Where does all this leave us? First, Rizal was a national hero sponsored by Filipinos so forcefully that the Americans had little choice. Second, that Rizal believed that when Filipinos achieved a national consciousness thatcontinuously denied tyrants their supremacy the means for overthrowing the tyrants would self-generate out of the people themselves. Third that Rizal saw revolution and independence as options once national consciousness had been achieved.
The second conclusion is that Constantino is a thoroughly unreliable source of analysis of Rizal’s philosophy since he has suppressed and distorted all data that does not fit within his pre-conceived polemical framework.
Third, the value of Veneration Without Understanding is not as a source of historical analysis of Rizal’s place as national hero, but in what it tells of someone who played a key role in the political activism of the 1960s and 1970s, Renato Constantino. It should therefore be viewed as a polemical historical document of the mid-late 20th century.
Much has changed since Constantino’s day, yet also little. Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in in 1986 in a revolution begun by a military coup sponsored by the wealthy elite that was co-opted by the Catholic Church that succeeded as a coup because of the power of the masses. Yet as a revolution it failed because the masses did not maintain and defend what they had struggled for and the status quo re-asserted itself, which is precisely what Rizal feared almost a century before.
Without question a people have the right to liberty but implicit in that right are two duties: To respect the right of liberty of others, those who do not do so are by definition tyrants; and to fight for, defend and maintain that liberty. If these two duties are abrogated then the right to liberty necessarily falls by the wayside. Only those who have internalized those principles honour them and live by them can successfully achieve a state of liberty, of kalayaan in the sense outlined in Rey Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution and it is that internalization which is the liwanag, the light, that will illuminate the road to kalayaan.
No-one can deny the heroism and courage of the thousands of ordinary Filipinos who gathered on EDSA, any more than we can deny that of those who fought the Spanish and American regimes. Each one of them became national heroes, even though they remain largely nameless. Yet is it not time to explore why that unity and that awesome desire for change foundered?
It is certainly time to ask, objectively and dispassionately why the movement of which Constantino was a part failed to deliver the goods, failed to inspire the masses, and still fails to inspire them today, the true role of activist events such a the First Quarter Storm and their contribution, or lack thereof, to the events of 1986 and whether it is relevant to today’s Philippines. Critical examination of the polemics of Veneration Without Understanding should be a part of that exploration.
Liberty is not a fashion accessory to be worn once and put away in a cupboard like the Che Guevarra sweat-shirts and radical chic of the 1960s and 1970s. It is a dynamic process which must be defended anew each day. Rizal’s writings show that he understood the need to dynamically maintain and defend liberty, Constantino did not.
Constantino wrote of Rizal and the masses: “He was their martyr; they recognized his labors although they knew that he was already behind them in their forward march”. If there is a forward march of the masses all one can say is that it is not Rizal that they left behind, it is Constantino.