JOSE Rizal’s famous message for the youth is that the youth is fair hope of the nation. What he exactly said was the youth was “bella esperanza de la Patria mia” or “fair hope of my fatherland” (Rizal’s Poems, Centennial Edition, Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1962, p. 15).
He did not say that the youth was the country’s sole hope. That he said so is misquoting him. Fair hope is very different from being the only hope. This message was in his poem A la Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth), which won the first prize in a literary contest sponsored in 1879 by the Artistic-Literary Lyceum of Manila, a society composed of the leading writers and artists in Manila. He was given a feather-shaped silver pen and a diploma during the awarding ceremonies held on November 29, 1879. Only 18 years old, he bested both the indios (native Filipinos) and mestizos (Filipinos with mixed races) who joined in this contest.
Some people misunderstand Rizal because they have not read the 25-volume Escritos de Jose Rizal (Writings of Jose Rizal), which contains nearly all of his writings and philosophical thoughts. He will be misquoted once he is interpreted through one poem only. Critics should first read him thoroughly before attacking him.
They claim that Rizal was wrong because the youth cannot be the nation’s hope, for they are still dependent on their parents, do not have a voice in national affairs, and are still struggling with their lessons in schools. He was totally wrong, they add, because the young are delinquent, addicted to illegal drugs, join violent and criminal gangs, suffer from unwanted pregnancies and abortion, or give in to smoking, drinking, gambling, and other vices. For them, the faults of some young people frame the general picture of today’s youth.
When Rizal wrote A la Juventud Filipina, it was already the 314th of the 333-year Spanish colonization of the Philippines (1565-1898) – already the decadent era of Spain’s imperial glory.
Under Spain, Filipinos did not have freedom and security for their lives and properties. They were forced to submit themselves and the fruits of their labor to the flag of Spain, the colonial government, and the Roman Catholic Church.
Those who fought for their rights could be stripped of their belongings, arrested, tortured, exiled, or executed. The government taxed them heavily, and the friars taxed them more. They were also obliged to render labor without pay in building roads, highways, bridges, government buildings, church edifices, galleons, and other public works.
Rizal saw the miseries of his people. He himself suffered cruelty one night when a Spanish lieutenant attacked him because he failed to give him the mandatory salute. Rizal did not see him because it was very dark. Despite the wound that he got, he was still imprisoned. Only 17, he appealed to the governor general, but the highest Spanish official in the land only brushed him aside (The Rizal-Blumentritt Correspondence, Centennial Edition, Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1961, Part 1, p. 62).
Rizal wanted an end to the oppression of his people. He would like to get the help of senior Filipino citizens but could not do so because most of them were subservient to the government and the church. He saw that they would rather spend lavishly on fiestas that afterward impoverished them, and cast their fortunes into Masses and religious items like rosaries, scapulars, and statues (Miscellaneous Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal, National Heroes Commission Edition, Manila: National Heroes Commission, 1964, pp. 92-106).
Seeing that the elder generations of his time were hopeless against tyranny and were submissive to the colonizers, Rizal turned to his fellow youth. A la Juventud Filipina was for the youth of his time. It asked them to excel in the arts, sciences, and professions because it was they, not the elders, who would one day right the wrongs, free the country from Spanish colonization, build a new and independent Filipino nation, and mold a better future (Rizal’s Correspondence with Fellow Reformist, Centennial Edition, Manila: National Heroes Commission, 1963, p. 187; El Filibusterismo, offset printing of the first edition published in Ghent, Belgium, in 1891, Centennial Edition, Manila: Comision Nacional del Centenario de Jose Rizal, 1961, pp. 44-49).
During those times, the youth meant people in high school, college, and those in the early years of their professions—or those from 13 to 30 years old (Rizal’s Correspondence with Fellow Reformists, p. 474). Thus, when Rizal talked of the youth, he meant those born from 1860 and above. In 1890, Rizal was 29 and he still considered himself a youth. It is still the same today. People who are 13 to 30 years old are the ones considered the youth.
Since the message was for them, Rizal and his contemporaries tried all they could to fulfill it.
Rizal was 25 when he published the Noli Me Tangere, a novel that asked for extreme repairs of and cures for the cancerous colonial society of his countrymen. He was 29 when he published Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, an old book about the last moments of our ancient nationality and could therefore give Filipinos a chance to know the shadow of the civilization of our ancestors. And he was 30 when he published El Filibusterismo, his second novel that urged the Filipinos to face a tragic revolution to finally end their sufferings.
Andres Bonifacio was 28 when he founded the Katipunan. Emilio Jacinto was only 20 when made the Katipunan secretary-general and one of Bonifacio’s right-hand men.
Emilio Aguinaldo was 27 when he became a revolutionary general and 28 when he was elected the country’s first president in 1897. He was 29 when he declared Philippine independence from Spanish rule on June 12, 1898. He was also 29 when he became the president of the Philippine Republic (1899-1901) on January 23, 1899. He was almost 30 when he began defending that independence and that infant republic against the Americans during the Filipino-American War (1899-1903).
Rizal was in his early twenties when he gave his countrymen the sense of nationhood and independence. Bonifacio was in his twenties too when he envisioned a revolution. Aguinaldo was also in his twenties when he led the establishment of the Philippine Republic.
Because of the youthful Rizal, Bonifacio, and Aguinaldo, the Filipino people were able to acquire their independence, republic, national flag, and national anthem—their nationhood.
Bonifacio’s fellow Katipuneros were also at the peak of their youth when they launched the bloody uprising against Spain in August 1896. They and the other Filipinos who fought during the Filipino-American War were young and dedicated as well.
Mamerto Natividad and Flaviano Yengko were the youngest Filipino generals to perish on the battlefields while fighting the Spaniards, dying at 26 and 22, respectively. Gregorio Del Pilar was 22 years old when an American bullet struck him on the face. He was the youngest Filipino general to die during the Filipino-American War.
Many of the Malolos Congress delegates were Rizal’s high school and college peers. They were the country’s most important lawyers, physicians, pharmacists, engineers, businessmen, writers, educators, and military officers. They were the ones who drafted in 1898-99 the Philippine Political Constitution or the Malolos Constitution, which created the Philippine Republic, mapped the Philippine territory, defined Filipino citizenship, provided civil rights for Filipinos, and established a government that would be elected and run by the Filipino people themselves. By writing this fundamental law of the land, they established the sovereign Filipino nation, which was the supreme goal of the Philippine Revolution.
The youth of Rizal’s time was the first generation of patriotic and idealistic Filipino youth. They were the pioneer young generation that offered their talents, strength, and lives for the motherland. They would have been thoroughly triumphant in winning the goal of building a free nation had not the Americans arrived in the Philippines in May 1898 and launched a bloody war against them in February 1899.
The U.S. government sent 126,468 soldiers and spent US$300 million to murder more than 20,000 Filipino soldiers and more than 200,000 Filipino civilians (House Documents, 57th [U.S.] Congress, Vol. IV, p. 291). They destroyed homes, schools, churches, villages, and towns; stole jewelry and other precious items; annihilated water buffaloes and livestock to serve as their meat; and blasted roads, bridges, highways, cable lines, and railroad lines.
The month-old Philippine Republic was totally defenseless against the United States, which was 122 years old already as a republic. Besides, the Filipinos had exhausted most of their arms and ammunition against Spain.
The youth of Rizal’s time tried but failed to fulfill his message for them because the Americans won the Filipino-American War and ruled the country until 1946. However, the noblest fruits of their efforts – the national flag and the national anthem – are still well and alive today, consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.
On June 12, 1898, the flag was waved and the anthem was played officially for the first time to mark the birth of the Filipino nation. Today, the flag is still unfurled and the anthem is still sung, which only proves that they are the genuine living legacies of the Philippine Revolution.
Rizal’s call on the youth to become the fair hope of the motherland is still applicable today. Millions of today’s young people in all nations have the ability to build better generations and better civilizations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A native of Catarman, Northern Samar, now living in Metro Manila. He graduated with an AB History degree from a college in Makati City. He writes in Filipino and English, and since 2000 has been publishing short stories, historical fiction for children, and essays in Liwayway, Junior Inquirer, Philippine Panorama, and The Modern Teacher.