Review and Reflections: Jose Rizal Writings

Rizal’s significance revisited: A review of ‘Si Rizal: Nobelista’
by David Ernman Lim
Si Rizal: Nobelista coverRizal means absolutely everything to the Filipino. Not only is he the National Hero, he is also the icon, the paragon, the standard, by which every Filipino should measure himself. His contemporaries, most of which are brilliant men in their own right, attest that Rizal was a man who possessed a nearly unparallelled vision of  parallel times. His flair in exposing the political, social, moral and traditional ills of his day is reflective of the greater genius that made him such a legendary figure in his native country. He was a man of many talents; doctor, scientist, philosopher, painter, sculptor, teacher, and last but not least, writer.
There are those who even worship him. Rizalistas, as they are commonly known, portray him as the second coming of Jesus Christ, who could have saved the nation had he lived for a longer period of time. They  believe that Rizal is a reincarnation of some divine deity, who made use of his “mystic” powers of healing and prophecy in a futile attempt to bring redemption to his native land. While most modernist religions would scoff at this notion, the fact that the Rizalistas view Rizal as a miracle worker shows the height of his esteem in their eyes.
Lastly, there are those who consider themselves to be his apostles – those who carry on the task of  passing down his teachings to the Filipino of today. His immortal books, the Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are still being printed wholesale, with innumerable versions, translations and editions already out in the open. These authors work to bring Rizal back to the lives of his brethren, for patriotism and love of country to continue, as despite having overthrown the yoke of colonialism long ago, every single Filipino can still learn something by emulating his values.
All of these pay tribute to the impact of Rizal’s life, teachings and death in the Philippines. Yet for all his sublime achievements and abilities, questions about his significance in today’s Filipino society– with regard to his writings–remain. Was he a man who desired true independence? What did he actually intend when he wrote this and wrote that? Was he a true patriot by means of the words he wrote? Was he a traitor to his own cause, and do we have any evidence to support this claim?
What Filipinos seem to be forgetting was that Rizal, for all his intents and purposes, was a man who failed in his immediate mission, which was to bring about a peaceful resolution to the issue of colonial despotism. The enemy which exacerbated his time, the Spanish Catholic clergy, proved to be more than too powerful – they were, ultimately, deadly. They succeeded in having him killed in ironic fashion – through a Filipino firing squad. Back then the Roman Catholic faith was used by corrupt friars to extract money, to intimidate the masses, and wield power greater than even the highest civil officials in the land. Yet despite achieving Rizal’s earthly demise, the friars were unable to stem the tide of his ideals. The whole country imploded into armed rebellion nonetheless, and for a time it seemed as though Rizal’s ultimate ambition of a free Philippines with national solidarity was achieved.
In lieu of this, it is today’s society – permeated by Filipinos jaded to their history, as well as authors who aim to strike it rich by exploiting Rizal’s perceived significance – that can be considered the greatest archnemesis of his memory. These are the authors which National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario looks upon with contempt. In his book Si Rizal: Nobelista (Pagbasa sa Noli at Fili Bilang Nobela, he issues a profound, diagnostic response to the errors of contemporary writers in commercializing the translations of Rizal’s twin magnum opuses. He argues that the watered-down incarnations of the works in today’s bookstores are not congruent with the true meaning of Rizal’s works, but rather they are symbolic of the exploitation of the country’s blind devotion to Rizal. In the respectable aim of propagating his greatness, Filipinos are unwittingly killing its true meaning.
For all his talents and fields of expertise, Rizal is perhaps most significant to history as a patriotic writer. While his contributions were probably not as broad as those of other writers from other countries (cliché example: Shakespeare), his two greatest works, the Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo,  tower over the precepts of Philippine literary history. Their purpose: to awaken a sense of solidarity, of national consciousness, and to instill a pride in which every Filipino would cherish his origins. Through his now-archetypal characters such as Crisostomo Ibarra/Simoun, Maria Clara, Basilio and Padre Damaso, he sought to open the eyes of every Filipino and Spaniard to the outdated, medieval society of 19th century Philippines, hoping that the more liberal echelons of the colonial government would institute peaceful reforms.
