Rizal and Constantino – The End Of Veneration – Part One

Renato Constantino’s writings remain among the most influential body of work in Philippine historiography. This has remained the case even though an increasing number of professional historians have, quietly, come to the conclusion that those works have relatively little value for modern historical studies, other than as historical artifacts themselves, that they have contributed to an undue concentration on one small part of the country’s history at the expense – literally in the case of such an underfunded area of scholarship – of research along paths less traveled that may provide a firmer underpinning to national identity and nationhood.

What is especially worrying is the self-censorship by the Philippine scholarly history community. Constantino’s faults are discussed almost behind closed doors, much as Filipinos would hesitate to discuss Ferdinand Marcos or Spanish era Filipinos speak out about Spanish rule. Constantino has acquired the status of a secular religion with his article denouncing Jose Rizal, Veneration Without Understanding, representing one of its holy scriptures, to be questioned at risk of treatment of which the medieval Catholic Inquisition would be proud. It is fair to question whether such an environment is conducive or inimical to the development of a nationalist history.

This, it should be said, is not the fault of Constantino but of followers who cite him and use his writings as a primary source while censoring Constantino’s own words regarding his methodology and purpose. That purpose is made clear in his introduction to The Philippines: A Past Revisited: Filipinos are not ready for objective data about their own history, that must be suppressed until they have reached a level of nationalism, only then would they be ready to read the truth about their own history. Precisely the same argument was used by American officials to justify the colonization of the archipelago and withholding Philippine Independence – Filipinos weren’t ready for it.

I would submit that while myth plays an important role in creating and maintaining national identity, deliberate falsification does not. A nation’s myths reflect those values it regards as unique to itself and which separate its identity from other nations. Nazi-era Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Khmer Rouge Cambodia and modern North Korea are examples of the sort of dysfunctional ‘nationhood’ produced by such falsification.

Be that as it may, it is important to bear in mind that Constantino’s self-admitted intent was not to reveal historical truth but to create an activist mindset among his middle-class readership.

Constantino had a purpose that was markedly similar to that of Jose Rizal. This is hardly surprising. Both lived at a time of enormous economic and political change. Both lived under regimes in which outright criticism, or support for the overthrow of the status quo, led to imprisonment, torture and, often death. Both perceived a possibly fictional ‘Golden Age’ in the past – Rizal’s pre-hispanic Filipino and Constantino’s revolutionary masses of the Philippine war of independence. Both sought to exorcise cultural demons, the influence of the friars in Rizal’s case and the influence of the Americans in Constantino’s.

While, as will be demonstrated with particular regard to Rizal, both believed in the need for revolution neither writer explicitly and unequivocally called for violent revolution against the reigning oppressors in their writings. Both men were products of their time and place and express the zeistgeist of their environment.

Neither man lived to see the realization of their separate visions of nationalism and liberty and their ghosts are likely themselves to be ghosts before those visions become concrete.

To get back to the muttons. The power of Veneration Without Understanding owes much to the Philippine school system which often projects Rizal as a flawless, almost Christlike figure rather than the human being he was. Brought up with such hagiographic pedagogy, students are ill prepared to view Veneration critically, a piece which appears to overthrow all their preconceived notions, presented by politicized professors to whom they must acquiesce or face poor grades for dissent. It undoubtedly comes as a shock.

It is now almost 30 year since the first publication of Veneration Without Understanding and almost a decade since the death of its author. Perhaps it is time to break the conspiracy of silence and ask the impertinent pertinent question: Does Veneration Without Understanding stand up to scrutiny?

To be continued.

5 thoughts on “Rizal and Constantino – The End Of Veneration – Part One

  1. “The day on which you would see me in the clutches of the friars, do not waste time making petitions or uttering complaints or lamentations — it is useless. Try to put another in my place who may avenge me and make them pay dearly for my misfortune! If I would see a son of mine in the mouth of a shark, I would not try to pull him out — for it is useless and all I would achieve is to destroy him — I would kill the shark if possible, and if not, I would waylay him!”

    -Dr. Jose Rizal
    Paris, 18th April 1889

  2. “When the people is gagged; when its dignity, honor, and all its liberties are trampled; when it no longer has any legal recourse against the tyranny of its oppressors; when its complaints, petitions, and groans are not attended to; when it is not permitted even to weep; when even the last hope is wrested from its heart; then..! then..! then..! it has left no other remedy but to take down with delirious hand from the infernal altars the BLOODY and SUICIDAL DAGGER of REVOLUTION!!!”

    Dr. Jose Rizal
    Spain, 10 October 1889


  3. “I am readying myself for death. I am making arrangements for what I will leave behind and am preparing myself for any eventuality; Laong Laan is my real name. That is why I wish to finish the second volume of Noli at any cost and if it is possible, I do not wish to leave what I have begun without anyone to continue it…

    May our compatriots there obey the voice of their heart and devote the precious time of their youth to something great, which is worthy of them. We do not have the good luck of other young men who can dispose of their time and their future.

    We have upon as A DUTY; TO REDEEM OUR MOTHER FROM HER CAPTIVITY; our mother is pawned; WE MUST REDEEM HER before we amuse ourselves.”

    -Dr. Jose Rizal to Marcelo H. del Pilar
    Brussels, 11 June 1890


    (En El Bello Oriente)
    In the beautiful East
    Where the sun rises,
    A fair land
    Resplendent with charms
    In heavy chains
    The despot keeps.
    Alas!’ tis my country,
    The country I love.
    Like a slave she is dying,
    In irons languishing:
    Oh, happy man he
    Who could LIBERATE  her!
    -J.P.R (Jose P. Rizal)
    12 September,  1891


    “We are children, we are the latestborn. But our hearts beats high, and tomorrow we shall be full-grown men who will know how to defend their hearts and homes. We are children, yes but nothing daunts us, neither wave nor storm or thunder. With strong right arm and unclouded brow WE SHALL KNOW HOW TO FIGHT IN THE HOUR OF DANGER. Our hands shall take up in turn those instruments of sovereign reason, the SWORD the pen, the SPADE!”

    Dr. Rizal’s “A Talisay de Laong Laan”
    Dapitan (circa 1895)


    “Man should die for his duties and his convictions. I uphold all the  ideas that I have professed  about the state and the future of my country.  I will gladly die for her and do even more to attain justice and peace for you…
    What is death if one dies for what one love loves, if one dies for the country and for the people that one loves?…
    I have always loved my poor country and I am sure that I will love her till the very end, even if men have been unjust to me…
    Whatever my fate maybe,  I will die glorifying and DESIRING THE DAWN OF HER REDEMPTION.
    Let these lines be published after my death.”

    -Dr. Jose Rizal, “To The Filipinos”
    Hong Kong, 20 June 1892

  4. As the general editor of the Encyclopedia Rizaliana, I was responsible for the gathering of international, multi-disciplinary contributors for anything and everything about Rizal’s life, works and influence. After much brain storming, the norm of the contributors rejects Veneration Without Understanding as an entry in compendium on Rizal and placed ‘Constantino, Renato’ as a minor entry “as the author of the work….”

  5. I read the essay, and it doesn’t denounce Rizal. Also, I could not see any remark about Filipinos not being ready for “objective data” in the Preface and the first chapter of _Past Revisited_.

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