Have we learned from the lessons Rizal taught?

by Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.

The Rizal Monument in Rizal Park in Manila was built to commemorate the Filipino national hero, Jose P. Rizal | Photo by AntonNawalangMalay via Wikimedia Commons.

Every June 19, we remember the birthday of Jose P. Rizal. Every December 30, we commemorate his execution. We remember him by and for the hundreds of streets, schools, books, monuments, museums, libraries, ad infinitum, named after him. Numerous speeches are delivered, glorifying his memory. But how much have we, the Filipino people, really learned from the lessons Rizal taught? How many of our government and private organization leaders who stop short of deifying him every June 19 and December 30 had learned from the lessons of Rizal? How many among those who claim to know his life and works and profess ideas of Rizal (Rizalisms) live by or even strive to live by those isms?

In the pantheon of heroes of the Philippines, Rizal is arguably, the most prominent, well-known, critiqued, and admired. He was not a military leader of the revolution as George Washington, Simon Bolivar, or Mao Zhe Dong was, but he inspired and moved. and provided the proximate cause for an armed revolution. He was a man of peace. He was not against revolution as a political change, but he did not advocate for it. His famous novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo provided the sparks that ignited the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonizers. He only wanted reforms, a gradual change for the better. The calls for gradual changes were not heeded but instead were answered with more restrictions and persecution. His death hastened political change through an armed revolution.

While Rizal died for the sake of the Filipino people, it does not mean that his ideas are only valuable to Filipinos. To him, “Genius knows no country, genius is everywhere … the patrimony of everybody”. He believed in equality among men. He did not believe in the idea of a superior race. How many Filipinos are inclined to think or feel they are inferior?

With the desire not to promote schism among Filipino reformers in Europe, Rizal preferred to give up the leadership of La Solidaridad. He believed that the organization’s or society’s interest must dominate over the individual member’s interest. The individual should give way to the welfare of society. He preached the idea of nationalism against provincialism. The La Liga Filipina, whose organizational meeting he presided, sought to unite the islands of the Philippines into one compact, robust and homogenous entity. He preached rational discussions to settle differences. He emphasized the value of an education in improving one’s station in life and promoting prosperity for the nation.

“While Rizal died for the sake of the Filipino people, it does not mean that his ideas are only valuable to Filipinos. To him, “Genius knows no country, genius is everywhere … the patrimony of everybody”. He believed in equality among men. He did not believe in the idea of a superior race. How many Filipinos are inclined to think or feel they are inferior?”

How many Filipino organizations have splintered because of personal ambitions and the inability of contending national parties to try to settle their differences?

The events leading to the last general elections in the Philippines provided examples of how far the Filipino people, particularly its leaders, have tried to live by what Rizal taught. The number of major candidates who wanted to run for the presidency despite the absence of significant differences in the government programs they presented to the people shows a preference for or predominance of personal interests over that of the country and its people. Personal ambition and vision of glory must have blindly colored their decisions.

Campaigns become appeals to votes for local interests. Though admittedly a brilliant political strategy to select a running mate (vice-president) from a region different from the presidential candidate, the practice reflects and emphasizes regional mentality that sometimes results in a choice with lesser qualifications to lead nationally. And given the absence of significant differences in the ideology of the political parties and the facility of turncoatism, an alliance of short-live convenience is often resorted to.

The formation of various local and regional political parties displays the provincialism mentality of its leaders and followers. It somehow nurtures a feeling of not belonging to a larger whole, of interest in common with the Filipino nation.

The party list parties did not do any better in promoting nationalism and shared interests. In fact, they did and did worse, promoting narrower interests. With groups as Bikol Saro, An Waray, Ako Bisaya, Ako Bisdak Bisayang Dako, AMIN (Anak Mindanao), Moro-Ako – OK, Kusog Tausog, Uma Illongo, ABEKA (Ang Kapampangan), and ANGAT PINOY (Nagkakaisang Pilipino para sa Pag-angat ng Maralitang Manileno), among others, claiming to represent regional, provincial, tribal territories or people speaking same dialects, the notion of one Filipino people becomes less important. Not all party list parties enumerated above gained seats in the House of Representatives. However, other party list groups representing even more limited specific interests that should be included in what the district representatives should advance, without entailing additional expenditures for the national government, gained seats.

“The foremost national hero of the Philippines taught and left us with great and noble ideas to learn from. They will be nothing more than an academic exercise and hollow calls if not adhered to, applied, and followed by the people to who he gave his life for.”

Rizal believed in a representative government, a system where the people elect the government. Electing leaders to run the government is the responsibility of the people. Thus, a country deserves every government it elects, assuming that elections were freely held. For Rizal, each individual was given a will of their own to distinguish between the just and the unjust. If the people do not wisely make use of that will, resulting in the choice of an undeserving leader, no one else may be held responsible for whatever may result therefrom.

The foremost national hero of the Philippines taught and left us with excellent and noble ideas to learn from. They will be nothing more than an academic exercise and hollow calls if not adhered to, applied, and followed by the people to who he gave his life for.

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