Saturday, December 25, 2010

When Rizal left

"Nothing new here, and we do not see much of each other; you can imagine how aloof we have become, each one going to wherever the wind blows him. Since you left, big groups of "Chinese" [Filipino expats were then called "Chinos"] no longer congregate...; it seems that a strong hurricane of egoism has shattered the harmonious relations that were evident among our countrymen. Today, there are no more tertulias like we had before when friends would meet in whatever place to share and exchange impressions, if at all, there are a few groups...that are the source of unjust rumors; others hurl complaints at one another; as a result, good relations are dampened...The (Filipino) colony needs something that can remedy the situation; in that context, I can assure you that your absence caused the malady."(original in Spanish, loose translation is mine)

That was a letter to Jose Rizal from Ceferino de Leon written in Madrid on 2 March 1886. A native of San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan, Mr. de Leon was the scion of a prosperous family who could afford to send him to Manila to study and later to Spain to read law at the Universidad de Madrid. He had already heard of Jose Rizal before meeting him personally in Madrid.

After receiving his diploma, Mr. de Leon returned to the Philippines to practice law. Like many other ilustrados, he joined the Revolution and was appointed representative of Benguet in the Malolos Congress. His daughter Trinidad married Manuel Roxas who became President of the Philippines, when Independence (declared on 12 June 1898) was finally restored to us after the Second World War.

Unwittingly, the de Leon letter reveals an irrefragable aspect of Rizal's character that has not been studied thoroughly. Rizal is often portrayed as a "stand alone" hero, aloof but elegant in that black winter coat, brooding, writing seditious novels, studying and reading in the dead of night, charming women with his erudite conversation, making memorable extemporaneous speeches , healing the sick, teaching etc. Apparently, he was a sagacious and patient consensus and coalition builder who ably united the multifarious Filipino community in Madrid.

Rizal's primordial objective was to transform Filipinos through education and love of country, that is why he left voluminous records of his ideas, historical annotations, analysis of colonial society and insights into our future. But, on top of all that, he also had a talent for organizing people to strive for a common goal and together build a nation. That was why he returned to the Philippines and founded La Liga Filipina; from writing, he moved on to organizing a socioeconomic movement.a brotherhood. No wonder he had to be eliminated!

Source: Rizal Ante Sus Contemporaneos, (National Historical Institute, 1961)

Rizal and Consuelo

Who was Consuelo and why didn't any of our chatty historians link her to Rizal? After all, he used to be a guest at her fathe's residence in Madrid with other Filipino expats who enjoyed the charming company of such a refined Spanish senorita.

Consuelo wrote this revealing entry in her diary: "They say that he is attracted to someone too tall for him and has done everything to get over it but to no avail. I listen to him with pleasure as he speaks so well. I'm afraid he might think I am leading him on, which is true, but I happen to like his conservation. I let myself get carried away and when he leaves, I feel sad; [but] when he is back, I do exactly the same thing" (Spanish original, loose translation is mine)

Consuelo Ortiga y Perez was the daughter of Don Pablo Ortiga y Rey who was once Alcalde de Manila and later appointed president of the Consejo de Filipinas in Madrid. I suspect that the "someone too tall" for Jose Rizal was Consuelo herself and since they were always seen so engrossed in each other (his conversation must have been enthralling) Rizal's friends probably teased him about his seemingly fatal attraction for Consuelo's Spanish eyes.

Perhaps Rizal was infatuated and flattered because Consuelo was such a good listener and coquettish at that. In 1883, he wrote a poem entitled " A C." that was for Consuelo Ortiga. Although Rizal captured the fair senorita's mind with elegant prose and impassioned poetry, they were not destined for each other. It was Eduardo Lete, his batchmate at the Ateneo who eventually won Consuelo's heart.

Source: Rizal Ante Sus Contemporaneos, (National Historical Institute, 1961)

Antonio Luna read Rizal

Antonio Luna, who became the commanding general of the First Philippine Republic's Armed Forces, read the NOLI ME TANGERE and its sequel EL FILIBUSTERISMO, seditious novels by his friend and compatriot, Jose P. Rizal. He must have been so inspired after he read the NOLI that in a review he wrote for "La Solidaridad" A. Luna described it as bearing the "seal of truth" and vividly exposing the humiliating conditions of colonial society, cleverly concealed by layers of "beautiful lies".

Luna said Rizal's novels garnered praises and were deeply appreciated for having lifted the "veil of inexplicable mysteries" while awakening and stimulating the minds and sentiments of the youth to take up the challenge found in the FILI. I suppose Luna was alluding to Fr. Florentino's poignant words in the final chapter.

He described Rizal as being in a class all his own, but because he had become highly controversial, "he is often judged severely by those who want to diminish his worth." On the other hand, Rizal " is smothered with the incense of adulation, surrounded by a tempestuous whirlwind of irrational and mindless enthusiasm" which Luna hoped would not be like artificial fireworks, dazzling but all too brief.

Luna wrote that before Rizal came into the scene other patriots had advocated Filipino civilization and championed progressive ideas like the three martyred priest Burgos, Gomez and Zamora, (unlamented,Luna mourned ) liberal-minded lawyers like Antonio Regidor and of course, the paladins of the Propaganda Movement, Marcelo del Pilar and Lopez Jaena. They all symbolized a transformation that will inevitably lead the Philippines to progress. However, it was Jose Rizal who defined more concretely the ideas of those noble precursors by giving them flesh and substance, life, energy and dynamism through the characters he created--Elias, Capitan Tiago, Tasio, Ibarra and Maria Clara, and other personages of the NOLI and FILI. As a result, the revolutionary ideas espoused by all Filipino patriots became more widespread.

Significantly, the disciplinarian Antonio Luna also commented that the youth of the 1884 generation were "cowardly and hypocritical, who behaved as if it were a crime to love the country" until Rizal, an extraordinary man, indicated how it should be done. (What could Luna have said about today's youth?)

Clandestinely shipped and smuggled into the Philippines, the NOLI and FILI were read and discussed in secret among circles of friends, in factories and workshops, even convents and classrooms, in cities as well as in isolated corners of the countryside. As expected, those caught with the books were apprehended by colonial authorities , but such vicious persecution only served to strengthen a just cause .

Source: article by Taga-Ilog, Antonio Luna's pseudonym, "La Solidaridad", October 1891.
(original in Spanish, loose translation is mine)

Rizal, a century hence

A century and a half actually, by next year Jose Rizal would have turned a hundred and fifty. Monthly meetings are being held by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines which dutifully invites all historical associations, civic groups, the Knights of Rizal, and descendants of the hero. I have been receiving frantic email messages from friends in the academe, here and abroad, asking if something is being done for a meaningful celebration.
In my opinion, we should forget oratorical and essay writing contests for the simple reason that we hardly know what Rizal is all about. We have not bothered to fully decode the messages Rizal embedded in the voluminous writings he left behind.
For starters, I am going to reread Rizal's biographies , the serious scholarly ones by Craig, Coates, Palma, Guerrero, etc, to extract the development of the hero's political thoughts, instead of a mere chronology of his life and loves, which I did in college. Then, I will go directly to the source , perhaps it should be the other way around or maybe I should do both simultaneously.
I had the temerity to propose to the venerable Knights of Rizal a photographic documentation of all Rizal monuments starting from the very first one erected in Daet, Camarines Norte in 1899. They should get together with local government for the restoration and maintenance of the monuments under the guidance of the National Historical Commission. Your proposals are most welcome.