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National Hero, moving forward: Launching Rizal +

Before he was shot dead at dawn on Bagumbayan Field, Dr. Jose Rizal was a doctor—and he was a writer. Before all this, he was human, one known for his wit and satirical writings as well as for his love for the land of his birth and his participation in the propaganda movement.

Way before Gat Jose Rizal, National Hero of the Republic of the Philippines, penned his last work, a poem titled “Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell),” he was a man who lived, breathed, studied, traveled, learned and shared his learning with a deft pen. He also loved. He was as human and as quintessentially Pinoy as the Filipinos who now carry that citizenship, thanks to the revolution sparked by his martyrdom.

The book carries both gravitas and irreverence. It contains a treasure trove of facts and imaginative extrapolations of alternate realities revolving around the revered National Hero. It holds memorabilia from columns, photos and articles about Rizal that are tied all together in a fascinating package by visuals—photographs and paintings by very talented auteurs—that elevate this tome from the realm of the ordinary and take the reader into a surreal journey that would definitely have delighted and entertained Rizal himself.

But we tend to put our heroes on pedestals and forget them when we don’t need to remember who they are, what they stood for, or, even, what their lives were like for a test that needs passing or a grade that needs pulling up.

Enter the recently-launched “Rizal +,” an anthology of historical works, journalistic pieces, creative non-fiction, fiction (including an excerpt from a novel in progress by Philippines Graphic EIC Joel Pablo Salud), photographs and artwork edited by Alfred A. Yuson containing the works of some of the country’s finest writers, journalists, photographers and artists.

This book has the formal feel of a coffee-table tome—it is a hardback published by Water Dragon, Inc.—and the lively variety and bright colors of an eclectic art gallery, much like the gallery of the Yuchengco Museum at the ground floor of the RCBC Tower where the book launch took place on Nov. 23.

Amid the music of the Kadama band led by Carol Bello, Yuson signed copies of “Rizal + along with quite a few of the book’s contributors—Salud’s eldest daughter Rei, historians AmbethOcampo, Vic Torres and Xiao Chua, journalist Howie Severino, the family of the late Jose Victor “Bimboy” Peñaranda and former Graphic EIC Adrian Cristobal’s daughter and amanuensis Celina, among them.

The music that pervaded the launch to its very end was as original as Rizal was: A taiko-type drum made of found materials (mylar stretched across a section of oil barrel mounted on a rattan frame and struck with yantok arnis) and a repurposed five-gallon plastic water bottle took pride of place alongside ethnic Filipino instruments and the more traditional ones. It was gut-level tribal and cosmopolitan-smooth all at the same time, and even the most restrained people at the launch tapped feet and fingers in time to the music. Very Rizal, if you ask me, for Pepe (as he was nicknamed so very long ago) was at once indio and man of the world.

Yuson wrote in the book’s preface that Peñaranda and the late artist Edd Aragon “were instrumental in its conceptualization and initial production on 2009, when it was planned for release before the sesquicentennial celebration of Rizal in 2011.”

The project was discontinued for a time, during which both Penaranda and Aragon both returned to the Skyworld where they are now, perhaps, enjoying a bit of tinola with Rizal—perhaps even some tsokolate e.The production of “Rizal +” resumed earlier this year and, while it would have been welcome years ago, the finished product is sublime and truly well worth the nearly decade-long wait.

Stamp the book with “mission accomplished,” as in Yuson’s words, the original plan for this work was to create something “presenting a unique and diverse compendium of Rizaliana—one inclusive of novelty, humor and irreverence within the greater ambit of honoring and exulting in the singular hero’s myriad facets.”

Yuson has it right when he writes that “Jose Rizal continues to fascinate Filipinos and countless foreigners alike, who recognize the nuances of his nearly mythical aggregate of attributes—beyond being a poet, polyglot, physician, patriot and fated martyr.”

Rizal was so much more than the sum of the parts of him that history has recorded, and, while Yuson is also right when he says this book “barely scratches the surface” of the depths of Rizal and his life, this beautifully-done work offers a starting point from which to reckon further study and imaginative conjurations into the life, work and mind of one Jose Rizal.

This book picks Rizal off the dusty top shelf to which he’d been banished by required reading and classroom boredom. It puts Rizal where he is accessible, touchable, made flesh for the next generation of people who want to delve into him.

Those who want a copy of “Rizal +” may call or visit the Yuchengco Museum at the RCBC Tower in Makati City to get theirs. G

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