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Houston Texas

March 2007 Issue


The Timing of a Hero's Death.

In the days following July 2 of this year, a likeness of Manny Pacquiao, superimposed on one of Rizal’s better-known photographs, was circulated in the Internet. Of course, there was no mistaking whose head was replaced and by whom, and for what reason. Generations of Filipinos know this picture by heart and at a glance. Apparently, the Filipinos don’t mind this pun because they need badly a new model to inspire them. After all, Rizal’s saga is of the past, relevant it might be to the present, while Pacquiao’s life story is their very own, lived a million times by the hopelessly deprived young Filipinos all over the land.

That’s why it cannot be helped if he is the latest sensation and cheered on as the new Rizal; a kind of a breath of fresh air in a country polluted by strong odor of scandals, intrigues, and conspiracies.

I have never been comfortable imagining the possibility of the Philippines having someone other than Rizal as the hero. The closest time I sidelined him was when Ninoy Aquino was gunned down at the MIA tarmac. Thus, to some Filipinos, letting Pacquiao’s triumph overwhelm the better judgment of their countrymen as against Rizal’s or even Ninoy’s martyrdom is unnerving. But soon, as the euphoria settles down, people will go back to Rizal.
This incident has served a good purpose though. It’s time for Filipinos to know that whatever they hold dear and sacrosanct, like our hero-worshipping of Rizal, and social issues, like, birth control, etc. should not be closed from scrutiny, questioning, or being speculated upon.

Indeed, has it occurred to you to ask if Rizal would still be a hero if he were not executed on December 30, 1896? Had he lived on to enjoy a long life of 80 in 1941 or 90 in 1951, would the political and social conditions in the Philippines still allow his being promoted as the topnotch hero, either by the Americans as colonialists, or by the Filipinos when they had a short-lived republic and thereafter when the Philippines became a possession of the United States? In fact, would there still be a timely Philippine Revolution, in the first place, breaking right when America was provoking a “nice little war” in the Pacific, in the words of U.S. President William McKinley, if Rizal did not die before a firing squad?

We know that the Revolution of 1896 was accelerated by Rizal’s death. Although the Pact of Biak Na Bato ended the fighting, it soon flared up again upon the return of General Emilio Aguinaldo from Hong Kong. So the scenario would have been that if Rizal was not executed, and he reached Cuba to become a Spanish military doctor, the Americans would have taken him into their custody once they drove the Spaniards out of Cuba.
No doubt their smartest political move was to take him back to the Philippines and persuade him to help them in their pacification campaign. And who else would have been the most attractive candidate to head the civil government, or a transition government, if you may, than Rizal, since he was the leader looked-up to by the Filipinos? Another reason, no less important, was his reputation for level-headedness. He did things in a deliberate manner, never rushing events just for its own sake. He was known to have discouraged the launching of a revolution without adequate preparation and promoted the conservative view that freedom is dangerous in the hands of people lacking in education.

It is not inconceivable that the ever careful Rizal (the teka-teka behavior of the know-it-all) would have advised the young Filipino hothead revolutionaries, who were resisting the American imperial adventure that a head-on collision against them was going to be disastrous to the Philippines. All that he had to do was point out at Spain’s humiliation when it was forced to give up Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico for $20 million dollars. He knew that the Filipinos who just cast off the Spanish yoke were so devastated and laid waste by the revolution. To take on another enemy, a more powerful one at that, defies reason and reality. How could they match the military might and economic resources of the Americans? His keen political insight and knowledge of world affairs could not have missed understanding this emerging world power that’s just starting to flex its economic muscle looking for respect on the world stage and imperial opportunities.

. And even assuming the Filipinos could gain control of the country, for some inexplicable reasons, either by the grace of God or default of the enemy, he knew, like other realistic men of that time who were not driven by romantic idealism, that the country was too backward and unprepared for a true and meaningful independence.

If Rizal turned against the better part of his instincts, and fought in the war against the Americans, he either could have been killed like Luna or taken prisoner like Aguinaldo. It was also possible that he would return back to his adopted region in the south, engage in farming or practice his profession (Zamboanga in Mindanao), sit out the Philippine-American war, and father numerous children.

Peacetime would put Rizal in the company of the old school vis-à-vis the new kids on the block, at the start of the American regime sometime 1900, as they compete for political supremacy and for the heart and soul of the Filipinos. Although still young at 39, very likely, he would choose to join the U.S. sponsored institutions, like the Philippine Commission, peopled by the older ilustrados of his time, all friends of his, like the de Taveras, the Legardas, the Ocampos, etc., who all belonged to the Partido Federalista (Americanistas). As it would happen, Rizal would be in the company of the older generation in collision course in the struggle for power with the new generation of Filipino leaders belonging to the Partido Nacionalista (Filipinistas), headed by Sergio Osmena, a 22-year old charismatic but aloof Chinese mestizo from Cebu, and Manuel Quezon, another 22-year old fiery and brilliant Spanish mestizo from Tayabas.

Now coming to the question of whether Rizal could still become the hero of the Filipinos if his rendezvous with death at the Luneta was averted, I would say that there was only one way he could still have been anointed the model of what is good and beautiful in the Filipino. A hero he might still be if he was killed in action against the enemy, in the circumstances close to the romanticized death of Gregorio del Pilar. But as a man of substance and maturity, both intellectually and morally, he could not have gone to high theatrics that the young and the not properly educated, even ignorant officers, who were in abundance at that time, could do. I don’t think he was capable of heroic acts ----- antics dear to the heart of the ordinary people. Thus, even if he died in the war, he might still not become a hero, for his star could not have shone brighter than the elegant play-acting generals or the ornately uniformed.
If he survived the war and aligned himself with the Federalistas, as I thought he would do, he would go down in history ignored and forgotten, just like all others in that group, remembered only by scholars researching for a book on Philippine history. If he joined Osmena and Quezon, he would have been no match to the dramatic and dynamic Quezon who even relegated Osmena to second place in their competition for supremacy.

I would say that Rizal, for all his genius and sacrifices for his country, would not be a hero today if he did not die a violent death on 12/30/1896.


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