Rizal’s entrepreneurial life as exile in Dapitan

CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2021 - 12:00am

Born on June 19, 1861, this year marks the 160th birth anniversary of our national hero. In celebration, I feature his admirable industry in his final years.

From July 17, 1892 to July 31, 1896 – a period of four years and 13 days –Jose Rizal lived the life of a political exile in Dapitan, the northern Mindanao which today is part of the province of Zamboanga del Norte, near Dipolog.

An accomplished young life. Jose Rizal was 31 years by the time he was put by the Spanish colonial authorities into exile. At that age, he had essentially accomplished most of the works for which he would be martyred as a hero.

The two important novels that would open the eyes of his countrymen to the many harsh realities of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines had already been published by then. These were two powerful novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

While he lived in Europe, He was considered a leader among his contemporaries who have also contributed important writings in help of the propaganda movement criticizing Spanish colonial rule in the country.

A busy life in exile. The authorities did not demand total control over Rizal’s activities while he was in exile. Although his political rights were denied him, he was essentially free to do what he pleased to undertake in the place of his exile in Dapitan.

Rizal had to be in good political behavior by reporting to his military supervisor regularly. Otherwise, he was on his own. In general, Rizal developed a congenial relationship with the symbol of his political impotence, the military commander to whom he reported.

Essentially, this relationship grew out of respect and amiability as they went through their routinary meetings.

A learned and inquisitive mind could not be kept in cold storage for long. Given the learning and superior knowledge that Jose Rizal earned in his studies and experience from his apprenticeships and his travels, there were always ways to put his knowledge to good use, to personally survive as well as to help the community in which he lived.

They took many dimensions, but primarily, he had to fend for himself. First he thought of engaging in agricultural endeavors. He secured permission to plant fruit trees and coconuts on open land.

Leon Ma. Guerrero, in his landmark 1960 biography of Jose Rizal, The First Filipino, provides us a glimpse of Rizal’s life through Rizal’s own personal correspondence, during this exile period. [pp. 345-347].

A stroke of improbably good luck happened. Rizal had bought, along with his military commander and another local Spaniard, a lottery ticket in Manila that won the big, second prize. That brought in for him a share of one-third from a P20,000 prize, or P6,200.

With proceeds from this pot, he “was not only able to buy 50 lanzones trees, 20 mango trees, macopa trees, some 50 lanka trees, santol trees, balones, 18 mangosteens, and … planted some 1,400 coffee trees and 200 cocoa seedlings.”

In several letters to Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, his Austrian friend and scholar-correspondent, Jose Rizal described his life in Dapitan.

Rizal wrote: “I have a square house, a six-sided house, and an eight-sided house. My mother, my sister Trinidad, a nephew [who were then visiting] and I live in the square house; in the eight-sided house are my boys [pupils] whom I am teaching figuring, Spanish and English …. My chickens live in the six-sided house. … I get up early, at five o’clock, inspect my fields, feed the chickens, wake up my workers, and get them to work. At half-past seven we breakfast… Then I examine and give treatment to my poor patients, who come to see me, dress, and go to town…. I return at noon and have my luncheon… Afterwards I teach my boys until four o’clock and spend the rest of the afternoon in the fields. At night I read and study.”

This is another letter: “My life goes on peacefully and monotonously. To pass the time and help the local people here a little, I have turned merchant. I buy hemp and ship it to Manila. I was lucky this month; I made $200 at one blow…. My present life is is tranquil, peaceful, withdrawn and without glory, but I think it is also useful. I am teaching some poor, but intelligent children how to read Spanish and English, mathematics (including geometry), and how to behave like men…”

A third letter: “In six hours I must read many letters and answer them, load my hemp aboard ship, see the local commander, make inquiries, ask about money for my business, etc., etc. The ship comes only once a month and stays here only eight hours, sometimes less. I have to open cases, inspect merchandize, visit my patients, give advice – sometimes my head is all awhirl. I have turned half-physician and half-merchant. I have started a mercantile company here; I have taught the poor inhabitants of Mindanao to unite in order to do business so that they can make themselves independent and free themselves from the Chinese, and thus be less exploited….”

Finally, another. “Now we are going to make a reservoir on my lands. I have 14 boys whom I am teaching languages, mathematics, and how to work; since we have nothing to work on, I have decided to build a dike of stone, brick and cement so they may learn.”

Rizal tried his artistic skills to make sketches of Philippine fish and other fauna and collected some specimens of these for German scholars in an effort to secure equipment and books for his use in Dapitan. This endeavor succeeded momentarily, but was hampered by distance and supply logistics.

Exile and imprisonment ended in execution. His Dapitan exile was to end in exchange for transfer as military doctor in Cuba. He was on board ship when the 1896 Revolution outbreak took place, and so was sent instead to Barcelona, Spain for imprisonment. Eventually, he was returned to Manila for trial and later execution in that year.



For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://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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