By Christian Bernard A. Melendez

      As 2011 draws to a close, we look back at a milestone year for a celebrated patriot– Jose Rizal and his 150th birth anniversary. Although his death anniversary brings a pall to the celebrations, it is his selfless sacrifice which continues to reverberate in the consciousness of every Filipino.

    However, much as Rizal’s judgment may seem to be harsh and unjust, it was an expected verdict since Spain was facing a difficult time in quelling the revolution in Cuba, ill affording to have another rebellion in her colony in the Orient. The easy way out, the Spanish colonial authorities must have presumed, was to snuff out swiftly the leading voice of reform, and Rizal was the perfect fall guy. In their zealousness to hold him accountable, they even imprisoned Paciano and mercilessly tortured him to implicate his younger brother.

     It was a veritable open-and-shut case: Rizal inspired the revolution through his writings and the insurgents were his henchmen carrying out his call for freedom. Did he not establish an illegal association called the Liga Filipina,1 which was a precursor to the Katipunan? One wonders how Rizal would have acted when the verdict was read—was he impassive, maintaining the august air of a gentleman patriot? To hear out Judge Advocate General Nicolas de la Peña’s thundering statement that: “Rizal has therefore been well and truly identified as the prime mover of the consummated crime of rebellion by means of the crime of illegal association. The sentence passed on him is just, and may lawfully be confirmed on its own merits.”2 Musketry seemed to be an apt death sentence to a traitor.

      The verdict aimed as well to cripple Rizal’s finances by asking him to indemnify the state by paying “the amount of one hundred thousand pesos (100,000 pesos)…and should be paid by his heirs in case he cannot pay it in his lifetime.”3
    But did Rizal inspire the Philippine Revolution? Of the numerous preserved notes and letters of Rizal, one intriguing document was his Manifesto a Algunos Filipinos (Manifesto to Certain Filipinos) written on December 15, 1896 during his incarceration in Fort Santiago.

    The manifesto, which tried to convince Filipinos to end the revolt, had five points. First, he absolved himself by declaring that he was never a part of the revolution; his name was used to attract Filipinos to join the revolution. Second, he was consulted about the planned revolution but he advised the perpetrators to abandon it. Third, he wanted to stop the rebellion by offering his services to the people. Fourth, he condemned the revolution as ridiculous and barbarous. Fifth, uprising was not an option at that time, that reforms should be the authorities’ initiative, not the citizens’. He made it clear that the people’s education is potent in inducing changes in society.    

    The manifesto is an illuminating statement of Rizal’s raison d’être–as stipulated in the “Noli me tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” Although Rizal loathed the abusive practices of the friars and colonial government, he never advocated for an abrupt and chaotic approach to independence. He believed that the Filipinos’ enlightenment was crucial: “I have given proofs as one who most wants liberties for our country and I continue wanting them. But I put as a promise the education of the people so that through education and work, they might have a personality of their own and make themselves worthy of them. In my writings, I have recommended study, civic virtues, without which redemption is impossible.”4

    Unfortunately, the manifesto was never made public. It was not enough to convince his accusers of his innocence and acquit him of the charges. According to Judge Advocate General de la Peña: “Dr. Jose Rizal limits himself to criticizing the present insurrectionary movement as premature.” He also noted that “as far as Rizal is concerned, the whole question is one of opportunity, not of principles and objectives.” Finally, de la Peña reasoned out that “a message of this sort, far from promoting peace, is likely to stimulate for the future the spirit of rebellion.”5

    Rizal knew that his life was at an end, but he was satisfied that he stood up for his principles and that the seed sown would bear fruit in the heroes after him. “Patriotism… is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” This is what Rizal wanted us to understand — that we can change and improve ourselves through a circumspect understanding of life’s benefits and pitfalls, instead of engaging in flaring emotions and disregard for consequences.

    Rizal, as always, is the greatest Filipino of all time.

1 Horacio de la Costa, The Trial of Rizal, W. E. Retana’s
Transcription of the Official Spanish Documents, edited and translated,
with notes (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996) 160.
2 De la Costa 160
3 De la Costa 156-157
4 Jose Rizal, Political and Historical Writings (Manila: National Historical Institute) 349.
5 Horacio de la Costa, Readings in Philippine History (Makati: Bookmark, 1965) 236 – 237.

Rizal, Jose. Political and Historical Writings. Manila: National Historical Institute, 2000.
De la Costa, Horacio. Readings in Philippine History. Makati: Bookmark, 1965
De la Costa, Horacio. Trial of Rizal, W. E. Retana’s Transcription of the Official Spanish
Documents, edited and translated. Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila University
Press, 1996

Nery, John. Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia. Quezon City: Ateneo de     Manila University Press, 2011