Jose Rizal had young male students that he affectionately called chicos or boys from his Dapitan community school that he established while in exile. Searching for Rizal’s male students was like trying to trace his children, if he had any. Each of Rizal’s students had his own story of how his beloved Maestro Rizal enriched and nurtured him to become a man, pushed him to pursue excellence in his chosen field, and made him cherish the legacy he would leave his family.
Dapitan Community School
The story of Rizal’s students began in January 1894 when he accepted boys 12 to 16 years of age for his Dapitan community school located inside his private estate in Talisay. Most of the boys came from Mindanao, but some were from Luzon. Since the boys came from far distances, they were taken in as boarders or internos in Rizal’s Casa Cuadrada and Casa Redonda, which served as dormitories inside Rizal’s private farmland. They helped their Maestro Rizal with household chores and farming while enjoying the schooling for free. Rizal wrote about his students to his best friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt, in a letter dated 1895:
I have now 16 boys studying with me, paying me with their labor. They all belong to the best families in the town and one can see their eagerness to learn even if they have to work for me in order to study. If I would ask them for money, I am sure they would pay with pleasure and more would come. Ah, what a lack there is of a good school with good teachers who teach so that the children may learn and not that they may waste their time, as it happens generally.
Rizal, being a resourceful person, crafted his own instructional materials and school equipment for his classes, which were held on the wide veranda of his Casa Residencia or in the kiosko. Rizal’s grandniece, Asuncion Lopez Bantug, described the classes as:
[Rizal] devised his own teaching aids; made his own writing tools, blackboards, and maps; used natural specimens during lessons; translated what textbooks were needed but as much as possible concentrated on practical instructions rather than book learning. Classes were held at the square [residential] house or in the kiosko he had built as a private retreat for himself on a hillside. Usually, he taught from a hammock, with the boys gathered around him, sitting on the floor or grass o bench, just as they pleased, though whoever was currently the top scholar occupied a place of honor. Periodic exams were given, with outsiders as examiners. Boys with high marks were rewarded with useful prizes: a pen, a book, a net, or a rifle.
Rizal strategically divided his students according to their height – grandes (big) and pequeños (little) – for better school management. The top among Rizal’s scholars was called Emperador. This was reminiscent of the system he experienced as a student in the Ateneo de Manila, where his class was divided into “Romans” and “Carthaginians” and the top student was honored as Emperador.
Rizal thoroughly designed his curriculum for his students which was composed of subjects that holistically shaped the mind of his learners. His curriculum was composed of subjects that would develop his students’ competence in reading, writing, geography, history, mathematics, industrial work, nature study, morals, and gymnastics. Rizal wanted his students to learn the practical knowledge and skills that would be useful for them in everyday life. Rizal wrote to Blumentritt:
I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading Spanish, English, Mathematics, and geometry; moreover, I teach them to behave like men. I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think I am right.
Rizal began with three students, and this number soon increased to twenty-eight. Some of them were Rizal’s nephews. The enrolled students between 1894 to 1896 were:
- Filomeno Acopiado
- Jose Acopiado
- Lucas Adas
- Pedro Agapay
- Jose Aseniero
- Jose Bael
- Aniceto Bajamunde
- Marcial Borromeo
- Jose Caancan
- Carlos Cadavedo
- Ubaldo Dagpin
- Jose Dalman
- Mateo Edjawan
- Tomas Edjawan
- Fernando Eguia
- Leopoldo Empeynado
- Catalino Gallemit
- Marcelino Galleposo
- Gregorio Gina
- Romulo Hamak
- Gregorio Lumasag
- Jose Elumbaring
- Teodulo Tantico
- Melchor Taladua
- Estanislao Herbosa
- Teodosio Herbosa
- Mauricio Cruz
- Antonio Lopez
Rizal’s mode of instruction was unique during that period in contrast with the traditional teaching practices in parochial schools run by Spanish Christian missionaries. Jose Aseniero, a student of Rizal, gave more insight into the regular life inside Rizal’s Dapitan community school as he recalled in his memoir:
The students were required to provide themselves with sufficient clothing, bedding, plates, and tableware. As internos with the privilege of going home on Saturday afternoons and back early Monday morning, also fiestas and holidays, the boys virtually lived in Talisay.
Rizal’s school lasted for almost two and half years…
Mondays and Wednesdays were set for the study of Spanish. Lessons were conducted in Spanish and everyone was required to speak Spanish.
Tuesdays and Fridays were days set for the study of mathematics, arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. The textbook used was in French, authored by Ganot.
Thursdays and Saturdays were set for English lessons. The language in the classroom was English. A Japanese novel, Hausoko, a story about prodigal son, written in English, was taught, but was translated in Spanish during the days Spanish subjects were required lessons.
The wide veranda of the casa [residencia], his own home, served as classroom during academic studies. Rizal sat on a hammock and his students sat on a long bamboo bench. The room was well lighted and ventilated.
