“Mis suenos cuando apenas muchacho adolescente, Mis suenos cuando joven ya lleno de vigor, Fueron el verte un dia, joya del Mar de Oriente Secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente, Sin ceno, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor. Ensueno de mi vida, mi ardiente vivo anhelo, Salud te grita el alma que pronto va a partir! Salud! Ah, que es hermoso caer por darte vuelo, Morir por darte vida, morir bajo tu cielo, Y en tu encantada tierra la eternidad dormir.”
“My dreams when a lad, when scarcely adolescent: my dreams when a young man, now with vigor inflamed: were to behold you one day: Jewel of eastern waters: griefless the dusky eyes: lifted the upright brow: unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished and unashamed! Enchantment of my life: my ardent avid obsession: To your health! cries the soul soon to take the last leap: To your health! O lovely: how lovely: to fall that you may rise! To perish that you may live! To die beneath your skies! And upon your enchanted ground the eternities to sleep!”
Senores Caballeros, Respected Knights of Rizal, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
You recognize of course that I have just recited two stanzas from our hero’s Mi Ultimo Adios. The corresponding English translation is that of national artist Nick Joaquin.
I submit these lines encapsulate the life and love of Dr. Jose Rizal.
Everything in his life subordinated to his love of country.
The moth fatally attracted to the light.
“To sacrifice one’s life for light is worthwhile” he had said; if only to prove to succeeding generations that “(n)ot all were asleep in the night of our ancestors”.
After all, he asserted “(w)hat matters death, if one dies for what one loves, for native land, and beings held dear?”.
He had written: “My career, my life, my happiness all have been sacrificed for love of my native land”.
And explained: “I have always loved my poor motherland, and I am sure I shall always love her to the last moment even though perhaps men are unjust to me; and my future, my life, my joys, all I have, I sacrificed for my love of country”.
Such was the man we honour with today’s symposium.
One who, cuando apenas muchacho adolescente or when scarcely adolescent, already had that burning dream of righting the wrongs wrought on his people.
Perhaps he was impelled by a searing experience at age ten. On the eve of his departure for schooling in Manila, he saw his own beloved mother being brought to prison. Arriving in the city, he learned that his elder brother’s mentor and friend, Father Burgos, was garrotted together with Fathers Gomez and Zamora.
The climate of fear and suspicion, in the aftermath of the execution of the three Filipino priests, had him use in school the surname Rizal, meaning “green field” or “new pasture” from the Spanish word ricial. To comply with the gubernatorial decree to hispanize Filipino surnames, his father Francisco Mercado (mercado means “market”) chose Rizal as more apt for their farming family. His Kuya Paciano had used Mercado and was identified with Father Burgos.
This experience may have defined for the young Jose, perhaps subconsciously, the very purpose of his life.
A life that, in the words of the physician and scholar Tavera, was devoted to cultivating “all his good qualities in order to perfect them, and he practised them in order to bring about the material and moral betterment of the men of his race, which had heretofore been considered incapable of producing individuals of the mental calibre of the white man. Rizal, therefore, demonstrated that the Filipino race was able to give birth to individuals endowed with the highest attributes, who could be considered an honor to the human race”.
In the socio-political milieu of his time, the friars complained that Filipinos were stupid, lazy and lacking in dignity; yet these same religious colonizers denied them the opportunity and freedom to develop traits of diligence, competence and self-respect.
Rizal set out to prove to the Spaniards, the rest of the world, and his own countrymen, that Filipinos are not the intellectual inferior of any other race.
As Rafael Palma put it: “Finding his country inert, disunited, voiceless and unconscious of its own miseries, he galvanized it, united it, and inspired in it sentiments of solidarity, self-respect, and dignity”.
Thus, did Rizal live, loving the Philippines “virtuously, disinterestedly, and with profound religiosity”.
His life became his best poem, climaxed by the epigrammatic act of fearlessly facing death.
We gather this afternoon not to wallow in the memory of that death, that transition to higher consciousness.
We have come, instead, to be inspired by that for which he died: his constant, consuming aspiration—burning and alive in his heart of hearts—hanggang sa dulo ng walang hanggan or till the end of that which never ends.
For he had clarified: “Love of country can never be erased once it has entered the heart, because it carries with it a divine stamp which makes it eternal and imperishable”
His abiding suenos or dreams were to behold the dusky eyes of his beloved Inang Bayan—the jewel of the orient seas that had become a perdido eden—griefless. Liberated from soul-diminishing oppression and injustice.
Much more, he longed to see the country comporting itself with alta la tersa frente, with brow lifted and upright. A people and a land with justice, liberty, dignity, prosperity and rightful pride in their own accomplishments and capabilities. A member of the community of nations standing with a mien that is “unclouded, unfurrowed, unblemished, unashamed”.
