My younger relatives, sturdy branches of the Rizal genealogical tree, have often asked during family reunions – why Rizal? Why was he singled out? Why was he the only one executed under such dramatic circumstances? He was banished to rot in Dapitan, imprisoned in Montjuich and Fort Santiago, tried by a kangaroo court, then killed in Bagumbayan at the crack of dawn. If he retracted, why did they have to kill him? You can tell we believe the retraction was invented by the friars and sadly perpetuated by their successors.
Rizal never took up arms in his life time. The Liga Filipina was an open, mutual-benefit association that promoted education, agriculture, trade and commerce. Rizal was passionate about education, socio-political reforms, abhorred racism, was afflicted with wanderlust, loved to learn languages. He made friends with intelligent people, took up medicine to help others. So why him? Why did they pick on this unassuming, quietly charismatic, soft-spoken indio of medium stature? No one else was horribly persecuted like him and the family.
When did he become public enemy number one? According to historians Rafael Palma and Carlos Quirino (who were generations apart but were two of Rizal’s early biographers), Rizal’s first public appearance, if you can call it that, was on 25 June 1884 at the Restaurante Ingles in Madrid where a banquet was held in honor of Juan Luna and Felix Resurrreción Hidalgo. As you know, the former won a gold medal for his painting “Spoliarium” and the latter, a silver medal for “Vírgenes Cristianas expuestas al populacho.”
There were about 60 guests, among them eminent political and cultural figures. Wrote Quirino “At the center of the main table was seated Luna, to his right Labra, Correa, Nin, and Tudo; to his left Monet, Aguilera and Mellado and scattered around were Morayta, Regidor, Manuel de Azcarraga, Del Val, painters, politicians, and newspapermen…. His speech was warmly applauded and printed in newspapers, which eventually found their way to Manila where they were eagerly read by friends and foes alike.”
After that, Rizal received a melancholy letter from his mother: “You don’t know how I feel whenever I hear from the lips of those who talk about you…. That is why my request to you is never to meddle in matters which might cause me sorrow. Well, it is up to you to take pity on me….” She ended by saying that “sometimes learning leads us to our downfall.” During that speech, Rizal mentioned that he was writing a book about the Philippines. He was well on his way to becoming public enemy number one.
Writing the Noli Me Tangere was far from a fatuous undertaking; Quirino said Rizal realized that he was signing his own death warrant. Off the press in March, 1887, a copy was sent to F. Blumentritt with a letter: “…the government and the friars will probably fight the book, that is, they will attack it, but I confide in God and the truth and in the people, who have seen our sufferings at close range. Here I reply to all that has been written about us and to the insults they have heaped on us.” To which Blumentritt replied that Rizal wrote “with blood from the heart” and that he was looking forward to meeting him personally. Maximo Viola who lent him money to publish the book exclaimed, with prescience, “But they will shoot you!” How many people read the Noli?
(To be continued)
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