In his book, Almario dealt with many essential questions before he proceeded to his explanations about various misinterpreted, mistranslated and misunderstood identities, events, and themes. He cited a whole treasure trove of past and current authors, most of whom have little or nothing to do with Rizal himself, but everything to do with his readership status: Bakit kailangang basahing muli si Rizal? (Why do we need to read Rizal again?); Ano ang bisa kay Rizal ng Uncle Tom’s Cabin? (What were the effects of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on Rizal?); Realista ba o Romantisista si Rizal? (Was Rizal a Realist or a Romanticist?) All of these serve to shed light on the fascinating truths and deeply-entrenched fallacies about Rizal’s character as a writer.
On the idea of Rizal’s sublime yet hollow existence in today’s Filipino society, Almario cites Renato Constantino‘s hypothesis, “Veneration without Understanding”:
Strangely enough, our veneration of Rizal has not resulted in a greater understanding of his teachings nor of his role in our history… (I)t has reduced commemoration to meaningless biannual exercises in hagiolatry conducted by prominent cultists sporting glittering uniforms and impressive titles. Words of ritualistic praise uttered on such occasions have done little to deepen our understanding of the historical significance of Rizal’s life, works, and death. Instead, some cultists have focused on trivialities, demonstrating their Rizalist scholarship and devotion by following Rizal’s steps all over the world, searching for traces of every house he live in, every girl he fancied.
He then strives to give a comprehensive and subtle analysis of the aforementioned factors that debase the concept of Rizal in the modern Filipino eye. Why was this character significant? How should one perceive this idea?
Almario deals with the stereotyping of characters, whether Rizal meant for them to be seen as such, or whether they had been twisted around by succeeding versions of the Noli and Fili. In regard to Simoun, the protagonist/anti-hero of El Filibusterismo, he identifies the character’s similarities and differences to that of a more famous anti-hero: Alexandre Dumas’s Edmond Dantes, from the Count of Monte Cristo. As for Maria Clara, he tackles the question of whether the eternal symbol of perfect Filipina qualities, of beauty personified, is all that she seems to be, or whether she is a farce created to mislead, as well as whether the idolization she receives is  a good or bad thing.
In today’s school curriculum, people often question the importance of the study of Rizal, considering it just another weight to bear in the cross of education. This book should serve to refute any claims of insignificance.

El Filibusterismo/ The Reign of Greed
Reign of Greed by Jose Rizal (Translated by Charles Derbyshire)The sequel to Noli Me Tangere with its unarguably utopian vision, El Filibusterismo offers a much bleaker picture of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Crisostomo Ibarra, the reformist hero of the earlier novel, has come back to the Philippines as the enigmatic stranger named Simoun, a rich jeweller. Driven by hatred and a fierce desire to avenge his sufferings, and to rescue Maria Clara from the nunnery where she has fled, Simoun embarks on a crusade the goal of which is to corrupt and thus weaken various institutions that would eventually lead to a bloody revolution. He schemes and plans systematically and plots with various characters, including Basilio, to bring about the downfall of the government. The first plot fails, as does the second one. Simoun, carrying his huge stash of jewelry, flees to the mountain retreat of Padre Florentino, who absolves the dying man from his sins. The novel ends as the priest throws Simoun’s treasures into the sea with the hope that they could be retrieved and used only for the good of the people.


Noli Me Tangere/ The Social Cancer
Noli Me Tangere/ Social CancerThe first of two canonical 19th-century novels, Noli Me Tangere revolves around Crisostomo Ibarra who, after a seven-year stay in Europe to study, comes home to his town of San Diego, brimming with the desire to contribute to the development of the townspeople. More specifically, as a reformist, he aims to make education accessible to more people. His idealism, however, cannot bear fruit because of  insidious forces bent on destroying him. Ibarra learns that his father, Don Rafael, had been embroiled in a conflict with Padre Damaso, who eventually causes his humiliation and death. It is not only political power that the friar wields; he has also used power to seduce the mother of Maria Clara, Ibarra’s sweetheart. Ibarra has another enemy in the person of Padre Salvi, who lusts after Maria Clara. It is also Padre Salvi who almost causes Ibarra’s death at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the school. Things come to a head when Ibarra is implicated in a failed uprising instigated by Padre Salvi. The young man is imprisoned but is eventually rescued by Elias, whose life Ibarra has saved in the past. As the novel ends, the thoroughly disillusioned Ibarra sees a bleak future.
