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Is Rizal still relevant?

A hundred-and-twenty-two years is a fairly long time. Only very few live that long. For the youth, much too vague. Too murky that some are even asking: Is Rizal still relevant today?

Here’s a better question. To die the way Rizal did: what was it like? What does it mean?

Most of the champions of our freedom, Andrés Bonifacio, not the least, had the benefit of bolo and pistol in hand. They had armies, measly though they were and poorly armed. They were willing to charge against Spain’s might, to kill and be killed for freedom’s cause.

Even though their numbers counted for nothing against a well-funded, well-armed and educated horde of Spanish generals and soldiers, our heroes had the chance to return fire behind a line of trees or open field. They put their strategy to work and even won the day’s battles.

But not José Rizal.

Not the man who thought it best to fight tyrants with words and stories. To him, the most hideous of all tyrants was Ignorance, the most appropriate battlefield the Mind. Intellectual violence was his weapon of choice–to detail, reveal, and expose the shenanigans and crimes of Spain against the indios.

Never quite knowing whether he’d win or lose in the attempt, Rizal went on to influence many, and did what was unthinkable to those who thought Filipinos were just a bunch of illiterate natives: inspire them to resist.

Bonifacio and Pio Valenzuela even went so far as to suggest that Rizal ought to lead the revolution, to which Rizal refused. How can one lead an army so poorly clad and poorly armed and expect victory?

Rizal, while agreeing to a revolution, refused to commit his Filipino patriots to a suicide mission.

One could almost hear him say, “What’s the use of fighting, at this point, if it will all end up as a losing proposition?” As a matter of course, Rizal instructed Pio Valenzuela to remind the Katipunan leadership of the importance of purchasing arms before launching the first attack.

To this man who saw beyond the romanticization of revolution, to lose now was to lose any chance at a second try. Winning was the only predisposition worth having. There was simply too  much at stake, too much by way of human lives, opportunities and longed-for aspirations.

On the other hand, the Katipunan was left also with little choice: either they stage the revolution as swiftly as they could launch it or risk discovery by the authorities. It would take time to convince rich Filipinos to join the cause and shell out the money to fund a major uprising. To Bonifacio, too, it was now or never.

Caught between the conquistadores’ hubris and the Katipunan’s lack of means, Bonifacio and Rizal went on their separate ways: the former staging a revolution earlier than projected, and the latter a ‘revolution’ of his own.

Bonifacio launched his with the tearing of the cedula, declaring himself and other indios free of Spain’s hold and power. A year later, he and his brother was murdered under orders from a fellow Filipino and leader of a faction of the Katipunan.

Rizal launched his own silent uprising inside his island prison, unarmed, and bound and surrounded by soldiers. One hundred and twenty two years ago this day, Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan. To mark his end, Rizal wrote a poem, Mi Ultimo Adios.

I would like to believe there’s a lesson here somewhere.

Under a tyranny, each individual must ultimately contend not only with his conscience but also the intellectual means by which he is endowed. Intellectual in the sense that all our revolts must lead us to a certain and dramatic change, a reformation that moves us forward, not backwards, a transfiguration to new and better values, not just different (yet equally devious) ones.

Revolutions are acts of violence. It thrives on the destruction of the old with the idea of replacing it with the new. Revolution, at the very least, must carry within its wing the cause and ways of intelligent defiance–a clear blueprint, if you will–if we were to negate the current order for a better and beneficial one.

Revolution is, as Karl Marx had rightly said, the locomotive of world history.

However, one cannot fuel this locomotive with ignorance. Isn’t ignorance a key part of the old order revolutionists of all eras are trying to change? Sadly it is also true that without intelligent defiance, revolutions will only end up annihilating its own cause, if not its own children. The French Revolution and its aftermath–the Bloodbath–was a good example.

Revolutions are, at the very least, unpredictable when bereft of a plan for a new order. Simply said, we must have a clear pathway to the New Order if we were to successfully rid ourselves of the Old.

Hence, ignorance cannot fuel this locomotive of history.

Am I implying that Bonifacio was ignorant? Hardly. But I doubt it if he and the Katipuneros had a clear replacement for what they wanted to change. What if they won? What if Spain chose to retreat? What now? What sort of government did the Katipuneros had in mind?

If what we had seen, after Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, stands as the replacement to the abuses of the colonizers–administrations marked by murder, indifference and massive corruption and compromise with imperialist powers–then what we had was at least a failed revolution, or one that has yet to end.

