Rizal, veneration with understanding

During Jose Rizal’s 162nd birthday, Calamba Mayor Roseller H. Rizal expressed how proud he is that his constituents’ appreciate Jose Rizal’s exceptional life which was too short, but significant nonetheless. Even if there were different programs implemented in Calamba in the previous years, Mayor Rizal believes in “the golden lessons bequeathed by preceding generations.” I am always impressed by government officials who are not afraid of continuity.

Mayor Ross, as he likes to be called, is the great great grandson of Patricio Rizal, a half-brother of Francisco Mercado, Jose Rizal’s father. Rightfully so, he is “dugong bayani” the rallying call of his political campaigns. There have been other mayors of Calamba from their side of the family, Mayors Sisenando and Taciano.

That splendid morning, in the shadow of the Rizal house, Mayor Ross quoted the national hero: “I am writing for other ages, the generation which interprets these writings will be an educated generation. They will understand me and say that not all were asleep in the night of our ancestors.”

The guest speaker was Senator Francisco Tolentino, whom I had met when he was chairman of the MMDA ( Metro Manila Development Authority). The good senator focused on Rizal as a doctor, a prelude to presenting to us his bill allowing foreign doctors to work in the Philippines, to fill in a current shortage. He said Rizal studied ophthalmology to restore his mother’s eyesight, but in fact, what he also wanted to do was, “open the eyes of Filipinos to the brutality of the Spaniards and arouse their patriotic feelings.” An accurate analogy, indeed. Sen. Tolentino continued: “Perhaps Rizal wanted to cure not only body pain, but also to heal the wounds of history, wounds of Filipino society blinded by loss of hope for liberation. In our time, the call is to love the country, to be a modern hero. …the fight is for rights, order, unity, cooperation. This includes the fight against malnutrition, the fight on how we can help our seniors and help them with their illnesses.” He ended by calling on the youth to dedicate themselves to community building; Rizal referred to them as the hope of the fatherland.

Thank you, Vice Mayor Angelito Lazaro, Jr., for giving most of your speech time to the Rizal family “changing of the guard.” My generation passed on the torch to three younger descendants – Maxine Cruz (Maria line) Raquel Torres Manalastas (Narcisa line) and Paolo Azurin (Paciano line).The young ladies Maxine and Raquel focused on Rizal’s teaching Filipinos how to help each other, how to turn a bad situation into a good one by helping the community. They spoke about what Rizal did for Dapitan. Paolo told the youth present (Boys and Girl Scouts and students from Calamba schools were in the audience) that Rizal started at the bottom of his class in the Ateneo Municipal because he had little knowledge of the Spanish language. However, through intense work he was at the top of his class after only a month.

The words of Dr. Emmanuel Calairo, newly-appointed chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) were thought-provoking. After paying homage to Jose Rizal, he said something about researching “surrenders” like what happened in Baler, Quezon where the Spanish troops had to surrender to the army of the First Philippine Republic. There must be many more of those “surrenders” we do know about. To my knowledge, only Dr. Jaime Veneracion, historian from Bulacan, has brought up the subject, although the Spanish colonial government preferred to surrender to the Americans than to Aguinaldo and his indio army, there were a number of occasions where Spain had to surrender to the army of the First Philippine Republic. Let us find more Balers is Dr. Calairo’s challenge.

During a former administration, Rizal commemorations in Calamba had plunged into a state that resists verbal description. Once, the guest of honor and speaker was a hitherto unknown individual who soared the ranks to suddenly become a presidential adviser. He was 45 minutes late, and arrived in a helicopter with a movie hunk in tow. When he introduced that character to the audience, the applause was feeble, so Mr. Guest Speaker thought he could stoke laughter by describing the movie star as a “sharp object;” he said it in Tagalog which I have to translate into English to remove the gross vulgarity and salaciousness of the word. He said the then sitting president was also a “sharp object” and so was Jose Rizal!

My cousins and I were seated beside teachers who were visibly appalled; I don’t know if the Knights of Rizal or the Masons laughed. At that point, we wished ourselves invisible and walked out on that lewd, shameless guest speaker who was denigrating Rizal without understanding. Last Monday, we were elated that Mayor Ross Rizal has restored the dignity and lofty standard of Rizal day celebrations in Calamba.