by Dr. Pablo S. Trillana II on the 103rd Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal (1999)

“Protean is the word that comes to mind when we speak of the Filipino national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. Novelist, poet, teacher, linguist, ophthalmologist, sportsman, sculptor, essayist,thinker. He was all of the above. But there is one aspect of Rizal’s brilliance that is seldom discussed — Rizal as a futurist.  Rizal was always years ahead of his time.”

      Now that we are closing the door on one millennium and opening the door to the next, there could not be a more propitious time to dwell on this great man’s prophetic insights.

      Even before holism was adopted as a paradigm for the modern world, Rizal had already applied the theory to his school in Dapitan, where he strove to teach the “whole man”. In addition to offering formal academic subjects, he taught his pupils boxing, swimming, fencing, agriculture, and the need for community services. As an important part of their education, he took them on venturesome excursions to test their mettle in real situations. For he believed it was in the unpredictable world where intelligence was needed most.

      As a statesman without portfolio, his vision of the Filipino nation and his precepts for its guidance are as fresh today as they were a hundred years ago. In Noli Me Tangere, his first novel, Rizal warned Spanish authorities of the blood bath their colonial policy, or lack of policy, would lead to. In Noll’s sequel, El Filibusterismo, he predicted the coming of a revolution while hinting, in the same breath, that the revolution would fail because the Filipinos lacked the arms and organization to see it through.

     In his most prescient essay, Filipinas Dentro de Gen Anos, written in 1889, he foretold that Spain and the Philippines would eventually become equal independent partners in the world of geopolitics, that the United States, after appropriating the Philippines for herself, would emerge as a new colonial power in Asia.

     One might say that the predictions found in Noli and Fill were merely insights of an alert observer since they were based on the apparent worsening conditions of Spanish colonial rule in the country. But the predictions in Filipinas Dentro de Gen Anos is proof of a complex intellect. We must remember that at the time Rizal wrote the essay, the Revolution of 1896, which would lead to the creation of a Philippine Republic, independent of and equal to Spain, was more than six years away. And America’s presence in Asia would not happen until the turn of the nineteenth century, long after he was dead.

     Rizal foresaw the strengths and weaknesses of the Philippine nation today as it stands on the brink of a new and exciting world. Like a chastising father, he warned us, through the words of Padre Florentino in El Filibusterismo, that we will never have a successful state or bayan, until we also have a successful nation or bansa. There is a world of difference between the two. While statehood provides the infrastructure of government, it is nationhood that creates the temper of governance. What Rizal saw as an ideal nation-state was embodied in La Liga Filipina, yet another one of the hero’s scenarios for the future. Organized on the basis of regional and district councils, La Liga Filipina was envisioned to unite the archipelago into one compact, vigorous, and homogenous body. Members were pledged to mutual assistance in the face of every want and necessity, to provide defense against injustice, to encourage education, agriculture, and commerce, and to study and apply reforms. In short, La Liga was a vision of a moral community in which all of the people worked together for the common good, for a better future.

      That vision, upon which La Liga was founded, is as vital today as it was 100 years ago. Rizal, through his writings and his deeds, has given us a blueprint for our future. But what we do with it is up to us.

      To this day, we are trying to attain Rizal’s ideal of a mutual-aid society. The question is, are we trying hard enough? It is true that we have made great strides in many aspects of national life. But it is also true that all too often we lack the collective spirit to act as one in order to serve the good of all.

      I’m not saying we are unconcerned as a people. Far from it. We can look back to two revolutions – the Revolution of 1896 and the EDSA Revolution of 1986 – to remind ourselves of what we can do and be, when we unite as a people with a common purpose. Should we ever forget, we need only to summon Rizal who wrote, “Very probably the Philippines will defend with indescribable ardor the liberty she has bought at the cost of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new men that will spring from her bosom and the remembrance of the past, she will perhaps enter openly the wide road of progress.”

      If, as Rizal suggests, the past holds the contours of the future, this nation has indeed a lot of solid ground on which to build the just, caring, and progressive society of the future.

      Just as Rizal knew then, we must know now that we can move forward only if we work together, combining our energies toward a common goal and finding direction from the lessons of the past. Let the compass of history guide us into the next one thousand years.