Rizal for the New Year: Rebellious, amid revelry

AS EASY AS ABC - The Philippine Star

A hardened criminal or even the callously corrupt may not fear incarceration, but they fear death. Real heroes are exactly the reverse. They do not fear losing their own lives. For them, the loss of freedom is death for the living.

Rizal’s acceptance of his death, however, did not come without controversy. His preference to die in jail instead of dying as a rebel forced Bonifacio to call him a “coward.” In what would be one of the most enigmatic twists after he wrote his Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Rizal, while imprisoned and days before his execution, wrote a manifesto decrying the rebellion that he was instrumental to giving birth to as “utterly absurd.”  Amid the patriotic revelry of the awakened, he rebelled against the rebellion as it would bring “great suffering”.

His preferred and declared tact was to fight with education and through peaceful transformation, even if that meant just asking that the Philippines and the Filipinos be granted equal civil and political rights—under Spain—for a start. If Rizal’s purpose with his Noli and El Fili was to awaken minds, then what he underestimated if at all was that the aroused would be impatient—very impatient, and very rebellious.

If we fast forward that political lesson today, Filipinos need not wait for novels. In the recent past, we witnessed civilians, the military and the clergy alike rise up against the tyranny of martial rule. We witnessed the horrors and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Impose Martial Law again and the people with minds still awake will be immediately impatient and immediately rebellious.

Almost on cue today, Rizal also touched on religion and how he views his obligations as a Christian. Rizal’s mother sought to tame Rizal from his cause through a letter while he was pursuing higher education in Spain. She intimated what she really wanted for Rizal: “not to fail in your duties as a real Christian, for this is sweeter to me than your acquiring great knowledge; sometimes knowledge is what leads us to ruin.”

Rizal responded with a guideline useful today to lay or clergy, to those who ride along or voice out a protest: “I can bow my head before a fact even though it be inexplicable to me, so long as it is a fact, but never before an absurdity. For me religion is the holiest of things, the purest (but) I would be recreant to my duty as a rational being if I were to prostitute my reason and admit what is absurd. I do not believe that God would punish me if I were to try to approach Him using reason and understanding.”

Despite Rizal’s rebellious nature, he is a polished gem when it comes speaking before an international audience. Present-day leaders will do well to learn from Rizal’s diplomatic language even when he was speaking in the country of the “enemy” with its own citizens and Filipinos abroad in the crowd.

During a dinner to celebrate the success of two Filipino painters, Juan Luna (Spoliarium) and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo (Christian Virgins Exposed to the Mob), he grabbed the opportunity to ease in a strong message that would not spoil a pleasant dinner. He said of the prolonged Spanish occupation of the Philippines: “Spaniards and Filipinos were two peoples that sea and space separate in vain, two peoples in which the seeds of disunion, blindly sown by men and their tyranny, did not take root.”

He recognized Spain’s nobility and its errors while he encouraged Spain to change course with this wise statement: “Spain is wherever she makes her influence felt by doing good; even if her banner were to go, her memory would remain, eternal, imperishable. What can a red and yellow rag do, or guns and cannon, where love and affection do not spring, where there is no meeting of the minds, no agreement on principles, no harmony of opinion?”

You will notice that while Spain was truly deserving then of reproach, he did not do a shortcut by saying: “Go home, you idiots!”

Rizal was among the most popular reminders that parents could not expect their children to bear their autobiographies. It’s almost like a lesson on not to expect millennials to do as their Gen X parents did. He claimed his privilege and had funding to study abroad. For him, it was joyous as it was purposeful. But for all that he learned and all that was extraordinary about him, he did not feel entitled and was humble on the day of his execution in his final words to his father: “My beloved father, pardon me for the pain with which I repay you for the sorrows and sacrifices for my education. I did not want nor did I prefer it.” A lesson indeed to our youth that parents sacrifice much for their children’s education and whatever is hurtful to the children, regardless of their age, brings the parents sorrow.

Rizal’s tormentors could not even wait for the Christmas and New Year festivities to pass by before killing him by firing squad. In his most tragic moment in what was supposed to be the happiest season of the year, Rizal uplifted his family’s spirits by telling them that we would all die, but unlike many, he was fortunate to be able to choose the date and manner of his death. To the end, his thoughts were unyielding as they were celebratory.

 I did not write on some of Rizal’s lessons on this first day of the New Year for anyone to feel downtrodden. We all deserve a bit of fun and revelry. Even more so, we owe it to ourselves to be a bit rebellious: to fight for genuine change, be independent-minded, and be able to use our God-given talents for the selfless good. We will never be even close to the caliber of Rizal or of our other forefather heroes. But if we can just have a fraction of their courage, uprightness, and love for their people, our country will be a much better place. Happy New Year, everyone!

* * *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to [email protected]. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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