Category Archives: Readings in Rizal

Column: What Aquino and Rizal had in common

A tale of two martyrs. Published on August 20, 2013.

They came home. They did not have to; the threats they faced to life or liberty were real and manifest, the work they could have done outside the country to continue to contribute to the freedom struggle useful and varied.

The advice they received was almost uniformly negative. “I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends and a few of my most valued political mentors,” Ninoy Aquino wrote in his arrival statement. He had planned to read it the day he returned to Manila 30 years ago; he did not get the chance.

Jose Rizal prepared two letters before leaving Hong Kong in June 1892, to return to the Philippines for the second time. They were to be opened in the event of his death; about three years after his execution, Apolinario Mabini became the first to make them public.

In the letter addressed “A los Filipinos,” Rizal wrote: “The step that I have taken or I am about to take is undoubtedly very perilous, and I need not say that I have pondered on it a great deal. I realize that everyone is opposed to it; but I realize also that hardly anybody knows what is going on in my heart.”

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Column: Rizal’s equal

To mark another Rizal birthday–his 152nd–I thought of training the spotlight on the other great leader of the Propaganda Movement. Published on June 18, 2013.

Marcelo del Pilar left behind dozens of letters—altogether a wonderful read for Filipinos interested in history. Many of his letters were written in Filipino, especially those he wrote to his wife and his daughters, but these also include important, indeed historical, letters to Jose Rizal.

I think Del Pilar was very much Rizal’s equal as a political writer; it is instructive to read La Solidaridad, for example, when their bylines or pen names appear in the same issue, sometimes even one after the other. Del Pilar was no novelist; perhaps he lacked what the eminent literary critic V. S. Pritchett called, in an entirely different context, the “vegetative temperament” necessary to write a novel. But Del Pilar had an instinct for politics (he never apologized, as Rizal did repeatedly, for sacrificing art or life or fill-in-the-blank “on the altar of politics”), and that instinct informed not only his analysis but also his pragmatic conduct in the circles and corridors of Madrid.
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Column: Rizal in the Catholic Encyclopedia

“Rizal, hidden in plain sight.” Published on June 4, 2013.

The first Catholic Encyclopedia was published about a hundred years ago; preserved inside this monumental work, like fossil in amber, is an unlikely and dated entry on Jose Rizal. Make that “carbon-dated.” The errors and emphases of this 1912 entry allow us a close, specific look at a particular era, when Catholic Americans in the Philippines had all but rationalized the national hero as one of their own.

The encyclopedia was a milestone in Catholic apologetics; it remains a favorite of many. The first edition in particular, published in 16 volumes (including index) between 1905 and 1914, has its online fans; two versions of this landmark reference available online are worth noting. The New Advent is a lovingly crowdsourced version started by Kevin Knight; the Original Catholic Encyclopedia is a massive scan done by the valiant apologists at Catholic Answers.

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Column: “All the honorable men of the world”

Published on December 18, 2012.

To respond to certain queries about Rizal occasioned by a paper I read at the Philippine PEN Congress the other week, allow me to run excerpts from another paper I read at a much earlier seminar—one hosted by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore last year to mark the launch of “Revolutionary Spirit.” Over and above his exile’s experience, which made him feel “alone and abandoned,” Rizal also knew what it meant to live inside a living community of equals, a band of brothers as it were. I believe this other experience informed Rizal’s concept of an intellectual tradition:

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Column: “When we find ourselves alone and abandoned”

What was Rizal’s concept of “intellectual tradition?” The Philippine chapter of PEN asked; I proposed one possible answer. Published on December 11, 2012.

I WAS delighted to take part in last week’s Philippine PEN Congress, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The year’s theme was on the role of the writer as public intellectual; the panel I served on, the first in the two-day conference, was tasked with drawing the context of a Philippine intellectual tradition. “You can discuss perhaps your work on Jose Rizal,” read the invitation from National Artist Bien Lumbera and film critic and fellow Inquirer editor Lito Zulueta, chair and secretary of Philippine PEN—and so I did.

I focused on a letter Rizal sent the priest Vicente Garcia, one of the first to defend the “Noli,” because it seemed to me to best sum up his ideas about just such a tradition. After I located the letter in the context of Rizal’s correspondence (using the Alzona translation), I proceeded to make my case, as follows:

It took Rizal more than two years after first hearing of Garcia’s gallant defense, and some 10 months after the “little treatise” was published in La Solidaridad, before he found the occasion to write the priest himself. He was working on the “Fili” in unhappy Madrid, and at the same time preparing to return home via a doctor’s detour through Hong Kong. I do not know if he ever received Garcia’s reply; I would like to think he did and the reply is simply no longer extant, because his letter of Jan. 7, 1891 was—in a word—a cry for help. It was not so much to thank Garcia, “but to seek light for the uncertain need of the future.”
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Column: Who put the bolo in Bonifacio’s hand?

