The Philippine Star Editorial, June 19, 2011
In several countries that he visited, statues have been erected and markers installed in his honor. He espoused non-violent resistance against colonial rule long before Mahatma Gandhi did against the Raj. Foreigners have extolled him as an example of the best of the Malay race.
Filipinos are not the only ones who are paying tribute to national hero Jose Rizal, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated today. Rizal was a global citizen long before the term was coined. Apart from recognizing the limits of military force and espousing non-violence, he also saw, long before the Information Age, that knowledge is power. He wanted his compatriots to be liberated from poverty by acquiring the most important asset: quality education.
Rizal refused to endorse armed resistance against Spain, fearing that the poorly armed Filipino revolutionaries would only walk into a massacre at the hands of a superior army. But his ideas inspired the revolution, and his novels, written in the colonizer’s language, made him an enemy of all the Spanish rulers, from the civilian government to the military and the oppressive friars whose religious teachings he refused to embrace.
The thrust of Rizal’s campaign for Philippine autonomy was to disprove the image painted by Spain of the indio: indolent, too stupid to learn the Spanish language, incapable of self-improvement and running a country. Rizal did this by pushing himself to realize his full potential and showing the world what a Filipino was capable of achieving. His existence, as much as his prose, debunked all arguments for Spain’s continued exploitation of its colony.
Rizal, like other martyrs of the movement for freedom, died for his country. But his continuing self-improvement was as much an inspiration for his compatriots as his death that fueled the armed revolt. His example should continue to serve as an inspiration for today’s generation of Filipinos. In life, as in death, Dr. Jose Rizal is a hero.