By Floro Quibuyen
On his 31 December 1888 letter to his compatriots, whose important meeting he couldn’t attend, Rizal wrote:
“Without wishing to parody the sublime words of Christ, I shall say to you nevertheless why I think and feel thus, that wherever two Filipinos meet in the name of the native land and for her welfare, there also I should like to be to join them.”
As you know, Rizal was alluding to the Pentecost. He continued,
“How I would like now to be in your midst in order to think and feel with you, to dream, to wish, to attempt something so that those who will follow us may not be able to throw anything in our face, so that we may give something to that country that has given us everything, in spite of her unhappy face.”
I have a feeling, though, that Rizal is with us this morning, watching our commemoration of his death, with love and a knowing smile (I’ll come back to his later). Image: The writer delivering his message on Sunday Dec 30…
And so, my first greeting goes to Rizal: Good morning Lolo Jose. I hope your spirit will guide me as I share my thoughts to dear compatriots and friends, who are gathered here today at a park named in your honor, in a place far away from home.
Rizal and Bonifacio are the founding fathers of the Filipino nation. Rizal sowed the idea and provided the vision for the Filipino nation. Bonifacio, whose sesquicentennial we are celebrating this year, brought it to fruition.
In his 27 June 1888 letter to Mariano Ponce, Jose Rizal wrote:
“The principal thing that should be demanded from a Filipino of our generation is…to be a good man, a good citizen, who would help his country to progress with his head, his heart, and if need be, with his arms. With the head and the heart we ought to work always; with the arms when the time comes.”
The time came in 1892 when the Spanish authorities arrested and deported Rizal to Dapitan.
The writer (4th from left) with other members of the Order of the Knights of Rizal Sydney Chapter, Consul General Anne Jalando-on Louis (center) and Campbelltown City Mayor Cr Clinton Mead. [Photo: The Filipino Australian]
It then fell upon a kindred soul—Andres Bonifacio—to organize and mobilize the people through the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mgá Anak ng Bayan, The Highest, Most Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation. The Katipunan, guided by the light of Rizal’s vision, spearheaded the Revolution against Spain that would usher in the birth of the Filipino nation.
The exiled Rizal, for his part, pursued his expressed goal of “doing all I can for the people of Dapitan”—by creating a progressive primary and secondary school, a community hospital, a farmers’ cooperative, public works such as a water pipeline and a lighted park—thereby transforming Dapitan into a model of community development in the Philippines.
In Binondo, where the Rizal family had moved after being ejected from their Calamba estate by the Spanish authorities, Rizal’s sisters Trinidad and Josefa, and niece Angelica became high ranking members of the Katipunan. It was they who, in 1893, initiated into the Katipunan Bonifacio’s bride Gregoria de Jesus, who thereupon assumed the nom de guerre Lakambini.
In Dapitan, Rizal had enough opportunities to escape, but when confronted, in 1896, with the choice between martyrdom and taking up arms, he chose martyrdom. Following his injunction that “pure and spotless must the victim be in order for the sacrifice to be acceptable” Rizal, aged 35, serenely gave his life on 30 Dec 1896, happy at the thought that his country would be redeemed.
Rather than witness his execution, Rizal’s dulce extrangera Josephine, elder brother Paciano, and sister Trinidad surreptitiously travelled to Cavite, where they sought out Bonifacio to entrust him with a copy of Rizal’s farewell poem.
Josephine’s participation in the revolutionary effort in Cavite—serving as nurse, teacher, and combatant (indeed she was rumoured to have killed one Spaniard)–was viewed by the rebels as Rizal’s blessing for the revolution.
Rizal’s last dedication to Josephine, inscribed in his copy of Thomas á Kempis’ Imitacion de Cristo, which he gave to Josephine on the eve of his execution, was “To my dear and unhappy wife Josephine—Jose Rizal 30 December 1896.”
Rizal’s wife was the first and only woman foreigner to have participated in the Philippine Revolution against Spain.
Paciano, who Rizal had described as “the most noble Filipino”, who financially supported Rizal’s studies in Europe and, thus, enabled him to “fulfill his mission”, became a revolutionary general. He led the forces that liberated his hometown Calamba from Spanish rule. In his moment of victory, Paciano magnanimously bestowed clemency to the Dominican friars who, he believed, were “the assassins” of his brother and the “authors of the destruction” of the farming community of his hometown.
Today, we hardly know, much less celebrate the intimate link between the Rizals and Bonifacio and the Katipunan.
But Filipinos in Rizal’s time knew that intimate link. Inspired by Rizal’s conscious and voluntary sacrifice, the people offered their lives in the struggle against Spain—which was decisively won in 1898.
The first ever official tribute to Rizal came from Bonifacio, the Supreme leader of the Katipunan and the first Filipino to translate into Tagalog Rizal’s farewell poem.
So that they will not lose faith in their darkest, most trying moments, Bonifacio enjoined his fellow Filipinos to remember Rizal’s sacrifice. Around February or March 1897, Bonifacio issued a proclamation entitled Mararahas na manga Anak ng Bayan (Militant Children of the Nation). He declared—
“Ang katampalasanang pagpatay sa ating pinakaiibig na kababayan na si M. José Rizal, ay nagbukas sa ating puso ng isang sugat na kailan pa ma’y di mababahaw”
[The evil killing of our most beloved compatriot, the great Jose Rizal, cut a deep wound in our hearts that will never heal.]
Rizal, however, did not feel any bitterness during his last hours (unlike his 35-year old namesake Father Jose Burgos, who cried protesting his innocence as he was brought to the gallows in 1872)—he had only feelings of love for his people and his family as he marched to his execution site.
Consider Rizal’s last words to his family: “Give thanks to God that I may preserve my tranquillity before my death.” Rizal’s parting words to his sisters could just as well apply to our Filipino community here in Sydney and in other parts of the world—
“I enjoin you to forgive one another the little meannesses of life, and try to live united in peace and harmony.”
As well as to our children, some of whom are with us today:
“Treat your parents as you would like to be treated by your children later. Love them very much in my memory.”
Rizal’s final request applies to us directly, everytime we commemorate, with pomp and ceremony, and speeches and flowers, Rizal’s death:
“Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later, you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. NO ANNIVERSARIES. I prefer Paang Bundok [today’s North Cemetery, Manila].”
We have been violating Rizal’s expressed wishes every year since 1912. But I’m sure Rizal is smiling at us now—for he understands that by honouring him, we are honouring the Filipino nation for which he died.
Indeed honouring Rizal and our nation is honest and meaningful only if we demand of ourselves and our children to become good men and women, good citizens, who would help our country to progress with our head, our heart, and…with our arms.
Lolo Jose, we know you are always with us whenever we are working together for the common good. See you around Lolo Jose.
*** Message delivered by the writer during the observance of the 117th anniversary of Rizal’s martyrdom at Rizal Park, Rosemeadow in Campbelltown. / Ed.
More photos at the Knights of Rizal Sydney website.