No 1045, District 25, Under The United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & ACT Australia [Views herein does not necessarily reflect those of LJR 1045 & UGL NSW & ACT.]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rizal’s visits to Singapore

Looking Back By Ambeth Ocampo

[Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 02:08:00 06/20/2008]

SINGAPORE—If you care to explore beyond the shopping malls of Singapore, you will find two landmarks with reference to the Philippines, the most famous being an eye-catching bridge painted in the wildest colors by the late Filipina artist Pacita Abad. The other landmark, smaller and more dignified is one that commemorates Jose Rizal’s five visits to Singapore. The National Heritage Board of Singapore initiated a project in 2005 called “Friends to Our Shores” that commemorates visits by eminent personalities.

The original plan was to install a marker in the Botanical Gardens that Rizal had visited not once but thrice. President Macapagal-Arroyo was supposed to unveil the marker during her visit last year, but it was decided not to rush to do a better job. The Rizal marker unveiled by President S.R. Nathan yesterday is by a river near the Asian Civilizations Museum.

The National Heritage Board of Singapore provided the site and a setting for a bronze relief of Rizal’s profile by National Artist Guillermo E. Tolentino provided by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines. Our hero thus joins the other writers who visited Singapore, like Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. I was wondering whether the emphasis on Rizal as writer rather than revolutionary was dictated by Singapore’s security concerns, but the fact that Ho Chi Minh has also been memorialized means that our embassy should begin negotiations to install a marker to commemorate Emilio Aguinaldo’s visit to Singapore in 1898.

Rizal’s visits to Singapore, and even that of Aguinaldo, underscore the fact that our relations go beyond the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between our countries. Our heroes and their visits to Singapore also antedate the independence of our countries. When Rizal and Aguinaldo were imagining a free and independent Philippines, Singapore was also under a foreign flag.

Rizal is a boon to Philippine diplomacy because he traveled a great deal and it is when we look back to a shared past with foreign countries he visited that we also get a glimpse into a shared future.

Textbook history tells us a lot about Rizal’s travels and how they resulted in an urbane and very cosmopolitan outlook. Yet in May 1882, it was Rizal’s first trip abroad and aside from the anxiety that accompanies all travelers then as now, Rizal had to cope with a pressing personal condition: he had left the country secretly, without his parents’ consent, without even saying goodbye to his fiancée Leonor Rivera. These emotions weighed heavily on him and we see a reflection of it in nightmares recorded in his diary, the first in Singapore. More significant is the admission that Rizal had precognitive gifts and he sometimes used it in school:

“It is true that I had a dream once that was fulfilled. Before the examination for the first year in Medicine, I dreamed that I was asked certain questions but I didn’t mind them. When the examinations came, I was asked the questions in my dream.”

Could this be the secret of Rizal’s genius that he was able to foretell exam questions before they were given? Wouldn’t that be cheating? If I were blessed with the same gift, I would probably be dreaming about winning lotto numbers and horse races. Rizal bought lottery tickets every week and actually won the second prize during his Dapitan exile.

During his tour around Singapore, Rizal saw the Maharajah of Johore and described him as “an old, stout man, respectable-looking and garbed in European style but wearing a sort of apron.” He didn’t like the food at Hotel de la Paix where he stayed. “There was neither order nor coordination in the service. I ate rice which was inferior to ours; the pineapples, though small, were sweet and tasted good; the banana, bad.”

Rizal also wrote about the Palace of the Rajah of Siam marked by “a small iron elephant and what-not on the pedestal placed in front of the building.” Today the Royal Thai Embassy is on Orchard Road and one wonders if this was the site of the Palace mentioned by Rizal, minus the elephant that is now in front of Singapore’s Parliament, now renamed Arts House. This elephant was a gift of King Chulalangkorn who visited Singapore in 1871. It used to be located in front of City Hall but has since been replaced by a statue of Raffles, founder of modern Singapore.

Many of the places and landmarks Rizal mentioned can still be visited today, and it is possible to retrace his footsteps in Singapore.

Rizal’s other visits were stopovers to and from the Philippines. These were short and seemingly uneventful because little is recorded in his normally detailed diaries and travel letters.

In 1896, he passed Singapore twice, first, en route to Cuba where he was to serve in the Spanish medical corps, but he was arrested in Barcelona. The second was when he was sent back to Manila. He was allowed to move around the ship freely when the ship was at sea, but each time the ship docked, he was detained in his cabin. Worse, 16 hours before they stopped in Singapore in November 1896, he was not only locked up in his cabin, he was chained to the bed to prevent him from jumping ship in the last port of call before Manila. Rizal’s friends lodged a petition with the Singapore Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. This was rejected, Rizal returned to Manila, and the rest is history.

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