Respected Knights, Friends:
Almost a hundred and three years have passed since Dr. Rizal’s martyrdom.
Yet, this “ardent avid obsession” of his, remains as bright and as valid as ever. Details may differ now, but the essence is the same.
The dusky eyes of Inang Bayan still quiver with a lot of grief.
De-humanizing conditions of poverty still reign in our rural and urban centers—conditions carrying concomitant complications of injustice and oppression.
Her brow is not yet that alta, nor tersa; albeit almost so.
For the Filipino people have gone through the boulders, sudden dips and unpredictable turns of the tortuous river of history, traversing: Spanish then American colonization; Japanese invasion; political independence; US-style democracy; communist insurgency; authoritarianism and dictatorship; Islamic separatism; the glory of EDSA; revival of democracy; respect for human rights; and global competitiveness in certain sectors.
And yet our diplomacy still must pursue development assistance from donor countries, as we cannot yet fund a large part of our own needs for progress. Our national defense capability is still more potential than actual. And, of more concern, approaching six million of our people (to include those in Australia) still have to go to other climes in a diaspora to over 180 countries, to “find their place in the sun” and to fulfil their own and their families’ basic material dreams.
Sirs and Ladies:
These shortfalls from Rizal’s burning dream of “secos los negros ojos; alta la tersa frente” all boil down, I submit, to one strategic answer: break free from the fetters of poverty—not really the material kind, but more importantly, the spiritual, the belief-based, the attitudinal.
Dr. Rizal shows us the way. After analyzing and bringing to light the varied causes of the evils in his country and the weaknesses of his people, he reduced these causes to two classes: (1) defects of training, and (2) lack of national sentiment.
His prescription: reforms in education so as to give the people better physical and intellectual training that would enable them to achieve greater dignity and progress; also, granting to the people of liberty, respect, and recognition of their right to advancement.
For he argued: “Without education and liberty: that soil and that sun of mankind, no reform is possible, no measure can give the result desired”.
Through Padre Florentino, in the concluding chapter of the El Filibusterismo, he explained how the liberties of the people could most properly be secured: “We must secure our liberty by making ourselves worthy of it, by exalting the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, by loving justice, right and greatness, even to the extent of dying for them”.
At the same time, he warned that so long as Filipinos wrapped themselves up in their egotism, they would never be fit for freedom. He maintained that freedom could be a blessing to his people only if they knew how to use it, to respect it, and to defend it even if it were an enemy exercising it. “Why independence”, he asked with concern, “if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?”
Rizal thus placed education as the prime condition for the advancement of his people and the progress of his country. He gave the highest importance to schools.
“The school is the basis of society”, he said. “The school is the book in which is written the future of the nations. Show me the school of a people and we will show what the people is”, he challenged. Ladies and gentlemen:
The Filipino nation today is still recovering from probably the worst legacy of our misadventure in dictatorship: the degradation of our basic educational system—because the budget for it was siphoned to other ends.
Given this continuing problem and the imperative on schools advocated by Rizal, might it not be a good idea for the Knights of Rizal, Sydney Chapter, to adopt at least one elementary school somewhere in our seven thousand islands, bring to it microscopes and other equipment for science and technology, computers and books—or the basic amenities in the schools here that are so taken for granted as givens but are atrociously lacking in our schools, particularly those in the barrios?
Would it not be better still if in the adopted school, the Chapter makes sure Rizal’s ideals are brought to life, science is taught to become an integral part of daily culture, entrepreneurship made the main approach to ensuring sustenance to lessen “employee-mentality”, and each one of the young—the “fair hope of the fatherland”—is convinced: to hold every Filipino in high esteem, to expect the best of every Filipino, and to live his or her life in such a way as to merit such high esteem and best expectation?
Just an idea. If you have done it, please disregard.
But the point is, there is always something one can do without need of being a hero—like doing something for the welfare of others—little things that will redound to the betterment of Inang Bayan.
Little things that, in the view of Dr. Rizal—who now floats in our air, our space, our valleys, as fragrance, light, colours, whispers, songs and sighs, constantly repeating the essence of his faith in the Filipino—would make him say:
“ah, que es hermoso dormir la eternidad en su encantada tierra!”
“how beautiful it is to sleep the eternities in your enchanted land!”
*** Paper presented by Consul General Edwin Bael at “A Symposium on the Life and Works of Dr Jose P. Rizal” by the Order of the Knights of Rizal, Sydney Chapter, on May 30, 1999 at the Bankstown RSL Club, Bankstown, NSW.