Most of you already know that in 1888, Marcelo del Pilar asked Jose Rizal to write an encouraging letter to 20 of his lady townmates who wanted to open an evening school, in a private home, where they could learn proper Spanish and other subjects. They had already hired a professor, Señor Teodoro Sandico who was a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas. The friar curate of Malolos objected vehemently saying that women need not be educated, their place is in the home where they can pray, embroider and cook. The 20 young ladies would not take no for an answer; they presented their request to Governor-General Valeriano Weyler himself.
Rizal was elated that there were Filipino women like them. He said that in his life he had met only a few head-strong women, perhaps his mother and nine sisters. The personality of Maria Clara could have been different had Rizal learned about the 20 relentless Maloleñas before writing Noli Me Tangere, his first novel.
Rizal wrote the letter in Tagalog, so he asked Marcelo del Pilar a favor: “ Read it and correct it, since there is no one here with whom I can speak Tagalog, I am beginning to forget it a little. I believe I owe them more than a simple letter. Take care that it does not fall into the hands of the friars…it is my first draft, I have no copy.” The letter was dated February 1888.
Rizal crammed it with historical information about how Spartan women raised their sons to be disciplined warriors and patriots. He included bits from Sinibaldo de Mas’ report about friars in Pampanga making salacious, misogynist remarks about women who went to confession. He did not forget to tell young women what qualities they should look for in a future husband.
Rizal summarized his fraternal advice in seven points.
- First, the tyranny of some is possible only when others are cowardly and negligent.
- Second, what makes a person contemptible is lack of dignity and fear of those who hold him in contempt.
- Third, ignorance is servitude. Those who rely on the thoughts of others to guide them are like shackled beasts.
- Fourth, he who loves independence must aid his fellowmen; a single rib (tingting) of a palm leaf is easily broken, unlike a bunch of ribs tied together ( like the walis tingting).
- Fifth, if the Filipino woman will not change her mentality, she should not be allowed to raise her children, but merely give birth to them. She should not be the lady of the house, lest she unwittingly betray her husband, children, native land, and all.
- Sixth, all men are born equal, naked, without chains. God did not create man to be a slave, nor did He endow him with intelligence and reason only to be deceived.
- Seventh, ponder on the kind of religion you are taught, make sure it is real teachings of Christ that tell you to help the poor and alleviate the sufferings of others. Ponder on the objective of the friars’ sermons and on why the masses, novenas, rosaries, scapulars, candles, etc. are dangled before you on a daily basis. The will of God is different from the priest’s. Religiosity is not kneeling for hours in endless prayer; prudence is not blind obedience. You were born without shackles, no one has the right to subjugate you. God created you in His image and likeness. Use the light of reason that God gave you.
Rizal ends in congratulatory mode: “ May these poorly written lines help you in your plans and may your desire to educate yourselves be crowned with success. In the garden of learning, gather only choice fruits, examining them before you bite because in this world all is deceit and the enemy plants weeds in your seed beds. All of this is the ardent wish of your compatriot, José Rizal.”
Last 12 December, the Women of Malolos Foundation, Inc. invited the descendants of Jose Rizal to commemorate the approval by Gov-Gen. V. Weyler of the school project. He signed their request letter in the convento of the Agustinian curate after the 20 well-dressed and determined ladies barged in, overwhelming the guards. My cousins Tess Herbosa, Peachy Herbosa Romualdez, Bambi Reyes Virata with husband, Rufy, Encarnacion L. Loewen were delighted with Nick Tiongson’s film about the 20 women. Mayor Christian D. Natividad was represented by his mother. Vice-Mayor Miguel Alberto Bautista and Atty Cyrus Valenzuela (Legal Office) are looking forward to the inauguration of the Bulacan airport which will make Malolos, seat of the First Philippine Republic, a must-see destination. Many owners of ancestral homes are converting their heritage structures into boutique hotels, restaurants and events locations. Malolos will most probably be the next Vigan.