by Peter Jaynul V. Uckung

      Being the one of the richest tenant couples of the Calamba Hacienda, one would think that the Mercado-Rizal family was way too high to be affected by colonial mistreatment. The family was the first to own a big adobe house in the town centre, the first house to have a piano, the first to have stables and carriages, the first to have a library.

      Francisco Mercado-Rizal, the patriarch, was very successful farmer tending several important crops. Teodora Alonso-Realonda, his wife, also tended several businesses including a flour mill, a drugstore, and a store. On market day (tiangge) she would put up a sidewalk store. She also was a travelling saleswoman.

      Teodora had the means to sent her daughters to the best schools then, which were always religious.

      The couple were known for real honest-to-goodness hardwork, popular and respected from far and near.  Their house was always open for guests who were treated sumptuously.

      The couple played host to numberless guests and officials of the land, but still their goodwill fell short in shielding them from colonial ire.

      A series of unfortunate events would snowball into a tragedy from which the Mercado-Rizal would never recover.

      A ranking member of the guardia civil, who were used to being supplied by the Mercado-Rizal with horse fodder was offended when his request for the grass was turned down by Francisco Mercado.

      Aside from this, Francisco’s building of a sugar mill on a disputed land was being questioned by the friar manager of the Casa Hacienda.

      Add to this the predicament of the couple’s son, Paciano, whose close association with the executed priest Father Jose Burgos, put him in the list of those who were being closely watch by the government.

      And then Teodora would irretrievably tip the scales of destiny.

      Teodora’s half-brother, Jose Alberto wanted to divorce his wife, whom he alleged to be having an affair with another man. Teodora persuaded him to put up with her and preserve their marriage. Since then Jose Alberto went often to Calamba to seek advice from Teodora. This was learned by his wife who then suspected Jose Alberto and Teodora plotting something evil to her. Later Jose’s wife and an officer of the Guardia Civil (presumably the same one who was refused hgorse fodder) then accused Jose Alberto and Teodora of trying to poison Jose Alberto’s wife. Teodora was named as an accomplice. Jose Alberto, the main suspect.

      Quick like a bolt of lightning, Teodora was hauled to jail, by the mayor, Antonio Vivencio del Rosario, a known yes man of the friars. A judge who did not like the way he was treated at the Mercado-Rizal house, ordered that Teodora be imprisoned in Santa Cruz, a good  50km away capital of Laguna. She was made to walk the distance, though usual travel was by boat. She was forbidden to use any vehicle, although her family was willing to pay for it and include her escorts for the ride. She was to suffer humiliation and hardship as prescribed by those her family had offended.

      On the first night of the journey to Santa Cruz, Teodora and his escorts came to village where there was a festival. Teodora was recognized and invited by one of the prominent families. The judge, upon learning that Teodora was honoured in the village, was so enraged. He went to the house she visited. There was a guard there and the judge knocked and broke his cane on the poor man’s head then beat up the owner of the house.

      This obvious case of prejudice was reported by Teodora’s lawyers. The Supreme Court decided to set her free. The cruel judge respected the decision but then charged Teodora with contempt of court. To this, the Supreme Court was persuaded but since Teodora’s wait in prison was longer than the sentence, ordered her release.

      Then the lawyer of Jose Alberto charged Teodora with theft. There was rumor that Teodora borrowed money from his brother. The lawyer obviously was interested in recovering the money for himself. This case was heard but dismissed by the court.

        Teodora was coerced to make a plea of guilty of which she was promised a pardon, immediate freedom and reunion with her family.

         It as all for naught.

         Freedom Teodora finally regained after two and a half years.

        Her freedom was ordered by no less than the Governor General, who was charmed one fiesta day in Laguna by a daring little girl. So charmed was he that he asked the little girl what she would like him to give her.

      “My mother”, was the reply. The little girl was Soledad, Teodora’s youngest daughter. A quick inquiry, a quick decision, a new trial ended in Teodora’s acquittal.

        Teodora’s eldest son, Paciano, would remember how their father tried to dissuade Teodora from even meddling in the affairs of her brother’s marriage. But Teodora was beyond dissuasion. She never   could have guessed the consequence.

       The injustice she suffered fired up the beacons of destiny to his youngest son, Jose Rizal, whose silent vow of nationalism, unbreakable and inexorable in its forward march to the final conclusion of death and heroism.

         The ugly reality of colonialism dawned on Jose Rizal and imprinted on him that real men should fight for truth and justice. Anything less is unreal and cowardly. Better to face death with truth and justice on his side than to live with a moneyed existence and a cursed afterlife.