(STAR) COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva - There was an interesting story that came out about two weeks ago from the House of Representatives on their approval on third and final reading a bill that would put an end to more than a century of observing every Dec. 30, Rizal Day, as one of the official holidays in the Philippines. It is one of the non-working holidays observed nationwide to commemorate the death anniversary of our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

This proposal — under House Bill (HB) No. 1289 — seeks to move the observance of this national holiday instead to June 19 to mark the birth anniversary of Dr.Rizal. It was authored by a group of solons led by Iloilo City Rep. Raul T. Gonzalez Jr., namesake of the Justice Secretary of President Arroyo. The House measure was unanimously approved in plenary a few days after the House Committee on Revision of Laws recommended its enactment.

The National Historical Institute supports the approval into law of HB 1289. In their endorsement, the NHI noted the observance of Rizal Day on December 30 of each year which traces its historical basis to a decree issued by the first Philippine President, the late Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on Dec. 20, 1898.

NHI Chairman Ambeth R. Ocampo wrote to Rep. Gonzalez that this decree actually declared December 30 of each year as a day of national mourning and was intended to honor Rizal and other Filipino patriots during the Spanish period. On that basis, Rizal Day was declared as one of the official holidays in the country with the enactment of Act No. 245 of the Philippine Commission. It was signed on Feb. 1, 1902.

The NHI chief concurred with the proposed enactment of HB 1289 as the more appropriate day of commemorating Rizal Day on his birth anniversary every June 19. “While Rizal Day is observed on June 19, classes have just started and students would be able to actively participate in the commemorative activities,” Ocampo pointed out. Of course, as presently practiced, June 19 is like any other ordinary days in the calendar while Rizal Day is observed during the long school vacation in all levels starting Christmas all the way to New Year’s day.

Aside from Gonzalez, other authors of the bill include Reps. Justin Chipeco (NP, Laguna); Ma. Victoria SyAlvarado (Lakas, Bulacan); and Ma. Evita Arago (LP, Laguna). Obviously, all three lawmakers hail from the home province of our national hero who was born in Calamba. The house of the Rizal family in Calamba is among the national shrines being maintained by the State. The House-proposed measure will amend EO No. 292, known as the Administrative Code of 1987 that set December 30 as Rizal Day.

Rizal was executed on Dec. 30, 1896 by the Spaniards in a firing squad at Bagumbayan, later called as Luneta and was subsequently named as Rizal Park. Thus, every year the official commemorative activities of traditional raising of the giant Philippine flag, the wreath-laying rituals and military honors principally take place at the Rizal Monument in Luneta.

While the Senate has yet to come up with its own counterpart measure, or they may just adopt this proposed House bill to move Rizal Day to June 19, President Arroyo has done her own changes on Rizal Day celebration. She has moved the traditional venue of observing this holiday from the Rizal Monument in Luneta to Baguio City’s own Rizal Park. She started this in 2002 when she made the controversial Rizal Day declaration that she won’t run in the May 2004 presidential elections. And the rest, as we say, is history.

The darkest moment of this most recent history was the Rizal Day celebration in 2000 when a spate of deadly bombing attacks in several crowded places in Metro Manila that killed 22 holiday revelers and seriously maimed scores of people, including children.

Five locations were bombed almost simultaneously within the span of an hour. A bomb exploded at Plaza Ferguson in Malate, Manila near the US Embassy. Another bomb was detonated at a gasoline station in the Makati central business district. Two policemen from the bomb squad, died while trying to defuse the improvised explosive devices. Another IED was placed inside a bus traveling along EDSA. One passenger was killed while several others were injured. Alert authorities were able to foil IED found at the cargo handling area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). The bombing attack that claimed the most casualties occurred at the Blumentritt station of the Metro Manila Light Rail Transit (LRT).

Initially, various Islamic groups were implicated in the bombings, from the Abu Sayyaf bandits to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, including the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror group from Indonesia. As subsequent events unfolded, the Rizal Day bombings were retaliatory attacks of the MILF against the all-out war policy of the administration of then President Joseph Estrada.

It took almost three years before law enforcement authorities were able to solve the Rizal Day bombing attacks with the arrest in May 2003 of Saifullah Yunos (aka Mukhlis Yunos), a member of the MILF’s special operations group. Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian national and a JI member was subsequently arrested and convicted for illegal possession of explosives in relation to the Rizal Day blasts.

The other dark spot of this holiday was the Rizal Day observance in 2002 when the President dropped the bombshell that she won’t run for the presidency. But as it turned out, she merely bought time to shield herself from the unceasing political attacks against her administration.

Thus, the solemnity of Rizal Day, however, has become associated with these two unfortunate incidents while we were supposed to be honoring the martyrdom of our national hero. If only for these two reasons, I favor the transfer of Rizal Day on his birth date instead.

The proposed changing of date of commemorating our national hero’s day comes on Rizal’s 112th death anniversary this year. President Arroyo earlier intimated to me she would take the opportunity to explain in layman’s language to the Filipinos how her administration intends to shield the Philippine economy from the full impact of the global financial crisis when she delivers her Rizal Day message tomorrow. Hopefully, it would not be bombastic that would turn out to be nothing but smokescreens only.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved