by Peter Jaynul V. Uckung

      The real problem with Jose Rizal is that he was gone too soon. He never had the chance to see the social cancer he so aptly described in his two novels, the Noli me tangere and El Filibusterismo mutate into something more virulent, oppressive, controlling way of life. By being dead, he could do nothing against the reincarnated social cancer, which continued to wreak havoc on the lives of the people, whose freedom he had tried to redeem with his blood.

      Born rich, Rizal had little touch with the daily miseries endured by the mass of Filipinos during his time. Capable of furthering his studies, Rizal was the embodiment of the intellectual who firmly believed that the enlightened, no matter what race, is above unreasoning prejudice.

      His scholarly sojourn in Europe convinced him of the infallibility of Science, not only as a source of truth, but as a conqueror of oppression. This belief was clearly based on an assumption which presupposed the existence of willingness, a reservoir of goodwill and simple goodness within the colonizer that would move him inevitably to correct the injustice done to the Filipino. Rizal’s call for reform and assimilation attested to this unshakable belief. He died disowning the revolution. But his death sounded the death knell to the colonial government of Spain in the Philippines.

      Down came the tyrant priests, and with them came tumbling down all the feudalistic systems they helped imposed on the land, in the name of unrestricted control of power and profit.

      Two years after Rizal’s death, there was national euphoria with the opening of the Malolos Congress.

      Freedom and democracy, it seemed was here to stay, the colonial crisis was finally over.

      Or so it seemed.

      In trying to find meaning and relevance between Rizal and the Filipinos after a hundred and fifty years of his birth, even the shallowest of sceptic could say that the problems are not yet over, they were never gone, they’ve just been molecularly restructured into something barely recognizable, and, therefore, generally acceptable.

      History is a very powerful tool for peace and progress, for it is only in assessing history that we could justify social change. But to purge history of the lessons therein, one must be unforgivingly critical. One must be like Rizal.

      Here, the first sign of a revived colonialism is evident. It is the silencing of the critic. The critics are silenced with assassination. Critics are silenced when they are killed, like Rizal. Like the missing activists, or the broadcasters who were shot and buried in Cotabato.

      Rizal certainly never experienced facing a problem which is defined by what happens to the stock market, or the banks. When these two financial entities get into trouble and begin to collapse, then it is called a crisis. And when big financial institutions collapse, too often the government bails them out by using tax payers money. The rich, then, get richer and the poor get poorer. Shade of colonialism?

    The advent of technology has given the Filipinos a new range of jobs needing technical knowledge, knowledge to use information and communication at the touch of a finger wherever and whenever. It created companies needing legions and legions of Filipino call center agents with knowledge in computers, giving a semblance that we are providing computer wizards, which is the cutting edge in labor employment. But being high-tech is a myth of economic prosperity. There is a reality of low skill, low-wage non-unionized job.                  

        A modern day Rizal would have noticed this deceptive technological “bonanza”.

     Rizal had always champion education as the key for eventual independence. He was no longer around when the Americans implemented an educational system which gave even the poor the chance to go to school. Today public education hardly serves as an avenue for acquiring critical thinking and transformative reaction. Education mostly serves today as the initiator for the transmission of knowledge instrumental to the existing society. A society dominated by the will of business corporations and foreign powers who openly declare themselves democratic while ruling that the workers’ rights were literally against the law. A modern day Rizal would have no problems finding his Capitan Tiago pandering around business corporation owners and bowing to their wishes in exchange for monetary considerations, in every nook and cranny of the government service.

      Rizal was declared national hero and protector of the Filipinos, but will he be surprised with the program of globalization, which has the underlying assumption that nationalism and protectionism are incompatible with social and economic development.

        Rizal wrote that the Filipinos were not naturally lazy. He defended his countrymen by explaining the reasons affecting the lives of Filipinos. But mostly, he blamed the economic imperative of colonialism that brought about social decay in the Philippines. Today, it is often heard that the Filipinos themselves are to be blamed for their sorry lot, that culturally the Filipinos are inferior. And sometimes there is a subtle acceptance encouraged by the schools on this assumption. The English language of the elite is named correct usage, making the English of ordinary people inferior outlaw language. The nuances of the elite have become the gauge of status symbol. This was an old colonial rationale which was supposed to show the superiority of the colonizer, which linguistically disenfranchised many Filipinos.

     Rizal had known long ago that the colonizer needed to inculcate in the Filipino a negative attitude toward his own culture. The colonizers encouraged the Filipinos to reject their own culture by instilling a false comprehension of their culture as something ugly and inferior.

       When Rizal wrote the Noli me tangere and El Filibusterismo, he dramatized as no one before had done, the bitterness and alienation of the people. His reformatory approach to social change was to exercise influence within established institutions rather than fighting institutions from the outside. It did not work out. During the American regime, people shifted in strategy, perhaps remembering the futility of the propaganda movement, and used legislation and court litigation to secure constitutional rights. Later on, there were direct action techniques, utilizing the potential power of the masses along political and economic lines. Example of this was mass civil disobedience, which will create the kind of social dislocation that would bring attention and remedial actions from the government.

       A hero is a social anomaly. The necessity for heroes reveals the ineffectivity of the government to remedy the problems beguiling society. Often, as in Rizal’s time, the government was the one abetting the problems, profiting from them, in expense of the people.

      In reading and re-reading Rizal, especially his novels, which were twin vortices of truth, the reader will be pulled deeper into a different hidden plane of philosophy that is so unlike Rizal, and more of the dark, brooding filibustero we have come to know as Simoun, whose final purpose in life was to infiltrate the colonial authorities and spread the fire of revolution among his people.

     Rizal and others like him, are a menace to people and governments who derive super profits from an impoverished people and who employ coercive instruments to keep the people meek and subservient, the better to control them with.

      They have to stop Rizal even when he’s already dead. But how can they stop an immensely popular national memory like Rizal? They cannot stop him, that’s for sure, but they can mitigate the impact of his legacy. By encasing Rizal in layers after layers of trivialities, so thick and obfuscatingly complex that Rizal will only become a subject in school to be memorized and respected but eventually to be discarded as a relic of the past, incoherent with the computer age.

      Only those who fear the likes of Rizal know him as Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. And must prevent people from ever knowing.