Rizal at 160

Rizal at 160"What would he think of us today?"



Last Saturday, unnoticed by too many people, marked the 160th birth anniversary of our national hero Jose Rizal. I celebrated it by pondering what Rizal, a man who to me was the very “soul of the revolution,” would make of his country today were he to be transported forward in a time machine (Philippine-made, of course).

Rizal wasn’t just an anti-colonial hero. He was, first of all, a child of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, where he spent most of his active years. It was the continent’s bold philosophy of individual freedom and open-mindedness that animated his love of the idea of a country, his mistrust of institutional religion when misused for colonial or obscurantist purposes, his abiding faith in the capacity of ideas to change the world.

Looking around him today, what would Rizal think?


As a man who gave his life for his people, he would be dismayed by today’s pervasive lack of civic spirit--something that can still be called forth by extreme necessity like a pandemic lockdown, but otherwise slinks away in shame when we revert to our pathological disregard for the law, tolerating its violators so long as their corruption and violence affect others and not ourselves personally.

A man of protean achievements, Rizal would be distressed by the extent to which we have given up on making something better of ourselves. Our educational system has long been in the dumps, each generation turning out dumber than the one before. The Manny Pacquiaos have to fight abroad, the Wesley Sos and Yuka Satos prefer to give up their citizenship in order to rise above our “puwede pasar” tolerance for mediocrity.

A man who walked with heroes, Rizal would be dispirited by the midgets for whom we have settled today as our leaders, just a couple of generations away from the Rectos and Tanadas, the Quezons and Bocobos who took Rizal’s place.  Only with difficulty can we exceed the very low bar set by our leaders. And every electoral exercise sinks us even deeper, confirming again and again our lack of civic spirit (see above) and our willingness to settle (ditto).


Various ways have been proposed for us to uplift ourselves. But one of them, for sure, would be rejected by Rizal, who disdained violence as an easy way out for small minds. He would have foresworn today’s Filipino communists, latter-day propagators of the Marxist virus that infected the democratic spirit of the European enlightenment and led to millions of deaths under the political pandemics of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China.

Our local communists think that they’re already State actors entitled to negotiate on the same level as the duly constituted Republic. Thus, in the bombing and shooting of innocent civilians Kieth and Nolven Absalon in Masbate, they want their complicit comrades to be handled by government under a so-called “comprehensive agreement” worked out earlier by the two peace panels, rather than the perfectly good laws that apply to everybody else and his mother—in this case, R.A. 9851 covering “crimes against humanity.”

As the affable DILG Undersecretary Jon Malaya has pointed out: First, the monitoring committee jointly created under that “comprehensive agreement” no longer exists, after the communists walked out of the peace talks. Second, the use of those landmines against the Absalons was already, on its face, a violation of that “agreement.” And third, the Makabayan bloc of legislators, instead of rallying behind the laws they took oaths of office to defend, have been defending the armed communists for raising—according to Teddy Casiño-- “legitimate issues and grievances of our people.”

How legitimacy of issues, even if true, somehow justifies violence, is a leap of logic that befuddles me. Unfortunately, I can’t ask them too many questions about that, or I’d be accused of red-tagging.


More and more, we’re having to look for our role models within the business community, where people who screw up aren’t allowed to hang on to power forever, but end up going bankrupt or getting fired. This system of reward and punishment works painfully well, forcing businessmen to do well where politicians won’t even tread.

In the next two months, San Miguel is expected to break ground for its ambitious P735-billion aerotropolis project in the middle of Bulacan’s ricefields and historic towns. Ramon Ang wants this still-unnamed project to become the country’s premier international gateway, with not a single centavo coming from the public coffers.

The best of the crop go beyond doing well into doing good. San Miguel has also partnered with DENR, other national agencies, and Metro Manila mayors in the country’s largest-ever river rehab project: Cleaning up the Pasig, the world’s most polluting river. Mr. Ang has in fact doubled his contribution from one to two billion pesos. With none of that money coming from taxpayers, that’s a huge vote of confidence in the country.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: national hero Jose Rizal , Manny Pacquiao , red-tagging , Jon Malaya
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