HEARTBREAK MARKED RIZAL’S LOVE LIFE
by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
Whenever conversations center on national hero Jose Rizal’s manliness, loose tongues wag about his bevy of local and international girlfriends. Undoubtedly, Rizal was never a boor who would kiss-and-tell on his amorous affairs, now called “casual dating.” Rarely do we find these women mentioned by name in his diaries or letters, and often their identities are concealed in the first letters of their given names and surnames.
What made Rizal “tick” with these women? Was it his good looks? An endearing wit? Perhaps, it was pure animal magnetism, which we refer to as “malakas ang dating” (strong appeal)? Whatever the reason, women were so charmed by Rizal that they yearned for him.
Much of what we know about Rizal’s love affairs has come from secondary sources or worse, the rumor mill. However, some of these women did leave details of their infatuation for the hero, such as Petite Suzanne Jacoby of Brussels, who wrote: “After your departure, I did not take the chocolate. The box is still intact as on the day of your parting.”
And: “Don’t delay too long writing us because I wear out the soles of my shoes for running to the mailbox to see if there is a letter from you … I impatiently await your letter in which you will tell me all that I want to know. The whole family sends their regards with wishes that you return … There will never be any home in which you are so loved as that in Brussels, so, you little bad boy, hurry up and come back …”
Another young woman who kept a record of her relationship with Rizal was Consuelo Perez Ortiga, whom he met while he was a student in Madrid. She was the daughter of Pablo Rey Ortiga, a former mayor of Manila and president of Consejo de Filipinas. Her father, intimately called “El Padre Eterno” by the Filipino expatriates, often held informal gatherings for the students in his home.
As a young man who had abruptly left his sweetheart Leonor Rivera for studies abroad, Rizal seemed to have consoled himself through a flirtatious affair with Consuelo. Her diary passages indicate that Rizal seems genuinely attracted to her, yet vacillating if he should pursue his suit.
Consuelo writes on Jan. 18, 1883: “Rizal talked with me for a long time, almost the whole night. He told me that I was very talented, that I was very diplomatic, and that he was going to see if he could extract some truth from me within two weeks; that I was mysterious and that I had a veil over my ideas …”
She also says: “Rizal told me that he detested amiable women because when they smiled, men imagined that they did so for something else. As he had told me the night before that I was very amiable, I understood that he meant it and I left him so that he would not make a mistake.”
“A man should first study the ground and if he sees that the smile is for everybody he ought not to pay attention to her smiles because in distributing them so freely they lose all their meaning.”
Whatever reservations hindered Rizal in initially wooing Consuelo were overcome for on February 23, 1883, she narrates: “… Rizal is also in love; he has not declared this but almost, almost. He told me last night that he had a sickness that would not leave him except when traveling and that was only perchance.”
Another suitor, Eduardo de Lete, a compatriot, vied for her attentions as well. Though Consuelo preferred Lete, she was attracted to Rizal and apparently anxious with his intense feelings. She said: “He also told me and I understood why, that two brothers had killed each other because both played the same card, that is, because both loved the same woman. He said that he had taken notice of one who was very tall for him but in spite of the fact that he had done it to amuse himself, it was useless.”
“I listened to him with pleasure because he talks well and I fear that because of that he may think that I’m giving him hope, as it is in reality, but as it happens that I like his conversation, I abandon myself to it and then when he goes away, I’m sorry; he comes and again I do the same thing.”
Aside from Rizal and Lete, Consuelo had to deal with Maximino and Antonio Paterno who regularly visited her. Yet, she was torn in deciding on whom to choose: “I find myself in a position of not knowing which side to take: Lete on one side, Rizal on the other, on another the two brothers; all attack and I have nothing with which to defend myself except my head, for I don’t see, as I go nowhere, my former admirers, though it would be the same should I see them … In short, sometimes I fear I may lose my mind.”
It is astonishing to read in Consuelo’s diary that Rizal could be frank in his declarations of love, which confirms that he was smitten.
“Last night as in former times, I was talking with Rizal,” she writes. “He said that now if he would make love to a girl, he would do it ‘with the mouth, inasmuch as my heart is dry, as you know.”
“Everything is possible. There are women capable of performing miracles. There’s one who has done it, has succeeded to convince me.”
“Yes, it’s true, but having found her doesn’t mean that I have her.”
“It’s true, it’s already much, and it’s almost halfway…”
“This is what I vaguely recall of our conversation; but in the struggle of that soul, in the profound meaning of his words that he articulated one by one, underlining them with the accents of passion that he could ill conceal, there was a moment when I seemed to hear him (presumption of my youth, perhaps!) say: ‘You’re the woman who has performed that miracle, I love you,’ and certainly, or my heart deceives me greatly… certainly it seemed to me that he was at the point of saying it, but he refrained from doing so, not so much for the fear of being repulsed but for not being a traitor to that friend, but I can say without fear of making a mistake that there passed through his imagination all that I wrote and last night he was happy and unfortunate at the same time.”
Eventually, Rizal gave up on his amorous intentions with Consuelo for he did not want to compete with Lete, and he was still in love with Leonor. Consuelo, on her part, admitted to Rizal that she could not reciprocate his love, as he had wished.
“Rizal told me the other night that they had written him telling him that his family would be glad if he would return to the Philippines in June. His manner of saying it made me understand that it was like flight … Conversing with me he said that he had not yet understood me, that he didn’t know what I think of him.”
“‘As a friend,’ I said to him. ‘Would you want more?’”
“‘It’s true that’s enough,’ he replied with a slight irony. Poor Rizal!”
Despite these events, Lete evidently harbored a grudge against him for in later years he wrote a disparaging satire titled “Five-and-Ten-Cent Redeemers,” which alluded to Rizal, and Rizal, incensed, promptly cut off ties with the propagandist newspaper La Solidaridad.
Though Rizal and Consuelo’s affair ended sadly, fate would soon prove tragic for her.
According to Lete, soon after the formalization of their engagement, she soon lost her humor. It also seems that their marriage did not push through for Lete narrates that years after Consuelo’s father died, her brother Rafael went to the Philippines to fill in a government post but died suddenly. Lete further recounts: “She was left alone and abandoned in Madrid. A romantic girl deprived of her mother at an early age, possessing an education rare in those times, she saw all her love affairs crumble and all her illusions wither.”
“She was very unfortunate, dying alone, sad, and abandoned, a victim of tuberculosis … An excellent and illustrious friend communicated to me this news when I went to Madrid as representative of a very important news agency of London on the occasion of the marriage of King Alfonso XIII in 1906 … May she rest in peace.”
Heartbreak marked Rizal’s love life. Are there any new tragic stories that budding historians could discover from Rizal’s tempestuous romances?