Rizal–terrorism vs. revolution

When I first read “El Filibusterismo”, I was too young to understand why it is “ profound and perfect” ( Rizal’s own words), so I was appalled that Maria Clara jumped off the convent roof before Simoun could rescue her and that his revolution failed. Two decades later, I read it again and caught a glimmer of Rizal’s vision– he was telling us how NOT to create a revolution. Eminent Rizalist, Dr. Floro Quibuyen, says it does take several readings to understand Rizal’s point of view.

In his prologue for a new edition of “El Filibusterismo”, Dr. Quibuyen clarifies the meaning of “filibusterismo”, so I feel I have to delve into the “segunda parte” of Rizal’s novel yet again. This time, I am reading Vibal Foundation“s “edición crítica”, recently off the press. Rizal’s original in Spanish has a face-to-face English translation by Charles E. Derbyshire (1927, second revised edition) and is annotated by Isaac Donoso. His punctilious notes show us where and how Rizal edited himself. National Artist for Literature, Virgilio Almario, wrote the Afterword in Tagalog.

Dr. Quibuyen argues that filibusterismo has been wrongly translated as subversion. He points us to the groundbreaking book, Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: filibustering in antebellum America (2002), by historian Robert E. May. Apparently, before the US Civil War, people in Latin America, Western Europe and the Hawaiian Kingdom were convinced that the USA had become a base for terrorists then called filibusters, a term that originated in the late 18th century. Like modern terrorists, American filibusters operated in underground cells, had secret codes, and wreaked havoc in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, etc. Take note that in Rizal’s Noli me Tangere (1887) , Crisostomo Ibarra, the ilustrado assimilationist/reformer, flees to Cuba. In El Filibusterismo, Ibarra returns after 13 years as the oligarch separatist/terrorist Simoun who corrupts society to destroy the colonial order and exterminate those who had caused his misfortunes.

Dr. Quibuyen affirms that this current mistranslation of filibusterismo into mere subversion obscures the ineluctable tension between filibusterismo-qua-terrorismo and revolution which is the crux of the Fili. Rizal did resolve the contradiction and that constitutes his original vision. Graceano Lopez Jaena agreed with Rizal, but M. H. del Pilar did not; Andres Bonifacio and Apolinario Mabini were both guided by Rizal’s vision.

Dr. Quibuyen says that to understand Rizal, we should use “critical hermeneutics” with 3 strategies: (1) to read Noli-Fili as one novel, as Rizal had wished, (2) to use intertextual analysis and rigorous interpretations of Rizal’s metaphorical/allegorical and discursive texts as spoken, for example, by Simoun, Fr. Florentino and Isagani, and (3) to triangulate the Noli-Fili with other writings of Rizal that embody his political, historical, religious and ethical views. These are found in his letters to contemporaries, to his family, to Prof. Ferdinand Blumentritt, his annotations of Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas ( 1890) and in 2 salient articles published in La Solidaridad– “Indolence of the Filipino” (1890) and “Philippines a century hence” (1889-1890).

Like anthropologists, we should avoid interpreting the past in terms of our contemporary categories and standards, Dr. Quibuyen recommends. He cites, “… the taken-for-granted belief, perpetuated ad nauseum in practically all popular as well as scholarly works on Rizal— that the driving force behind Rizal’s relentless pursuit of excellence in all fields of endeavor was his sense of inferiority born of his short physical stature.” Lamentably, even the most studious Rizalists have fallen into that trap, from Ante Radaic to L. M. Guerrero, W. D. Howells and National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin.

The myth of Rizal’s lack of height is solved with critical hermeneutics, assures Dr. Quibuyen, by situating it in its historical context; there is enough documentary evidence. Take a close look at that triumvirate photo of Rizal, M. H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce, Rizal is undeniably taller than del Pilar, but no one has ever called del Pilar short. There are photos of Rizal and Antonio Luna fencing; they are of the same height, but A. Luna is never described as abnormally short. In the now iconic group picture of 24 Filipinos in Europe, there are four others in the same row as Rizal who were shorter than him. By using historical anthropometrics, Dr. Quibuyen concludes that Rizal was not a diminutive 4’8 or 4’11, but was of standard height for that historical period. The average height of an Hungarian man between 1813-1835 was 64.2 inches or 5’3. Rizal’s biographer, L.M. Guerrero wrote that Rizal was all of 5’4. Dr. Quibuyen affirms that “conjuring a relationship between Rizal’s height and his extraordinary achievements is vulgar psychoanalysis which has fed popular consciousness.”

Vibal Foundation’s “El Filibusterismo” ought to be required reading in the Rizal course and every school library should have a copy of this handsome tome.