In between Christmas and New Year’s Day, there is one holiday that Filipinos tend to take for granted because of its placement in the calendar – Rizal Day. However, this day should have been holding a great magnitude in the formation of our national consciousness. As a matter of fact, this holiday marks the celebration of the life and works of one of our national heroes, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, who, in December 30, 1896, was executed by Spanish forces in Bagumbayan (presently called Rizal Park) because of subversion.
In schools and in popular culture, Rizal was known as that ilustrado who in his travels met so many women who also became part of our collective history. He also was that one renaissance man who gave talent and intellect a new dimension and standard.
Depending on political affiliation and inclination, Rizal is a polarizing subject in Philippine history. However, no matter what area in the political spectrum people are in, no one can deny the fact that Rizal’s nationalism is a strong basis of the Filipinos’ desire to create a nation that its people could be proud of. Because, in essence, Rizal fought for the Filipino people, especially the youth, whom he believed is the hope of the country’s future.
To celebrate Rizal Day, here is a list of the five times Rizal gave nationalism a greater meaning:
- Rizal described Los Antigos Filipinos (The Ancient Filipinos) as people with a civilization to be proud of.
Spanish colonizers frequently described the natives as barbaric and uncivilized. However, Rizal believed that it was otherwise. In fact, everytime Spaniards would assert about the racial inferiority of the indios, Rizal was quick to counter with the argument that the ancient civilization was a “flourishing pre-colonial civilization” comparable to “the lost eden.”
In Sobre La Indolencia de Los Filipinos (On the Indolence of the Filipinos), Rizal blatantly yearned for the ancient civilization that had been lost because of Spanish conquest.
Of course, Rizal said these arguments with valid scientific bases. He said that the intellectual capacity of his ancestors only deteriorated because of the influence and wrongdoings of Spanish colonizers. He even furthered that, “In the past they knew how to reason; at present they are satisfied with merely asking and believing.”
2) Rizal believed that the ancient Filipino civilization, in some aspects, was more advanced than that of Europe.
Rizal believed that justice system before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers was better than the Hispanic justice system introduced in the Philippines. Thus, our ancestors were fairer in giving rewards and punishments to the people.
Likewise, the native civilization believed in gender equality. In other words, women were never regarded as more inferior than men unlike during the time of the Spaniards when women were confined in the domestic sphere, and were not given the same rights and privileges as men.
3) Rizal countered Antonio de Morga’s fallacious claims in Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (Events in the Philippine Islands).
In Rizal’s time, the technology of photocopying or image scanning was not available yet. But Rizal could not contain his eagerness to correct the fallacious claims in de Morga’s fifty-five volume-work. You know what Rizal did? He copied the book manually and annotated it so that he can correct the historical fallacies claimed by the Spanish high-ranking colonial officer.
Few myths he corrected include de Morga’s claim that Filipinos were fond of eating spoiled food. Rizal possibly fumed and explained that it’s not rotten food but the fermented sauce native Filipinos were fond of. Here is the translated text:
de Morga: Meat and fish they relish better when it has begun to spoil and when it stinks.
Rizal: The fish mentioned by Morga is not tainted, but is the bagoong.
Another correction Rizal did to de Morga’s work was the insinuation that theft thoroughly existed in the early Filipino society. Here is the translated text:
de Morga: Crimes were punished by request of the aggrieved parties. Especially were thefts punished with greater severity, the robbers being enslaved or sometimes put to death.
Rizal: The early Filipinos had a great horror of theft, and even the most anti-Filipino historian could not accuse them of being a thievish race. Today, however, they have lost their horror of that crime.
4) Rizal said that “the answer to force is force if the other is deaf to reason.”
In Rizal’s Cuento Tendencioso, he mentioned a strong revolutionary statement in response to the supposed enslavement of his peoples during the time of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. Indeed, this statement that called for national liberation of the Philippines was a bold call for the Filipino people not to settle with the hardships the Spaniards were forcing the people to endure.
This, along many other statements, truly sparked a nationalist fervor among the people of the Philippines until today.
5) Rizal died for the people he believed in so much.
Is there another better way to express nationalism to the fullest extent than to die fighting for the cause of the people? Rizal will forever be entrenched in our collective memory as a martyr, who in his desire to elevate the Filipino discourse in the face of European giants, sacrificed his life. He could have been living off a worry-free extravagant lifestyle. Instead, he chose the dangerous life just so he could show even the future generations what nationalism truly means.
Have a meaningful Rizal Day, everybody!
Aguilar, F. (2005). Tracing Origins: “Ilustrado” Nationalism and the Racial Science of Migration Waves. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Aug., 2005), pp. 605-637.
Blair, E.H. and Robertson, J.A. (1907). Translation of Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company.
San Juan, E. (2007). US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines. New York City: Palgrave Macmillan.