal is known not only in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well. In Heidelberg, a small stretch along the Neckar River is named after him. The London Borough of Camden placed a Blue Plaque at 37 Chalcot Crescent, where Rizal lived for some time. A street in New Delhi, India, is named Jose P. Rizal Marg.

A road in Medan, Indonesia, is named Jalan Jose Rizal after him. The Jose Rizal Bridge and Rizal Park in Seattle are dedicated to him. In Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Grand Oriental Hotel has a suite named after him as he stayed there in May 1882.

Rizal’s life has been brought to the screen several times. He was portrayed by Eddie del Mar in Ang Buhay at Pag-ibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal (1956), Albert Martinez in Rizal sa Dapitan (1997), Dominic Guinto and Cesar Montano in Jose Rizal (1998), Joel Torre in Bayaning 3rd World (1999), Jericho Rosales in Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (2014), and Tony Labrusca in Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 3: The Untold Story of Josephine Bracken.

Being handsome and intelligent, so many women had been involved with him. His first love was Segunda Katigbak, whom he referred to in his memoir, Memorias de un Estudiante de Manila. Other women he dated included Gertrude Beckett of Chalcot Crescent, wealthy and high-minded Nelly Boustead, Seiko Usu (affectionately called O-Sei-san), Leonor Valenzuela. He also had an eight-year romantic relationship with a distant cousin, Leonor Rivera.

The woman he married, however, was Josephine Bracken, an Irish woman from Hong Kong. They reportedly married shortly before his execution. They had a son who lived only for a few hours; he was named Francisco after Rizal’s father. 

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