Sixty years after Dr. Jose Rizal was execusted in Bagumbayan, mere mention of his two novels, the Noli Me Tangere (1887) and El Filibusterismo (1891) , could stilll whip up a bitter controversy. Firebrand of the Senate, Claro. M. Recto, was reported to have described Rizal's books as, " a constant and inspiring source of patriotism with which the minds of the youth , specially during their formative and decisive years in school, should be suffused."
It was still the post-war, a grim period of rebuilding a devastated economy, recovering shreds of natonal self-respect while choking on unequal treaties so, naturally, there was a resurgence of nationalism. Senator Claro M. Recto invoked Jose Rizal and authored a bill which made his novels (the unexpurgated versions) compulsory reading in all colleges and universities in the Philippines. This was sponsored by the Committee on Education headed by Senator Jose P. Laurel and supported by all senators with the exception of three--Franciso (Soc) Rodrigo, Decoroso Rosales and Mariano Cuenco.
There was weeping and gnashing of teeth at committee hearings that began in April 1956. Vehemently opposed to the bill were the Catholic hierarchly, the Catholic Action of the Philippines, Congregation of Missions, Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Teachers Guild and other Catholic organizations. Stinging commentaries by radio personalities of Church-supported stations called Rizal a ' 'thing of the past and his books an "inadequate Bible of Philippine nationalism today."
With daggers drawn, the Veteranos de la Revolucion (Spirit of 1896) rallied behind Senators Recto and Laurel. Indignant, so did the Alagad ni Rizal, Freemasons, and the Knights of Rizal. The archaic posture of the Church infuriated even the Book Lovers Society. They all affirmed that prohibiting generations of Filipino youth from reading the novels and works of Rizal was tantamount to executing the hero all over again, just like what the Spanish friars and colonial authorities did.
Many of those who opposed the Noli and Fili had not read the novels carefully, or not read them at all, except perhaps for a certain Fr. Jesus Cavanna who tried to slaughter the nationalists with a curious numbers game. He said that in the Noli, out of 332 pages only 25 had patriotic passages while 120 pages attacked the Church; as for the Fili, out of 293 pages only 41 alluded to patriotism and 80 were anti-Catholic. He must have gone through the novels with a fine-toothed comb but interestingly, he is the very same Fr. Cavanna who was inextricably involved in the Rizal retraction hoax.
Source: Totanes, Stephen Henry S., "The historical impact of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo" (Budhi Papers, #7, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1987)