Rizal lives! | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Jose Rizal is cool again.

Once upon a time, it seemed, he was hopelessly passé.  Generations of blind idol worship by old men in funny hats had turned young Filipinos off the pride of the Malay race.

It was even fashionable for a time in certain intellectual circles to say that Bonifacio, and not Rizal, deserved to be the national hero.

Bonifacio was truly of the masses, they argued, while Rizal was hopelessly bourgeois – a rich kid, an ilustrado.  The founder of the Katipunan was really revolutionary, whereas Rizal was still reluctant to completely cut his ties to Mother Spain, goes an oft-repeated observation.

Ironically, they both ended up dead – Bonifacio at the hands of his fellow “revolutionaries,” Rizal at the hands of the Spaniards he considered his equals.

But thanks to a growing sense of national pride, young Filipinos are once again searching for heroes to emulate.

Bonifacio is still a little too “grim and determined” for most tastes, but Rizal is enjoying a renaissance of sorts.  Now more than ever, he seems the perfect aspirational role model for 21st century Filipino youth whose heroes include the late Steve Jobs and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Like them, Rizal was an overachiever who nevertheless had his “fun” side.  Physician, novelist, social reformer, Rizal was also able to chat up women in several languages and occasionally enjoyed bohemian hijinks with his posse, “Los Indios Bravos,” the hipsters of his day.

He lived fast, died young, and to the very end, never lost his sense of style.

Most young Filipinos still learn about Rizal in school, but thanks to an innovative corporate social responsibility program, people are also learning about his ideals outside of the academe.

Buhay Rizal is the corporate social responsibility program of the Yuchengco Group of Companies (YGC), a giant business conglomerate that includes the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, the Malayan insurance group, and the House of Investments, a holding company whose interests range from agribusiness to construction to education.

The program was started at the initiative of corporate patriarch Alfonso T. Yuchengco, an avid Rizal buff, who named his first insurance company “Malayan,” after the pride of the Malay race, and adopted the hero’s visage as the corporate logo of his first bank, the Rizal Development Bank, which later became RCBC.

In 2008, the company launched the Buhay Rizal Values Campaign, a values formation program that encouraged young Filipinos to emulate the life of the national hero.  The program identified six values that Rizal exemplified: a life of honor and integrity, the passion to excel, achievement of dreams and aspirations, love and respect for one’s parents, the use of one’s God-given talents and pride in the Filipino race.

Using its nationwide network of RCBC branches, Malayan and Grepalife insurance offices, and other points of contact with its vast customer base, the Yuchengco Group promotes these values through such activities as donating copies of the “Noli Me Tangere” to local schools, renovating Rizal monuments in cooperation with local governments, and supporting such activities as poetry writing contests and Rizal quiz competitions.  In these activities, employees of the various member companies under the YGC banner work with local government units, the Department of Education, and private groups such as the Knights of Rizal whose members share the same goals.

There was a time when there was a monument to Rizal in every town plaza, and a bust of the national hero in every public school.  With rapid urbanization and population growth, as well as dwindling public funds, many of these monuments have sadly fallen into neglect.

One component of Buhay Rizal is the Rizalian Pride program, whose main objective is to restore these monuments to their former glory.  In coordination with local government units, YGC member companies select particular monuments and sponsor their renovation. Priority is given to sites with historical significance to the hero’s life, such as Calamba and Biñan, Laguna, and those in key cities.

Apart from restoring the monuments themselves, the Rizalian Pride program also underwrites improvements that enhance their pride of place.  For instance, in Biñan, Laguna, it funded the construction of a path walk leading to the ancestral home of Teodora Alonzo, the hero’s mother.  In Baguio, it sponsored the beautification of the flower park as part of the refurbishment of the city’s Rizal Shrine.  Similar activities have been undertaken in Iloilo, Davao and other major cities.

It is through Rizal’s writings that modern-day Filipinos come to know their hero.  His probing intellect, his compassionate side, even his sardonic sense of humor – these come through his words.

Which is why Buhay Rizal supports the closer reading of Rizal through its Rizal Books Program, under which copies of “Noli Me Tangere” are donated to select public schools throughout the country.  Starting with an initial 22 public high schools in Metro Manila, the program donated 20,000 copies of “Noli” in 2009.  The following year, it donated 10,000 more to schools in the cities of Baguio, Iloilo, Batangas, Davao and Bacolod.  In the next three years, the program plans to distribute 15,000 more books to various public schools throughout the country.

Admittedly, Rizal’s 19th-century prose style can be heavy slogging for 21st century tastes.  More enthusiasm for Rizal’s ideas can be generated through more modern means.  Buhay Rizal explores these through its Public Education Program.

In partnership with the Department of Education, YGC provides lectures on Rizal’s values whenever they turn over books to public high schools.  Using billboards, banners, audiovisual presentations, brochures and the Internet, the program delivers the hero’s inspirational message to the public at large.

Buhay Rizal also seeks to propagate Rizal’s values among YGC’s large employee base through posters bearing inspirational quotes from the hero prominently displayed in YGC offices.  Employees receive regular e-mail updates on Buhay Rizal activities and events through their Human Resource departments, are periodically treated to audiovisual presentations on Rizal, and are given brochures and comics on Rizalian values.

In true Rizalian fashion, the Buhay Rizal program encourages YGC employees to get involved in their communities through its Public Engagement Program.  One example of such engagement was a company-wide fund-raising effort for the book donation program.  Through bingo socials, auctions, food fairs, the donation of leave credits, sales of Rizal novelties and other creative ideas, YGC employees and customers raised P4 million in 2009.

Bankard, a YGC affiliate, raised P500,000 by encouraging its cardholders to donate their rewards points toward the book donation program.

This year, the 150th birth anniversary of the national hero, YGC has raised close to P2.4 million through the sale of commemorative T-shirts designed by the National Historical Commission and other novelty items.  The money has been earmarked for book donations for the next three years.

As part of its Rizal Youth Program, Buhay Rizal also sponsored a series of activities in its 22 partner-schools in Metro Manila, including essay writing contests, poetry writing contests, a Rizal Quiz Bee, extemporaneous speaking contests and even a Rizal-themed song and dance contest.

Thanks in part to such creative corporate efforts as YGC’s Buhay Rizal, the Rizal renaissance seems to be well underway.  Hopefully, young Filipinos will no longer issue a collective groan when their teachers tell them to crack open their copies of “Noli Me Tangere.” •

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