Jose Rizal, the first Filipino nationalist
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 29, 2019 - 12:00am

Jose Rizal spent the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 1896 prepaing for his martyrdom. At around three o’clock in the morning, he heard mass and received Communion. At half past five, he had breakfast with some officers. 

He then wrote a farewell letter to his family but included a short message to his father. He wrote a short note to his mother which simply said, “To my much beloved mother, Sra. Da. Teodora Alonso, at six o’clock in the morning 30th of December 1896.”

Josephine Bracken then arrived, accompanied by Trinidad. Rizal and Josephine were married in a ceremony officiated by Balaguer in the presence of the prison commanding officer. At around 6:30 a.m the military detachment that was to escort Rizal to the site of the execution fell in. Shortly after, the march began.

He wanted to be shot in front , but his executioners refused. But he refused to be blindfolded and to kneel. Jose Rizal’s martyrdom has left the Filipino people many legacies.

Among the many biographies of Rizal one of my favorites is The First Filipino written by Leon Ma. Guerrero and published in 1962. According to the author, previously the term Philippines was largely a geographical expression and loyalty to the Philippines was he instinctive affection for the land of one’s birth, one’s “native land” rather than for a nation.

It was Rizal who taught his countrymen that they could be something else –Filipinos – who were members of a Filipino nation. He was the first who sought to unite the whole archipelago and envisioned a “compact and homogenous community” of all the old tribal communities from Batanes to Sulu, based on common interests.

There have been many studies on the life and legacies of our national hero. One constant theme was Rizal’s role as the first nationalist, the principal reason he is considered the national hero of his people.

A Rev. H.S. Bigelow delivered an address on Rizal on Feb. 12, 1899 in Cincinnati, Ohio  where he said:

“Rizal was a profound student of anthropology and ethnology. He was inclined to master these studies by the behaviour of the Spaniards, who treated the native ‘Indios’ as though they were by nature inferior. As a schoolboy, he was often cut to the quick by their arrogance toward  his people.He could not understand why he should be considered inferior simply because his skin color was brown and his hair straight. He took delight in standing at the head of his class just to prove that the Spaniards were no better than his own people.”

Aside from being a nationalist, Rizal was also a world-class genius and is recognized as such by many international historians.

Dr. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is the author of 12 books including CIVILIZATION: Culture, Ambition and Transformation of Nature published by Simon and Schuster in 2001. In the book, he talks of how the ideas of the Renaissance Age blended with native traditions; and, in its modified forms spread and influenced many countries outside Europe. His principal examples were Rammohun Roy of India and jose Rizal of the Philippines. This is what he said of Rizal:

“Jose Rizal, the hero of Filipino nationalism, can best be represented as a product of the last European renaissance.  He was an Asian of European education, the best student of Greek in Madrid University in his day. He was a Renaissance man an “ uomo universale” who triumphed in almost every skill he tried: poetry and prose, sculpture and surgery, education and revolution, antiquarianism and anti-colonialism.

He crammed his great novel Noli Me Tangere with classical allussions.On the title page, he managed to fit references to Homer, Caesar, Greek tragedies, Schiller and Shakespeare: a parade of highlights  from the tradition to which he was self ascribed. His researches into the grammar of native languages of the Philippines were in the Renaissance humanist tradition reminiscent indeed of the efforts of some of early Spanish friar-scholars in the islands. 

He anticipated a “pleiad” of Filipino writers waiting to succeed him. The apostrophications that spring to mind in efforts to explain him are often drawn from the Renaissance world. He is the Cervantes of Asia or the Tagalog Shakespeare.

That is not, of course, the whole truth of Rizal. He also searched for inspiration in the indigenous traditions to which he felt himself heir. He heard Tagalog poetry before he could speak Spanish. His annotations to one of the earliest Spanish chronicles of Filipino history were part of a search for a Filipino golden age uncorrupted by the colonial experience. 

During Rizal’s last months of exile in Mindanao, removed from metropolitan and cosmopolitan environments in which he had spent most of his life, his roots seemed to have deepened in what he came to see as part of his own country’s soil. When  he returned to Manila to face death by firing squad for his involvement in revolutionary nationalism, he questioned his designation as a “Chinese mestizo” on his own death warrant insisting that he was a “pure bred native.” 

Tomorrow, we commemorate the 123rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal. It is a testimony to his greatness that the ideals and principles he wrote and died for still provide inspiration to our people. 

He was truly the first Filipino nationalist.

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