Today, as we commemorate Dr. Jose Rizal’s 160th birth anniversary, we recall his contribution as a poet, essayist, novelist who inspired his fellowmen to aspire for freedom and democracy. Through his novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, he opened their eyes to the atrocities and injustices perpetrated by the colonizers. He was also a freedom advocate, founder of La Liga Filpina together with Andres Bonifacio and Apolinario Mabini. While in Europe, he worked with fellow ilustrados in encouraging the growth of the Propaganda Movement.
In his essays, “The Philippines, a Century Hence,” and “Letter to the Women of Malolos,” Rizal expressed his concerns about independence from the Spaniards as he foresaw aggression from other foreign colonizers. He decried corruption in governance, social inequities, deterioration of Filipino indigenous culture, as well as passivity and submission to Spanish colonizers. He urged the youth and the women to further their education and learn the Spanish language as well as making them aware of their true worth.
He believed in the capacities of the ordinary Filipino and explains his description of “indolence” as due to the abuses and repression of freedom denied to Filipinos during his time.
We have seen parallels of these dynamics today in the corruption of public officials, human rights violations, concentration of power among a privileged few. We can compare abuses perpetrated by the PNP with those of the “guardia civil” of the past. Arbitrary exercise of justice which was shown in the treatment of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who was ousted through quo warranto, is reminiscent of the abuses by the friars and the courts during Rizal’s time.
During his exile in Dapitan, Rizal established a school, planted rice, corn and other food crops, engaged in fishing, hemp and copra industries, organized a cooperative, practiced medicine, built residential homes and a small hospital, built a water system, and “lighted” the streets of Dapitan.
He can rightfully claim the right to be called a pioneer in both the cooperative and the community development movement. His four-year exile in Dapitan can provide lessons in productivity and entrepreneurship.
As we reflect on all the above accomplishments in a lifetime of three decades, we can’t help but marvel how one man, even if he were a genius, could have achieved so much. What was the secret of his success?
In his dedication of El Filibusterismo, Rizal acknowledged Fr. Jose Burgos who was executed together with two other priests, Fr. Gomez and Fr. Zamora, as the person who ignited his “epiphany.” Their execution for their suspected complicity in the Cavite Mutiny in 1872 sparked a movement which had inspired Rizal’s quest for justice and other reforms.
Today, 160 years after Rizal’s birth or 125 years after his death, we realize that the task of building a nation demands sacrifice and hard work. That it may require a spiritual revival, an epiphany of sorts that would re-kindle the flame that had kept Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini and the other heroes and patriots of their generation committed to their quest for change.
Where Rizal differs from his compatriots was that the latter, primarily Bonifacio and fellow Katipuneros believed that reforms can only be achieved through armed revolution.
We could take a leaf from Rizal who had always espoused peaceful strategies – through writings and nonviolent means. And this, perhaps, is his primary legacy.
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