Secrets in Rizal’s poem

In 1880,  Jose Rizal wrote a play in verse, “Junto al Pasig ”,  which no one thought subversive because he was a 19- year old, diligent student of the Ateneo Municipal in Intramuros. The play seemed innocent enough, if not pious.  A group of students were waiting by the banks of the Pasig River to sing hymns of praise to  Our Lady of Antipolo as her fluvial procession floated by.  Two of the boys named Candido and Pascual were waiting for their classmate Leonido who arrived late because he was intercepted by Satan.

The Angel of Darkness, disguised as a Diwata, introduces himself to Leonido as the true god whom the natives worshiped before the Spaniards arrived.  He mocks  Leonido and his kind for being foolish enough to worship the false gods introduced by the Spaniards. He demands absolute allegiance and explicitly forbids the schoolboy to attend the religious event in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Satan gushingly tells Leonido that before the Spaniards came to these shores, when all the natives adored him, these islands were beautiful; there was no hunger nor pain; fields brimmed with harvest for the earth were fertile and unsullied. On the grassy plains roamed speckled goats, deer, and myriad cattle.  Colonies of diligent bees made honey in their hives for the delight and sustenance of humans. Even crows behaved, predicting the weather and doing no harm. It was  Heaven on earth in these islands. But, when the Spaniards arrived, paradise was lost.

Had anyone accused the young Jose of being a “filibustero”, he could have easily denied it by pointing out that it was Satan who was spewing anti-Spanish propaganda. It was an ingenious device to spread thought-provoking ideas among his peers without getting into trouble.  One wonders where this  19-year old native of Calamba got that idea of a ”lost paradise “(perdido Eden)? – wrote Dr. Floro Quibuyen, the foremost Rizalista, in my book. He says that the “lost paradise” idea was embedded in 19th century vernacular Tagalog culture. Rizal must have imbibed that concept through legends of Bernardo Carpio and Maria Makiling which his mother and elder sisters told him;  or from watching the Pasyon and other performances of local theater groups.

During his threatening monologue, Satan tells Leonido that the Philippines groans beneath the oppression of an alien race,  that it is slowly dying in the impious hands of Spain.   Only he,  Satan,  can liberate this land from Spain;  the Devil also promises to give  Leonido anything he desires in exchange for loyalty. True to form, the Jesuit-educated Leonido scoffs at the Devil, telling him that the  Blessed Virgin Mary and her  Christians followers have already defeated him. Enraged, Satan hurls a curse:  In the not too distant future, he says, there will be dismal calamities, plagues, wars and cruel invasions; your people shall water the thirsty sands with their blood and tears; birds wounded by burning metal shall sing no more; not even your ancient forests, nor your rivers or valleys or springs shall be spared by the hateful men who shall ruin your peace and welfare. Satan threatened to unleash savage winds that in their course will cause distress;  burning lava will pour from proud lofty mountains and flames will raze towns, uproot hundreds of trees. The earth will shudder with spasms and ravage the rich lands and all life upon it. (Prophetic words of an adolescent Rizal.)

Now, doesn’t that sound like global warming? – asked Dr. Floro Quibuyen who also said that Rizal had apocalyptic-eschatological vision. Apocalypse means a “lifting of the veil”, a disclosure of something hidden from mankind in an era of falsehood and deception. That was what Rizal did in his novels.

When “Junto al Pasig” was written, the Spanish Jesuits interpreted it as a homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary,  if not plaudits to Christianization which saved the natives from a state of savagery represented by Satan. It was dramatized and the audience applauded wildly after Leonido was saved by angels when Satan and his minions wanted to kill him. In 1930, curiously enough,  critics of Jose Rizal claimed that he was on Satan’s side and that he camouflaged his love for native pagan beliefs by pretending to venerate Our Lady of Antipolo.

In this century, Dr. Quibuyen and some fellow-historians view  “Junto al Pasig” through a completely different lens; it is evidence that early on  Rizal had apocalyptic vision because the destruction he described in that play coincides with data on the current global crisis of wars, pandemics, military invasions and inequalities.  Dr. Quibuyen is of the opinion that the world of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren could very well be one of desolation as described by Rizal. That is why we should encourage them to discover the secrets hidden in his poems.

(Source: Quibuyen, Floro, “Looking backwards to the future: recovering Rizal’s apocalyptic vision”2022)