Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Jose Rizal: A true national hero

Nation marks Rizal’s martyrdom

After the Philippines was bought by the United States from Spain in 1898, the Americans made a startling, albeit pleasant discovery: a brilliant man of letters who happened to be a physician named Jose Rizal had been executed two years earlier by the Spaniards. Although sedition was the reason given for his execution, our new overlords quickly learned from his voluminous writings that what he strove for was a far greater cause than mere national independence. He was a devotee of freedom — the very ideal upon which their constitution is based and out of which a nation where human rights ruled, emerged.

Rizal’s and our then colonial masters’ vision and ideals of freedom were wrung from a very mature psyche. Their idea of freedom demanded an enlightened citizenry as basic condition for self-governance. Enlightenment, they knew, bestows dignity on human beings. No abuse could be possibly wrought upon an individual with dignity, nor upon a society made up of these individuals. To Rizal and the Americans, a society of enlightened, dignified people is a peaceful, hence progressive one. Rizal’s intense exposure to a very sophisticated intellectual milieu through his readings and travel enabled him to tell Freedom from Independence, and he shared his mature views of what love for country is, to his countrymen fearlessly. His writings, especially his two-volume novel, gave the Filipino people a clear mirror of their psyche’s urgent need for rehabilitation, so that enlightened, they will choose freedom— human rights even under a mature, therefore benevolent, though foreign-ruled government, and not just national independence. He urged them to read and think, showing them that the way to freedom is through revolution of the mind, and not through armed revolutions which lead only to independence, not true freedom.

But the polished mirror he fashioned, held up by the Americans, stung their eyes, preventing them to see his message, and so they went on to fight and kill for independence, unsuccessfully. The Americans, our new overlords, gave us what Rizal had pleaded for, in vain, from the Spaniards — human rights under a benevolent government for almost fifty years, until our leaders’ blind clamor for independence made them give it to us in 1946. Thus our independence removed us from the protective mantle of a strong, benevolent government and shoved us into the ranks of other new independent states not yet strong to resist mutual exploitation by her own leaders and citizenry and by more seasoned nations. Ironically, it is through our independence that we would finally be able to see the wisdom of Rizal in not choosing it for us. It is through the miseries inflicted on us by our independence that we would finally get to see and appreciate Rizal’s kind of nationalism, and hopefully learn from it so we can steer our country forward toward self-renewal.

Rizal kept saying that a people without enlightenment, without dignity, will abuse one another even under their own independent government; that mutual abuse is what characterizes a sick society — a society that cannot achieve peace and progress no matter how many times it changes its leaders, either through peaceful rallies or through violent coup d’ etats.

The core of Rizal’s nationalism is love for fellow-beings, not love for the Filipino proletariat alone. Rizal’s nationalism targets the immature, evil psyche as its enemy, not the immature, evil people (the imperialists and the elite) as its enemy. Rizal’s nationalism is based on the whole of reality, not on fragments of reality. He saw wickedness in both master and slave, in both the rich and the poor, not just in the rich. Rizal’s nationalism is open to anything that could give his countrymen human rights — the basis for peace and progress — assimilation into a mature, foreign government included. It is not focused on just one — independence or separation from any foreign government no matter how benevolent. Rizal’s nationalism recommends a change from immature, defective thinking to mature, sensible thinking via enlightenment or revolution of the mind. He did not recommend a change of defective government systems or defective leaders via revolutions, rallies or strikes. Rizal’s nationalism made him a man of courage who was not afraid to die for the cause of freedom, peace and progress, yet who will never kill nor inspire others to kill for mere political independence at the cost of freedom, peace and progress.

Rizal’s nationalism was engendered and nurtured by classics written in international languages, that he devoured. His love for his native tongue did not make him embrace it to the exclusion of the richer, more powerful languages outside his own. Hence, his mind, open and resilient, got nourished by the immortal thoughts and insights of great thinkers. He therefore saw what his colleagues could not see — that separation from Spain will leave us open to new invaders; that it will cast us from the pan of colonial bondage into the fire of an independent na tion’s internal strifes and power struggles which sabotage its own people’s human rights and their chance to live in peace and prosperity.

Had Rizal’s nationalism rubbed off on our past leaders and historians, would we be weeping now for an entire generation of university students of the 60’s and 70’s who threw themselves into the flames of political activism after metabolizing the rhetoric of a nationalism different from that of Rizal’s? Would we be weeping bitter tears for the 43,000 young cadres who joined the fight to change our government system and its leaders and who were killed by their own comrades in a wave of paranoia that swept through their movement? The EDSA Revolutions, the coup d’ etats, the Oakwood mutiny, the bloody strikes at Hacienda Luisita now serve to show us how the immature psyche creates mutual abuse and exploitation among people of an independent nation. The Filipino ‘diaspora,’ though sweet-lemonised by Patricia Evangelista in her internationally acclaimed speech is a loud statement about the economic woes of our independent nation. Our loved ones have to work abroad, especially in countries whose citizens chose to be assimilated by a foreign government — Hawaii, Guam, Alaska. We have become modern-day wandering Jews, although our nation is no longer a colony of a foreign power, all because Rizal’s nationalism was not plumbed deep enough.

Published by Manila Bulletin
December 30, 2004

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