THE DEBATE continues.
Since Rizal’s retraction letter was discovered by Father Manuel Garcia, C.M. in 1935, its content has become a favorite subject of dispute among academicians and Catholics. The letter, dated December 29, 1896, was said to have been signed by the National Hero himself.
It stated: “I declare myself a Catholic and in this religion in which I was born and educated I wish to live and die. I retract with all my heart whatever in my words, writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my character as son of the Catholic Church.”
The controversy whether the National Hero actually wrote a retraction document only lies in the judgment of its reader, as no amount of proof can probably make the two opposing groups—the Masonic Rizalists (who firmly believe that Rizal did not withdraw) and the Catholic Rizalists (who were convinced Rizal retracted)—agree with each other.
History books tell most people that the first draft of the retraction was sent by Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda to Rizal’s cell in Fort Santiago the night before his execution in Bagumbayan. But Rizal was said to have rejected the draft because it was lengthy.
According to a testimony by Father Vicente Balaguer, a Jesuit missionary who befriended the hero during his exile in Dapitan, Rizal accepted a shorter retraction document prepared by the superior of the Jesuit Society in the Philippines, Father Pio Pi.
Rizal then wrote his retraction after making some modifications in the document. In his retraction, he disavowed Masonry and religious thoughts that opposed Catholic belief.
“Personally, I did not believe he retracted, but some documents that was purchased by the Philippine government from Spain in the mid-1990s, the Cuerpo de Vigilancia de Manila,” showed some interesting points about the retraction, said Jose Victor Torres, professor at the History department of the De La Salle University.
Popularly known as the Katipunan and Rizal documents, the Cuerpo de Vigilancia de Manila is a body of documents on the Philippine revolutions that contains confidential reports, transcripts, clippings, and photographs from Spanish and Philippine newspapers.
Despite this, Torres said his perception of the Filipino martyr would not change even if the controversies were true.
“Even though it would be easy to say he retracted all that he wrote about the Church, it still did not change the fact that his writings began the wheels of change in Philippine colonial society during the Spanish period—a change that led to our independence,” Torres said. “The retraction is just one aspect of the life, works, and writings of Rizal.”
But then, Torres noted that the controversy is irrelevant today.
“The way Rizal is taught in schools today, the retraction means nothing,” he said.
Filipino historian Nicolas Zafra considered the controversy as “a plain unadorned fact of history, having all the marks and indications of historical certainty and reality” in his book The Historicity of Rizal’s Retraction.
Dr. Augusto De Viana, head of UST’s Department of History , also believes that Rizal retracted and said the National Hero just renounced from the Free Masonry and not from his famous nationalistic works.
“He (Rizal) retracted. He died as a Catholic, and a proof that he died as a Catholic was he was buried inside the sacred grounds of Paco Cemetery,” said De Viana, who compared the martyr with Apolinario Mabini, a revolutionary and free mason who was buried in a Chinese cemetery.
De Viana said it is not possible that the retraction letter had been forged because witnesses were present while Rizal was signing it.
He added that the evidence speaks for itself and moves on to the question on Rizal’s character as some argue that the retraction is not in line with Rizal’s mature beliefs and personality.
“Anti-retractionists ask, ‘What kind of hero is Jose Rizal?’ They say he was fickle-minded. Well, that may be true, but that is human character. Rizal was not a perfect person,” De Viana said.
He also mentioned that just like any person, Rizal was prone to flip-flop. He believes that Rizal retracted because the national hero wanted to be at peace when he dies.
But would Rizal’s works deem irrelevant and futile because of his retraction?
De Viana answered, “Rizal awakened our knowledge of nationalism. For me, that is enough. The issue will not invalidate his works in any way.”