IT’S 10 days to Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday.
It’s customary during Rizal Day and other occasions that have to do with Rizal for speakers and writers to wrack their brains to find some way of relating him to our times. Or to (re)discover his relevance to today, as it is often put. This particular column is no exception. But I doubt if I’ll have to wrack my brains to do it.
The reason for that is that his relevance to today is more than obvious, it is ponderous. It leaps out at us. His times do not just hold echoes for ours, they parallel ours, in quite uncanny ways. Enough to make you wonder how far we’ve really gone from when Rizal was born.
Then there were the friars who were the fountainhead of wretched beliefs, which they spread in the name of religion. They were the ones who violently opposed the education of the indios on the ground that they would become too big for their breeches. They particularly reserved their scorn for those who went abroad in search of it (the indios bravos), deeming them to be potential polluters of the public mind when they came home.
Though a Catholic, Rizal was also a Mason, and subscribed to its philosophy of humanism and rationalism. Much as Martin Luther railed against the priests and bishops of his time, who distinguished themselves more for vice than for virtue, Rizal railed against the friars of his time, who distinguished themselves more for heathen cruelty than Christian charity.
Today there are the priests and bishops who are the fountainhead of wretched beliefs, which they spread in the name of religion. They are the ones who violently oppose any form of contraception on the ground that God wants people to overpopulate the planet. They particularly reserve their scorn for the President whom they regard as lesser than her mother for being a little less subservient to the Church, deeming him deserving of excommunication if he doesn’t mend his ways.
Can Rizal’s relevance in this respect be so hard to see? Now as then we are compelled to rail against those who do not see the immorality of defending electoral fraud but see the morality of encouraging people to produce more mouths than they can possibly feed. Fortunately, we don’t have to be Masons to do that today, for we live in more enlightened times. Or do we?
Then there was corruption of epic proportions in government. The governor generals did not particularly relish the idea of being shipped off to this godforsaken place and spent their tenure amassing as much wealth as they could with which to retire comfortably back home. There were exceptions, those who were reform-minded, but they were few and far between.
Since the governor generals had to be audited before they left the colony at the end of their terms, they had to amass enough to bribe the auditors, or oidores, with while leaving themselves with enough to make up for their pains. The only limit to plunder was a scale sufficient to stoke the overtaxed indios to rebelliousness. Malasakit, or concern, for the welfare of the ruled was virtually nonexistent, the rule for the most part being for the rulers to make hay while the sun shone.
Rizal believed that given the opportunity, or the reins of government, the indios would prove themselves better rulers. Contrary to what the Spaniards propagated, which was that the indios were naturally inferior, it was in their genes, Rizal advocated that all that was the product of history, specifically colonial rule, and with education, there were no limits to what they could do.
Today Filipinos have gotten educated, quite apart from independent, and have taken over government. But our rulers continue to look upon their tenure not unlike the way the Spanish governor generals did theirs: as an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, the presidential term in particular being fixed to only one term. Malasakit, or concern, for the country has been on long-term leave, if not permanently absent, the country having experienced mind-boggling corruption particularly during the despotic rules of Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the brief, but benighted, one of Joseph Estrada. Which has left it biting the dust of its neighbors. Enough to make you wonder if it’s really in our genes.
Then there was a handful of ilustrados who were not really illustrious, who dreamed only of becoming part of Spanish society at home or in Spain, and a teeming mass of Filipinos who dreamed only of their rulers becoming a little kinder, there was no future other than under Spanish yoke. There was no sense of country simply because there was no country to begin with, there was only a colony. Rizal himself would not postulate an independent Philippines—it was left to Bonifacio to do that. But he had a strong sense of a separate people, with its own identity and destiny.
Today there is a handful of intelligentsia who are not really intelligent, who dream only of becoming part of American society at home or in America, and a teeming mass of Filipinos who dream only of finding work abroad, there’s precious little future other than under the heel of poverty. Filipinos in general have no sense of country even though they have a country called the Philippines, one that once showed the most tremendous promise. The rulers themselves cannot postulate independence, the essence of their foreign policy being the protection of American, and not Philippine, interests. It has been left to the youth, many of whom have been killed for being communists, subversives and seditious elements, to insist that we are a separate people, who can forge our own destiny if we put our mind, and soul, to it.
One hundred and fifty years after he was born, Rizal remains as relevant as ever.
[Appeared on C de Quiros' Philippine Daily Inquirer column: There's the rub, June 9, 2011]
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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