Perspective on Rizal
WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
The 150thy anniversary of the birthday of Rizal has elicited a more active celebration than ever. This is a landmark moment and rightly so that he should be given the best we can to honor him. Rizal’s name is well-known, hardly any Filipino is ignorant of the name, but how many know about him?
One of the vexing questions I always meet is why was Rizal chosen as the national hero and not Andres Bonifacio? The younger generation of the activism years who are now in their fifties has rejected Rizal and adopted Bonifacio so that this question about Rizal’s pre-eminence over Bonifacio remains. I noticed, for instance, that despite all the media hoopla there is no swelling of enthusiasm for Rizal. As long as the issue of who should have prominence in our history so long will we fail to give due honor to each. This kind of question is hardly known in other countries.
The contention over who is the real national hero ought not to be a conflict but because government and our educational system tend to honor one that in effect downgrades the other instead of giving them both proper recognition, the sympathizers of Bonifacio will never give Rizal their support. What is the conflict? They fought the same Spanish government and wanted freedom so what’s the difference?
The conflict here is actually traceable to Rizal and Bonifacio and their concept and means on how to topple the Spanish government and gain our freedom. Rizal wanted a slow, education-based process while Bonifacio wanted a surgical approach – armed revolt. Thus Rizal is perceived as pacifist; Bonifacio, the rebel.
Rizal spurred the Filipino to think of freedom through his novels that depicted the evils of the Spanish regime and the friars who helped in keeping the people docile. Rizal blamed the Spanish friars whose weaknesses he exposed by depicting them as morally corrupt and yet, Rizal looked to the Filipino secular clergy for inspiration. He was inspired by the life and courage of the three Filipinos priests, now known as the Gomburza (Gomez, Burgos and Zamora) who fought for the Filipinization of the parishes. This movement wanted to give the Filipino priests the same dignity and status as the Spanish religious priests, who by Royal decree, are the only ones entitled to become parish priests while the Filipino priest could only be an assistant. The three were executed when Rizal was born in 1861 but he was inspired by them with the same process of change – reform and not rebellion.
The mind of Rizal is expressed in his novel, “Noli Me Tangere” where he tried to dissuade the wounded Elias from proceeding with armed revolt. Rizal also rejected to join the revolt. Bonifacio had offered Rizal the position of leading the revolution but he was rebuffed, prompting Bonifacio to utter the expletive that in our Hiligaynon means, “linti” or lightning, actually a curse, “may you be hit by lightning!”
Rizal feared that the revolution of people unprepared for the responsibilities of freedom would not redound to their welfare. He rhetorically asked Elias, “Why freedom when the slaves today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” Rizal had solid reason for this fear. The history of the French revolution where the revolution devoured its own leaders and led to anarchy and rise of dictators was fresh in Rizal’s mind.
What was his prescription for freedom? Rizal believed in education and he believed that when it was ripe, Spain would grant freedom to the Philippines. It was not freedom of total independence, perhaps that will come later, but Rizal wanted only reforms, ecclesiastical that the Gombursa fought and died for, and political, to make the Philippines and to be treated as a province of Spain.
Comparing the woman with a child, Rizal exclaimed “when her time comes, woe to the woman who refuses to give birth!” When people shall have been truly educated Spain would grant Philippines its freedom but as we know even today, Spain never gave her colonies their independence freely, not even the Basque province that had been fighting Spain for centuries to gain freedom.
Rizal was right, though. Bonifacio led the revolt and when he had proven that Spanish forces can be defeated and the time was ripe for a national government, he and his co-founders of the revolution were devoured by the Emilio Aguinaldo clique who looked down on Bonifacio because he was not a lawyer and therefore unfit to lead, a stupid excuse but enough to ease out Bonifacio and eventually executed by the hand of the Aguinaldo faction. The freed slaves became tyrants.*
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