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.”
One passage, in particular, is telling:
“Tingni, manga guiniguilio cong tagalog, tingni,t, masdan itong caauaaua capoua ninyong tagalog, na pinupuri nang marami sa inyo na parang ualang capara sa carunungan; ualang dao ga sino si RIZAL; di umano,i, capurihan dao nang lahi ninyong tagalog, na sucat ninyong ipagparangalan. ¡Ay sa aba co! At lalong catampatang sabihin, na sucat inyong ipagmamacahiya ang gayong cahabag-habag na bulag na loob; sapagca,t, siyang CAUNAUNAHANG tagalog na cusang gumamit nang caniyang camay sa pagsulat nang manga catacot-tacot na catampalasanan sa Dios, sa ating santa Religión cristiana, at sa manga sinasampalatayanan natin.”
I think it is helpful for Filipinos to read the passage in Tagalog; my English below lacks perhaps enough of the sense of outrage of the original translation.
“See, my beloved Tagalogs, see and observe your pitiful fellow Tagalog, being praised by many of you as though without equal in learning; Rizal is said to be without peer and even said to be the glory of your Tagalog race, whom you should honor fully. Ah, poor me! It is even more fitting to say, that you should be wholly ashamed for his miserable inner blindness; because he is the VERY FIRST Tagalog to willingly use his hand in writing these terrible acts of wickedness against God, our holy Christian religion, and those [articles of faith] we believe in.”
The pamphlet manages to capture the people’s perceptions of Rizal at a defining moment, when he had become the colony’s most dangerous subject. Even more revealing, it captures the dominant Spanish view: that Rizal was dangerous because he was “the very first,” that is to say, the pioneer anti-clerical, anti-colonial critic.
Even the Spaniards who defended Rizal, or were his friends, shared certain other characteristic assumptions. Luis Taviel de Andrade, the lawyer assigned to defend him in his trial for illegal association and for rebellion, prepared a defense brief that was based almost wholly on the Spanish prejudice against his client. Indeed, his essential argument was an appeal to the unintended consequences of publicity; that is to say, he argued that Rizal was only a victim of his reputation.
“With regard to the opinion of which I also spoke, that which makes Rizal out to be the very head, soul and life of the present uprising, that opinion has been crystallized not only by these very prejudices but by the particular circumstance which became public knowledge in Manila that when the said uprising was discovered Rizal was no longer in Dapitan but inside this harbor on board the cruiser Castilla. This circumstance was completely accidental and unpremeditated. There is not a shred of evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, it served to convert the presumption against Rizal into a deep-rooted and unalterable conviction, a conviction encrusted as it were on the public mind as the pearl in its shell, that Rizal was directly involved in the conspiracy.”
The pearl in its shell: When the first shots of the Revolution were fired, Rizal happened to be back in Manila (on board a Spanish ship; “detenido pero no preso,” as he noted in his diary). His presence, when it became “public knowledge,” threw the Spanish community into a panic; many Spaniards feared that Rizal, despite four years in political exile, had manipulated events “in order that he might be here when the uprising broke out and thus be able to put himself at its head without delay.”
What explains the panic? Rizal’s status as pioneer, as leader, certainly. But other assumptions were also at work. Another Spaniard, one even closer to Rizal, did not mince words. Addressing his former student soon after the start of his exile, Pablo Pastells, SJ wrote: “I wished by means of a simple hint to exhort you to stop now your stubbornness of desiring to emancipate the Filipinos from the gentle yoke of the Catholic religion and the Spanish nation, advocating and propagating among them the spurious doctrines of reform and separatism …”
My take: In the last years of the 19th century, there was nothing “mere” about reform.
* * *
RIZAL 150 NEWS. Thanks to Von Totanes, the blogger (and PhD candidate) known as The Filipino Librarian, I found out that the National Library is exhibiting the newly restored original manuscripts of both the “Noli” and the “Fili” on Friday, June 17. We are, providentially, a people of the book; it is only fitting that the manuscripts that helped shape our nation will be on public display, even if only for a day.
Also, and with apologies for yet another self-advertisement: The Ateneo de Manila University Press has agreed to publish a Philippine edition of my “Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia.” Depending on the miraculous recuperative powers of deadline-stricken printers, the book may be available, at Philippine prices, as early as next week.