MANILA, JUNE 21, 2011 (STAR) CITIZEN Y By Yoly Villanueva-Ong - It’s the 150th birthday of Dr. Jose Rizal. Reformist, scientist, linguist, author, artist, he is every inch the authentic HERO, a polymath to rival the Renaissance man.

There are historians who note with some disparagement, that it was the Americans who proclaimed him our National Hero. They opine that the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio deserved that honor more than the pacifist Rizal. But what does it matter? Bonifacio admired Rizal, awed by his intelligence and talent.

The story of Rizal is fascinating. His genius, loves and politics show a brilliant but human hero, who tried in vain to change a fate he could see coming.

[Photo - A photographic record of Rizal's execution in what was then Bagumbayan, today (Luneta) Rizal Park]

Perhaps the first world-class Global Filipino, Rizal was known and admired from Djakarta to Heidelberg. His writings reportedly inspired Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in leading their own movements.

George Patton once said, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory”. It’s true. The revolution was “won” the day Rizal was killed in Bagumbayan Field, on December 30, 1896 at 7:03 a.m.

His execution remains vivid. Arms tied behind elbow to elbow, Rizal held a rosary on his right hand until his final
breath. The physician, Dr. Felipe Ruiz Castillo, was amazed that his vital signs and pulse rate were normal — no fear of death. Rizal wanted to be shot facing the firing squad, but the captain refused. On the command “Fire!” the guns flared. Rizal twisted his body around and fell on the ground looking at the blue sky, his head slightly tilted toward the rising sun.

Many believed his death was an injustice as he was against revolution. Certainly when he founded La Liga Filipina, he still hoped that reform could be attained peacefully. He even advocated the annexing of the Philippines as a province of Spain. Although he was never involved with the Katipunan, its members saw him as their leader. In fact his name was the password for their highest-ranking members “bayani”. As the oppression became more severe Rizal begun to wonder if a bloody revolution was the answer.

[Photo - June 19, Jose Rizal's birthday, May 10, Andres Bonifacio's death;2010 Coincidences w/ National Heroes' Significant Dates]

In June 1896, Bonifacio sent Dr. Pio Valenzuela to Dapitan for consultation. Rizal felt that the time was not right. The people were not ready and they did not have enough weapons. He suggested that the Katipunan first seek financial support from wealthy and influential Filipinos. He also recommended Antonio Luna to be commander of the forces for his military knowledge and expertise. Valenzuela recounted what Rizal said —

“A revolution without arms should never be started against an armed nation. Its consequences will be fatal and disastrous to the country. The Filipinos will necessarily have to lose owing to lack of arms.

The Spaniards, once conquerors, will annihilate the Filipinos who show love ‘for their country, employ all obstacles to prevent the intellectual, moral, and material progress of the conquered people, who sooner or later will have to start another revolution . . . When I was in Japan, a Japanese Minister put at my disposal three merchant ships with which to transport arms to the Philippines. I wrote to a rich Filipino in Manila, asking him to lend me P200,000 for the purpose of buying firearms and munitions, but the rich Filipino refused me the loan.”

[Photos - A group of Katipuneros in 1896]

The Katipuneros planned Rizal’s escape from exile aboard a ship destined to Japan, but he declined. Valenzuela returned to Manila and relayed Rizal’s advice to Bonifacio, who agreed that it would be fatal to fight without enough weapons. But rumors about the secret organization were rife. On August 19, 1896, Teodoro Patiño told his sister about the existence of KKK, who shared the revelation with the Mother Superior. The cry of Pugadlawin could wait no longer.

A week after the outbreak of the revolution, on September 2, 1896, Rizal got approval from Governor General Ramon Blanco to become a military doctor in Cuba. He was to sail to Spain first. During the stopover in Manila Bay, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and a few others disguised as sailors infiltrated Castilla. Jacinto whispered that they were there to rescue him. Once again, Rizal refused. Before he reached Spain, he was arrested, jailed in Barcelona then shipped back to Fort Santiago.

Rizal must have had an inkling of his destiny. As early as April 18, 1889 in Paris, he wrote Mariano Ponce, “The day on which you would see me in the clutches of the friars, do not waste time making petitions or uttering complaints or lamentations — it is useless. Try to put another in my place who may avenge me and make them pay dearly for my misfortune! If I would see a son of mine in the mouth of a shark, I would not try to pull him out — for it is useless and all I would achieve is to destroy him — I would kill the shark if possible, and if not, I would waylay him!”

Perhaps the mark of a true hero is the reluctance to be one. Patton’s most memorable advice about heroism in war was “Don’t be a fool and die for your country. Let the other sonofabitch die for his.” Even the Son of God wanted to be spared from martyrdom. At the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46) Jesus cried thrice, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”

No child dreams of becoming a successful hero someday. Early in life he is taught that happiness is about making money, taking care of your own and living a life of luxury. Rizal could have done just that. But blissful oblivion to society’s problems does not work in the long run. Like Rizal, we need to realize that without social justice, there can be no real peace, prosperity or progress. Hopefully, unlike Rizal, we don’t have to become martyrs to do our share.


11-yr-old Rizal, as student at Ateneo Municipal de Manila Rizal as student at the University of Santo Tomas

The Luneta (Rizal Park) in 1899

A renown painting depicting how Rizal was sentenced to death by the Spanish colonial authorities.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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