by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
      A revived interest in Jose Rizal among teenage Filipinos can be credited to his ubiquitous image in T-shirts and advertisements that either sell merchandise or wishfully endorse his imagined presidency. With the lackluster performance of our past governments, Rizal has become the poster boy for honesty and decency in leadership, receiving plaudits from unscrupulous politicians during election campaigns.
      This is the million dollar question: How would have Rizal fared as President? A resounding success or failure? Everyone wonders what could have happened if he had escaped execution on December 30, 1896. If Rizal had assumed an active leadership in the revolutionary government, could he have changed the course of Philippine history and the political maturation of the Filipino? Otherwise, could he, like his Cuban contemporary José Martí, have led the charge and died in battle?
       If Rizal survived, what challenges would he have faced with the birthing of our nation, given the factions competing for power and prestige in the first Philippine Republic? ‘If’ has become the operative word for futility and dashed probabilities among historians who rue the mistakes of the past and mischievous turns of fate.
      Nevertheless, Rizal’s popularity among college students also revolves around juicy gossip about his love life. In our current parlance, he would be considered a “kilabot ng mga kolehiyala” (campus heartthrob) or a “mariner” with a girl in every port of call.
       Even before embarking on his studies in Europe, Rizal must have been a clever and dashing young man, a greenhorn inadvertently breaking the hearts of young women. During his early amorous dalliance with Segunda Katigbak, he recorded in his diary:
      “Little by little I was imbibing the sweetest poison of love as the conversation continued. Her glances were terrible for their sweetness and expressiveness; her voice was so sonorous that a certain fascination accompanied all her movements. From time to time a languid ray penetrated my heart and I felt something that until then was unknown to me. And, why did the years pass so rapidly that I didn’t have time to enjoy them? Finally when the clock struck seven, we took our leave of our respective sisters, and then she said: ‘Have you any order to give me?’ ‘Miss, I never had the custom of ordering women,’ I replied. ‘I expect them to command me.’” 
       Browsing through the reminiscences of his youthful love, readers would be struck by Rizal’s melancholic but cloying narrative, comparable to a tragic puppy love story. 
       On the way to Europe as a student, Rizal lamented in his travel diary the female friends he would miss: “Oh, yes! How many loves, how many hearts, which could have made me happy, and nevertheless I’m abandoning them! Will I find them on my return, free just as I have left them? Leonores, Dolores, Ursulas, Felipas, Vicentas, Margaritas, and others: Other loves will hold your attention and soon you will forget the traveler. I’ll return, but I’ll find myself alone, because those who used to smile at me will save their charms for others more fortunate. And in the meantime, I fly after my vain idea, a false illusion perhaps. May I find my family intact and afterward die of happiness.”
        Undeniably, Rizal was a hopeless romantic who desired to love and be loved in return, but was hindered by his sense of duty toward his family and country.
        However, his patriotic principles would be his dominant passion, overcoming his need for female companionship. While in Hong Kong in 1891, anguished by his family and townsfolk’s expulsion from their farmlands in Calamba and the mistreatment of his relatives, Rizal became determined to carry on the reformist struggle on the shores of his homeland.
       He was ardently focused on uniting Filipinos through La Liga Filipina, an organization committed to promote socio-political reforms, trade, education, agriculture and mutual defense. Rizal knew of the dangers in returning to the country, but he was prepared to face certain death.
        On June 20, 1892, he wrote a letter addressed to his countrymen, with the expressed instruction that it be opened after his demise. He initially expressed grief for all the sufferings endured by his parents, siblings and relatives on his account: “The step that I have taken, or I am about to take, is undoubtedly very perilous, and I need not say that I have pondered on it a great deal. I realize that everyone is opposed to it; but I realize also that hardly anybody knows what is going on with my heart. I cannot live knowing that many are suffering unjust persecution on my account; I cannot live seeing my parents suffering in exile, deprived of the comforts of their home, far from their native land and friends; I cannot live seeing my siblings and their large families persecuted like criminals. I prefer to face death cheerfully and gladly give my life to free so many innocent persons from such unjust persecution.”
          Rizal was presciently aware that his death would be a decisive moment in the nation’s history. He knew that others would take up his cause if he sacrificed himself through martyrdom, proving to his detractors that he could die without fear for the sake of his enlightened principles: “Moreover, I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and our convictions. What matters death if one dies for what one loves, for native land and adored beings?”
        “If I know that I were the only pillar of Philippine politics and were I convinced that my countrymen were going to make use of my services, perhaps I would hesitate to take this step; but there are still others who can take my place to advantage …”
         Rizal’s parting words in his letter were a final testament of his love for his fellow Filipinos and earnest concern for the country’s welfare: “I have always loved my poor country and I am sure that I shall love her until my last moment, should men prove unjust to me. I shall die happy, satisfied with the thought that all I have suffered, my past, my present, and my future, my life, my loves, my joys, everything, I have sacrificed for love of her. Whatever my fate may be, I shall die blessing her and wishing her the dawn of her redemption.”
        These are powerful words ringing with conviction, and aspirations for the country’s future development. In these days when apathy for our history and heroes who fomented our national consciousness has become the norm, it is an opportune time for us to look back at Rizal’s final love letter to all Filipinos to realize the hard struggles and sacrifices one man had to make to ensure that we enjoy the rights and privileges of a free and democratic society today.