Rizal’s crisis management 


Gemma Cruz Araneta

If I were teaching the Rizal course as mandated by RA 1425, I would begin with how Rizal reacted to the most devastating crisis he had to face. Isn’t crisis management what we need most these days?

In 1891, the Dominican Order of friars were the richest landowners in Kalamba, Laguna, among their lease holders was the family of Jose Rizal. In that fateful year, the lessees could not pay the increased rentals demanded by the friars because the world market prices of rice and sugar had collapsed. In fact, Jose did not receive his usual allowance, had to survive on biscuits and borrow money to publish his novel.

As Church and State were inextricably entwined, Governor-General Valeriano Weyler came to the “rescue” of the Dominicans; he sent heavy artillery to Kalamba ostensibly to render justice to the aggrieved friars. The colonial forces went on a rampage, burning houses, stores, granaries, whatever structures Kalamba folk had built. They were dragged and pushed out of their homes; infants, the sick and disabled were dumped on the streets and neighbors were threatened not to help under pain of imprisonment. No wonder Wyler was later dubbed “the butcher of Cuba,” he had a lot of practice in Kalamba.

Rizal was in Ghent, Belgium and as soon as he heard about Kalamba, he sailed for Hong Kong and arrived on Nov. 19, 1891. How did he react to the cataclysm that befell his family, friends and townmates? He drew up a plan for a “colonia Filipina” in North Borneo which was then under British rule. He called on Mr. W.B. Pryer, the manager of the British North Borneo Dunlop Corporation, Limited which occupied thousands of hectares in Borneo.

Round about March 1892, Rizal made an inspection trip to Sandakan, Borneo where he personally negotiated with Mr. Pryer who was properly impressed by the project, so he accompanied Rizal to see the British governor and other officials. The Secretary of Interior, Mr. Alex C. Cook, in a letter to Mr. Pryer, dated April 4, 1892, wrote the following comments which I think were meant for Rizal.

Mr. Cook wrote that in British Borneo, the law applied to all whether rich or poor. The natives paid a head tax and could occupy land, tax free, for three years. There were no taxes for agricultural implements, machines nor for improvements made on the land. There were no official restrictions on religion nor on education because the British government respected all native beliefs, customs and traditions. However, their measures of hygiene had to be strictly observed. As for governance, natives could choose their own government officials, and the more qualified would eventually be appointed magistrates and judges.That must have sounded like paradise where the dispossessed of Kalamba could start a new life.

From Sandakan, Rizal returned to Hong Kong and wrote to Spanish Governor-General Eulogio Despujol about his proposed “colonia Filipina” in Borneo “under the protection of the British government.” The Spaniard was so infuriated he sent only a verbal reply through the Spanish consul in Hong Kong. He called Rizal unpatriotic for wanting to send Filipinos to a foreign land when there was a severe shortage of manpower in the Philippines. He also said that native Filipinos were free to go to any part of the archipelago to cultivate lands for the prosperity of the colony. How ironic that must have sounded to Rizal. Was Despujol pretending to be clueless about what happened in Kalamba? Unfortunately, the “colonia Filipina” was aborted. Unfazed, Rizal returned to the Philippines and founded La Liga Filipina in July 1872, a civil society that aimed to unite Filipinos into one nation. After a few days he was banished to God-forsaken Dapitan, which he transformed into a model community.

After the catastrophic events in Kalamba, Rizal's answer to that crisis was the “colonia Filipina” which he presented to the British North Borneo Company. Articles 1 to 3 made sure that the agreement could not be changed unilaterally and arbitrarily by either of the parties and that disputes should be submitted to judges named by the communities or by the British government.

Articles 4 to 6 were about territorial boundaries and geographic characteristics of the land, taxation and respect for customs and laws. Conscription was forbidden and so was free labor, except when the independence of the territory was threatened. Articles 9 to 14 were about North Borneo leasing cleared land ready for homesteads, food supply for the first three months. Filipinos would contribute abaca, sugar and tobacco to the company.

Had Rizal and his townmates migrated to North Borneo, would the Sultan of Sulu have objected? Wasn’t that the same territory that the Sultan had leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878? Was the company about to sublease the same to Jose Rizal without the Sultan’s consent? Was that another crisis in-the-making?