The enduring relevance of Rizal

Some people posted on social media yesterday: “Happy birthday, Jose Rizal!”

This is akin to the question, “Why was Mabini sitting on a basket chair throughout the film Heneral Luna?”

The jury’s out on whether this points to the failure of a few students to pay attention in class, or to a systemic inadequacy of the current educational system to ably impart the facts and lessons of history.

What is clear, though, is that Philippine history needs to be brought alive for the present and coming generations, who are getting farther removed from the events of the past that still loom over our present.

We know Rizal’s thinking much better than we do many of the other figures of the Philippine revolution, because he was a writer and left a large body of work. His novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo remain good reads, even with the social relevance set aside.

For those who did not appreciate the stories in the Filipino translations we read in high school, find the English translations by Leon Ma. Guerrero and Harold Augenbraum. For biographies, read Guerrero’s The First Filipino and Austin Coates’ Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr. For critical essays on figures of the Philippine Revolution, including Rizal, see Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes.

The Coates bio skirts this side of hagiography, but understandably, for the writer was impressed with Rizal and his accomplishments.

Blessed with many talents and skills, the young Rizal was plagued with a “sense of purposelessness; but it was also the “very versatility of his talents,” said Coates, that in time “led him to the systematic budgeting of his time which from henceforth became the determinant of his daily habits…

 “With absolute self-discipline…. he divided his time with a view to using each minute of it to the full. Each week he allowed so much time for the study of each of his subjects, so much time for creative work—poetry, sculpting, and sketching—so much time for the literary and other associations he belonged to, so much time for sleeping and eating, physical exercise and social relaxation, and above all, so much time for reading, thinking…and correspondence.”

Self-discipline, then, is the answer to the question “how was Rizal so prolific?” especially in that age without Internet, laptops, or even ballpoint pens. He made time to do all the things that were important to him.

Today we call this “work-life balance;” back in the Victorian era of Rizal’s day, it was a gentleman’s responsibility to develop their full potential and find meaning and purpose for their lives. Now that’s still a good example for the youth to emulate.

Rizal, with his “to-do” lists and strict budgets, and the development of his talents in science and art, prepared and empowered himself to conduct his life along the path toward the fulfillment of the mission he had set for himself: to uplift his homeland into a nation distinct from Spain.

A poignant passage in Noli Me Tangere foreshadows his own doom: “Such thoughts disappeared quickly from [Ibarra’s] mind as he spied a small hill in the fields of Bagumbayan. Rising next to the Paseo de la Luneta, the solitary little mount now drew his attention, and he turned pensive.” (Augenbraum translation)

In Coates’ first chapter, he describes Rizal’s execution and final moments: “…the traitor, fully audible, said in a clear, steady voice, “Consummatum est!”.

Consummatum est—it is finished. With his death, Rizal knew his own work was done, but that the struggle for freedom would continue. For “the shot which that crowd had just heard,” said Coates, “was the shot which brought the Spanish empire in the Philippines to an end.” For this we remember him on his death anniversary each year.

Rizal rejected the armed revolution that his own works fanned into flame, but by then the movement was bigger than just one man.

Sadly, the ills that he railed against—corruption, inept leadership, the influence of the Catholic Church over political and social affairs—are still eating away at the fabric of Philippine society, a cancer that will only be cured when the people rise up and reclaim their nation from those who use their power, money, and influence to further their own agendas.

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To my dear Pop Goes readers, thank you for accompanying me over the past five and a half years on a journey of discovery and analysis of Philippine current events as seen through the lens of culture and communication.

I wish a blessed, beautiful, and bountiful New Year to you and your families, and a better and brighter future for our country!  

Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , Jose Rizal
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