A HUNDRED and fifty years after Dr. Jose Rizal’s birth, the nation celebrates the occasion with conferences, lectures, art exhibits, a heritage trail, book launches, documentaries, short TV features and myriad other ways. This birthday wish list is a simple contribution to celebrate the same occasion, but with the added hope that any of these wishes would bring us closer to the nation that the First Filipino had imagined and helped to forge with his martyrdom.
1. That Filipinos, particularly students, would read Rizal’s novels ( the Noli and the Fili) in justifiably beautiful translations that would enable them to laugh, rant and rave exactly at the parts that he intended them to, thus being able to relish every bit of both novels.
2. That Rizal’s life be seen as intersecting other events, people, places and conditions not just locally, but more significantly outside the country, giving more context and substance to his rich, accomplished life, instead of being popularly regarded as a genius with promiscuous tendencies, whose sole accomplishment is having written two boring novels for which he was executed, and later gave rise to Filipino nationalism.
3. That every Filipino would read Jose Rizal and the University of Santo Tomas by Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P., so that they would comprehend the real story of the hero as a Thomasian, and not be a hostage to the tired, old claims that he was unhappy here. The book has been available since 1984 and should now be a standard reading by all Rizal Course teachers for their students.
4. That all Thomasians, (those in the Faculty of Arts and Letters in particular) would remember that Rizal did not study at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters since it was not founded until August 1896, by which time he would be getting ready to go to Cuba as a volunteer doctor. He did take up a preparatory course in Law at the University of Santo Tomas before he pursued a pre-medical course simultaneously with Medicine proper. (See Villarroel, F. Jose Rizal and the University of Santo Tomas. Manila: UST Press, 1984).
5. That no student should ever be made to choose between Rizal and Bonifacio or any other hero for that matter, for such an exercise is a distortion not just of the unique part they all individually played in the past, but reduces the educative exercise to a simplistic choice better left to toddlers.
6. That Rizal Park really be truly his park alone, and not be made to share space with other notable Filipinos, no matter how significant their respective roles were in different periods of our history. Carving up little niches in the park reflects badly upon how we regard the foremost hero of the nation and diminishes us in the eyes of the international community that manifests a more earnest and judicious manner of honouring Rizal in countries like Singapore, Germany and Spain.
7. That Rizal’s retraction not be used as a medium by which to argue his unsuitability as the national hero of the Philippines. In fact, when viewed from the position of the Catholic Church, it further enhances his signal qualities as one truly deserving of the status?a condition that levels up to our being part of the Catholic University of the Philippines.
8. That all Chief Executives would not forget their duty and responsibility in leading the observance of Rizal Day at the Luneta, the site of his martyrdom, made hallow by his blood. No other official should go through the flag-raising and wreath-laying representing the Republic other than the official given the people’s mandate and entrusted by the nation to lead them in such an event.
9. That the lead site in the same celebration always be Rizal Park in Manila, which was intended as such, without demeaning the importance of other sites and shrines associated with the hero. No other place can capture the hero’s supreme sacrifice for the nation that he imagined to be.
10. That Rizal Day, celebrated on December 30 every year, would never ever be changed. This is the day that he became a martyr, this is the day he passed into forever being the personification of sacrifice for amor patria. This is the day commemorated by Filipinos every year thereafter, despite the American occupation. This is the day that the nation was born, when indios learned to go beyond their own parochial perspective and identify with all those like mind. His day of birth does not and cannot represent all those. It would have its own unique representation, but never capture the impact of the martyrdom and the surging, intense love of country felt on the day of execution on Dec. 30.
There are unending reasons to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary. Not least of which is the fact that although some conditions he wanted to change or remove still exist in our midst, his timeless wisdom, steadfast principles and sterling personal qualities never fail to continuously inspire us all to work for the unfinished objective of a country that would be respectable, respected and deserving to take its equal place among the world community of nations.
Happy Birthday, Joe!
* De Castro is an associate professor of History at the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, member of the Philippine Historical Society, and member of the executive council of the National Committee on Historical Research of the National Commission for Culture and Arts.