DR. MAXIMO S. VIOLA THE MAN WHO FIRST READ THE NOLI ME TANGERE
By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox
They said friends are rare like a fountain of gold, subject to safekeeping because it is so precious that we would not want to lose them. A true friend is someone who will be there for you to lend a helping hand when you needed him most, trust you when everyone turn their backs on you, and love you for what you are and not what you have- these are the prime characteristics of a real friendship as friendship knows no border.
Once upon a time, a struggling patriotic man named Jose Rizal developed friendship with a kind doctor whose name was Maximo S. Viola who would later become the patron of Rizal’s first novel- the Noli Me Tangere. Dr. Viola was born on October 17, 1857 in Sta. Rita, San Miguel, Bulacan to parents Pedro Viola and Isabel Sison. Just like Rizal, he was an alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas where he finished pre-medical studies. He sailed to Spain, where he earned a degree in medicine at the University of Barcelona in 1882. He met Dr. Jose Rizal in Barcelona, who was likewise actively involved in the Propaganda Movement, and who would later become his friend. He accepted Rizal’s invitation to join him on a tour of Europe, particularly Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Switzerland, from May to June 1887. Rizal was at that time worried with his financial inability to publish the Noli Me Tangere and even considering aborting his plan of publishing the novel by destroying the manuscript. Noli Me Tangere is a vanguard of Filipino nationalism in the form of a novel which invokes equal rights for the Filipinos in order to get back their self-confidence. The novel brings to light the social woes in the country during Rizal’s time and come up with appropriate reform to various sectors of the society such as the education of the people, assimilation of Western culture, and appreciation of their native traditions. Convinced with the worth of the novel and its purpose, Viola funded the cost of the publication himself, an initial 2000 copies of the novel were printed in 1887. In deep gratitude, Rizal gave him the galley proofs and the first published copy.
In 1887, Dr. Viola decided to go back to his homeland to practice medicine and it’s really destiny that he would find Juana Roura, whom he married in 1890. Her wife bore him five sons, but two of them died as infants. He had a reunion with Rizal when he invited him for a visit in Manila, in the latter part of June 1892. The meeting was brief for the two friends for Rizal had to be at Malacañang Palace, to confer with Governor General Despujol on his political activities. Dr. Viola, who was then also under suspicion of engaging in subversive activities, could not stay long in Manila.
Viola became a dissident and was frequently harassed by the Spanish authorities which persisted until the revolution. When the Americans arrived, his fellow countrymen became fascinated with what the Americans could offer- their benevolent assimilation policy. As a nationalist, he refused to succumb to the new power which resulted with his incarceration, initially to a Manila military prison and, later, was transferred to Olongapo. He was released with the help of Dr. Fresnell, an American doctor who sought his help because he was not knowledgeable about tropical diseases.
He had a soft heart for the masses and their sad plight. Viola, who served as president of the Liga de Proprietarios, supported the owners of rice lands in San Miguel, Bulacan in opposing politicians who were courting the tenants’ votes at the expense of the landlords. When the Manila Railroad line was being extended to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, Viola likewise fearlessly led the concerned landowners in preventing the prestigious British Company from taking over their land without appropriate reparations. Apart from his civic works, he used his profession to help treat his indigent patients for free.
Memories of his friendship with Rizal left an indelible mark in his heart that would later be put in writing through his memoirs in three parts in the Spanish newspaper El Ideal, which came out on June 18, 19 and 20, 1913. On September 3, 1933, Dr. Viola, aged 76, died in Barrio San Jose in his hometown.
Although not acknowledged in the book, Dr. Maximo S. Viola will constantly be remembered as the man who saved the Noli Me Tangere for posterity. More than that, he served the Filipino people by supporting Dr. Jose Rizal in his advocacy for nationalism, which inspired the Philippine Revolution.