Quizzes or examinations were conducted by outsiders in the open air. Textbooks were bought by students. Rizal ordered them from Manila. The brightest was placed at the head of the class as “Emperador.”
Gymnastics were taught in the open air. There were rings, parallel bars, barbells, and dumbbells. Fencing, swimming, and target practice were part of athletics indulged in as recreation.
Smoking was taboo. One could smoke if he could not help it, but in private, never within the sight of the teacher…
It should be noted that, while Rizal was an exile, he never mentioned the Noli or the Fili to his pupils. No person in Dapitan ever spoke of these books except perhaps Captain Carnicero in his conversation with Rizal.
Rizal used different incentives to encourage his boys to study hard. He converted study into a game. He offered prizes to those who topped the examinations.
It was through Rizal that the Dapitan boys first saw a typewritten letter. He told them the letter was written by the machine and then described the invention.
Rizal not only taught by the book, but also taught by experience. One time, he challenged the trustworthiness and courage of one of his students, Marcial Borromeo:
One night, [my Maestro] told me he had left something in the woods behind the house. I was to retrieve it and bring it back to him. You can imagine the fears of an 11-year-old boy going alone in what was practically a forest. My heart beats loud and fast; I was pale with fright but full of determination. On my way, I heard cries and hoots which frightened me even more, but finally, I found the object and presented it to him.
He patted me on the back and praised my courage. Then the other boys appeared and revealed that they were the ones who hooted and hissed. You can imagine my relief and satisfaction. It was only then that I found out that this was some kind of initiation.
Rizal was a foremost gentleman, with an amiable character, in Dapitan. Fernando Eguia, a student of Rizal, recollected the discipline and good morals that the Maestro instilled in them:
During my stay with Rizal as our teacher, Rizal was very particular about uprightness, integrity, and honesty in the performance of private and public duties. I admire his kindness to others, courteous manner, respect for the opposite sex, and hatred against stealing.
On 31 July 1896, Rizal left Dapitan together with his six students namely: Jose Aseniero, Jose Caancan, Jose Dalman, Mateo Edjawan, Romulo Hamac, and Tomas Edjwan. He was allowed to leave Dapitan after he received authorization from Governor-General Ramon Blanco to serve as an Assistant Physician in the Corps of Military Health in Cuba. This officially ended his more than two years old community school and his four years of exile in Dapitan. Rizal noted his bittersweet departure from Dapitan in his diary:
I was happy to know that the people of Dapitan would miss me. A large number came to say goodbye. The town band came and played many songs. Those who left with me at midnight on the ship España were Josephine, my sister Narcisa and her daughter Angelica, Mr. and Mrs. Sunico, my three nephews, six boys, and the Commander of Dapitan.
Rizal never made it to Cuba as he was accused of being one of the conspirators in the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. He was sentenced to death by firing squad on 30 December 1896. Indeed, the execution of Rizal was gravely mourned by his students; thus, driving them to uphold the teachings of their beloved Maestro. In the first half of the 20th century, the respective communities where Rizal’s students lived would witness the fruit of Rizal’s selfless dedication to the improvement of education.
Some of the Notable Students of Jose Rizal’s his Martyrdom in 1896
Jose Aseniero witnessed the death of their Maestro Jose Rizal on 30 December 1896. He also saw the creation of the relief map of Mindanao by Rizal and Padre Sanchez in front of the parish church of Dapitan in August 1892.
He later became the most successful in politics among his classmates. His career in government started when he was hired as an interpreter after his release from prison in Iligan by the Americans at the turn of the century. Then, he was appointed customs inspector and later joined the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He also served as a postmaster of Dapitan in 1912, clerk of court from 1912 to 1914, and special agent of the Census Office of the Philippine Islands in Zamboanga Province in 1918. He was appointed as President Municipal of Dapitan in the newly organized Department of Mindanao and Sulu. He was also appointed as Municipal District President of Lubugan (now Katipunan) by Governor Frank Carpenter and worked for its conversion into a regular municipality. He initiated the restoration of Rizal’s relief map of Mindanao. He was also instrumental in the protection and reconstruction of Rizal’s Talisay estate together with President Manuel L. Quezon. Aseniero’s descendants are known for being academicians and for holding diplomatic posts.
Jose Aseniero during the prime years of his life
Jose Aseniero’s ancestral house in Dapitan
ALBERT VINCENT F BARRETTO/NHCP
Jose Caancan became a famous sculptor in his hometown of Paete, Laguna. During his school days in Dapitan, Rizal taught him Spanish and sculpting. After Rizal’s martyrdom, he went home to Paete and started his own woodcarving workshop. He was known for his mastery of sculpting religious images, many of which are now venerated in Catholic churches. His gifted hands in sculpture brought him fame not only at the national level but at the international level as well. His talent was praised in an article in the Midsummer-Autumn 1937 edition Cathedral Age, a Washington D.C. based Catholic magazine:
A Filipino living in the other side of Laguna, South of Manila, was found to be a wood-carver of a real merit. After he had been called upon for some smaller things and his genius of workmanship became known, he was called upon for several statues for the Altar in All Saints’, Bontoc, then for other statues and for the Stations of the Cross. It is he who carved the large crucifix of Christ in glory over the Altar of the Morning Chapel and later a rather wonderful Last Supper for the Altar of the Oratory attached to Bishopstead. If he were living in Italy, the name of Jose Caancan would be known and he would be classed among the great artists; it is fully expected that this crucifix alone will gradually earn for him a wide recognition.
