By Herbert Vego
IF our national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal were alive, he would have turned very old at 159 today. Too bad he died very young at 35 (June 19, 1861-December 30, 1896), although he could have opted to live longer by kowtowing to the Spanish colonial government. Instead, he sacrificed his abundant life while articulating his people’s outcry against a barbaric regime pretending to be Christian.
It was not an easy job for his executioners who were Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, whose lives depended on carrying out the order to shoot. A back-up force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot them should they fail to obey the order.
Any ordinary mortal would have long been forgotten, but not Rizal. He remains unique and extraordinary in his single-minded commitment to his people’s liberation through peaceful means.
His derogatory opinions against the Roman Catholic faith as reflected in his novels El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere are believed to have pushed the panic button that forced the theocratic Spanish regime to end his life.
His romantic interlude with an Irish woman proves his aversion to the clergy. History records that in February 1895, the 33-year-old Rizal met Josephine Bracken. Falling in love with each other, they applied for a marriage contract but the local priest would perform the ceremony only if he could get permission from the bishop of Cebu. The bishop refused to grant permission because he would not return to Catholicism.
His significance for us today, however, remains open-ended. Readers of his works are now prone to extract multiple ambiguous meanings. In El Filibusterismo he posited the rationale of his quest for life’s meaning: “A life not consecrated to a great ideal is a useless one. Redemption presumes virtue; virtue presumes sacrifice; sacrifice presumes love.”
The logic of those words led to Rizal’s arrest, trial, and execution. His sacrificial death by musketry identified him as a victim of colonialism.
In Rizal’s letter to Mariano Ponce, he considered all the persecutions, cruelties and abuses as necessary for Filipinos to prove their fortitude and valor, so that “in spite of everything and everybody, they will be worthy of liberty. In every struggle, there must be victims, and it is the greatest of battles that are the most sanguinary. What is imprisonment? What is death? An illness sends us to bed at times and takes our life. The question is whether this infirmity and this death will afterward be useless for those who survive.”
Rizal opposed narcissism. His motivation in writing El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere was not meant to exalt himself but to rub on fellow Filipinos the fidelity to principles and national ideals above self-serving welfare.
In a letter to Marcelo del Pilar, Rizal exhorted his comrades to exercise restraint even while encouraging militant solidarity: “God and Destiny are on our side because we have justice and right and because we struggle not for ourselves but for the sacred love we hold for our country and for our fellow countrymen.”
Fast forward to today. While, the colonial regimes have long gone, giving way to Filipino leaderships since 1945, it is doubtful whether the evils that Rizal fought against have also gone away. Let us ask ourselves: If Rizal were alive today, would he oppose the present Philippine government?
Yes! To put it bluntly, the problems that Rizal spoke against in his time are the same ones plaguing the country today. As in the martial-law days of President Ferdinand Marcos, one-man rule has reared its ugly head, what with President Rodrigo Duterte dominating all three branches – executive, legislative and judicial — of government.
In a past column, I argued that Panay Electric Co. (PECO) was wrong in calling the new power distributor in Iloilo City “inexperienced and incapable.” I said that 61 or half of the 122 technicians of MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) had come from PECO.
One of them, Rey Silvias, served PECO from 2010 to 2019 on minimum wage but was never a regular employee.
When MORE Power edged out PECO, he was enticed to join the former, seeing better opportunity for career advancement.
Now, he enjoys a daily wage of P750 per day or more than double the P365 he was getting from PECO.
“I am more empowered now,” he said gratefully.