Bonifacio in the imagination. Column No. 225, published on December 4, 2012.

Rizal carefully chose the last image his countrymen would see of him; he went to his execution dressed like a European, complete with derby hat—as if to say that he was a citizen of that free republic that knew no boundaries, and thus an equal of the Spaniards who had ordered his death. Bonifacio was not as lucky.

Nobody knows how Bonifacio looked or what he wore when he was killed by members of the revolutionary army he had founded, mere months after launching the revolution. We “see” him today mainly as the sculptor Ramon Martinez immortalized him: his 1911 Balintawak monument portrays a stylized Bonifacio in white camisa and rolled-up red pants, with a bolo in his raised right hand and the Katipunan flag in his left.

If Bonifacio had had a choice, what image would he have chosen?
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Column: Forward, attack, lunge!

A modified lecture, with poem included. Published on August 2, 2011.

To accompany his own Indonesian translation of “Ultimo Adios,” which appeared in the Dec. 30, 1944 issue of Asia Raya, Rosihan Anwar wrote “Jose Rizal,” a short poem of 21 lines. My dictionary-enabled, Google-translated modified free version of the poem reads as follows:

The rifle explodes, a single bullet

Penetrates the body; the man falls!

So too fall noble ideals;

independence, its spirit flickering,

As the man closes his eyes.

The man’s body lies on the earth’s lap

That precious man

Broken, shattered into dust

But the spirit which the man showed

Is incarnate in the fragrant bloom.

Years pass and now and then

Air rustles across the man’s grave

O, poet, hero of the nation.

But

Now the man rises again

Incarnate in the body of the nation

In the breast of every youth,

I hear the man’s voice

Loud, powerful, mighty,

Inviting the nation to continue the struggle:

“Philippines, forward, attack, lunge!!!” Continue reading

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Column: Bitching about GMA

Published on July 26, 2011.

A YOUNG person relatively fresh out of college posted something on Facebook yesterday, several hours before President Aquino addressed the 2nd joint session of the 15th Congress. Her status update struck me, because it seemed emblematic—of much of what is wrong in our political culture. Continue reading

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Column: The 10 most important letters Rizal wrote

The third Rizal column, published on June 28, 2011.

I thought it might be an interesting experiment: In the country’s most important correspondence, which letters are the most historic? Several years ago, I came to realize that the best way to introduce a new reader or a new student to Rizal is through his letters. The Rizal correspondence runs to several hundreds, and almost literally there is something in it for everyone. But if one had time only to read the 10 most consequential, what would the short list look like?

It would probably not include some of the more personally interesting letters, such as Rizal telling his sisters that inviting their friends to resettle in Dapitan, where he had just been deported, was “a delicious idea”—in English. Or the letter, in German this time, where he explains to his great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt how to use his new invention, a “sulpak” or cigar lighter. Instead, a short list would probably include those letters that explain Rizal best: how he came to write his subversive novels, how he came to part ways with Marcelo del Pilar, how he came to find himself, for the third time, on board a ship bound for Spain. Continue reading

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Column: Criticizing Rizal

The second of three Rizal columns written in June 2011. Published on June 21, 2011.

The idea that Rizal was prickly, sensitive to slights and quick to take offense, was a criticism he himself heard again and again. On Oct. 9, 1891, for instance, while preparing to leave for Hong Kong (and eventually to return to the Philippines), he declined his great friend Ferdinand Blumentritt’s suggestion that he resume writing for La Solidaridad. “I have suggested many projects; they engaged in a secret war against me. When I tried to make the Filipinos work, they called me ‘idol,’ they said that I was a despot, etc. …. They said that Rizal is a very difficult person; well, Rizal clears out.” Continue reading

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Column: ‘Ualang dao ga sino’

In June 2011, celebrations to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal reached a crescendo. I was not immune to the power of that patriotic music; all three of my columns that month dealt with the national hero. The first of the three columns was published on June 14, 2011.

Call it a theory of refraction. Even when Spanish clerics or officials criticized Rizal, their criticism was often formed (refracted) by certain assumptions about the most famous man in the Philippines, assumptions both hidden and visible which we can use today to paint a vivid portrait of Rizal in the last 10 years of his life.

