Rizal’s “Letter to the Editor”

He wrote in English to the editor of the “HongKong Telegraph”, but did not sign his real name. “Yours faithfully, Philippino”, was how he ended. Curiously, the date line was Manila, 1 February 1892, although he was still in Hong Kong. His second homecoming was in June.  Rizal’s  letter began with, “Owing to the great difficulty in obtaining your paper, which has been boycotted by the bigoted Manila authorities, I was prevented from taking cognizance, in due time, of the letter signed by “A Castillan,” denying the events which you said occurred last year at Kalamba in the struggle of the village people with the wealthy Dominican Order.” Judging from the construction of that paragraph, it is obvious that Rizal was thinking in Spanish as he wrote in the King’s English.

He surmised that “A Castillan” was “… emboldened by the tyrannical oppression over all the Manila press…to falsely deny facts that are too well known to all the inhabitants here.” He quashed  each one of “A Castillan’s” lies: The Dominicans did not own Kalamba and had “no proof, no evidence, no title of any kind has been shown at all; [but] they only had to speak, and at once they were able to crush the poor villagers who have been for years working and cultivating these pieces of land they are now deprived of.”

Then Rizal described life in the Dominican estate as “tyrannical and humiliating that no man with a spark of self-respect and with any intelligent understanding of right and wrong, could submit to them without reducing himself to a base slavery…The farmer could not plant nor cultivate a tree nor give hospitality to anybody in his house, parent or friend, without asking first the good pleasure of the priest-manager. Moreover, he must respect and worship not only the Dominicans, but their very servants, as the representatives of the powerful friars…”

“A Castillan” accused the evicted Kalambeños of burning their own villages which Rizal rebutted: “What is true and nobody can contest it, is that the friar-manager of the Dominicans assisted by soldiers and hired people (20 cents per day) went on the whole week cutting down the houses—eight, if not more, new and handsome wooden dwellings and more than a hundred cottages have been destroyed. Among these we can mention the houses belonging to D. Luis Elasegui (formerly Mayor), D. Matias Belarmino (another ex-Mayor) Angelo Alkayaga, Petrona Belarmino… Captain Luis Elasegui, sick and bedridden, was compelled to leave his home wrapped in a blanket.  He named a few more people but did not include his own family, as he did in chapter 10 of   El Filibusterismo.

“A Castillan” paltered that General Valeriano Weyler, the Governor, did not have anything to do with the Kalamba evictions, but Rizal defanged  that lie: “We have copies of different telegrams sent by Weyler on this occasion, and the Madrid papers have published some.  It was Weyler who sent the troops, who gave the orders to burn the houses, and who banished men and women to Sooloo (Sulu) depriving them of their property…It was a heart-breaking sight to behold those poor people looking on in abject fear at the desolation of the house they had built up with lifelong pain and care. And they were refused hospitality everywhere, because the priests ordered the others not to give them shelter nor assistance…”

Rizal did not conceal his emotions: “Easy, very easy it is to deny now facts that one must condemn and reprove. To treat poor toiling laborers thus, oh, it was cruel, very cruel, for one who professedly has devoted himself by religious vows to charity and poverty, for one who lives a life of luxury gained by the sufferings of the poor! But all this must be excused as feeling ran high, and the pride of the wealthy Dominican Order was at stake. Pride and riches make one blind, even the wise, and the Dominicans are not the wisest men. Witness, the Inquisition…

“How long will the people tolerate such a state of affairs, and where will it all end? I repeat this question here and ask your invincible paper and your honest readers to give a reply or point out a remedy.”

What do you think of Rizal’s English? Not  bad for that time. He hadn’t  met Josephine Bracken, so we cannot give her credit for teaching him nor for editing that letter to the editor. A true polymath, Rizal learned the language all by himself and must have spoken it whenever he could while living in London, on a street called Chalcot Crescent. I think  Rizal’s command of English was  superior to the grasp of the language by 21st century Filipinos.