On this Rizal Day, some thoughts

December 30, 2021

For Filipinos, Rizal is everywhere. As I was strolling near the Asian Civilizations Museum (Singapore) the other day, I was reminded of this. There’s a small Rizal memorial there, too, which reminds me of how abundant his statues are back home.

Our obsession with Rizal has always seemed to me like an overcompensation. Often cited and mentioned, but never read. This is how the popular historian Ambeth Ocampo would put it.

I couldn’t agree more.

In college, I had a good Rizal professor. His non-compulsory educational trip to Calamba (Rizal’s ancestral home) attracted few participants. He had done it in December when everyone was getting ready for the holidays.

A paper project was required for students who didn’t attend. I was quite satisfied with it. Apparently, people value other things more than historical education.

During a visit to Heidelberg many years ago, I came across a group of young Filipinos. I inquired if the group was vacationing together. As it turns out, they were from Ateneo and visiting Rizal-related sites on tour. 

My mind went back to our poorly attended college Rizal excursion to Calamba.

Would my college classmates have signed up for the Rizal field trip had they been informed it would be in Germany?

Yes, I’d bet the farm. LOL.


Shallow understanding

While I was younger and took up history, I thought I knew enough about Rizal. Later on, I realized, knowing his poems, his novels, and his biography is barely scratching the surface.

With age, I began to appreciate Rizal for his achievements rather than how he died. His life was far more than the dates and events associated with it.

Isn’t it appropriate to remember people we know who have passed away in the same way? By focusing on how they lived, instead of on how they died?



For those who were for armed resistance, one tactic was to implicate influential Filipinos who were hesitant about getting involved.

Blumentritt remarked that Rizal knew that one won political independence at the cost of much blood. The best men and women would die on the battlefield, and the end would either be the continued enslavement of the people or their total ruin. 

Rizal’s opposition to an armed revolution could not be clearer. For him, Filipinos must possess the aptitude and education essential to lead exemplary lives.

Put simply, we must deserve to be independent.

The militant revolutionaries, however, could not wait any longer. 

Even when wrongly convicted, he decided to face death with pride and courage. Something that his idol failed to do. Padre Burgos lost his composure heading to his execution. In the face of his executioners, Rizal remained calm and composed.

It is here that Rizal has proven to be the ideal Filipino. He not only demonstrated how to live a meaningful life but also how to die with honor.

Rizal has everything in life, yet he accepted leaving it all behind. I wonder how many of our current leaders would do the same?

Not many, no?


To go back to what I said earlier, our knowledge and remembrance of Rizal are overcompensations for having failed him.

Guillermo Gomez Rivera, the Hispanist historian and artist, once told me that in order to understand Rizal properly, one must first comprehend what he wanted for the colony. 

It can be condensed into three parts:

The colony’s representation in Spain. In other words, political reform.

Having local priests run town churches. 

Enhancing primary education.

This was not taught in school. When I was younger, I thought he wanted an immediate complete break from Spain.

But I guess it is of little value to our historians to show how pragmatic Rizal was.

We have never truly understood and followed his aspirations.

The man did not even want to be buried in Bagumbayan with all the pomp, yet look at what we did.

Basically what I would like to convey in this short blog is what do we really know about Rizal. Are we really aware of him apart from when we observe his birth and death anniversary? 

In order to understand the man, we have to read him. He left so much for us to read, I think he wanted us to read about him and his thoughts.

All these anniversaries are good to celebrate, but let’s not get too hung up on dates. Instead, let’s get to know what the man was all about.

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