By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox

     For over a century now, the nation has never failed to observe the anniversary of the martyrdom our great national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. This year, the President will lead the simultaneous raising of Philippine flag at half-mast and wreath offering at the monument of Jose Rizal at the Rizal Park in Manila, Calamba, Laguna and in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte on December 30, 2010. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Rizal: Haligi ng Bayan”.

Although frequently at the center of controversies and criticism of the public, the government must be given credits for its efforts in ensuring that the memory of Rizal stays in our hearts through the issuance of legislative acts, decrees and other proclamations honoring him.

Two years after the execution of Rizal in Bagumbayan, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo issued on Dec. 20, 1898 a decree designating Dec. 30 as the anniversary of Jose Rizal’s death and also as “a national day of mourning” for Rizal and other victims of the Spanish government throughout its three centuries of oppressive rule. He made a directive that all national flags shall be hoisted at half-mast from 12 noon on Dec. 29 and all offices of the government shall be closed the whole day on December 30 as a sign of mourning. On December 30, 1898, Filipinos celebrated Rizal Day for the first time and chose Club Filipino in Manila to be the venue.

     The Americans, to win the sympathy of the Filipinos, and to convince them that they were pro-Filipinos more than the Spaniards, gave Rizal official recognition. This was to make them conform to the new government. Rizal acquired the official title of title of Philippine National Hero in 1901 under the country’s first American civil governor, William Howard Taft.  On the recommendation of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, the Taft Commission renamed the district of Morong into the Province of Rizal through Act 137 on June 11, 1901. This was one of the first official steps taken by the Taft Commission to honor Rizal. Since then, Jose Rizal came to be known as the National Hero.

It was also during the American times that Rizal’s death anniversary was made an official holiday. On February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act. No. 345 which set December 30 of each year as Rizal Day, and made it one of the ten official holidays of the Philippines. As the nationalist spirit of the Filipinos was at the highest point during that time, they were able to convince the government to erect a monument for Rizal. Thus, Act No. 243 was enacted on September 28, 1901 granting the right to use public land upon the Luneta in the City of Manila upon which to erect a statue of Jose Rizal.

So important was the observation of Rizal Day that President Quirino approved on June 9, 1948 Republic Act No. 229 which prohibits cockfighting, horse racing and jai-alai every 30th of December of each year, in order to have proper observance of Rizal Day.

To give ample time to prepare for the birth centenary of Jose Rizal in 1961, the Rizal National Centennial Commission was created by Executive Order No. 52, issued by Pres. Ramon Magsaysay on August 10, 1954 to undertake the construction of a National Cultural Shrine and other memorials to be dedicated to Jose Rizal. JRNCC became Rizal Presidential Committee on 1 July 1962 after President Diosdado Macapagal issued Executive Order No. 14. 

      Jose Rizal’s vast role in the attainment of the nation’s freedom led to the issuance of Republic Act 1425 on June 12, 1956. Commonly known as the Rizal Act, it was sponsored by Senator Claro M. Recto. It requires the curricula of private and public schools, colleges and universities courses to include the life, works and writings of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in order to educate the students about the concept of nationalism.

      A few days before the celebration of the birth centenary of Jose Rizal in 1961, Pres. Garcia issued Executive Order No. 429 on June 2, creating a decoration intended to perpetuate Rizal’s memory, to be known as the Rizal Pro Patria Award. It was to be awarded by the President of the Philippines to those who have rendered outstanding work for the benefit of their community. Among the recipients of this decoration in the past were N. V. M. Gonzalez, Alejandro Roces, Juan Nakpil, Felipe Padilla De Leon, and Wilfredo Ma. Guerero.

       In Manila streets were named with reference to the national hero, Jose Rizal. In Sampaloc, two streets are named after his pen names, Laong Laan and Dimasalang. Blumentritt, a main thoroughfare, was named after Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal’s friend, while Dapitan street situated near the University of Santo Tomas was named after a municipality in Zamboanga del Norte, where Rizal was deported in 1892. Other street names have references to Rizal’s novels such as Sisa, Basilio, and Simoun.

      Rizal monuments are concrete memorials to his legacy. The most prominent is the Rizal monument in Manila, unveiled on December 30, 1913 in line with the 17th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal. However, the Rizal monument in the town Daet in Camarines Norte holds the distinction of the first ever erected in honor of Rizal.

In the 1920s, Rizal Day was very popular and a much awaited event with the entire city going to Luneta to spot the parade of the Rizal Day, a parade as glamorous as the carnival parade of February. In his memorable Rizal Day address, Pres. Quezon declared through Commonwealth Act No. 184 the adoption of Tagalog as the basis of the national language of the Philippines on December 30, 1937.

     The Rizal Day celebration of December 30, 1942 required the display of Japanese flags in Filipino homes. Attended by Jorge Vargas Benigno Aquino, Sr, and Jose P. Laurel, Sr., a Nippongo program on Rizal was held in 1942, during which the hero’s “Ultimo Adios” was recited in Japanese. This event also witnessed the inauguration of Kalibapi.

      Just after the war in 1946, the country saw floral offerings and a civic parade in observance of Rizal Day in 1946. President Roxas was joined by high officials of the national government and representatives of the United States Army and Navy and foreign nations who offered wreaths at the foot of Rizal’s monument.

On December 30, 1950, all Philippine flags throughout the island were raised at half-mast in all public buildings and vessels to commemorate the martyrdom of Rizal.  There was also floral offering at the Rizal monument at Luneta and concert in the afternoon.

     A crowd estimated to be from 300-500, 000 persons gathered at the Luneta on December 30, 1953 to attend the inauguration of Ramon Magsaysay as president of the Republic of the Philippines. The Constitution had made the Rizal Day event even more memorable having specified the date of the day for the inauguration of President of the Republic as stipulated in Sec. 4 of Article VII of the 1935 Constitution. However, this was moved to June 30 by virtue of the 1987 Constitution which is being observed until now.

        December 30, 1996 was the centenary of the martyrdom of Rizal. Highlights included the tracing of the last walk of Rizal from his detention cell at Fort Santiago followed by the reenactment of the hero’s execution and flag raising at Luneta Park, Manila. A monument of Rizal was also inaugurated on 5 December 1996 along the Avenida de Las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain.

        Rizal Day is a day of appreciating Jose Rizal as a hero, an icon and a perfect example on how to be a Filipino. To quote the late Sen. Blas Ople, “Jose Rizal remains the supreme hero of the Philippines because of the quality of his sacrifice, his absolute dedication to the interest of his people, and his achievement in many fields of endeavors”.