As the nation observed yesterday the 123rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal, I reminisced on the thoughts our national hero expressed in his four-part essay “The Philippines a Century Hence.”
It’s important to ponder anew on Rizal’s insights as our country faces not only a new year but a new decade because, as Rizal wrote in his essay, “in order to read the destiny of a people, it is necessary to open the book of its past.”
The essay, first published in La Solidaridad on Sept. 30, 1889 to Feb. 1, 1890, portrays Filipinos as “broken” during the centuries of Spain’s domination of our country.
“They gradually lost their ancient traditions, their recollections – they forgot their writings, their songs, their poetry, their laws, in order to learn by heart other doctrines, which they did not understand, other ethics, other tastes, different from those inspired in their race by their climate and their way of thinking,” Rizal wrote. “Then there was a falling-off, they were lowered in their own eyes, they became ashamed of what was distinctively their own, in order to admire and praise what was foreign and incomprehensible: their spirit was broken and they acquiesced.”
But although broken, the spirit of the people was not destroyed altogether. In fact, the “lethargic spirit woke to life” when the people realized their misfortune amid all the abuses and mistakes of the colonizers, Rizal said.
Here’s how Rizal described the Filipinos’ awakening: “The spirit of the people was not thereby cowed, and even though it had been awakened in only a few hearts, its flame nevertheless was surely and consumingly propagated, thanks to abuses and the stupid endeavors of certain classes to stifle noble and generous sentiments. Thus when a flame catches a garment, fear and confusion propagate it more and more, and each shake, each blow, is a blast from the bellows to fan it into life.”
In line with Rizal’s thoughts, I firmly believe that prosperity for all Filipinos lies in establishing a strong, organized, united and enlightened citizenry, willing and able to fight systemic corruption and grinding poverty, and in relentless pursuit of excellence in governance to achieve this vision of prosperity for all.
These enlightened Filipinos must reach out to touch the lives of fellow citizens and help them transcend all the challenges that have prevailed since Rizal’s time. These enlightened few must be agents of change to influence and lead the people to transform and uplift the nation to a higher level of existence.
And among the various sectors of Philippine society, it is the Filipino youth that can mostly be relied upon in our country’s transformation. Rizal himself believed in their potential for nation-building as he expressed his love and admiration for the youth whom he called “bella esperanza de la patria (fair hope of the fatherland) in his poem, “A la Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth).”
“Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land?” Rizal also asked in his novel El Filibusterismo.
The youth can indeed change our nation’s quality of life. They can establish an effective and honest government. They can choose God-fearing, competent and compassionate leaders who will pursue inclusive growth, create jobs and livelihood for the people and bail out the country from poverty, underdevelopment, injustice, inequality, and breakdown in peace and order.
History is replete with examples of youth power – of young people who sacrificed their lives to achieve freedom and fight oppression. Rizal, along with Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Jacinto, Gregorio del Pilar, and many others shined during the Spanish era. Macario Sakay and Miguel Malvar defied American occupation. Countless young Filipinos fought Japanese invaders during World War II. And my generation, the youth of the 70s and the 80s, set aside their comfort and safety to resist the martial law regime.
Youth empowerment is a must for every generation of history. Our fathers and those before them acted in their youth to harness the resources and technology of their time to become empowered and make a difference in the life of the nation.
And in pursuit of youth empowerment, the Knights of Rizal – for which I had served as its Supreme Commander in 2006 – is tasked to train and develop the youth in character building, citizenship training, democratic leadership, patriotism, universal brotherhood, and dedicated service to God, country and people. It also is tasked, among others, to study and spread the ideals, teachings and exemplary life of Rizal and exhort them to emulate and practice the examples set by our national hero.
The youth is the largest sector of our society, with hardly any vested interest to protect, with time on their side, and with talent to develop and grow. When fully enlightened, mobilized, motivated, and inspired, the youth sector is the biggest single block of citizens that can change Philippine society.
As Rizal said, the youth is the hope of the fatherland. With an enlightened Filipino youth, we can indeed be hopeful of bright prospects for 2020 and beyond. Happy New Year to all!
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