NOTES: This novel has been a rich source of insights into the history and culture not only of 19th–century Philippines but, as importantly, of the 20th century as well. Its generally realistic perspective offers the reader a panoramic view of a conflicted and deeply divided colonial society. The characters in the novel stand out as recognizable types of individuals, both from the ruling class and the oppressed, and the struggles they undergo are indices to the turbulent conflicts in the 19th century. The novel is also significant for the specific ways in which it has shaped the trajectory of realistic novels in English and Filipino. Such Filipino writers as Iñigo Ed. Regalado, Faustino Aguilar, Juan C. Laya, Stevan Javellana, Nick Joaquin, among others, have been influenced by the themes, motifs, and characters of this novel.

Alab ng damdamin: Rebyu ng ‘Makamisa’
by Ivy Jean Vibar
Nanghinayang ako na hindi natapos ni Jose Rizal ang kanyang ikatlong nobela. Maganda ang konsepto na kanyang naisip, ang magsulat ng aklat na ang pokus ay ang kultura ng mga tao sa isang pamayanang Tagalog. Ang mga nauna kasi niyang aklat ay hindi nakasentro sa iisang pamayanan; mas nakapalibot ang mga ito sa ilang tauhan. Ang Makamisa ay mararamdaman mong mas nalalapit sa karaniwang mamamayan ang pokus; ang mga pangunahing tauhang Pilipino na hindi man lang nakatapak sa labas ng bansa.
Naisip ko rin na sayang at hindi ito naisulat ni Rizal sa Tagalog, kahit ginusto sana niya itong gawin, dahil sa kalikasan ng paksa nito. Isa itong kwentong mas maiintindihan ng pangkaraniwang Pilipino, na madalas hindi nakaiintindi ng wikang Espanyol, kaysa sa mga dayuhan at ibang mga ilustradong nasanay na sa kulturang Europeo.
Ayon nga sa Paunang Salita ng tagasalin, mayroon ngang paniniwala si Jose Rizal tungkol sa kahalagahan ng katutubong wika, na makikita sa kanyang mga akda. Sabi rin dito na nasanay na masyado si Jose Rizal sa pagsulat sa wikang Espanyol kaya nahirapan siyang isulat ito sa wikang Tagalog. Isa itong dahilan na madaling paniwalaan, dahil nararanasan ko rin ang penomenong ito. Madalas, wikang Ingles ang ginagamit ko sa pagsulat, at kapag wikang Tagalog na ang aking gagamitin, nahihirapan na akong ilagay sa tamang pag-iisip ang utak ko.
May nagsabi sa akin dati na nakaiiba talaga ng pag-iisip ang paggamit ng partikular na wika dahil maraming aspeto ng isang kultura ang nakakabit na sa wikang ginagamit nito. Nabanggit ang saloobin ni Rizal tungkol dito sa Paunang Salita ng libro na salin ni Dr. Nilo Ocampo (Etikang Tagalog), na kaya nga ginagamit ito ng mga dayuhan ay upang padaliin ang kanilang pananakop sa bansa. Kung magsulat ka nga naman ngayon ng kwento tungkol sa mga batang kalye sa wikang Ingles, naiiba ang dating ng mga tauhan kaysa kapag katutubong wika ang ginamit. Minsan, nagmumukhang masyadong maraming napag-aralan ang isang bata dahil sa pagkaintelektwal ng kanyang sinasalita. Minsan rin ay hindi talaga nakukuha ng wikang dayuhan ang ibang konseptong nakaangkla na sa kulturang Pilipino. Mayroon bang katumbas ang mga konseptong “hiya” o “utang na loob” sa Ingles? Hindi ba, iba naman ang “shame” at “owing” sa pagkakaintindi natin sa mga bagay na ito?
