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Rizal Day as a Matter of Course

Every year, Rizal Day will be celebrated as a national holiday in the Philippines. As a matter of course, Philippine plazas where the hero’s monument stands will bear witness to traditional activities like wreath laying, re-enactments of his martyrdom, hand-salutes, and there will be speeches romanticizing the virtues, life, and works of the fallen hero.

An important question that is always asked, time and time again, is about Rizal’s relevance in today’s society. Many will say his writings like the Noli and Fili, are timeless pieces of exposes that highlight similar societal ills but only with different protagonists. These novels, however, written over a century ago exemplifies the nation’s inability to formulate the right course correction to effect a positive cultural change.

Rizal was clearly a well-educated person who had seen the modern world in his time. His political writings reflect an understanding of what ails society, how democracy worked in Western democracies, and his dream for a better Philippines. He believed that through peaceful means, the Philippines could achieve independence from Spain. Yet, history tells us that it was the revolutionary movement that his death inspired, that achieved something close to victory.

Rizal was handpicked by the Americans to be the nation’s national hero because of his non-violent ways of seeking reforms versus those that actually took up arms against colonial powers. After a brutal campaign to put down the Philippine insurrection, a rebel rouser like Andres Bonifacio, is the least they would need to pacify a nation into submission through their “Benevolent Assimilation” policy that the American president espoused at the time.

The “Benevolent Assimilation” proclamation of President William McKinley was not so benevolent after all. Despite Rizal ‘s admiration for the United States, this proclamation he would have opposed given that the next occupiers were not much different from the first. The Philippine-American War is a testimony of America’s arbitrary rule and contradictions that saw light in the proclamation itself.

The proclamation also made it clear that their new duty as colonizers would require them to have a military presence. The Philippines has long achieved its independence from the United States, yet their military presence is very much palpable and espoused by Philippine military leaders who got their training from the West. The brewing conflict with China over Spratly Islands, exemplifies a colonial mentality that defaults to the former master for help.

The Americans brought and introduced their brand of democracy to the Filipinos which has proven to be the extension of their neo colonial rule that serves to preserve capitalism and the status quo. From the time the Americans ruled the country to the present, Philippine democracy has proven to be anti-poor, a breeding ground for graft and corruption, dissent and electoral fraud.

Thus, the continued romance with Rizal needs to be examined with a keener eye and discern if he has been a transformational leader that many extol him to be. Areas where Rizal raised the nation’s awareness such as medicine, agriculture, literature, governance, among others; must be revisited to know what or how much impact did Rizal really have?

His mantra that “youth is the hope of our motherland,” is a motherhood statement because we all know that that is the reality of life. As the older generation fades, a younger one shines. It is a good sound bite but in reality, it really amounts to not much of anything. Unless the youth take it to heart and run with it.

We’ve seen the long running insurgency and Muslim rebellion in Philippine history. Many of them were recruited at the prime of their life while in school or elsewhere, disenchanted with their government’s inability to have an equitable society. I’m sure one of the leaders had inspired them to take up arms because “the youth is the hope of the fatherland.” This movement, albeit radical, has the clarity to see the impact of colonial rule on society and the government’s continued subservience to a foreign power.

Rizal was a medical doctor who specialized in ophthalmology. One of his shining moments was surgically removing his mother’s left eye cataract in Hong Kong where they have better facilities. In Dapitan, he repeated the procedure on his mother’s right eye but was not as successful. To discern Rizal’s impact on such discipline, Philippine ophthalmology and general healthcare for that matter, must be reckoned with the fact that access to quality healthcare for Filipinos remains an elusive dream for many.

Agrarian reform is perhaps the bane that bedevils Filipinos over the course of a century. Rizal’s love for agriculture has apparently not evolved into something that would deliver farmers from poverty. The rich still own most of the country’s agricultural lands and tenant farmers have yet to benefit from the government’s land reform program. Does that still make Rizal relevant?

One of Rizal’s laments was the lack of interest among the young in becoming experts in the field of agriculture. Even today, many still look at agriculture as a career not worth taking. Why? Call it the colonial mentality that being a farmer doesn’t buy one a sports car, send their kids to Ivy League schools in the U.S., or afford better healthcare in the West.

One can argue that all the more, Rizal’s love for agriculture should remain an inspiration in a country with mostly agricultural lands. Yet, Rizal’s agricultural pursuit was driven by the fact that they were evicted from a land they were renting from Dominican friars. His idea of an agricultural colony while he was in exile in Mindanao was to benefit the displaced families in his hometown Calamba.

To realize his dream, he had become a landowner and used his students and some idle laborers to make his property in Talisay (near Dapitan) productive. Rizal was a liberal who loved the forest and thriving animals in it. Yet not too many young Filipinos take up the cudgels of fighting environmental degradation or effects of climate change in the Philippines. The communist movement apparently does and would make the company involved pay for their sins.

Did Rizal inspire the wrong people, the wrong crowd? When Leftist groups protest on the street, many elites look at them with disdain. If Rizal was alive today, would he have joined these groups to confront the police, or other instrumentalities of the state? I doubt it because Rizal did not like violence as a course of action to effect change and would prefer a political solution.

Well, here’s another truth. Many politicians started young, full of dynamism and promise – you know, “the hope of our motherland,” but eventually they had become traditional. Democracy allowed them to learn the system well that operates undemocratically – majority rules, the tyranny of numbers. They have learned that for them to continue to enjoy their perks as honorable elected officials, they have to raise funds, obtain power, and buy votes. How do we reconcile Rizal’s relevance through all these years of Martial Law and post EDSA years with what is happening in the country?


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