I ASKED my students what Rizal’s last three words were in his “Mi Ultimo Adios.” Many did not know that the correct answer was “morir es descansar” or “pamamahinga ang mamatay.”
One guy stood up and boldly declared, “Sir, I think it is: ‘?hasta la vista, Amigo!’”
The kitchen Spanish the student knew, they did not learn from Spain or Latin America. They learned it from Hollywood. They complained, “Luma na kasi that poem, sir! More than a century old na.”
I said, “To be or not to be.”
They chorused, “That is the question!”
So we know a 400-year-old Shakespeare passage, but not a Rizal poem.
Watching National Artist Eddie Romero’s teleserye, “Noli Me Tangere,” boys wolf-whistled and girls cried when Ibarra, played by Joel Torre, kissed the lips of Chinchin Gutierrez’s Maria Clara in their last scene at the asotea. “What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
Everybody chorused, “Maria Clara, no touch!”
Maria Clara’s kiss
They were shocked when I read to them the original, which says: “Maria Clara cogió la cabeza del joven entre sus manos, le besó repetidas veces en los labios, le abrazó, y despues, alejándole bruscamente de sí…”
National Artist Virgilio S. Almario faithfully translated the passage thus, “Kinabig ni Maria Clara ang ulo ng binata, ulit-ulit na hinagkan ang mga labi, niyapos, at pagkatapos, pabiglang itinulak.”
What was wrong with the teleserye was that it was Ibarra who gently kissed Maria Clara instead of her grabbing his head, kissing him repeatedly on the lips, embracing him and then brusquely pushing him away, as was described in the original novel. Here is a case of a modern 20th-century director, catering to a 19th-century-thinking audience, watching Rizal who appears to belong to the 21st Century.
Lack of access to primary sources is most probably the reason why the past century’s generations, including my own, were misinformed about Rizal. Luckily for us, translations made by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission have now been made available to the general public by the National Historical Commission based on the collection published in Spanish by the National Library in the 1930s. There is no reason for us in the 21st century to be as ignorant and gullible as in the past with regard to our National Hero.
President Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1898 decree virtually made Rizal a National Hero by declaring Dec. 30 a day of national mourning, “in memory of the great Filipino patriots, Dr. Jose Rizal and other victims who succumbed during the past Spanish domination.”
During the American period, however, Rizal as National Hero was co-opted by forces adverse to the idea of real independence for the Filipino nation. The same forces ascribed to Rizal ideas alien to our hero’s very own.
And so it happened that in the mid-20th century, Rizal was pictured as an ivory-tower intellectual, an ilustrado, who could not “shake off” his Spanish orientation and “wanted accommodation within the ruling system.”
His writing his novels in Spanish was made to mean he targeted as audience the Spaniards, whom he wanted to personally equal, more than his countrymen.
Ferdinand Blumentritt was an Austrian professor of geography at the Municipal Atheneum of Leitmeritz, Bohemia.
Rizal started corresponding with Blumentritt in 1886 when he heard that the Austrian scholar was studying Tagalog. Their intellectual exchanges lasted for ten years. Rizal’s last letter to his friend was from his prison cell in Fort Santiago dated December 29, 1896.
‘Ilustrado,’ not elitist
Rizal was an ilustrado elite, an enlightened intellectual. But he was never elitist. He always had the common people and the whole nation at heart. He transcended his class and embraced the whole nation. In return, the whole nation embraced him. That is why we call him a “National Hero.”
In his writings, Rizal consistently upheld his view on Philippine independence. In fact, he was one of the first Asians who propagandized against foreign rule.
So what is naturally and morally left for us as a nation? Rizal states, “The Philippines would have to declare itself, some fatal and inevitable day, independent.”
Upon independence, Rizal dreamt that “very likely the Philippines will defend with fierce courage the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new men that will spring from her soil and with the recollection of their past, they will perhaps strive to enter freely upon the wide road to progress, and all will labor together to strengthen their fatherland, both internally and externally, with the same enthusiasm with which a youth falls again to tilling the soil of his ancestors so long wasted and abandoned through the neglect of those who kept it from him.
“Then the mines will be made to give up their gold for relieving distress, iron for weapons, copper, lead, coal, etc. Perhaps the country will revive the maritime and mercantile life for which the islanders are fitted by nature, ability and instincts, and once more free, like the bird that leaves its cage, like the flower that opens to the air, will recover the old virtues that are gradually dying out and will again become addicted to peace, cheerful, happy, joyous, hospitable and fearless.”
Not slaying fathers
Studying Rizal and diligently reading his works in the 21st century is not to slay our fathers of the 20th century. Rather, it is our way to “increase the heritage that we receive from [the past generations] either expanding it or adding to it our own harvest.”
Unsullied by ideological encumbrances, we are able to see how Rizal’s writings still serve as our national guide and compass, especially in this era of globalization when nations have to summon all their strength in order to peacefully compete in the world arena and find their corner of the sky.
Mario I. Miclat is former dean of the University of the Philippines GT-Toyota Asian Center.
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