Jose Rizal, hero: fact or myth

PH to mark Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary


MANILA, Philippines – On June 19, 2011, the Philippines will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of national hero Jose Rizal.

Various activities celebrating the hero’s life and times are lined up for the occasion. These include exhibits at the Ateneo de Manila University, the University of the Philippines, and the Ayala Museum, the relaunch of a 1996 coffee table book “Exelcis” at the National Museum, as well as a competition that involves visiting 150 trails that Rizal himself had walked on.

Rizal is regarded to be the epitome of Filipino heroes and one of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived. Considered a visionary, his literary works, which exposed the ills of Philippine society in his time, were proof of his patriotic fight against colonialism, as well as his genius.

This is perhaps the same reason why his life and writings have become part of the mandated reading list in schools throughout the country.

Today, Xiao Chua, vice-president of the Philippine Historical Association, says Penguin Classics itself has recognized the “Noli Me Tangere” as the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism.

Rizal: Hero or not?

But there are questions over whether he deserves to be accorded honors and tributes, and the careful attention of millions of Filipinos.

Some critics question whether he was the patriotic spirit he was touted to be.

In the essay “Veneration Without Understanding,” writer Renato Constantino had questioned Rizal’s heroism on three grounds: the fact that he opposed the Philippine revolution, how he opposed making the Philippines a nation when the propaganda movement wanted to become a province of Spain, and how Americans alone had chosen him to be made a national hero.

Chua says the Americans did not issue a law making Rizal a hero, but recognized his value by ordering a province named after him and the raising of monuments for him in all plazas.

In an interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines,” Chua debunked some of the myths surrounding Rizal, and established the grounds why he should bworthy of being called a patriot.

Chua notes the regard given to Rizal was evident even before the American occupied the Philippines. He says, the Katipunan itself had recognized Rizal’s contribution to nation-building in life when they gave him the password: bayani (hero).

As for Rizal’s opposition to the revolution, Chua says that “under duress, to save himself, on December 15, 1896, before he died, he said the revolution was absurd.”

And yet, Chua notes, Pio Valenzuela, one of the leaders of the Katipunan, had invited Rizal to become their honorary president in the secret society, and he had advised them to get the rich to support their cause.

“Si Rizal, akala natin pacifist siya. He was for education, he was for peaceful separation from Spain, `yun yung propaganda movement, first lang yung province.”

Chua notes, in Rizal’s poem “Mi Ultimo Adios”, he even praised the revolutionary.

Rizal also made his message on education clear in the newspaper “La Liga Filipina.” “Ang bansang Pilipinas ay nagsisimula sa grassroots. Kung tayo ay magtutulungan, if we educate ourselves, magkakaroon ng pagkakaisa sa Pilipinas upang tayo maging isang katawan,” explains Chua.

Everyday Filipino

For all his seeming greatness, Chua says Rizal was an everyday Filipino who had his own set of weaknesses. He was described in history books as a moreno from Calamba, Laguna. With his big head, he developed an inferiority complex, but sought to fill his shortcomings by honing with many talents.

Chua says Rizal had a liking for the game of chance, and was the most popular lotto winner in Dapitan, getting P6,200 of P18,000 in winnings he shared with a Spaniard and with Don Ricardo Carnisero, a captain in Dapitan. But beyond his human weaknesses, Chua says Rizal also had a singular love for country.

“Nagsusugal siya, iyan ang pinakamatinding bisyo niya. P6,200 napanalunan niya P4,000 ibinili niya ng lupa, at nagpatayo ng ospital at eskwelahan.”

That same love for country had led to Rizal’s martyrdom in Bagumbayan at 7:03 in the morning of December 30, 1896.

(On December 30, 1898, President Emilio F. Aguinaldo issued a decree directing all local, provincial and government officials to celebrate December 30 as Memorial Day in honor of Dr. Jose P. Rizal and the many other Filipinos who suffered martyrdom for the sake of Philipine freedom.)

Heroism and the Filipino

As the country prepares to mark Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary, Chua urges Filipinos to remember his life, works and sacrifice, and what it means to be a Filipino.

“Rizal was not born a hero, he was not born great. Hindi yung pagiging matalino ni Rizal ang gumawa kay Rizal bilang bayani kundi ang kanyang pagmamahal, yung talento niya binigay niya sa bayan. We can all be Rizal.”

Chua says Rizal remains relevant today, as he had always been.

“Sabi nila obsolete na raw si Rizal. I don’t believe that kasi magiging obsolete lang si Rizal hanggang natutupad niya yung kanyang pangarap sa bayan na tayoy nagkakaisa.”

“Gamitin natin itong pagkakataong ito na ibalik ang pagmamahal sa bayan sa ating puso at ibalik na si Rizal ay maging ehemplo para sa isang tunay na Pilipino.” – Caroline J. Howard, ANC

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