Tag Archives: Jose 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.


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: 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: 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: Rizal’s open secrets

Over 15 months after I posted the first installment of a two-part column on Rizal’s Tagalog correspondence, the other shoe finally — finally! — drops. My apologies for the great delay. This column was published on January 4, 2011.

The Tagalog letters exchanged between Jose Rizal, Mariano Ponce and Marcelo del Pilar give the modern Filipino reader a privileged glimpse not only into the life and work of the three leading Propagandists but the nature of the work of the Propaganda itself. Like all other learned men of the time, they wrote in Spanish most of the time; every now and then, however, they would turn to Tagalog. The longest stretches of Tagalog letter-writing were in November and December 1889 (eight letters) and from May to July 1890 (10 letters all together).

What prompted the repeated attempts to return to Tagalog? I can think of at least three reasons. The first seems clear, from the circumstance. In the writing of postcards, Tagalog provided an additional layer of privacy. 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: The rape of Pia Alba

After Carlos Celdran pulled off his cinematic Damaso protest on the altar steps of the Manila Cathedral, opinion writers (myself included) joined the fray. Published on October 12, 2010.

Two columns in the wake of Carlos Celdran’s Damaso protest got me thinking
about the vexing relationship between Maria Clara’s mother and Padre Damaso, and about the meaning of Damaso himself. On reflection, I must say it was the
historian Ambeth Ocampo who got it wrong, and the anthropologist Michael Tan who got it right. Continue reading

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Column: Aquino and the “mouthpiece”

A conclusion. Published on September 28, 2010.

The photographs from last week’s seven-minute meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barack Obama are rich in nuance. Allow me to add another possible layer of meaning: the Indonesian connection. First, both presidents have suddenly cancelled state visits to Jakarta, because of domestic politics (Obama cancelled twice). And second, Obama has a statue in the Indonesian capital, showing him as a little boy, to mark the years he spent in the city; because of a backlash, the statue (built with private funds) was moved from a public park to the grounds of the government school he attended. In contrast, Aquino doesn’t have a statue in Jakarta, but should. I don’t mean a monument or a marker of himself, but of a Filipino whose cause the President can advocate and make his own when he meets, finally, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Continue reading

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Column: Aquino and the “evangelist”

A continuation. Published on September 21, 2010.

President Aquino’s once-postponed state visit to Indonesia, tentatively rescheduled for October, may profit from a detour through the steppes of Siberia. A side trip only in the imagination, I must add, but one that helps place the influence of both Jose Rizal and the Philippine Revolution on Indonesia’s nationalist awakening in a new, perhaps brighter, light.

It involves the memory of a controversial Indonesian mestizo (an “Indo”) whom biographer Paul van der Veur calls “the evangelist for Indonesian political nationalism”—the very first, in fact, to demand independence for Indonesia, and who spread the good news through his work in journalism and political organizing. “The Eurasian E. F. E. Douwes Dekker, through agitation and the establishment of a real independence party, the Indische Partij (Party of the Indies), was the first to make a major contribution in the field of political nationalism.” DD, as he was more familiarly known, was a grand-nephew of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who as Multatuli wrote “Max Havelaar,” the searing anti-colonial novel which preceded “Noli me tangere.” Continue reading

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Column: Aquino and “the troublemaker”

From September to October, I had the good fortune to be allowed to go on book-writing leave. The following column, and the two that come after, were written as I was first coming to grips with the research I had done (or failed to do); they were, I guess, a way of writing a book by other means. This first column was published on September 14, 2010.

The distinction does not belong to Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa, who looks more and more like President Aquino’s weakest link; or Undersecretary Rico Puno, who revealed yesterday morning in a TV interview with Anthony Taberna that he is not playing hardball with the country’s jueteng lords; or my friend Billy Esposo, whose dismaying descent into factionalism has him all but foaming at the mouth, describing erstwhile allies as enemies of the state, and “stray dogs.”

The title refers, instead, to Jose Rizal himself, as Sukarno, Indonesia’s charismatic founding president, described him in yet another rousing speech in 1962. “And I also ask the United States of America, is it true if people say, for instance, that the independence of the Philippines was the result of the troublemaker Jose Rizal y Mercado, or Aguinaldo? No!” Continue reading

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“But my cause is good and that is enough for me”

When Pablo Pastells SJ chided Rizal, then in exile in Dapitan, for not dedicating himself to worthier causes, Rizal replied with an eloquent defense, and a ringing affirmation of the least or even the lost cause. I think of his answer as his fanfare for the common man, but on closer reading it reveals itself to be a reply that is, at one and the same time, earnest and ironic. (I do not know if Pastells, at one time Rizal’s spiritual director, sensed the irony of it all.)

What follows is a series of three translations; the first is Raul Bonoan SJ’s, from his definitive Rizal-Pastells Correspondence; the second is Encarnacion Alzona’s, from Miscellaneous Correspondence of Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the many volumes prepared, somewhat hastily, for the Rizal centennial in 1961; and the third is Roman Ozaeta’s, from his translation of Rafael Palma’s biography of Rizal (the title by which we know it now, The Pride of the Malay Race, is Ozaeta’s own; Palma’s award-winning work, somewhat unimaginatively, was called “Biography of Rizal”).

The Spanish original, as reconstructed by Father Bonoan (but without the Spanish orthographical marks, due to my ignorance), follows after.

This particular passage, incidentally, figured in the Indonesian appropriation of Rizal. A high-profile feature article on Rizal in the December 30, 1944 issue of Asia Raya ran the passage (in Indonesian), and two years later a short-lived political magazine published in East Java ran it again. I suspect the young Indonesian journalists at that time of great upheaval heard the fanfare, and took arms. Continue reading


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Column: Hyphenating Noy and other dilemmas

Published on June 29, 2010. Howie Severino, editor in chief of gmanews.tv, gave my idea (calling the new President “P. Noy”) the benefit of a public workout (thanks, Howie!), but eventually decided on the more elegant, and more tech-friendly, “PNoy.”

I don’t know if my editors will agree with me, but I think the way to render President-elect Noynoy Aquino’s preferred short name is not ‘”P-Noy,” with a hyphen, but “P. Noy,” with a period. The hyphenated name is a made-up term, justified in part, if I’m not mistaken, by the Internet-era habit of “intercapping.” (Eg, CompuServe, MasterCard, YouTube.) Nothing wrong with that, but why choose something made up when you have something ready to hand?

“P. Noy” accurately captures what we think when we wish to say or write “President Noy.” In other words, the abbreviation of “President” into a solitary “P,” with its emphatic period, comes naturally to us. Read over almost any correspondence, even in today’s fleeting e-mails, and the abbreviations we use in daily life are reflected in it. I vote, thus, for “P. Noy.” Continue reading

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