Siling Labuyo: Rizal was an enigma

“There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves.” - Jose Rizal This year Filipinos will celebrate the 121st death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal on December 30 when he was martyred (or executed) by a firing squad back in 1896 at the Bagumbayan Park now the Luneta. Rizal’s contribution to Philippine democracy since he died has become somewhat of an enigma as much as his personality. Rizal was an intellectual who was not a hothead but with fire in his belly who also believed and supported the idea of the revolution. Rizal became the national hero because he was the perfect fit for the American’s idea of pacifying the Filipinos after taking over from Spain as colonial master. He was low-tempered and his death was sensational (being shot by a firing squad in public view). His unconditional love for his country made him an easy sell to the Filipinos who were demoralized by the turn of events after 350 years under Spanish rule and needing a hero for guidance to move on post Filipino-American War. The feelings from the revolutionaries back then were that they were nagulangan (duped) by the Americans when at the cusp of victory against the Spaniards, the Americans suddenly claimed ownership of the island by virtue of Spain’s fire sale (Treaty of Paris) when they were defeated by the Americans during Cuba’s war for independence. Such raw feeling of being taken for a ride led Filipino revolutionaries to rise up and fight against the Americans (Philippine Revolution/Filipino-American War) for nearly three years (1899-1902) and costing over 200,000 Filipino lives versus 4,200 Americans. Thus, having somebody like Rizal standing tall on parks and plazas throughout the Philippines will shift Filipinos’ view from a violent revolution to that of a democratic undertaking. And the Americans succeeded on this as we see and feel their impact on society and culture. It is not that Rizal does not deserve the honor; on the contrary, he does and on his own merit. But every year, there is always this lively debate of who truly should be national hero. The firebrand Andres Bonifacio is always in competition with fans wanting him to take over Rizal’s pedestal but the country being ruled by the oligarchs will not want Bonifacio’s influence to make people rise up against them in the present age when capitalism is in full bloom. The New People’s Army (NPA) has been waging a revolution against American interests and the oligarchy for decades and is still is fighting for the same dogma because the Filipino people’s colonial mentality will not allow such undemocratic power grab. The thought of having Joma Sison immortalized with a bronze statue on the town’s plaza gives people a pause about the idea. The common argument against Rizal is that the man was not a revolutionary. Meaning, he was not out there on the trenches when the Filipino blood was shed for the struggle and Bonifacio being the leader of the Katipunan, was among the brave ones along with other bright and brave military minds who fought in battles like Brigadier General Gregorio Del Pilar (Tirad Pass), General Vicente Lukban (Balangiga), General Pascual Magbanua (Balantang), General Emilio Jacinto (Pugad Lawin), among others who gave up their lives for the cause. Rizal was a romantic and peaceful guy who riled the masses and those in power through the pen. When the Philippine Revolution erupted in August 1896 (after the discovery of the Katipunan), Rizal became the first casualty of the revolution when Bonifacio’s men tried a failed attack in Manila. The Spanish authorities knew Rizal was not involved but they wanted to inflict their version of “shock and awe” by publicly displaying Rizal’s death by musketry at the Bagumbayan to somehow deter further aggressions by the Filipinos. But the genie was out of the bottle as open revolts broke out in Cavite and other neighboring provinces led by the first president of the republic, General Emilio Aguinaldo who was part of another faction of the Katipunan. Instead of fighting the Spaniards, Filipino revolutionaries fought among themselves for control of the KKK (Katipunan) that led to Bonifacio’s death a year later in the hands of fellow Katipuneros. Bonifacio was a clerk, warehouseman by trade and was not well countenanced b y intellectual Katipuneros. His lack of organization and military mindset did not serve him well during the failed attack in Manila while the other factions were victorious in neighboring provinces. Rizal on the other hand, was even suspected by the revolutionaries of snitching on the underground revolutionary government. Rizal was not a snitch because his intellect was well beyond such petty move. His novels, essays, and poems undoubtedly had profound impact on both sides of the revolution that made his death inevitable. His works espoused calls for reforms on both sides. “Filipinos don’t realize that victory is the child of struggle, that joy blossoms from suffering and redemption are a product of sacrifice,” is one of Rizal’s famous words. In today’s context and relevance, the very people calling for the overthrow of Philippine democracy and replaced with RevGov fits another nugget from the national hero; “There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves.” The making of a dictator in Rody Duterte will triumph with the acquiescence of powerful people in the Philippine Congress, the military, police and oligarchy who are more than willing to do slave labor for the president. The restoration of Philippine democracy during the EDSA Revolution, while not perfect, empowered the Filipino people to enjoy the fruits of democracy like free elections and the pursuit of happiness through commerce and decent living. The machinations in Congress to whimsically attack independent pillars of a democratic society like the Supreme Court, Ombudsman, COMELEC under the guise of democratic enterprise are threats to the survival of the Philippines’ young democracy. The extra-judicial killings will rob the country of some of the young, bright minds that could someday fit Rizal’s hope for the future. Martial Law during Ferdinand Marcos’ rule almost totally destroyed Philippine democracy if not for the present day revolutionaries who eventually rejected the authoritarian rule and backed by the people. Have Filipinos forgot too soon? Filipinos should reflect on Rizal’s works and deeds for guidance on what to do with a guy like Duterte and his elks whose thirst for power knows no bounds. Yes, the War on Drugs might find adherents to his dictatorial rule and enjoy a temporary high but Filipinos should recognize these warnings signs that could lead to the road to perdition. “I wish to show those who deny us Patriotism that we know how to die for our country and convictions,” was Rizal’s counsel for those in doubt. Those who love their rights and freedom under a democratic free society must understand Rizal’s warning that with such much love comes suffering and sacrifice.