MANILA, JUNE 13, 2011 (STAR)
By Juaniyo Y. Arcellana - June 2011 marks the 150th birthday of the national hero Jose Rizal, and also not coincidentally the 113th anniversary of Philippine Independence, both seemingly intertwined in the national consciousness.

At the forefront of celebrations is the National Historical Commission of the Philippines whose activities include the usual wreath-laying in Luneta and flag-raising in Cavite, and the participation of such groups as the young Rizalians Mga Bagong Rizal and even the sect Tres Persona Solo Dios that believes the great Malayan was a manifestation of deity.

While June 19 has always been a holiday in Laguna province, this year it has been declared a special holiday nationwide by executive fiat, and since the date falls on a Sunday all we can do is wait for further announcements if the holiday is movable to Monday.

Mariz Diokno, NHCP chair, says that deeper appreciation for Rizal came during her adulthood, starting with her majoring in History at the University of the Philippines, but that as a child she learned from textbooks in school that Rizal was a hero. As a historian, she says rereading Rizal would be an exercise in historiography, “the same situation can be viewed through different lenses.”

“I admire his satire and wit,” Mariz says of Rizal during a Monday morning interview on the second floor of the NHCP building along TM Kalaw, a stone’s throw from the hero’s statue in Luneta, citing in particular his annotations of Antonio de Morga, one of the better Spanish writers of the early empire.

She says the writings of the mature Rizal are not easily understandable to grade schoolers, who might find themselves over their heads in historical context.

In a volume of Rizal essays compiled and edited by Teodoro Agoncillo, she says there is a critique on the middle class and the secularization of parishes that seemed almost prescient of EDSA, a hundred years before the people power revolt occurred.

“He said something to the effect that the best victory is one already won,” she says, noting how Rizal had foretold the balimbing culture a century hence.

There is always something new to pick up from Rizal’s works, she says, the key word being “resonance.”

(Rizal’s homes in Laguna.

“You don’t have to agree with everything he said,” she says, adding that agreement is not a requisite to appreciate the man’s ideas and at the same time learn that he was human too with his own shortcomings.

This should not prevent him from being at the crux of the great debate in the Rizalian century and a half, and while others may consider him a traitor to the revolution, Mariz says it is inarguable that Rizal was proud to be Filipino.

Other activities for the next months include the unveiling of a Rizal marker at the house where Rizal stayed in Dumaguete, near the boulevard named after him, very near Matiao’s merchandising, sometime in September. There’s also a Department of Tourism-issued Rizal passport where one can follow the trail of the national hero and, according to Mariz, there are several obscure places in Mindanao where Rizal cured patients and tutored students, apart from his place of exile in Dapitan.

Of course there’s the usual academic conferences at the schools where the hero studied – University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo, Letran – aside from UP. Spain through the Instituto Cervantes will also get into the act, and there’s slated a traveling exhibit in the US, even as nominees for the Rizal award are now being accepted at the NHCP.

(Senators Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada, Gerardo Roxas and Juan Liwag are lauded on the cover of Philippines Free Press circa 1967.)

NHCP will be busy through the next three years, Mariz says, or till the end of her term as chair, since 2013 will be Bonifacio’s 150th birthday, and in 2014, Mabini’s. The two were central in the anti-colonialist movement – the Great Plebian against Spain, the Sublime Paralytic against the United States.

Mariz, the fourth of 10 children of the late nationalist Sen. Jose Diokno, maintains a teaching load of six units at UP, on the advice of her predecessor at NHCP, Ambeth Ocampo, who himself is to deliver a Rizalian lecture in Heidelberg as part of the yearlong activities.

“It’s a challenge to teach nowadays, it was easier before. Context is different now,” she says, adding the youth must always be wary of cynicism. “The kids have an expanded world, their own kind of reality. They choose the world they want to live in.”

She says the moment they put on their headphones to listen to music, everything else tunes out, “but they better not try that in class.”

As an example, she says teaching the first people power revolt to teenagers today could be quite a task. “EDSA seems so far away” in the search for analogy, for metaphor.

(Another notable “Jose“ in the country’s history, Jose Diokno)

Teacher Mariz notes that there’s more pressure on kids these days to get good grades and a diploma from a reputable university, then land a well-paying job.

This is in stark contrast to her father, Ka Pepe, who like the rest of his generation exerted no pressure at all.

“We would visit him in prison and show him our grades. If it was a 1.25 or 1.5 all he’d say was ‘ba’t hindi 1.0…’ But he had such a high regard for UP that a 1.25 or 1.5 there was equivalent to an A at La Salle, where he was from,” she says.

Mariz says her father advised them not to be afraid to make mistakes, and what made an indelible impression on her was his approach to life.

“It was clear to him what he valued, and he stuck to that. He said it was important to believe in a cause that is greater and beyond yourself, because if you fell you could always pick yourself up again,” she says.

The late senator, who fought the Marcos regime along with the old man Lorenzo Tañada, Ninoy Aquino, Jovy Salonga, also valued independent thinking. Mariz says he never told his children what to do when it came to decision making, but that he’d lay out different scenarios and possible consequences “then leave it all up to us.”

(Rizal memorabilla on display at the National Historical Commission’s exhibit on the hero EDD Gumban/STAR)

But at the same time he’d also set basic rules and parameters, difference between right and wrong, and where the line could not be crossed. Mariz however says it was their mom – who stays with her on the Diliman campus – who mainly raised them, since Ka Pepe was a politician in the halls of the Senate, in jail as a political detainee, in the courtroom as a lawyer for human rights victims, or in the parliament of the streets fighting martial law.

When they were growing up in the old homestead in New Manila now since sold, the prize for academic honors would be a trip to PECO for a book or two after Sunday lunch, Mariz says, and that when her folks came from a trip abroad the balikbayan boxes would be filled not with clothes or canned goods but books.

She remembers her dad saying that they had similar professions, but that all her witnesses were dead while his were alive. She says that when Ka Pepe entered the courtroom the world got shut out, he was in a zone, just as she too forgot about everything whenever she entered the classroom. Having been fond of gadgets, Ka Pepe would have been well at home in the present century, she says.

A nephew of hers, another Pepe, eldest son of lawyer and La Salle law school dean Chel Diokno and Divina Aromin, is director of Rock Ed, which is putting up a concert featuring bands with original compositions on Rizal, as well as releasing a commemorative CD, as part of the celebrations. The award-winning young filmmaker preferred to be in the background during the press con launch of the Rizal@150.

2011 Independence Day celebration executive director Ludovico Badoy,
Imus Cavite mayor Homer Saquilayan,Vice President Jejomar Binay,
Cavite governor Junvic Remulla and NHCP chairman Mariz Diokno
lead the Flag Day celebration at Alapan Elementary School in
Imus, Cavite. Manny Marcelo/STAR

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