“With or without these specific individuals the social relations engendered by Spanish colonialism and the subsequent economic development of the country would have produced the nationalist movement,” says Constantino, and he is certainly correct. But is he correct when he says “But he is not a hero in the sense that he could have stopped and altered the course of events. The truth of this statement is demonstrated by the fact that the Revolution broke out despite his refusal to lead it and continued despite his condemnation of it.”?
In fact, as noted earlier, Rizal’s refusal to support Bonifacio was kept secret and Rizal’s condemnation remained suppressed so no-one actually knew about them. What did go into public awareness was the poem we know today as Mi Ultimo Adios, a moving call to arms to shed blood for the country. It would be more accurate to say that the revolution broke out with Rizal’s assumed, but false, explicit blessing – thanks to Bonifacio, and continued with the implicit blessing given in Mi Ultimo Adios.
“…he was only a limited Filipino, the ilustrado Filipino who fought for national unity but feared the Revolution” writes Contantino, but Rizal feared tyranny far more. His room-mate in Ghent, Jose Alejandrino, says: “One of the subjects he discussed frequently with us were the means by which we could make use of in order to promote a revolution” and quote Rizal himself as saying: “I will never lead a disorderly revolution and one which has no probability of success bercause I do not want to burden my conscience with an imprudent and useless spilling of blood, but whoever leads a revolution in the Philippines will have me at his side.”
Alejandrino read the galleyproofs of El Filibusterismo as it was being printed. Of his charachaters Rizal said “I regret having killed Elias instead of Cristomo Ibarra; but when I wrote the Noli Me Tangere… I never thought that I would be able to write its sequel and speak of a revolution, otherwise I would have preserved the life of Elias, who was a noble character, patriotic, self-denying and disinterested – necessary qualities in a man who leads a revolution – whereas Cristomo Ibarra was an egotist who only decided to provoke the rebellion when he was hurt in his interests… with men like him, success cannot be expected in their undertakings”.
The echoes of Ibarra in Bonifacio are eery.
Further, Constantino ignores Rizal’s own testimony at his trial regarding his meeting in Dapitan with Pio Valenzuela according to the court stenographer (My emphasis): “(Rizal) told him that it was hardly the time to embark on such foolhardy ventures, as there was no unity among the various classes of Filipino, nor did they have arms, nor ships, nor education, nor any requirements for a resistance movement… it was (Rizal’s) opinion that they ought to wait.”
In private conversation and correspondence such as that with Blumentritt, Rizal considers revolution as an option but not as an end in itself. It was not revolution that Rizal feared, but one that went off half-cock.
Rizal’s reference to Cuba raises a point almost universally overlooked. Cuba, too, had been fighting a war of independence against Spain that seemed interminable and unwinnable. Cuban revolutionaries, too, reached an agreement with the Spanish along much the same lines as Aguinaldo was to reach at the Pact of Biak-Na-Bato. Rizal advised “Let them learn from Cuba, where the people, although possessing abundant means and the backing of a great power, and being schooled in war, are powerless to achieve their objectives. Moreover, whatever may be the issue of that struggle, it will be to Spain’s advantage to grant concessions to the Philippines.”
Clearly, Rizal saw the Cuban struggle as a warning and also an opportunity to take another step towards liberty.
Usually ignored, too, is the fact that Spain lost its empire on the American continent in a series of revolts in the early part of the 19th century. The result was a series of unstable states from Mexico to Terra Del Fuego that were independent but, thanks to various shades of tyranny and oppression, hardly advertisements for revolution as a process that would auomatically liberate the masses as Constantino assumes.
Writing, as usual, ex cathedra, Constantino writes “his (Rizal’s) cultural upbringing was such that affection for Spain and Spanish civilization precluded the idea of breaking the chains of colonialism. He had to become a Spaniard first before becoming a Filipino.”
Responding to an article by Pablo Feced published in a Manila newpaper, Rizal writes: “ (Feced aka Quioquiap) wants separation and he is right. The Filipinos have long desired Hispanization and have been wrong. Spain should desire this hispanization, not the Filipinos.”
Constantino concedes “Rizal contributed much to the growth of this national consciousness. It was a contribution not only in terms of propaganda but in something positive that the present generation of Filipinos will owe to him and for which they will honor him by completing the task which he so nobly began…This contribution was in the realm of Filipino nationhood – the winning of our name as a race, the recognition of our people as one, and the elevation of the indio into Filipino.”
That, of course, is one of the reasons why he is the National Hero, not solely a revolutionary hero. However, in the midst of that ellipsis, Constantino describes Rizal’s goal of liberty as “already passe, something we take for granted”. So, Constantino’s generation will complete Rizal’s task (They didn’t), but it is already passé and taken for granted. Huh?
No, Mr. Constantino, Rizal’s task will be passé when the Philippines is a land without slaves or tyrants and when human dignity is respected, when it is a land in which each of its people can reach their full potentail.
Constantino cites Rizal’s brief to his defense lawyer as evidence that Rizal was anti-Independence: ”. many have interpreted my phrase to have liberties as to have independence, which are two different things. A people can be free without being independent, and a people can be independent without being free. I have always desired liberties for the Philippines and I have said so. Others who testify that I said independence either have put the cart before the horse or they lie.”
Rizal does not say that he does not desire independence. Independence and liberty are two separate states, as even a cursory glance around numerous of the world’s independent but hardly free states, and he is cautioning against such situations as is evident in his remark “(they) have put the cart before the horse”, they got it the wrong way around but both cart and horse, liberty and independence, are part of the future.
Prehaps it is the zen-like simplicity of Rizal’s thought that eluded Constantino. Most of us have heard the phrase “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and Rizal said something similar, also cited by Constantino: “I do not mean to say that our liberty will be secured at the sword’s point, for the sword plays but little part in modern affairs, but that we must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it, by exalting the intelligence and the dignity of the individual, by loving justice, right and greatness, even to the extent of dying for them – and when a people reaches that height God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, the tyranny will crumble like a house of cards and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.”
Constantino misinterprets this to mean that Rizal intends that “freedom is a diploma to be granted by a superior people to an inferior one after years of apprenticeship”. Rizal means nothing of the sort – the judge of when people are ready is not some ‘superior people’, it is the people, the masses themselves and the interplay between them and historical dynamics that will create the means by which their liberty is attained, whether it be by revolution, by seizing independence, or through a peaceful, Gandhi-like ‘war’ of attrition. To Rizal, the means didn’t matter, the endpoint, liberty, did.
It is important to note Rizal’s imagery of the dawn, “liberty will shine out like the first dawn”. In a letter to the Filipino people written in 1892, for publication after his death, he wrote “I shall die blessing my country and wishing her the dawn of redemption. This is the dawn he refers to in Mi Ultimo Adios, a dawn he clearly believed was breaking as he shed his blood on the earth of Bagumbayan and, in that same poem, urged his countrymen to shed theirs.