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The Other Rizal

Jose Rizal is great. For many of us, in fact, he is the greatest. In the pantheon of heroes, Rizal fits all the requirements of a hero. Give and take those who believe in Bonifacio – and they compose a significant number – Rizal fulfils the requirements of one who stands for a nation’s quest for freedom. Laws have been passed requiring all students to study his life and to read –and analyze – his two books and poetry. It does not matter whether academics who teach Rizal’s life are on the same page. The fact is, the nation does not demand us to read Rizal, and not Jacinto or Mabini, and, for that matter, study the life of our local patriots.

To talk therefore about the existence of another Rizal, is to be obscure.

The history classes we attended never gave us a chance to study Paciano. Stories – and films – have always relegated to him as the brother who was selflessly aiding Rizal while the latter was abroad studying. Did we know, for example, that as a young student, Paciano, together with other idealistic individuals, founded a reformist student organization, called La Juventud Liberal or the Liberal Youth? That Padre Burgos of the famous Gomburza was Paciano’s former teacher and friend?

That obscurity is not meant to last for a long time. In the recent Cinemalaya, one of the films that attracted attention was about Paciano Rizal, the hero’s older brother. Heneral Rizal is the title of the film, a nod to Paciano’s work as an active revolutionary who worked with Aguinaldo after the execution of his brother.

So, how does Paciano fare side by side with his famous brother?

In the writings of Floro Quibuyen and the sharp directing of Chuck Gutierrez, Paciano is up there, way up there among the great minds of the Revolution. Whether it is by historical design or by the acutely trenchant writing and direction, this small film (it qualifies as a short film at 30 minutes or so) allows us to look into what heroes become when they die and what observers of heroism and histories can achieve if they would only not be afraid to question heroic tales.

Who can question the dramatic arc of the life of Jose Rizal? He witnessed the cruelties of the Spanish government and the Spanish church, finished studies with a brilliant academic record and proceeded to study in Europe, came back to bestow the boon to others, exiled, captured, tried, and executed. Several years after his death, cults spread and their good news was that Rizal would come back again and restore the purity of this race. Rizal’s life is a golden example of a millenarian movement with the sealed approval of a putative nation.

The nation trusted Rizal but we reserve also some doubts about him. But whether we love or like or dislike him, our question about the heroism of Rizal is always suspect. But not when the gentlest brother finally asks the most enraged and resentful question: Pepe, do you want to be the Filipino Christ?

The question comes from Paciano.

Can there be another Rizal? Yes, there can be and there is. He is Heneral Paciano Rizal, questioning and confronting the hero not for his life but for his death. That is certainly the most original question we can ask of heroes who become heroic because of death.

This is not the first time that Rizal’s patriotism is being investigated. Bigger films have done so, with narratives deconstructing the persona and the period in which that character lived. But this is the first time that a close member – even if through the artifice of cinema – of Rizal’s family, the hero’s very supportive brother demands an accounting. He asks the younger Rizal into a “pagtutuos” – a debate, a face-to-face showdown.

At the center of this ideological showdown is a veteran actor, Nanding Josef. He is the sole actor you see on screen. Save for the introduction, which consists of rare footages and photos from the revolution, Josef is that face you see on screen. He is in tears even as he rages. He mocks heroes and heroism. He has tough words for the Filipino students who went to Europe and stayed there while the country suffered under Spain, As Paciano asks these questions, a series of photos of students who were future heroes and patriots is flashed on screen. It is the greatest irony of this country that the movers and shakers of the fledgling nation were intelligentsia – a group of individuals who were both cursed and blessed to be detached from social realities by mindset and class.

The other Rizal asks terrifying and terrible questions. But Paciano reserves his loudest cry for his brother when finally he asks Pepe to come back.

Blessed be this nation: In, Heneral Rizal, the hero, Jose Rizal, the beloved “Pepe” of Paciano is resurrected. All throughout we catch a glimpse of this man, dressed in that thick suit so irrelevant to the clime of his country. The voice of his brother brings him back. Pepe removes the clothing for temperate zones – very much like the OFWS coming home dressed in winter clothes despite the warm weather of March or October. This Pepe walks to a crowd, which turns out be a massive demonstration. He moves against it first, but once he is inside the crowd, he turns around and moves with the rally.

So, who is the other Rizal? He is the Rizal who asks questions meant to be asked now and forever, in days of Covid or in healing. And, we have to thank Paciano for all that.

Editing of the film is by Chuck Gutierrez who also directs the film. Dexter de la Peña is responsible for the riveting cinematography of the film. Emerzon Texon is the one behind the gripping music design. Sound, which is hugely effective in this piece, is by Andrea Teresa Idioma. Heneral Rizal is produced by Tanghalang Pilipino in cooperation with Voyages Studio.

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