I think Rizal knew prior to his execution what a real revolution demands–that we first wrestle with who we are. Perhaps he had an inkling of how divided we were–and still are–as a people, and that alone can wreak havoc to the cause of birthing the nation.

Knowing his status as one already highly esteemed prior to his death, Rizal probably thought we needed a bonding agent, strong enough to raise the cries of rebellion across the archipelago in unison.

Could this be the reason why he refused the plan to be whisked away from his island prison notwithstanding the threat on his life? To launch his ultimate insurrection: to be executed and thus become a martyr?

To be the one that binds us all through his writings?

Another thing: to willfully die by one’s convictions is to settle once and for all that such convictions are, undoubtedly, worth looking into. Rizal believed in the revolution, that much was certain, but a revolution marked distinctly by intelligent defiance and the weapons to achieve it, a blueprint of what we want to accomplish, and a unifying factor and consensus in favor of such an achievement.

Anything shy of such clearness of purpose and goals would spell disaster.

I am fully versed with what Renato Constantino wrote on Rizal in his essay, “Veneration without Understanding: Does Rizal deserve to be our national hero?” He wrote passionately about why Rizal chose to be “not the leader of the revolution” and how he “repudiated the revolution”. To Constantino, Rizal was no more than the lackey of the Americans.

He wrote further about how Rizal had “condemned the uprising–which dishonors us Filipinos and discredits those that could plead our cause. I abhor its criminal methods and disclaim all part in it, pitying from the bottom of my heart the unwary that have been deceived into taking part in it.”

Constantino alleged that these words came part of a “manifesto” which Rizal had penned on Dec. 15, 1896, published in the book “Jose Rizal, Political and Historical Writings. Vol VII, Manila: National Heroes Commission, 1964, p. 348. 2 ).

My problem with this essay is that it completely goes against what the Katipunan’s Pio Valenzuela had written in his memoirs, “My Conference with Dr. Jose Rizal in Dapitan,” which forms part of his “Memoirs of the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution”.

In an earlier essay on Rizal titled “Why I Hate José Rizal,” I wrote:

“In the same memoir, Pio Valenzuela offers us a glimpse into both their exchanges:

RIZAL.—Tell our countrymen that, at the same time that we are preparing for a war against Spain, I desire to see a college established in Japan which will be converted later into a university for Filipino youths. I shall be greatly pleased to be the director of said college.

VALENZUELA.—I shall bear in mind all what you say and counsel, but I believe you would rather direct the revolution than manage the college.

RIZAL.—I am ready for both.

VALENZUELA.—As soon as we have arms and munitions we shall try to take you out of Dapitan before the revolution starts in order that the Spaniards may not get you and shoot you.

RIZAL.—As soon as you obtain arms, start the war against Spain right away; do not bother about me for I will know how to get out of here by any craft with the help of the Moros. When it comes to the redemption of the country, you must not look behind for just one man.

VALENZUELA.—If the revolution breaks out before schedule and you are still in Dapitan, the Spaniards will hold you and have you shot.

RIZAL.—To die and conquer is pleasant; but to die and be conquered is painful.

“Historian Teodoro Agoncillo, in Chapter 10 of his book ‘Revolt of the Masses’ published by the U.P. Press in 1956, made a startling revelation regarding this account:

‘It has been customary to cite Dr. Valenzuela’s 1896 testimony, as printed in Archivo, Vol. III, to the effect that Bonifacio, upon hearing that Dr. Rizal objected to the proposed uprising without the necessary arms, exclaimed: ‘Lintik! Where did he read that in order to have a revolution there must be arms?’ In that testimony, it was also pointed out that Bonifacio insulted Dr. Rizal behind his back and went so far as to call the latter a coward. When interviewed on this particular account, Dr. Valenzuela said: “No such thing ever occurred. In fact, TO PROTECT RIZAL I purposely told the investigator that I was not even allowed by the hero to step into his house upon knowing the purpose of my visit to Dapitan. I also reported Dr. Rizal as having said: “No! No! No! And a thousand no!” Even so, the Spanish prosecutor during Rizal’s trial did not make my statement public—a fact which showed the authorities were bent on liquidating Rizal at all cost. As to Bonifacio’s outburst, I can say that, too, was my own invention, obviously TO PROTECT DR. RIZAL BY MAKING HIM APPEAR VERY MUCH AGAINST THE REVOLUTION. The truth is that Bonifacio saw the logic and wisdom of Dr. Rizal. Bonifacio himself knew that we lacked arms for the projected uprising, and so he instructed me to order some two thousand bolos, which I immediately complied with. I ordered 1,000 bolos from the men in Saluysoy, Maykawayan, Bulakan and another 1,000 from Binakayan, Cawit, Cavite.’”

