Lamentations on Rizal’s birthday

By Clement C. Camposano, Ph.D.

(Dr. Camposano is the Chancellor of UP Visayas. He also authored the book “The Nation as Project: A New Reading of Jose Rizal’s Life and Works” along with Paul Arvisu Dumol, Ph.D. The country marked Dr. Jose Rizal’s 160th birth anniversary on June 19, 2021.)

For someone celebrated in law as “a constant and inspiring source of patriotism”, Dr. Jose Rizal remains, to my mind, a strangely elusive figure.

His selfless sacrifice is everywhere celebrated yet his public presence seems to be nothing more than political embellishment. What we find instead are oft-repeated quotes, incantations made stale by repetition. There is hardly anything by way of discourse that illumines the contemporary fate of Filipino nationhood — that historical artifact for which the Great Indio lived and so willingly died.

“Sufrir y trabajar”, suffer and work. That was Padre Florentino’s blunt and terrible reply to a dying Simoun’s question on what needed to be done for the country to be finally redeemed. A nation had to be created where none existed. This was the whole point of La Liga Filipina, an organization whose statutes were Rizal’s blueprint for a truly national community. The first task of the organization was “To unite the Archipelago into one compact, vigorous, and homogeneous body.”

The nation is not a natural fruit of the historical process, one that simply emerges and matures in time. It is not something that simply happens. It is an ethical project, a cultural edifice that must be painstakingly built. In this spirit, the Indio needed to be re-molded — I would even say, hammered — into assuming the radical shape of a Filipino.

Have we really understood this man and his vision? It seems that, having locked our gaze on his martyrdom, we have actually avoided confronting his difficult ideas. Could this be the reason why, after more than a hundred years of independence, this “compact, vigorous and homogenous body” still eludes us?

Certainly, there is a need to re-encounter Dr. Jose Rizal — but no longer as a political saint whose moral courage and discernment exceed that of ordinary mortals, but rather as someone who said the most troubling things because they needed to be said. Indeed, as someone who rejected the Revolution, convinced as he was that, without civic virtues, independence will only mean the slaves of today becoming the tyrants of tomorrow.