And today’s Rizal Day. I was planning to write a year-ender article but I think it’s more contextual to write an entry about Rizal–the blogosphere lacks some In-commemoration-of-Jose-Rizal entries so I am more pressured to write something about him. But of course, I won’t make this as a fanboy’s entry. I will share an expounded version of my reaction paper to Renato Constantino’s Veneration Without Understanding. At first glance or quick-read, the article might sound Anti-Rizal or Anti-Rizal-as-the-national-hero write-up but there’s even more than its face value. As I finished reading the article, there were multiple questions that entered my mind:
- Is there a presence of standards that would determine a national hero?
- Is there a presence of a certain hierarchy that states that this heroic feature is more important than another heroic feature?
- Is Rizal really over-glorified?
- How much glorification would equate to over-glorification?
- Was Rizal a wrong choice for being a National Hero?
- Who could replace him if ever there will be a revamp?
I first thought that this article was meant to overthrow Rizal as The National Hero of the Philippines. But I was wrong. The article dealt more about how wrong the Filipinos over-glorified Rizal and how the construction of Rizal as a National Hero is poorly constructed. So, the ultimate question then is this: Did Constantino shift my perspective about Rizal? I feel that the information that I got from the article are additional information about Rizal and how should we treat him. I did not feel that this is an effort to overthrow Rizal because if we think about it, Constantino saved Rizal in some parts of his article. He even gave an impression that Rizal did nothing wrong about the situation. If there is one thing or person that Constantino would blame, it wouldn’t be The National Hero himself but the social construction that we had. History is nice to write. But it is nicer to rewrite it.
For the national revolution is invariably the one period in a nation’s history when the people were most united, most involved, and most decisively active in the fight for freedom. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that almost always the leader of that revolution becomes the principal hero of his people.
This is the primary premise of Constantino to the logic that Rizal should not be hailed as a principal hero: The primary criterion for a principal hero is his or her involvement in a significant national revolution. But I ask the question, is this really the standard? Is the involvement in a national revolution the only criterion for being a national hero? I concede to the fact that a national revolution is really a big thing or even the only way when it comes to a group of people’s fight for liberty and independence. But we must also accept the presence of the multitude of other factors that would make you, if not a national hero, a hero.
In our case, our national hero was not the leader of our Revolution. In fact, he repudiated that Revolution.
Here is another argument. Rizal was not part of the revolution. Worse, he repudiated it. Repudiating the importance of a revolution and the revolution itself is almost a double crime for a supposedly universally-valid national hero. And that made Rizal even more invalid. But I ask this question, is the national revolution so important and so vital that repudiating it would make you an invalid hero or a national hero? There are many ways of becoming a hero. I am no Rizal fan but I take logic into consideration. I can see Rizal’s perspective in this. I believe that he believes that it is indeed important that we have to consider different factors before we do something. Rizal believed that a revolution might not work and we need to go into the grassroots level first by, for example, educating our children.
Rizal and The Revolution
Because Rizal took no part in that Revolution and in fact he repudiated it, the general regard for our revolution is not as high as it otherwise would be.
I agree with Constantino on this one. I had different history subjects from my grade school and high school years up to my tertiary education years. On all of those years, the role of the revolution e.g. The Katipunan was exemplified. But if I look back on those years, I really didn’t much appreciate the bloody revolution. I felt that there was an outward emphasis on the notion of The-Pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword. True, using our writing skills could be a form of revolution. But the real, tangible revolution can be felt and even actualized in a revolution with armed revolutionists.
An American-Sponsored Hero
We have magnified Rizal’s role to such extent that we have lost our sense of proportion and relegated to a subordinate position our great mean and the historic events in which they took part.
I totally agree with Constantino. As I have mentioned, throughout my years as a student, Rizal was really the emphasized one. Well, it might be because he is the recognized national hero, but we should not forget our other heroes as well. I can clearly remember my history textbooks back in grade school wherein there are some biographies of different Filipino heroes. All are brief ones, except for one–Rizal’s. The problem is, in our early curriculum and how teachers teach history, they just bypass other heroes. The lesson becomes trivial and translates to not appreciating that specific figure. Compare it to Rizal, which even our parents idolize him and make us idolize him too. I remember my mom telling me that I should be a Rizal.
Rizal never advocated independence, nor did he advocate armed resistance to the government. He urged reform from within by publicity, by public education and appeal to public conscience. They favored a hero who would not run against the grain of American colonial policy.
