This is Part 1 of Rizal’s Legacy for the 21st Century: Progressive Education, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development in Dapitan, first published at Social Science Diliman (SSD) Volume 7, No. 2, December 2011 issue. // Ed.
Rizal’s four years in Dapitan have not been fully explored for the light they can shed on contemporary issues in community development and education. In particular, the significance of the school he founded in Talisay has not merited scholarly commentary. Those fruitful four years in Dapitan have become Rizal’s most unappreciated legacy, yet they are precisely what make Rizal singularly relevant to the 21st century. This essay explains why. // Floro Quibuyen
Keywords: Dapitan, Talisay, progressive education, community development, social entrepreneurship, Rizal
Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte has always celebrated its town fiesta with fireworks, from the Spanish colonial era to today’s Republic. Fireworks, as the Chinese had taught us, are meant to drive away the demons and bring cheer for happier and more prosperous days.
Dapitan’s fiesta on July 24,1892 seemed like any other fiesta when firecrackers blew up in the hands of a careless man. But as he writhed helplessly in pain—the bystanders could do nothing but look on in pity — an unknown doctor hurried down from Casa Real to attend to him.
This was the distinguished doctor who had just arrived days before and that propitious night was his introduction to the people of Dapitan and the neighboring towns. The doctor’s name was Jose Rizal. [ref 1]
Within a year, the newcomer would be more esteemed and revered than Dapitan’s pompous overlords. Wenceslao Retana, in his now classic 1907 Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal, the first full-length documented biography of Rizal, recounts:
The townsfolk adored and revered him. “Dr Rizal!” people would call out, with great respect, upon seeing him pass by: they doffed their hats and bowed. The townsfolk greeted him with more reverence than they did the comandante and the parish priest. Just as he enjoyed fame as a wise man amongst Europeans for being an indio puro, the natives thought of him as something extraterrestrial (p.18) [ref 2]
Four years later, on July 31, 1896, as the sun was setting, Rizal walked from his house to Talisay’s shores for the last time. Frank Laubach describes the scene:
All the people of Dapitan, old and young, formed a funeral procession and walked weeping to the shore, saying as they went: “We will never see our Doctor Rizal again.” Seven [ref 3] of his loyal students went with him to Manila. The other boys wept because they were too poor to go (1909, ch.14).
Who was this man, this “extraterrestrial” being? What did he do in Dapitan? How did he live among the townsfolk? Why did they weep upon seeing him leave for good?
On the deck of the ship that was to take him away, as he looked at the teary-eyed townsfolk, still waving bandanas and tree branches, he must have smiled and waved back with mixed feelings of gratitude, a sense of fulfilment and sadness. A sense of fulfilment, because, in Dapitan, he had put into practice all that he had advocated in his writings. Gratitude, because he could not have done much without the townsfolk’s enthusiastic support and participation. And sadness, because he was leaving a cherished place of refuge that he knew in his heart he would never see again. As he affectionately described it:
Dapitan is situated by a handsome bay that faces West, on some sort of island formed expressly for her, as if in order to isolate her from the vulgar world, by a lovely river which to this end has graciously consented to split itself into two, thus to embrace her with two silvery arms and carry her towards the sea as an offering, the most beautiful that it has found in its tortuous d eventful pilgrimage over mountains and valleys, through forests and plain (Translated from the original Spanish by George Aseniero; cited in Walpole, 2011).
Having settled in his cabin, Rizal recounted in his diary the hectic preparations for his departure. Of his life in Dapitan, however, he could only write, “I have been in that district four years, thirteen days, and a few hours.” Tired and gripped with sadness and foreboding, Rizal could say no more. But what momentous years they were!
NEXT: FORGING THE NATION IN DAPITAN