celebration of last year’s sisquecentennial anniversary, they are nonetheless important and significant given the fact that they commemorate the birth of an individual whose life and works have left an indelible mark and an enduring legacy among Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.
Who was Rizal? What were his ideals and what was his legacy? How relevant are they in today’s world?
Rizal and His Ideals
Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 in Calamba, Laguna. Despite his family’s wealth, they suffered discrimination because neither parent was born on the peninsula. Rizal studied at the Ateneo and then at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He pursued medical studies at the University of Madrid and at the University of Heidelberg.
In 1886, Rizal published his classic novel Noli me Tangere, which condemned the Catholic Church in the Philippines for its promotion of Spanish colonialism and which made him a target for the Spanish authorities when he returned to the Philippines in 1887. He returned to Spain where he wrote a second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891) and many political articles in support of Filipino nationalism and reforms in Spanish governance of the Philippines.
He returned to Manila in 1892 and organized the Liga Filipina, a political group that called for peaceful change for the islands. Nevertheless, Spanish officials were displeased and exiled him to Dapitan on the island of Mindanao. During his four-year stay in Dapitan, he practiced medicine, taught students and collected local examples of flora and fauna.
Invited to support the Katipunan, he denounced the movement because of its violent and revolutionary character. After the outbreak of the Philippine revolution against Spain, Rizal was arrested, convicted of sedition and executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896.
Rizal’s martyrdom provided the inspiration and the catalyst for the spread and eventual success of the Philippine revolution against Spain. This success was cut short by the arrival of American colonizers. The U.S., however, elevated Rizal to his current stature as the Philippines’ national hero because of his more pacifist outlook, compared to the more revolutionary Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo.
There is no denying the fact that Rizal deserves to be a national hero. His life, his writings and the ideals he espoused were dedicated to the attainment of freedom for the Philippines and for the improvement of the lot of Filipinos.
“Rizal’s ideals encompass enlightenment, knowledge, creativity, reason, peace, justice, equality and love of country,” says Dr. Belinda Aquino, professor emeritus and former director of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Philippine Studies. “He had a powerful, first-rate intellect and an incredibly limitless core of values spanning historical, social, cultural, economic, political and human issues. He was way ahead of his time and foresaw with acute clarity, as he did in his famous “The PhilippinesA Century Hence,” of what his country would be like after a hundred years in terms of the changes that were not only bound to occur but were inevitable.”
Rizal is considered not only as “the first Filipino,” as Leon Ma. Guerrero would have it, but also the forerunner of Asian nationalism by India’s Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as Indonesia’s Sukarno, for inspiring anti-colonial movements in Asian countries.
His legacy, however, does not end there, for his works continue to be studied by scholars worldwide, and his ideas continue to influence socio-economic and political issues, particularly among Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad. Thus, he remains relevant today, as he was during his time.
Aquino says that Rizal’s ideals and ideas are not only relevant but “necessary, if not imperative.” They are “timeless, ageless and universal…they transcend the transiency of time and the limitations of space.”
Dr. Raymund Liongson, professor of Philippine Studies at Leeward Community College and the current commander of the Knights of Rizal-Hawaii Chapter, considers Rizal’s primary ideals as “love of country, social justice, and triumph of reason over blind faith.”
These ideals are explicit in his letters, speeches and writingsparticularly in his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Like Aquino, Liongson believes that these ideals are still relevant today.
“Love of country, be it to the native or adoptive land, is our expression of recognition and gratitude to the caring heritage, inspiring history and supportive institutions that have defined our identity and equipped our survival. Social justice is that mechanism or condition which requires us to render unto every individual his or her just due without distinction.
“This is the foundation of the principles of equality, as well as human and civil rights. Reason over blind faithbe they religious, ideological, or culturalis our shield and weapon against biased indoctrination, paralyzing subjugation and oppressive tyranny. It is freedom of search for truth and exercise of conscience. These Rizalian ideals are the core of democratic and humane principles without which our human life can be relegated to trivial existence,” Liongson says.
Rizal’s genius to think ahead of his time is shown, according to Dr. Aquino, in the letter that he sent to the intrepid women of Malolos who defied authority to run their own school:
‘Now that you have responded to our vehement clamor for public welfare; now that you have shown a good example to your fellow young women who, like you, desire to have their eyes opened and to be lifted from their prostration, our hope is roused, now we are confident of victory. This Filipino woman no longer bows her head and bends her knees; her hope in the future is revived; gone is the mother who helps to keep her daughter in the dark, who educates her in self-contempt and moral annihilation… It is no longer the highest wisdom to bow the head to every unjust order, the highest goodness to smile at an insult, to seek solace in humble tears. You have found out that God’s command is different from that of the priest, that piety does not consist in prolonged kneeling, long prayers, long rosaries, soiled scapulars, but in good conduct, clean conscience, and upright thinking. You have also discovered that it is not goodness to be too obedient to every desire and request of those who pose as little gods, but to obey what is reasonable and just, because blind obedience is the origin of crooked orders and in this case both parties sin...All are born without chains, free, and no one can subject the will and spirit of another. It is cowardice and an error to believe that blind allegiance is piety and it is ignorance to think and to reflect...The gift of reason with which we are endowed must be brightened and utilized.’
This passage, according to Aquino, reads like a manifesto for the women’s liberation movement in the 20th century. Other ideas expressed in this historic treatise could well presage the women’s liberation version in the 21st century. It seemed Rizal was guided by one major principle which transcends time and spacetrue piety is obedience to what is right. And that can only come about when women liberate themselves from the shackles of dogmatism and embrace a free mind.