Throughout his life, Jose Rizal constantly argued with himself. In his mind, political thoughts contended vigorously, endlessly. He expressed his convictions and beliefs in his letters to his family and contemporaries, in travel journals, essays for “La Solidaridad”, and more emotionally through the characters of the Noli-Fili (It is only one novel, he said).
Rizal himself is the subject of acrid debates, to this very day. Was he a mere reformer, or a true revolutionary? Was he nothing more than an assimilationist, or did he envision an independent nation? The correct answers to those vital questions and to many more are found in the Noli-Fili, which many of us cavalierly dismiss as a copy of A. Dumas’s “Count of Monte Cristo”. Those who have not read the Noli-Fili are ignoring abundant primary sources of Rizal thought.
Despite the Rizal Law (R.A. 1425), younger generations have learned to trivialize Rizal while eminent historians, both Filipinos and foreigners, have constantly denigrated Jose Rizal without understanding him. That is a reference to a Rizal Day lecture, in 1970. at Fort Santiago by the late historian, Dr. Renato Constantino, “Veneration without understanding”.
In Rizal’s novel, the binding thesis is injustice and how its victims are supposed to seek redress. Do they rely on the rule of law, or must they take the law in their own hands? In the Noli, the obstacles to justice were the religious orders who could render the Governors-General and judges quite powerless. These “debates” were especially intense between Crisostomo Ibarra and Elias and became more profound as Rizal, his family and province mates were, in real life, violently dispossessed by the Dominicans. That revealed the root of injustice in the Philippines; it was not only the religious orders, but the colonial system itself. The battlefield was not in Spain, said Rizal, but in the Philippines. If the country is sick, then the medicine should be brought home to the ailing nation.
Most elucidating are the Fili’s Chapters 6 (Basilio) and 7 (Simoun) where the debate that began in the Noli, between Ibarra and Elias is brought to is conclusion by Simoun (Ibarra) and Basilio whose brother Crispin was murdered and whose mother Sisa was driven mad by oppression. By chance, they met on Christmas eve at the unmarked graves where 13 years ago they had buried Sisa and Elias. Basilio, by then a medical student, recognizes Simoun who pledges him to secrecy so as not to endanger his mission of destroying colonial society.
Simoun was appalled that while he spent his hard-earned wealth to corrupt government officials, eminent members of society and to cripple the economy to such a point that the oppressed would take up arms against the colonial government, the youth of the land like Basilio and Isagani were chasing dreams of Hispanization, assimilation and parity rights with Spain unaware that they were, in effect, destroying their national identity and their homeland. Even your defects will be borrowed! Simoun decried. He said that If Spain refuses integration, so much the better; they should take the lead, develop their own individuality, and trust only in themselves If they are denied representation in the Spanish parliament (Cortes), who cares! Their voices will be drowned there, but their very presence might condone abuses committed. They should instead lay the foundations of a Filipino nation. Now, after reading that in the Fili, how can anyone think that all Rizal wanted was for the Philippines to be assimilated and for them to become Hispanized, citizens of Spain?
Isagani (Fili, chapter 27) was spearheading the formation of an academy where they could learn proper Spanish. I wonder if this idea came from the women of Malolos to whom Rizal wrote that had he known about them before writing the Noli, Maria Clara’s character would have been very different. In that letter, Rizal emphasized a mother’s role in the education of her children, especially her sons. He said education starts on a mother’s lap, so a mother with the mentality of a slave should not be allowed to raise her children because they will become slaves. But in the case of Isagani, Rizal said that if they are not allowed to learn Spanish, they should then cultivate their own language to keep our culture alive. Instead of aspiring to be a province of Spain, work for an independent nation where Spaniards will not feel at home, or be looked upon as a fellow-citizen, but always as invaders.
Simoun asked Basilio why he had not avenged his brother and mother, that resignation is not a virtue when it encourages crime and oppression. ”There are no tyrants where there are no slaves.” (A famous Rizal quotation) Basilio answers that he wants to live his own life and Simoun mockingly replies, “ Your ambition is a cozy little home, a woman of your own, and a handful of rice. Behold, the model Filipino!” In order to put that sarcastic remark in context, we must triangulate it with other works written by Rizal in the same period.