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Opinion: Was Rizal a revolutionary? Featured

Opinion: Was Rizal a revolutionary? Image: ThoughtCo

I was taught about Jose Rizal when I was too young to appreciate what he did for his country. So it was good that I went along with my son and his children to return to the place of his execution with them.

Their parents and I took turns in telling them the story but like me when I was young it did not touch me as it does today when I am almost at the end of my life. Of the many stories about the execution I was told since then, I was struck by what they said that the onlookers were people who were taking their morning walks in the park as they would any other day. It was a time for a leisurely walk or what the Spanish call their paseo. There were Filipinos, too in the crowd but they were mostly apolitical who watched the execution merely with curiosity.

It has taken a long time for Filipinos to appreciate what happened that morning. It is time we return to Bagumbayan as it was then called with a different perspective.

Was Rizal a revolutionary or just a patriotic intellectual? The question has become more relevant today when there is a debate on revolutionary government which some people are loathed to consider. In my opinion, it is a misunderstanding of the word revolutionary.

The late Carmen Lopez Rizal, a niece of Rizal, tells her story. She is the mother of my sister-in-law Cecil Consunji. I caught her in the nick of time when her memories were beginning to dim. She said the family discussed whether they would make a show of their appearance on Rizal’s execution on Dec. 30, 1896. This was thumbed down. Each was free to decide for themselves. She was a child peeping through spaces in the crowd. In the Rizal diorama museum made by Richard Gordon, it says explicitly that it was an indifferent crowd and his execution a mere curiosity.

What is Rizal’s relevance to Filipinos today? Has he become more important now that Filipinos are more geared towards education? (Bonifacio’s supporters who want to make him the national hero vs Rizal’s supporters has sparked a debate between a revolutionary vs intellectual). Rizal is cast as the patriotic intellectual.

In her 800-page book (unfortunately, it is in French) Helene Goujat concludes that he was more than a hero. He will always be relevant not only to Filipinos but to all mankind. Rizal stood for principles that do not change – justice and freedom. I think that more than ever Rizal, as intellectual, should be the model for generations of Filipinos to come.

Education is more enduring, revolutions (as in armed rebellion) come and go. But Rizal was not a mere reformist he was also revolutionary in the sense that when he saw that nothing would come out of the advocacy for reform, he did turn to more revolutionary (radical) ideas. So the common view that he was a mere reformist is wrong according to Goujat.

It is well known that Rizal imbibed his progressive political ideas while studying in Spain. Leon Ma. Guerrero said that the Philippine Revolution was made in Spain. Spain herself was an older battlefield for the same ideas.

“It was in Spain that my perdition came,” Rizal said. Not enough has been done to bring this idea to the public mind in the Philippines. We think only of one Spain – the Spain in the Philippines captured in his books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Goujat researched for 12 years to write her book and uses primary documents to prove her point. It is not an either or question but the story of how Rizal changed his mind. It was a rite of passage from a reformist to a revolutionary. This line of thought is new to people like myself inured on the theory that he was a reformist and quite impatient with Filipinos, like Bonifacio et al who were calling for revolution. Goujat’s research on Rizal led her to a different conclusion.

The theme of the book will answer why more and more thoughtful Filipinos today ask if we can avoid a revolution when there is such a lack of will to reform?

In the book she examines “the integrally related questions of the future of the indigenous culture, the role of the church, specifically of ‘corporate religion,’ and the decline and eventual disappearance of colonialism.”

The book was launched in the Philippine embassy in Paris by the Knights of Rizal some years back. I wrote about it hoping it could be translated.

“I trace the origin of my interest in the Philippines to the four years that I spent in Asia, mainly in Singapore. There I discovered a continent bristling everywhere with passion, but by far the Philippines struck me the most, for its singularity, its variety and its infinite richness of culture and history,” Goujat said.

Being a French intellectual, she approaches the theme philosophically.

“The essence of his political dream, remain riddled with contradictions, and it is this overweighing impression of the grand political paradox between reform and revolution that I have tried to overcome in this book. In effect, the life work of Rizal follows a certain trajectory with all the meanderings that this term implies, and transforms eventually into the fruit of a slow, political and intellectual maturing.”

She acknowledged the help of Professor Paul Estrade, a specialist on Cuba and its national hero, José Martí. For her work, Estrade called her a ‘Philippiniste’ in the sphere of Hispanism and Latino-americanism. He names the themes she covers in her work of a unique interpretation of Rizal: The Filipino Ilustrados in the Mother Country or the Saga of Disenchantment, the History of a Long Term Rupture, the Indios become Filipinos, the nightmare of a nation in its Brevity and the Spanish language in the Philippines: A case apart.

To him Reform or Revolution is not a book of history or a literary exegesis, or even an iconoclast diatribe to discard the false images of Rizal of the 20th century. “It is an intellectual biography or even accurately an ideological biography.”

“In this obvious political paradox, resides the bases of our study, how to explain that Rizal the assimilator, the pacifier, could find himself not only executed by the Spaniards for ‘treason and inciting rebellion,’ but rejected by the separatist movement, the Katipunan which launched the rebellion against Spain in 1896?”

“José Rizal is not a hero, he is, in the definition of Voltaire, “a great man” not at all a restrictive qualification, on the contrary, as time has shown,” the French specialist on Cuba’s Marti, said.

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