Dr. Jose P. Rizal

National Hero of the Philippines: Dr. Jose P. Rizal

National Hero of the Philippines: Dr. Jose P. Rizal - his life, works, and martyrdom.

Dr. Jose P. Rizal (1861-1896) is one of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived. At a time when the Philippine Islands was under the oppressive rule of the Spaniards, his brilliance and dedication to his country served as inspiration for the discontent masses to fight for their homeland’s independence. As a young child, he studied with high honors at the Ateneo Municipal, a school run by Jesuits, and in college went to Unibersidad de Santo Tomas, a Dominican-run university. He went on to Europe to study medicine, particularly ophthalmology, to be able to treat his mother, who had beginning cataracts. Dr. Rizal was only 26 when he wrote his first book, the Noli Me Tangere. The words “noli me tangere” mean “do not touch me,” and are taken from the Book of Saint John. The book was immediately banned by the friars in the country at that time, for it sought to expose the latter’s corruption and greed. Dr. Rizal’s second novel was the El Filibusterismo, which was the sequel to Noli Me Tangere. In this book, Dr. Rizal clarified his political ideas. Rizal also wrote two essays, “Filipinas Dentro de Cien AƱos” (“The Philippines Within One Hundred Years”) and “La Indolencia de los Filipinos” (“The Laziness of Filipinos”), which were actually eye-opening works using humor as a way to reveal the backward state of the Philippines.

Dr. Rizal was an academician, a linguist, historian, writer, a scientist, and of course, a doctor. He wrote the Sobre La Nueva Ortografia de la Lengua Tagala in 1889, a time when educational works in Tagalog, the Filipino language, was stringently suppressed. Dr. Rizal believed that the national language was the soul of the nation, and to have one would mean having something that could never be conquered.

The time when Dr. Rizal lived was a time when the religious orders that first arrived in the Philippines to proselytize the Filipinos had become corrupt, exacting heavy taxes on the populace, grabbing ancestral lands, and having their way with the women in their parishes. As earlier mentioned, Dr. Rizal wrote two books, the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo, where he depicted, for all the world to see, the condition Filipinos were living in under the rule of the Spaniards. In a narrative manner, he created images of the masses, most downtrodden of all, and how they would labor from dusk till dawn, tilling the farmable lands to their outer edges, only to have these lands taken by greedy missionaries. He showed how the discontent masses could rise up in arms, join vigilante groups, and fight for freedom, predictions that very soon came true. In a way, Dr. Rizal knew whereof he spoke and wrote, for the friars of his time took away his family’s land and properties in their hometown named Calamba, Laguna, while he was away on studies. Dr. Rizal dedicated El Filibusterismo to 3 Filipino priests named Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, who were executed by the Spaniards, when he was only 11 years old, on the charge of treason. The event had stirred patriotic feelings in the young Jose Rizal, who felt that the three martyrs represented the innocent who are made to suffer by the Spaniards because they fear any Filipino respected enough as to be followed by the masses. Indeed, had it not been for the execution of these priests, Dr. Rizal admitted that he would never have realized the immorality of the religious orders, and he would have gone to be a Jesuit himself. Dr Rizal , as earlier menitoned, was educated in the Ateneo Municipal, a school run by Jesuit priests.

While the first missionaries were men of dignity and honor, the ones who followed them were filled with ulterior motives and greed. They thus became the regular fare for criticisms from the heroes of the time, names such as Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and Dr. Jose P. Rizal. These men were well educated at a time when almost all of their countrymen were viciously kept in a shroud of ignorance. Because of their relative wealth, they were able to afford university education, only to note how bad discrimination against Filipinos was in these universities, and how backward the teachings were. Thus, these men went to Europe, pursuing the gratifying light of knowledge they would not have found in a country where educated Filipinos were considered a threat to the ruling class.

Dr. Rizal was a peace-loving man, and in his books, he made all the revolutionary efforts of his characters fail utterly. He believed that the peaceful way of reform was the way to change the status quo in the Philippines then. He surmised that there were intelligent and willing listeners in “Mother Spain,” who would be willing to make the necessary changes in the colonial government so that the Philippines could reach its fullest potential. Dr. Rizal and his allies fought for the recognition of the Philippines as a province of Spain. They actively reiterated in their efforts and in their written works that (1) Spaniards and Filipinos must be treated as equals; (2) Filipinos must have a representative to the Spanish “Cortes” or Legislature; (3) The parishes in the Philippines must be given to secular priests, and not to religious orders; and (4) Filipinos should be given the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to fair trial. Above all these, Dr. Rizal and his compatriots lobbied for the removal of the religious orders in the Philippines, which they identified as the cause of the nation’s backward state.

Dr. Rizal did have thoughts of eventual independence, but never through violent means. It is ironic, therefore, that the revolution that started in his lifetime was ascribed by the Spaniards to him, though he never had a hand in it. Dr. Rizal, the reformist, was actually executed on the accusation that he was the supreme leader of the revolutionary movement of his time. The efforts for reform of Dr. Rizal and his compatriots at this time were already showing signs of failure, prompting leaders from the lower classes to launch an armed struggle.