After the “Noli” reached the Philippines in 1887, for instance, many Spaniards and not a few Indios were scandalized. We can get a sense of the scope of the scandal when the Augustinian friar Jose Rodriguez published a series of pamphlets the following year. Originally written in Spanish, the eight pamphlets were translated into Tagalog posthaste; the most famous of them carried the title-and-subtitle “Caingat Cayo! Sa manga masasamang librot, casulatan”—which we can render as “Beware! Of evil books and writings.” Continue reading

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Column: Our Kabayan problem

A revolving-door problem, and then a sideways kind of announcement.  Published on May 31, 2011.

Noli de Castro was vice president for six years and a senator for three. Last November 8, some four months after leaving government service, he reassumed his role as principal anchor of the flagship ABS-CBN newscast, “TV Patrol.”

I have no objection to the so-called revolving door in journalism, the practice where journalists join government service for a time and then return to the profession. Done right, done with circumspection and utmost professionalism, both sides of the door can profit. I think, for example, of Salvador P. Lopez, journalist-turned-diplomat-turned-journalist. Government service benefited from his insight and erudition, his facility with words and his capacity for work. When he returned to newspapering (he wrote regularly for the Inquirer in its early years), his writing was deepened by his experience in government and diplomacy.

But De Castro, simply “Kabayan” (Countryman) to millions of Filipinos, reminds me that there are dangers to the revolving door; for one thing, it can give media’s audience an attack of vertigo. Continue reading

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Column: Do all opinions matter?

The Inquirer feedback loop just got fat–or it did, about 15 months ago, some time before this column was published on May 24, 2011.

IN RESPONSE to Monday’s editorial on the designation of Mar Roxas as President Benigno Aquino III’s chief of staff, an online reader wrote, in an angry burst of colloquial Filipino: He hasn’t even started yet, and here you are already taking a shot at him! (I can no longer find the comment online, hence the paraphrase.) Continue reading

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Column: The last of the Daily Me?

Written some three months before I got to meet the peerless Josh Benton. Published on May 17, 2011.

I first noticed it a few months ago, when I read Joshua Benton’s “Eight Trends for Journalism in 2011,” a presentation by the young director of the Nieman Journalism Lab before the Canadian Journalism Foundation in January. In the last paragraph of a longish discussion about the seventh trend (“New front pages”), Benton took time to praise the BBC’s iPad app.

“And I think one of the brilliant elements of it is that when you launch the app, it doesn’t present you with a menu of options. It doesn’t say, ‘Here are 17 options, choose one.’ It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure. It immediately tells you, ‘This is where your adventure should start.’ It puts you in a story right away. You don’t [have to do] any action, you’re immediately pushed in. And then it becomes, ‘How do you navigate from story to story?’ Instead of going to a story, hitting the back button, going to look over the other menu of options, then going back again. The metaphor that exists on a lot of iPad apps in the news world is swiping from story to story. Which is a very similar experience to what you traditionally had in newspapers—seeing stories and being able to dive in right there.” Continue reading

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Column: How the Osama raid, and Mosley, was spun

A White House official’s rational exuberance–and its implications for understanding the Pacquiao-Mosley fight. Published on May 10, 2011.

Buyer beware—that’s the thought bubble that pops up in my head these days when I come across the name of John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s advisor on counter-terrorism. By my reckoning, the most egregious errors in the first White House account of the daring raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were attributable to Brennan. The assertion, for instance, that Bin Laden used his wife as a human shield. Continue reading

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Column: Obama on Osama: What he didn’t say

Published on May 3, 2011.

IT DIDN’T seem possible, even as recently as only the other day, that there will ever be an unambiguous victory in the wars of the Age of Terrorism—and yet there the crowds were outside the White House and in Times Square in New York City, at past midnight, celebrating like it was V-E or V-J Day.

The late-night televised announcement by US President Barack Obama (just before noon, Manila time) that a special US military operation had killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden in a firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was electric news all around the world, and generated spontaneous crowds in some US cities. The wars on terrorism will never be as uncomplicated, at least in public perception, as World War II (the “Good War” to those who fought it in countries other than their own). But for a couple of hours, the Age of Terrorism lost some of its ambiguities, and joyful crowds (the one in front of the White House had swollen to thousands of Americans before the revelers headed home) exulted. Continue reading

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Column: Willie’s lawyer: ‘I will not be bullied into silence’

Published on April 26, 2011.

