by Francis Kristoffer L. Pasion, Museum Researcher II

Paciano Rizal has always been perceived in the national consciousness as almost like a footnote, overshadowed by the prominence of his young brother, Jose Rizal. But if there’s anything history offers, it is a nuanced and complex take on figures of the Past that are often relegated to the periphery. Paciano Rizal was anything but peripheral.

As second of the eleven children of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso and the eldest male among the siblings, Paciano Rizal would prove to be the very guiding hand that pushed Jose Rizal to his career in Europe and his ascent to prominence & heroism. Perhaps it is because of Paciano’s deep convictions that have earlier on been inculcated in him.

Learning from the very skilled teachings of his mother Teodora Alonso, Paciano would learn the rudimentaries of Latin from Maestro Justiniano Cruz, but he would soon become a housemate, and ardent follower of the famed secularization advocate, Fr. Jose Burgos. At the time, the issue was the demand of fair treatment to secular priests (native priests) who were often set aside in favor of the regulars (Spanish priests). As the Rizal family was served by a Filipino secular priest in Calamba, a Dominican turf, the issue was fairly close to the family. But what was then a purely ecclesiastical issue would soon spill over to issues that touched on liberal ideals—equality, meritocracy, fairness. Paciano Rizal’s association with Burgos and his outspokenness against the abuses on Filipinos cost him his studies in Colegio de San Jose in Manila when he was prohibited from taking his final examinations. With the execution of the secular priests Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomes, and Jacinto Zamora in 1872, Paciano had to leave schooling to avoid the ire of the friars.

Indeed, Paciano as the eldest male of the siblings, looked after Jose even when they were very young. He was responsible, for example, in bringing Jose to his tutor, and when that tutor died, made sure that his young brother studied in their aunt’s house in Biñan. He was also entrusted by their parents to enroll Jose to Ateneo de Municipal. So it wasn’t surprising that Paciano took upon himself to make sure that the walls he couldn’t break on his education would not impede Jose. Upon Paciano’s suggestion, Jose would use the surname “Rizal” instead of “Mercado.” It was clear in his mind that he would be the one take on the family farm and business so that Jose could pursue his studies and fight for liberal ideals.

It was Paciano who arranged for his brother to go to Europe in May 1882 to pursue his studies, without the hurdles and walls put up by the Spanish friars in the education system. This decision was Paciano’s, as he was getting old already. Furthermore, Paciano was already feeling the weight of responsibility as the eldest male in the family, next to their father. He arranged that this entire plan of his for Jose Rizal be kept from their parents. One could never be too sure as they might halt the plan for their love of Jose, and news could spread. There are prying eyes all around.

Even Paciano as eldest had a say on Jose Rizal’s career path when it was brought up that Jose might choose Law:

“I do not think that the study of law will suit you, but rather the arts; in this I am of the same view as our parish priest, and really a lawyer here is landlord, teacher, farmer, contractor, that is to say, everything but a lawyer; on the other hand, those who do practice law collect their fees for defending one side or the other whether it is right or wrong, something which would run against the grain of your conscience; while there are few who practice medicine and the arts, they make progress here and they live peacefully, the one thing we should look for in the world.”

It could be deduced that it was Paciano who made Rizal choose medicine, and on the side pursue writing, as Paciano have passed on to his younger brother the same spirit of industriousness, and motivation for activism.

It was Paciano who held the fort when it comes to the family. This was seen when the Rizal family suffered setback after setback, having been persecuted and evicted from their land by the Dominican friars. His firm stubbornness, for example, was notable, in that, when the Dominicans had him wait for a long time in Canlubang, he did the same to them when the friars visited the Rizal residence to purchase a horse.

It is not surprising that among the last letters Jose Rizal would write before his eventual execution on 30 December 1896, was for his kuya Paciano, who by then had joined the Katipunan and would soon become a general in the armed revolution against Spain:

“It has been four and a half years that we have not seen or spoken or written to each other, not I believe, because of any lack of affection on my part or on yours, but because knowing each other so well we did not need to speak to understand each other. Now that I am about to die, it is to you that I write to last to tell you how sorry I am to leave you alone in life, bearing all the burden of the family and our aged parents.

I think of how you have worked to give me a career; I believe that I tried not to waste my time. My brother, if the fruit has been bitter, it has not been my fault but the fault of circumstances. I know you have suffered a lot for my sake; I am sorry…”

– Jose Rizal to Paciano Rizal, 29 December 1896

The two brothers need no words to communicate, for such are kindred spirits in the fight for that elusive dream of a Filipino Nation that is fair, just, and one that we could truly be proud to call our own.

The fight is still unfinished.

May we remember Paciano Rizal in this light, in the occasion of his 170th birth anniversary today.

A photograph of Paciano Rizal
Diosdado Capino Collection, NHCP