By Dr. Pablo S. Trillana III
Contributor Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: June 18, 2010
Today, June 19, 2010, is the the 149th birth anniversary of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and is 11 days before Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III will take his oath as the 15th President of the Republic.
Rizal never held any office even remotely comparable to the presidency. But Aquino can learn a thing or two about leadership from Rizal's life as an exile in Dapitan.
Immediately after returning to the Philippines on June 26, 1892, Rizal was charged with smuggling anti-friar leaflets. Without the benefit of a trial, he was then shipped out to Dapitan. He arrived in that lonely Mindanao outpost, "the edge of nowhere," as writer Leon Ma. Guerrero described it, on July 17, 1892 and stayed there until July 31, 1896.
Before the Dapitan interlude, Rizal's two incendiary novels, "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not) and "El Filibusterismo, " (The Filibuster) had made waves in the Philippines, opening the eyes of Filipinos to their dismal condition. The increasingly restive natives alarmed the colonial government. The latter would have been more alarmed had they discovered that on July 3, 1892, Rizal founded the La Liga Filipina, a sub-rosa organization whose aim was to establish an ideal society, whose members were pledged "to mutual protection against any adversity, to provide defense against violence and injustice, to stimulate education, agriculture and commerce, to study and apply reforms…"
In Dapitan, Rizal found not a hermitage but windows for effecting social change. Losing no time, Rizal talked his commandant-warden, Ricardo Carnicero, into granting him freedom of movement. In return, he promised not to escape.
Rizal put up a school for boys that became his laboratory for molding the "whole man." Besides the basic subjects of reading, writing, mathematics, Spanish and English, he taught his pupils boxing, swimming, fencing and sailing. Agriculture and community work was part of his curriculum, as well as lessons that could be imparted only by real-life experiences. Often, he took his wards on perilous field trips to test their mettle. Rizal's whole man must be not only mentally and physically fit, he must also have the bravura to cope with the unpredictable world outside the classroom where intelligence was needed most.
Rizal also built a hospital. He earned good fees from the wealthy but treated the poor gratis. He continued to write poetry, sketch and sculpt. At the urging of Ferdinand Blumentritt, his Austrian friend, he worked on a Tagalog grammar and learned Bisayan.
Fr. Pablo Pastells, then the Jesuit superior in the Philippines, began a lengthy correspondence with Rizal in the hope of saving the brilliant Ateneo alumnus from his "shipwreck of faith." Rizal obliged with an epistolary debate, substantiating his arguments with the writings of philosophers and historians whom he quoted from memory, because he had no access to a library. Rizal was also in touch with leading ethnologists, botanists and zoologists in Europe, to whom he sent specimens of unusual plants and insects and sketches of unfamiliar animals, flowers and shells found in Dapitan. As a result of this exchange, a frog, a beetle and a lizard were named after him.
Rizal also engaged in the copra and hemp business. He formed a cooperative to help break the Chinese trade monopoly in Dapitan. He helped fishermen increase their catch by teaching them scientific fishing methods. He built Dapitan's first water system, lit its streets, drained its marshes to prevent malaria and beautified its plaza.
He even played lotto and won, investing his winnings in a sizable farm in Talisay, a seaside barrio, which he turned into a working plantation.
Several times during his exile, Rizal demanded that he be brought to trial and face judgment, and that if there were no further reasons for his exile, be set free. But his pleas fell on deaf ears. In February 1895 Rizal met the 18-year-old Josephine Bracken, the adopted daughter of one of his patients. The two fell in love, but were forbidden to marry in church unless Rizal "retracted his religious errors," specifically his embrace of freemasonry. Instead of bowing to the clergy, Rizal chose to live with Josephine as his wife, believing there was no impediment to their union before the eyes of God.
In June 1896 Rizal was visited by Pio Valenzuela, Bonifacio's emissary, who informed him about the Katipunan and the imminence of revolution. Rizal refused to endorse Bonifacio's plans for an armed struggle because they appeared fatally inadequate, though he suggested revolutionary tactics that might help the Katipunan.
All told, Dapitan showed a facet of Rizal's character that is often overlooked because of his larger-than- life image as idealist-martyr: his down-to-earth notion of social change. So even as he aimed for the stars, his feet were firmly planted on the ground.
In transforming backward Dapitan into a progressive community, Rizal demonstrated that he had a full grasp of the demands of development such as education, health services, infrastructure, livelihood, agriculture, security and the many other factors that empower people to live a better life. Without patronage, without resorting to bribery or any shady arrangement, without the authority invested by high position, Rizal created a model community, a microcosm of what the Philippines could become given a leadership that cared for it, exactly as he had envisioned in La Liga Filipina.
Aquino can have no better mentor as he begins to govern a nation so hungry for a leader who treads the high ground but at the same time can translate his idealism into reality.
Dr. Pablo S. Trillana III is the supreme commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal.
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.]
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