WILLIE REVILLAME’s counsel, Leonard de Vera, wrote an immediate response to last week’s column, to explain the two-year Supreme Court-ordered suspension mentioned in it. I am happy to print his reply in full; my comments follow. Continue reading

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Column: Willie, and patterns of sin

In which I criticize a noted lawyer’s scorched-earth approach to litigation; I was able to include his detailed answer, which he sent in the middle of Holy Week, in the succeeding column. Published on April 19, 2011.

AN “UNETHICAL lawyer,” now “relishing his return to the limelight,” in the process “betraying principles he fought for in the Estrada impeachment”—if I were to describe Leonard de Vera, Willie Revillame’s counsel, in these terms, he would feel offended, and rightly so. Continue reading

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Column: Crooks in the “daang matuwid”

Published on April 12, 2011.

AFTER THE filing of charges against the former crown prince Mikey Arroyo, the former court jester Prospero Pichay and the former Palace tribune Merceditas Gutierrez, hopes are rising that the all-out campaign against corruption—the standard under which the Aquino presidency’s election mandate was won—has finally been launched. The Inquirer editorial yesterday spoke of the possibility of a genuine “momentum” in the war on corruption, but only if the charges and first legal victories are closely followed by others of the same kind. Continue reading

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Column: Rizal in FHM

Published on April 5, 2011.

IT IS 75 days to Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary, and I thought I’d mark the date by reading FHM magazine—the February 2011 issue of the Philippine edition, to be exact, with Misa Campo on the cover and a great tease of a sub-headline: “Jose Rizal was pro-Spain—and 12 other historical facts you must know.” Continue reading

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Column: A Tagalog conspiracy

Column No. 175, the first of a two-part series on Rizal’s Tagalog correspondence. Published on December 28, 2010.

“Kaibigang Selo: Ang may taglay nitong sulat ay isang lihim na kapatid natin sa Rd. L. M. no. 2 ang taas. Walang sukat at dapat maka-alam na siya’y kapatid kundi ikaw lamang at ako.” Thus Rizal, conspiratorially, to Marcelo del Pilar, on November 4, 1889.

Most of Rizal’s letters were meant to be read in company, to be passed from hand to hand, to be copied and circulated (indeed, copies of some of his letters were found by the raiding party that broke into the warehouse where Andres Bonifacio was employed, and were used as evidence in his trial for treason). A few, like this letter from Paris, were meant to be confidential, and a hundred and twenty years after it was written we can still easily intuit why. Continue reading

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Column: 5 million books

Published on December 21, 2010.

Google Books is controversial for several reasons; in this ambitious corporate attempt to digitize as many books as possible, copyright and monopoly issues may only be the most vexing. These and other issues are contentious even though, or especially because, casual reader and scholarly researcher alike already enjoy the benefits of digitized books directly.

Many of the books are available only in Preview format, but even the limits of this format can be liberating: some books offer a few pages (so we can read Fr. Miguel Bernad on “The Nature of Rizal’s Farewell Poem”); others several dozens, perhaps even a couple of hundreds (such is the case, for instance, of the massive and minutely detailed Indonesian-English dictionary by Alan M. Stevens and A. Ed.
Schmidgall-Tellings). Continue reading

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UP Rizal 150 conference program

UP Rizal 150 The international conference on the Rizal sesquicentennary organized by the University of the Philippines, scheduled for June 22 to 24 at the newest building on the Diliman campus, has all sorts of treats for the Rizal student. The program (please click on the link to the PDF file) is a doozy.

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Column: Noy’s “comfort zone”

A “psychological” reading of the second President Aquino, published on October 25, 2010.

Consider this a belated meditation on President Aquino’s first 100 days in office.

I was one of those who applauded his decision to immerse himself in prayer, before throwing his hat into the presidential ring. It seemed to me that he was not only doing the right thing; by going on retreat in Zamboanga City, under the spiritual direction of a nun who was close both to his mother and to him, he was doing the characteristic thing. That is to say, the retreat was character-revealing. Continue reading

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Column: One who got it all wrong

In which I criticize one beloved icon and source of Rizal studies. Published on October 19, 2010.

I apologize for writing, yet again, about Rizal. The feedback I got from last
week’s column on Padre Damaso and the rape of Pia Alba persuades me that the
Philippines remains incomprehensible without reference to the national hero. (To
be sure, I am writing a book on Rizal, and the very act of writing makes me
susceptible to just the sort of feedback I got last week!) Continue reading

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