Jose Caancan in his later years
Jose Caancan and his woodcarving workshop in Paete, Laguna
PHOTO COURTESY OF CELESTINO PALMA III
Jose Dalman implemented Rizal’s plan to develop and cultivate the land of Ponot. He served as an enumerator of the town of Manukan under the Census Office of the Philippine Islands in 1918. He became the alcalde municipal of Lubungan (now Katipunan) from 1934 to 1937. The land of Ponot later became a separate municipality and was renamed as Jose Dalman. He remembered his schooldays with his Maestro:
I enjoyed collecting flowers and orchids for Rizal. I enjoyed his boating, fishing, and hunting trips.
Descendants of Jose Dalman remember him instilling a sense of leadership and authority in the community; thus, making them a family of public officials. This leadership skill was one of the traits taught by Rizal in Dapitan. The municipality of Jose Dalman was established in 1979 after it was separated from Manukan. Iniego Dalman, son of Jose Dalman, became the first municipal mayor.
Built in the 1930s, built by Iniego Dalman, son of Jose Rizal’s student –Jose Dalman who also used to live here. Iniego Dalman became the first municipal mayor of Ponot (now town of Jose Dalman). Jose Dalman’s descendant former governor of Zamboanga del Norte, Roldan “Brogs” B. Dalman, also used to live here.
ALBERT VINCENT F BARRETTO/NHCP
Fernando Eguia became the administrator of Rizal’s farmland in Daanglungsod, Lubungan (now Katipunan) in lieu of Doña Trinidad Rizal. He was appointed as a justice of the peace for Lubungan in 1909. He was elected as presidente municipal of Lubungan in 1919. Later, his son, Crisostomo Eguia, Sr., bought the farmland with a promise to keep the land in memory of Rizal.
The descendants of Fernando Eguia remain as a prominent family of public officials in the town of Katipunan, Zamboanga del Norte. Many of his descendants became the municipal mayor of the town. They remember Fernando Eguia as a strict disciplinarian, just like what Rizal imposed on him as a student in Dapitan.
Portrait of Fernando Eguia
Fernando Eguia wearing a hat together with his family
PHOTO COURTESY OF PATCHITO T. EGUIA
Catalino Gallemit offered his almost two hectares of land for the establishment of Langatian Primary School in 1938. He also served as the teniente del barrio of Langatian, which is now a municipality known as Pres. Manuel A. Roxas.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GALLEMIT FAMILY
Don Catalino Gallemit Monument erected in August 2021. It is located inside Roxas Central School in the municipality of President Manuel A. Roxas, Zamboanga del Norte
ALBERT VINCENT F BARRETTO/NHCP
Gregorio Lumasag resided in Plaridel, Misamis Occidental and helped established their town’s puericulture center by donating construction materials. The Lumasags are presently known for being a family of professionals.
Gregorio Lumasag during his later years
PHOTO COURTESY OF ISIDRO M. LUMASAG
Gregorio Lumasag together with his family, photo taken in 1930s
PHOTO COURTESY OF ISIDRO M. LUMASAG
Marcial Borromeo became a member of Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the Philippines. He served as Senior Warden of Maktan Lodge No. 30 in 1934 and 1935, Worshipful Master in 1936 and 1937, and Treasurer in 1939, 1940, and 1941. He resided in Cebu City.
NHCP DIOSDADO CAPINO COLLECTION
Jose Rizal’s students in their later years, shown from left to right: Marcial Borromeo, Jose Aseniero, and Jose Dalman photo taken around 1950.
NHCP DIOSDADO CAPINO COLLECTION
The descendants of Rizal’s students continued their ancestors’ practice of living out the teachings of the national hero. Rizal was more than a teacher to his students; he was also a father figure to them. He fostered in his students the ideals of knowledge, creativity, leadership, and responsibility; thus, making them model citizens of their communities and the entire country.
Dapitanon, Noel G. Villaroman, 2018
Lolo José: An Intimate and Illustrated Portrait of José Rizal, Asunción López Bantug, 2008
Stories of Rizal’s Exile in Dapitan, Diosdado G. Capino and Virginia M. Buenaflor, 1961
The Cathedral Age, Midsummer-Autumn 1937
The Cabletow, January-February 1997
Distinguished Governors of The Province: https://web.archive.org/web/20131203032432/http://www.zanorte.gov.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=28&limit=1&limitstart=5 (retrieved 22 May 2022)