Erle Frayne Argonza
Visionary genius, patriot, martyr for Philippine independence, Gat Jose Rizal was a man too far ahead of his own time. So titanic was the luck that came upon this blessed archipelago, the Philippine islands, for the embodiment among its humble people of this encyclopedic mind, Dr. Jose Rizal. He is impeccably a ‘man for all seasons’. And he is the national hero of the Philippine nation.
Most nations declare among their top patriots a warrior or military leader as their ‘national hero’. But for the Philippines, ours’ is a genius, an intellectual giant, a mind capable of engaging in issues so recondite and subjects so diverse that, in so short a span, he was able to pen an enormous variegation of topics that befit, in their totality, an encyclopedia. At the age of 35, he was terminated by the demonic imperial forces of Spain, but he never died in vain. On the contrary, his death continued to inspire libertarian patriots here and in other Asian lands, an inspiration that continues for our youth till these days.
Mystically gifted, little did people know that he was actually transformed into a spiritual guru before his death. His guruship was unique, in that he mentored his fellows on the wisdom of nationhood and patriotism. One of his avowed readers if not disciples, Mohandas Gandhi of India, followed in his steps and became, upon his transformation into a spiritual master, a mentor of nationhood and patriotism just like Rizal.
So mighty a mind Rizal possessed, without doubt, that till these days his works overshadow the combined works of his own fellow patriots, including those who’ve gained double doctorate degrees and published widely in academic circles. Rizal’s following is solid, he need not further articulate nor gesticulate thoughts in the vogue of a desperate social marketing campaign, for even long after his death, youthful and scholarly minds read him, try to follow his ethical precepts, and emulate his exemplary patriotic behavior.
He was the first Filipino. Before his time, the term Filipino was bestowed only on those Spaniards born and raised in the Philipines. The Malayan natives were pejoratively called Indios; Chinese, Sangleys; Aetas and IPs, negritos and montanosas; and Muslims, Moros. With scathing indictment of arrogant racism of Spaniards most especially the friars, Rizal declared, with his mighty pen, that from this day on everybody born and raised in the islands will be called Filipino. That was how we islanders were to be bestowed with the name Filipino, a term that will stick till way into the distant future when a ‘Filipino race’ will evolve from out of a mere nationality today.
In his thoughts he pre-empted the political philosophy of Antonio Gramsci, the eminent Marxist leader of the Italian Left. Rizal mentored his fellow patriots that it will prove unwise to wage an insurrectionary campaign and seize political power, at a time when the ideas of nationhood haven’t permeated the private sphere yet. The most fitting strategy for that long-term goal—of building nationhood—is education. Build the new world’s ideas first till they become hegemonic, after which winning a revolution will be more facile as it was in the French revolution. That’s Rizal, and that’s Gramsci as well, but Rizal preceded Gramsci, let the world be made aware of this fact.
In gender relations, Rizal was no less ahead of his time. He scorned the ‘Old World woman complex’ so deeply that he chose to bury this woman in catacombs of history, which he did by killing Maria Clara, the Old World’s embodiment, in his novels. He advanced the idea of Modern Woman in the figures of the ‘women of Malolos’, even as he championed women who were civic-minded, actively engaged as co-partner in shaping the modern world, intellectually adroit and well-schooled. The Filipino nation he likened to the figure of Sisa in his novels, a nurturing mother who no matter under dire duress will never self-destruct but will stand out firm, tall and well-esteemed by fellows.
Amid Rizal’s liberalism, he never had any fondness for anarchism. Following Zola’s novel-writing tradition (e.g. Germinal), Rizal embodied the anarchist in the young bourgeois creole Ibarra who, at the end of his novel scripts, self-destructed. Anarchism can never be a substitute for prudent authority that should follow the Enlightenment principles of reason, progress, fraternity, and scientific verity. He was a true-blue liberal nationalist, never an anarchist.
We Filipino nationalists will continue to be inspired by Gat Jose Rizal. And his thoughts, the most treasured jewels of Asia during his time, will continue to inspire us, diadems that we magnanimously share to all enthused Fellows of the Planet, thoughts that mentor and serve as balm on the soul, like unto those writ by the most sagely personages. For these are the thoughts of a man no less sagely than the wisest of the days of old, thoughts that long after they are gone will continue to make waves into the minds of men and women of many generations yet to come.
Hail Gat Jose Rizal! Glory, genius, grandeur!
[12 June 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]