The indifferent crowd

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

When Jose Rizal was executed at Bagumbayan on Dec. 30, 1896, many Filipinos were already aware of the revolution. They knew of the abuses of the friars. Indeed Rizal’s family suffered from a land dispute with friars regarding their farmlands in Calamba, Laguna.

There were other complaints against abusive friars but land grabbing was the most serious so in a certain sense the revolution against Spanish colonialism was middle class. So it is not surprising that he should join other Filipinos in their fight for freedom and justice. It is a mistake to think that the revolution of Filipinos against Spanish colonialism was a fight for independence. Paradoxically, at the time Spain was the vanguard of progressive ideas in Europe and it was there that Rizal together with other Filipinos found their allies – free masonry.

We have only a sketchy picture of that morning when he was executed in Bagumbayan. It was a cold morning and the crowd was mostly those taking their morning walks in the park.

Carmen Lopez Rizal, a niece of Rizal, tells her story. She is the mother of my sister-in-law Cecil Consunji. I caught her in the nick of time when her memories were beginning to dim. She said that on that day, Dec. 30, 1896 the family discussed whether they would make a show of their appearance.This was thumbed down. Each was free to decide. As Mrs. Lopez-Rizal said, they had to peep through spaces in the crowd. In the Rizal diorama museum made by Richard Gordon it says explicitly that it was an indifferent crowd and his execution a mere curiosity.

This is a column I wrote some years back. I am rewriting it because of the political circumstances we are in today. What is Rizal’s relevance to the Filipino people today? Has he become more important now that Filipinos are more geared towards education? (Bonifacio’s supporters who want to make him national hero vs Rizal’s supporters – revolutionary vs intellectual).

In her 800-page book (unfortunately it is in French) Goujat concludes that he was more than a hero. He will always be relevant not only to Filipinos but to all mankind. Rizal stood for principles that do not change – justice and freedom. I think that more than ever Rizal, as intellectual, should be the model for generations of Filipinos to come.

Education is more enduring, revolutions (as in armed rebellion) come and go. But Rizal was not a mere reformist he was also revolutionary in the sense that when he saw that nothing would come out of the advocacy for reform, he did turn to more revolutionary (radical) ideas. So the common view that he was a mere reformist is wrong.

It is well known that Rizal imbibed his progressive political ideas while studying in Spain. Leon Ma. Guerrero said that the Philippine Revolution was made in Spain. Spain herself was an older battlefield for the same ideas.

“It was in Spain” that my perdition came,” Rizal said. Not enough has been done to bring this idea to the public mind in the Philippines. We think only of one Spain — the Spain in the Philippines captured in his books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

But there was another Spain. If it was Spain in the Philippines that executed Rizal, it was Spain in Spain that became a home for our heroes to imbibe ideas of good government and demand reforms for the Philippines. Manuel Sarkisyanz tells us why in his book Rizal and Republican Spain.?

Goujat researched for 12 years to write her book and uses primary documents to prove her point. It is not an either or question but the story of how Rizal changed his mind. It was a rite of passage from a reformist to a revolutionary. This line of thought is original or unusual to people like myself inured on the theory that he was a reformist and quite impatient with Filipinos, like Bonifacio et al who were calling for revolution. Goujat’s research on Rizal led her to a different conclusion.

But it may be that the theme of the book will answer why more and more thoughtful Filipinos today ask if we can avoid a revolution when there is such a lack of will to reform?

 In the book she examines “the integrally related questions of the future of the indigenous culture, the role of the church, specifically of ‘corporate religion,’ and the decline and eventual disappearance of colonialism.”

* * *

“I trace the origin of my interest in the Philippines to the four years that I spent in Asia, mainly in Singapore. There I discovered a continent bristling everywhere with passion, but by far the Philippines struck me the most, for its singularity, its variety and its infinite richness of culture and history,” Goujat said.

Being a French intellectual, she approaches the theme philosophically.

“The essence of his political dream, remain riddled with contradictions, and it is this overweighing impression of the grand political paradox between reform and revolution that I have tried to overcome in this book. In effect, the life work of Rizal follows a certain trajectory with all the meanderings that this term implies, and transforms eventually into the fruit of a slow, political and intellectual maturing.”

She acknowledged the help of Professor Paul Estrade, a specialist on Cuba and its national hero, José Martí . For her work, Estrade called her a ‘Philippiniste’ in the sphere of Hispanism and Latino-americanism. He names the themes she covers in her work of a unique interpretation of Rizal: The Filipino Ilustrados in the Mother Country or the Saga of Disenchantment, the History of a Long Term Rupture, The Indios become Filipinos, the Nightmare of a Nation in its Brevity and the Spanish language in the Philippines : A case apart.

To him Reform or Revolution is not a book of history or a literary exegesis, or even an iconoclast diatribe to discard the false images of Rizal of the 20th century. “It is an intellectual biography or even accurately an ideological biography.”

 “In this obvious political paradox, resides the bases of our study, for how explain that Rizal the assimilator, the pacifier, could find himself not only executed by the Spaniards for ‘treason and inciting rebellion,’ but rejected by the separatist movement, the Katipunan which launched the rebellion against Spain in 1896?”

 “José Rizal is not a hero, he is, in the definition of Voltaire, “a great man” not at all a restrictive qualification, on the contrary, as time has shown,” the French specialist on Cuba’s Marti, said.


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