Rizal, Rd. L.M. and federalism
(The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2016 - 12:00am

When Rizal and other Filipinos gathered in Paris for the Universal Exposition in 1889, they founded an organization called “Rd. L.M.” Up to now, its existence and aims are yet to be understood completely. Historians have not even discovered what the acronym definitively stands for.

Aside from Rizal, the other known Rd. L.M. members were Jose Ma. Basa, Julio Llorente, Marcelo Del Pilar, Gregorio Aguilera, Mariano Ponce and Baldomero Roxas. In a letter to Basa dated September 21, 1889, Rizal explained the purpose of Rd.L.M.: 

[W]e have decided to establish a society whose only purpose is the diffusion in the Philippines of all useful knowledge, be it scientific, artistic, literary, etc. It imposes no other obligation on the members except to favor one another when it concerns the propagation of a useful knowledge… Neither religion nor politics has anything to do with it.

 Indeed, the spreading of useful knowledge in the Philippines was a lofty goal. But if Rd. L.M. was such a harmless organization, why did Rizal demand utmost secrecy about it? In the letter to Basa, Rizal instructed him to keep the secrecy of letters or packages marked with “Rd. L.M.” He cautioned Basa:

If you receive a package, a book or a letter, on which you read the initials Rd. L.M., this is enough for you to take special care that it reaches its destination, because it is highly important. A box, for example, on which you read these character sought to reach its destination through the safest and quickest way possible… Once you have read this letter, burn it and do not communicate its contents even to your subordinates…

 Rizal also demanded strict secrecy about membership in the Rd. L.M. when he wrote to Del Pilar on November 4, 1889:  “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.”

The secret member whom Rizal recommended to Del Pilar was one Fr. Jose Ma. Chanco who needed help to access Masons in Spain. Rizal insisted that Fr. Chanco’s membership must remain a secret: “Kailangang huag sa kanino mang harapan ang pagkakapatid namin o natin.” Rizal added, “Kaya nga, alinsunod sa pangako niya sa akin na tayo’y tutulungan niyang lihim, sa lahat ng makakaya, iniaalay ko naman sa kaniya ang ating tulong.”

There is something amiss when such a harmless organization would require secrecy about its membership and activities. It is probable that the Rd. L.M. was founded for another reason other than to simply spread knowledge in the country.

Rizal’s own nephew, Dr. Leoncio Lopez-Rizal, was mystified with the Rd. L.M. and its real objectives. In an article he wrote in 1960,he encouraged researchers to have a second look at Rd. L.M. and discover the real intention behind its establishment.     

Dr. Lopez-Rizal pointed out the existence of a little known newspaper published in Batangas in 1899 during the Philippine-American War. It was called Columnas Volantes de la Federacion Malaya and was edited by Gregorio Aguilera – one of the members of Rd. L.M. Its aim “was to publish something as an organ of the Filipino people marching ahead and together with the Malayan people as a federation, an idea that presumably [Aguilera] brought from Europe and was related to the Rd. L.M.”

 Dr. Lopez-Rizal surmised that Aguilera was actually echoing the political ideas he had acquired from Rizal. He then concluded: 

It is my personal belief that Rizal’s intention to settle and found a colony of Filipinos in Borneo was not merely to have a place where Filipinos could live and work with more liberty as well as free themselves from the oppressive conditions in the Philippines; not necessarily to become farmers … but for something else more important, which is to have freedom of action to attain the aims of the Rd. L.M. Society which, to me, means no other than the ‘Redemption of the Malay Race.’

 In December 1891, Rizal wrote to his sister Maria:  “Mabuti ang tayo namin dito [sa Hong Kong]. May pagasa kaming lumipat sa Borneo at doon magbayan at magbukas ng lupa.” And in April 1892, Rizal went to Sandakan in Borneo to meet with British colonial officials regarding his plan, which however was later rejected by the Spanish Governor-General.

If Dr. Lopez-Rizal’s conclusion is correct, it means two things. First, Rizal and other Rd. L.M. members had entertained the idea of establishing an embryonic autonomous political entity in Borneo but they were not able to fully conceive its structure. 

Second, this political entity was intended to join cause with other Malay peoples who were also under foreign domination. This plan to link with other Malay peoples can be deduced from Rizal’s letter to Roxas dated December 28, 1889:

I am trying to address myself to all Filipinos, to interest them to reform the spirit of the colony, to form a colony, serious, hard-working and studious. Thus, I address myself to you, to Aguilera, to Llorente, to Bautista. Only virtues can redeem the slave. It is the only way to make the tyrants respect us and the foreigners to make common cause with us.

The foreigners whom Rizal hoped would “make common cause with us” were the peoples of Borneo, Indonesia and Malaya who were also then colonies of foreign powers. Rizal’s contemporaries later recounted that he had felt deeply about the misfortunes of the Javanese people under Dutch rule.

The plan to join cause with other Malay peoples can also be deduced from Rizal’s letter to Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt dated July 20, 1890:

Formerly, I had not reflected on your observation that ‘Those peoples would better beassimilated by a greater Malayan nation than by a Spanish one…’ [Esas naciones se absorberán mejor por una nacion mayor Malaya que por una española.] I admit now that this is true; I have never thought of it. It is in accordance with the law on affinity.

Biographer Austin Coates stated a similar opinion about Rd. L.M.:  “Within it however, was a secret inner group which beneath the concealment of the code letters Rd. L.M. (Redención de los Malayos), was pledged to the liberation of the Malay peoples from colonial rule, a pledge to be made good first in the Philippines, later to be extended to the inhabitants of Borneo, Indonesia and Malaya.”

Rizal’s other letter to Blumentritt dated 23 February 1892 was also telling:

[I]f it is impossible for me to give my country liberty, I should like to give it at least to these noble compatriots in other lands. So, I am thinking of immigrating to Borneo. There are vast fields over there where we can find a new Kalamba.

Rizal also told Blumentritt, “In Borneo I shall not be a planter (plantador) but the leader (caudillo) of the planters who are thinking of emigrating there with me.”

Is it possible that the Rd. L.M. was intended as a launching pad for a pan-Malayan federation (una federacion Malaya), perhaps a federal “Republica de los Malayos”? Historians and political analysts should take a second look.

Noel Villaroman, PhD is a lawyer who works for the United Nations and author of the book “Rizal in Barong Tagalog” (New Day Publishers, 2016). - Noel Villaroman


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