Dr. Jose Paterno Rizal — Renaissance Man


Happy 150th birthday, Dr Jose Rizal! The father of nationalism and Asian struggle against colonialism is a polymath – a renaissance man, a knowledgeable man who rose above the pool of heroes in Asian stature for the breath and depth of his wisdom and accomplishments. It is said that he is fluent in 22 languages. He wrote books, he was a doctor, he was a conservationist and a lot more. In exile he continued to write and produce even if the Spanish colonizers and the Church castigated him.

At a time when we look for heroes in box office offerings of vampires, boy wizards and supernatural people with supernatural powers, Dr Jose Rizal is a league above the rest. He is human, he was small but together with the other heroes positioned themselves with the Filipinos like an ant in the fight with the elephant.

Many Asian countries honor him as the great Malay who propagated nationalism and woke up the desires of many Asians for liberation. To this day, his books had been translated in many languages and he is commemorated with statues in many cities around the world in a fitting tribute to a man of many virtues. In most of these monuments, he is depicted with a book in hand.

He advocated a peaceful engagement with the colonizers, predating Mahatma Gandhi’s ahimsa and satyagraha. He brought his struggle to the kingdom of the colonizers and fired up Asians, not only Filipinos to end the empires of Europe in their own countries in a manner that could only be marvelled at in those times when cell phones and internet were still unknown. The La Liga Filipina proved that pound for pound, the Indio had brains and guts to equal the colonizers.

Dr Jose Rizal and the ilustrados of his day wrote novels and articles often in allegory to inform our grandparents of the need to end colonization. At a period when newspapers were for those who were literate, he ignited imaginations to take up arms against the colonizers and the monarchy. He broke with the Church for his questions on their morality and complicity. Even in imprisonment and exile, he showed a courage we mere mortals could only wish we had.

We may now question their intention of ceding the Philippines to Spain and not seeking complete liberation from the intruders. We may now compare their methods of engagement with that of the Katipunan in taking up arms against the colonizers in the islands. The debate had been as fierce and as noisy as the now debate on the RH bill. (As an aside, what position would the doctor have taken in this debate? Would he have supported the Church stand?)

We wonder why the country is not observing his birthday with the hoopla of a centennial celebration or with academic discussion all over the country that befits the genius and the hero. It should even be more meaningful since we are celebrating our Independence Day before his birthday. He deserves it after all or upon further reflection, is this how we now view and honor our heroes? We have launched and experienced our own satyagraha in People Power alongside violent upheavals both from the military and our own oppressed peoples correctly and mistakenly. But, is that enough? How many times should a country and a people undergo a cleansing ritual to get rid of oppression, discrimination and exploitation?

In the last celebrated Cordillera Day in Buneg, Lacub, Abra, we witnessed two significant rituals that Dr Rizal would have approved. The first one occurred at the opening of the commemoration where they butchered a pig and read its entrails for omens and the other one at the conclusion of the discussions with the Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms of the peace panels where they shared wine, exchanged spears and danced to seal a covenant. The rituals are meaningful layers to a struggle of a people still yoked with poverty and deprivation, lack of social services and meaningful livelihood opportunities in the face of the urgent command to despoil their resources like gold for profit. What rituals did Dr Jose Rizal and the other nationalists perform in the country and in Europe to cleanse our country of these same malaise that plague us now.

A hundred and fifty years later, Rizal’s children are still burdened with yokes and slavery. A hundred and fifty years later, Rizal’s children are still scattered all over Europe, not seeking enlightenment and liberation, but seeking the remunerations to keep their body and soul together. A hundred and fifty years later, families are still separated by oceans so they can put food on the table. A hundred and fifty years later, Rizal’s grandchildren know more of Joel Torre who performed him in a film than the accomplishments of the national hero, the Renaissance man.

On Dr Jose Rizal’s birthday, let us pause and ponder on our own burdens and seek enlightenment and action. # nordis.net


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