Rizal biographies by Filipino authors
CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2020 - 12:00am

(Continued from the Rizal Day Crossroads essay on Dec. 30, 2019)

The biographies of Jose Rizal that I discuss in today’s column are book-length works on Rizal’s life in full, including his importance and works.

Noteworthy biographies by Filipino authors. Among the biographies of Rizal written by Filipino writers, the notable ones in my view are the following: (1) Rafael Palma, Biografia de Rizal. (2) Carlos Quirino, The Great Malayan. (3) Camilo Osias, Jose Rizal: Life and Times. (4) Gregorio F. Zaide, Jose Rizal: Life, Works, and Writing and (5) Leon Ma. Guerrero, The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal.

All the biographies (except that of Zaide) were written in response to a national biography-writing contest sponsored by the Philippine government.

In 1938, at the instigation of the Philippine Commonwealth, four were recognized from among eight noteworthy submissions to the contest. The first-place winner was given to the manuscript submitted by Rafael Palma (submitted under the pseudonym Lakandula). This was published as a document of the National Library (Oficina de Bibliotecas Publicas).

The committee awarded the second place to the manuscript of Osias. Third place award was a tie between the submissions of Carlos Quirino and of Asuncion Lopez-Bantug.

The books by Osias and by Quirino were published in English by private printers. They must have been revised versions of the contest submissions that were cited. I cannot comment on the book of Lopez-Bantug because I could not locate a physical copy of it.

The work of Leon Ma. Guerrero was the first prize winner of the biography-writing contest under the auspices of the Jose Rizal Centennial Commission in 1961. The publication of the Guerrero biography was sponsored by the Philippine National Historical Commission.

The details of the awards of the 1938 contest were derived from the preliminary information (“Advertancia Preliminar”) by the director of public libraries for the Palma book when it was published in 1949.

In the case of the 1961 contest, the Guerrero manuscript was chosen from among half a dozen entries, which were not detailed. This information was conveyed from the introduction written by Carlos Quirino, who at the time of the book’s publication, was the director of the Philippine National Library.

The biographies and their coverage. Although their works tell the story of one life, they differ in the emphasis on details and on episodes of that life and, of course, in terms of style of presentation.

But they all reveal the essentials of the life of Rizal – his family, his early fascinating youth, his foreign study and travels, his love-life, his interactions with compatriots in Europe and with other foreign scholars, the circumstances surrounding the writing of the Noli and of El Fili, and his road to martyrdom, beginning with exile in Dapitan, trial and execution.

The Palma biography, published originally in Spanish, reached later generations of Filipinos through the English translation by Roman Ozaeta with the title, The Pride of the Malay Race. The Palma biography was meticulous with documentation. However, Ozaeta’s translation spared some attention to this detail, perhaps in the desire to reach a wider audience.

Carlos Quirino’s biography utilized a liberal approach of attempting to put the narrative in story-telling mode, transforming some thoughts of Rizal or other involved persons, sometimes breaking into direct conversation. At best, this was somewhat imagined journalistic. This approach could be criticized as being too playful with his material.

Quoting Rizal directly whenever necessary is one advantage of having the primary material available in his own writings. Sprinkling these documents into conversational narratives sometimes dramatized effectively, but it could be overdone.

In contrast, Camilo Osias and Gregorio F. Zaide were more restrained and, therefore, were more conventional in their approach to the Rizal narrative.

Zaide’s work was published immediately after the passage in 1956 of the Rizal Law, which required the teaching of Rizal’s life and works as part of the public educational curriculum. Its didactic approach was intended to follow this path of informing about the life of Rizal.

In fact, after the passage of this law, there was a rush to publish works about Rizal’s life and his works. This activity included the preparation of many translations of the works of Rizal into English and Tagalog and other dialects of the country. To this was added many versions (perhaps plagiarisms) of the translations of the Noli and El Fili.

Guerrero’s The First Filipino. The outstanding biography of Jose Rizal is the one by Leon Ma. Guerrero. It is not only the most comprehensive among the Filipino biographies. It is also the most well-documented, even though the style of documentation is unconventional.

Many of the books on Rizal tend to draw out his achievements and contributions to nation building.

Thus, they are “hagiographic”, that is, they extoll his virtues mainly. Guerrero’s work tends to be an exception in this regard. He gave Rizal a fuller treatment, giving him a more human cloth, also liable to errors of judgment.

The other notable biographies. I must mention two outstanding biographies written by foreigners.

First mention must go to Austin Coates, an Englishman, who wrote Jose Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr. Published by the Oxford Univerity Press in 1968, this book is a well-written biography of Rizal and is most careful with its sources, which is well-documented. One virtue of the book was that it placed Rizal in international context, within the sphere of Asian history during the 19th century.

In my Dec. 30 essay, I already noted the biography of Rizal by Jose Baron Fernandez, which is a well-written work by a Spaniard.

Not included. Some may wonder why many other works on Rizal are excluded in this listing.

Notable among these exclusions is the work of able historian Ambeth Ocampo. His Rizal Without the Overcoat (Anvil, 1990) and his other works on Rizal are essentially anecdotes, snippets, and other side-stories about Rizal. He has yet to write a biography of Rizal that is within the definition used in this article.

Nick Joaquin, the national artist, also has works that are on the boundary of biography. His Rizal in Saga (1996) comes closest to a biography. Joaquin is essentially a fictionist, a very capable wordsmith. He did not write a biography.

My email is: gpsicat@gmail.com. For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: http://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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