Could it all had been theatrics, or better yet, strategy on the part of Rizal and Valenzuela, even Bonifacio, to hide the truth from the Spaniards? What could that same denial had achieved?

Would it be safe to assume that such a “repudiation of the revolution” by Rizal was aimed at throwing off Spain as to the magnitude of the force they were to face? Without Rizal as director of the Revolution, Spain may have easily presumed that the supposed revolution was merely a revolt, one of many insignificant and sporadic displays of dissent by poor, hapless indios, and not the beginnings of a full-blown insurrention.

Or better yet, would Rizal’s “vehement” denial had prompted Spain to disregard his assertions, forcing them to believe otherwise–that Rizal had a hand in it? Would it be safe to say that this eventually forced Spain to push for his immediate execution, an event Rizal had been waiting for in order to lend the needed spark?

Between news of Rizal directing the revolution and Rizal suffering martyrdom for his people, which do you think would spur “Filipinos” to unite and stage an armed rebellion–all for the sake of birthing a new nation?

Was Rizal a conscious martyr? Who knew but Rizal…

Another query: Could Constantino have read Rizal from the eyes of a Marxist (he was a staunch Leftist) whose ideological predilection might have allowed only for a revolution the likes of which were staged and directed by Bonifacio and not a “pacifist” like the novelist and poet Rizal? Could such a limited perception had served as a hindrance, thus allowing several limitations marked by false dichotomies which, eventually, led to a kind of miseducation of the Filipino, unwitting though it may be?

One such proof was how Bonifacio revered Rizal as his inspiration for the revolution. How could someone so opposed to the revolution be invited to direct it?

I am indebted to journalist and editor John Nery and his essay, “Renato Constantino’s False Choices,” published in his blog Newsstand, and from where I lift this following quotes:

“Constantino’s main proof for this repudiation is the famous Manifesto of Dec. 15, 1896, which Rizal prepared as part of his legal defense. (It was actually written five days before, Rizal scholar Floro Quibuyen reminds us in ‘A Nation Aborted.’) It is a controversial read, because as foremost Rizal biographer Leon Ma. Guerrero has noted, apropos of the Manifesto, ‘There can be no argument that he was against Bonifacio’s Revolution.’ But again the nationalist historian offers us a false choice: Either Rizal was for the revolution, or his words ‘were treasonous in the light of the Filipinos’ struggle against Spain.’

“But in fact there was a third alternative. The Judge Advocate General refused to publish the Manifesto, which would surely have been read by the revolutionaries, because Rizal ‘limits himself to condemning the present rebellious movement as premature and because he considers its success impossible at this time, but suggesting between the lines that the independence dreamed of can be achieved … For Rizal it is a question of opportunity, not of principles or objectives. His manifesto can be condensed into these words: ‘Faced with the proofs of defeat, lay down your arms, my countrymen; I shall lead you to the Promised Land on a later day’. (Guerrero’s translation)”.

While I would go so far as to compare both writers, Nery did raise some very valid points as to where Constantino may had come from with his assertions.

As for what I think, I believe Constantino, in wanting to keep Rizal human, bereft of any “traditionalist veneration” (such veneration is wrong, in my opinion), may have not done Rizal the justice and esteem the latter deserved.

There’s a hero’s death, and there’s the Hero’s death. And while Bonifacio is no less the champion of freedom as Rizal, the latter, in my humble opinion, had a courage in him that defied all odds.

Rizal faced his death quietly–as all revolutionists are doomed men, Huey Newton once wrote–without having the means and the chance to swing a bolo or pull the trigger in retaliation. He looked Death square in the face, serenely, and declared his final triumph.

It was once said that under a tyranny, revolution is not only necessary, it is inevitable.

This makes Rizal’s life and death as relevant today as it was yesterday. The most fitting adjective for such a show of courage is “sublime,” Rizal being the greatest event to ever transpire in the history of our people. His death, in particular, wasn’t a defeat. It is, by all measures, a triumph of the Filipino revolutionary spirit, a defiant thrust against all who’d think of once more enslaving our people.

We need but to look squarely in the face of José Rizal and his writings–the one who is all the best in us–to know there is no reason to fear what is both necessary and inevitable, should the day arrive.

The real question we must ask ourselves is: Are we, by then, prepared? G

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