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Coronavirus, Noli Me Tangere

My brother-in-law, who is in that other epicenter of coronavirus Italy, had just emailed me, saying in that context and with some levity “Noli me tangere - applies perfectly, it may be the right time to read it again.” It just struck me, might this not just be the perfect Filipino slogan against coronavirus, Noli me tangere (Touch me not) to give local patriotic color to the crucial measure of social distancing. Coming no less from our national hero cum medical doctor, Jose Rizal.

As we all know, Noli Me Tangere was the title that Rizal gave to his most significant written work, now considered the greatest Filipino novel, which together with its sequel El Filibusterismo, were “two novels that made a revolution.”

In his dedication of the Noli “To My Country,” he said it was written to expose “a cancer so malignant that the least touch inflames it and causes agonizing pains; afflicted with such a cancer, a social cancer, has your dear image appeared to me...” (Leon Ma. Guerrero translation)

Some GMA TV network broadcasters were recently seen wearing on-the-air t-shirts defiantly stating “Virus Ka Lang... Pinoy Ako.”

I think the slogan “Coronavirus, Noli Me Tangere” has more Pinoy punch to it. It addresses not only the virus (Presidential pronouncement: vee-rus) but also fellow Pinoys to “keep your (social) distance,” especially if Noli Me Tangere is printed prominently on the front of a t-shirt (my brother-in-law suggests having it printed on facemasks).

But perhaps his best suggestion is “ it may be the right time to read it again,” especially in this home quarantine with a lot of time on one’s hands, including to go back to good old reading. Touch me not the Netflix remote too much. There may be patriotic lessons too in the Noli, which are relevant to this time of coronavirus.

For one, there is this nice line from Elias to Ibarra during one of their debates (or Rizal debating with himself): “It is true that by ourselves we are nothing. But take up the cause of the people, join them, do not turn a deaf ear to their voice, give an example to the rest, give us an idea of what it is to have a country.” Yes, for my country, for our country, for “this f***ing country.” It is a time again for simple heroism.

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