I really agree with this since it is strongly grounded by some written accounts. But I want also to consider a perspective wherein the glass-is-half-full. The Americans’ motive by doing so falls into two perspectives. The first one is the negative one: They made Rizal as the national hero to make us passive revolutionists, therefore, making their stay a peaceful one. The second one is the positive one: They made Rizal as the national hero because they believe that we need to follow one of his ideals—to educate ourselves first before liberty. Now the question is this, what was the Americans’ real motive?
It must be remembered that the Filipino members of the Philippine Commission were conservative illustrados. The Americans regarded Rizal as belonging to this class. This was, therefore, one more point in his favor. Rizal belonged to the right social class—the class that they were cultivating and building up for leadership.
I believe that education is crucial for building leadership skills. So I think that I disagree a little with Constantino’s argument that leaders should or could come from the masses. Of course, there are good leaders found in the company of the masses. But Constantino mentioned it—the evolving setting due to the industrial revolution made things complicated. Meaning, leaders need to understand the ins and outs of the society before engaging into a career of leadership. But I still have this question—Is education prerequisite to good leadership?
The uncritical attitude of his cultists has been greatly responsible for transforming biographers into hagiographers. His weaknesses and errors have been subtly underplayed and his virtues grossly exaggerated.
I have read a quotation by Abraham Lincoln. It reads: If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it. What’s the point of finding and studying Rizal’s faults? If we think about it, all of our nation’s heroes have their own faults. We study their respective legacies because we could draw inspiration from them. I also believe that a part of studying history is to find problems and investigate their causes. But for now, we should not cry over spilled milk.
The Role of Heroes
If there had been no Rizal, another type of talent who have appeared who might have given a different style to the historic struggle.
I think that this is the most illogical statement by Constantino. His logic is like this: If there were no Rizal, there would be another heroic figure that would appear. And not to mention, he might give a different style. I don’t know if this is a prophecy by Constantino but I believe that the absence of Rizal may really change the course of Philippine History. And his absence may give another possible situation but not necessarily a new, alternative Rizal.
Rizal may have given form and articulation and color to the aspiration of people. But even without him, the nationalist struggle would have ensued.
I disagree with Constantino. I believe that everything affects everything else. The absence of Rizal would change everything, any possible situation may happen. We should not discount other possibilities other than the ensuing of the struggle. The presence or absence of Rizal may or may not trigger the revolution.
Relevance or Irrelevance Today
Economic prosperity spawned discontent when the native beneficiaries saw a new world of affluence opening for themselves and their class. They attained a new consciousness and hence, a new goal – that of equality with the peninsulares – not in the abstract, but in practical economic and political terms.
I believe that a similar situation exists today. Let’s see the Modern Manila. It is every probinsiyano’s and pronbinsiyana’s dream to go the metro. Manila is portrayed as a model of economic prosperity (at least in the Philippines) where dreams and aspirations are fulfilled. The metropolitans could be the modern peninsulares. And our rural people wanted to equal them by stepping into the wild waters of the urban jungle.
A true historical review would prove that great men are those who read the time and have a deeper understanding of reality. It is their insights that make them conversant with their periods and which enable them to articulate the needs of the people. To a large extent, Rizal, the ilustrado, fulfilled this function, for in voicing the goals of his class he had to include the aspirations of the entire people.
Our politicians today (which, most of them, belong to the elite society) see to it that they need to include the voice of the masses. I don’t know if this is just a politicking tactic but I believe that since there is a class gap, the needs of the masses don’t equate with the needs of the elite. Rizal’s burden was to voice out the needs of the masses. In the status quo our leaders have the burden to see the needs of the masses and voice them out.
The Negation of Rizal
The true hero is one with the masses; he does not exist above them.
Well the concept of a true hero is really subjective in nature. But taking into consideration today’s society, I could see that our small heroes are really found within the masses. Those heroes are their leaders who speak in behalf of them and encourage them to protest, to launch a revolution. I haven’t felt any of our elite politicians launch a revolution.
The inarticulate are now making history while the articulate may be headed for historical anonymity, if not ignominy.
Well this is not true all the time. But nowadays, we could really see the inarticulate or those who have, relatively, poor education are making history. Take into consideration the case of the Sumilao Farmers who, in a sense, launched a revolution. And they made history, not to mention, they became popular.
Rizal has become part of our great history. Regardless of his being a national hero or his being not-fit-to-be-a-national-hero, Rizal gave us a good lecture of Heroism 101. An inspirational Rizal Day to everyone :).
A Scholarly Scandal by Alfred Miguel M. Aguado is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License. Based on a work at www.alpsaguado.com.