Dahil naisulat ni Rizal ang kanyang di-tapos na aklat na ito sa wikang Espanyol, ang unang-unang maiisip ng mambabasa ay siguro, hindi ganap ang pagmamahal niya sa kanyang katutubong kultura. Sa tingin ko ay hindi ito tama dahil sa nauna nang nabanggit na dahilan. Isa pa, kapag babasahin ang nilalaman ng kanyang akda, sa kabila ng masamang ugali na ipinakita nina Kapitan Panchong at Kapitana Barang, hindi ito sumasalamin sa kaugalian ng lahat ng mga Pilipino. Nakaugat pa rin ang mga katangiang ito sa impluwensya ng kolonyalista, lalo na sa maling asimilasyon ng mga iba’t ibang aspetong kultural at panrelihiyon ng mga dayuhan. Ngunit hindi lang paninisi sa mga pari ang nilalaman ng akda; makikita rin ang paghamon sa mga Pilipinong kwestyunin ang kani-kanilang kalagayan.
Ang naisip kong layunin ni Rizal sa akdang ito ay ang idiin kung gaano kalala ang naging epekto ng mga dayuhan, lalo na ng praylokrasya sa kulturang Pilipino, at suriin ito mula sa pinakamababang antas—mula sa pananaw ng mga Pilipino sa maliliit na pamayanan; mga Pilipinong ang tanging alam na paraan ng pamumuhay ay ang nakasanayan na nila sa kani-kanilang mga barangay.
Makikita rin sa akdang ito ang matinding pag-ibig ni Rizal sa tinubuang lupa; kahit minsang hindi maganda ang pagsasalarawan niya sa mga tauhang Pilipino ay makikita pa rin ang pagnanais niyang magkaroon ng pagbabago at ang magandang katauhan ng ibang tauhan na madalas minamaliit ng mga “kontrabida.”
Gusto niyang maging maayos ang bayan, at gusto niyang malaman ng mga Pilipino ang kanilang kahalagahan bilang tao. Ipinapakita niya ang problema ng mga mamamayan ng Pili at ipinapahiwatig niyang upang malutas ang mga ito ay dapat malaman ng mga tao ang epekto sa kanila ng simbahan. Ipinapakita niya sa Makamisa ang tunggalian para sa kapangyarihan sa karamihan sa mga pamayanan sa Pilipinas.
Madalas, ang kapangyarihan ay nakasentro lamang sa mga institusyong pansimbahan, na naging resulta ng pag-ikot ng buhay sa pueblo sa kapangyarihan nito. Naging malinaw kung bakit nasabi ni Rizal na dalawa lamang ang tauhang dayuhan sa kanyang kwento, dahil madalas ganoon nga ang sitwasyon sa mga maliit na pamayanan, sang-ayon na rin sa mga sulatin sa kasaysayan. Patuloy na lumakas ang kapangyarihan ng simbahan sa mga tao dahil na rin sa mga madalas na nakikitang pari, na simbolo ng kapangyarihan ng pamahalaan. Hindi nila kilala ang Gobernador-Heneral, ngunit kilala nila ang Kura Paroko.
Ang mga tauhan sa pinaplanong ikatlong aklat ni Rizal ay pawang mga karaniwang Pilipinong matatagpuan sa kahit saang pamayanan noong panahon ng pagkakasulat dito ni Rizal. Gayunman, karaniwan pa ring makikita ang mga tauhang ito sa kasalukuyan. Hanggang ngayon ay mayroon pang mga Kapitan Panchong, Kapitana Barang, Cecilia, Anday, at Padre Agaton. Lahat sila ay mayroong kanya-kanyang lugar sa pamayanan at lahat sila ay nakakaapekto sa pagtakbo ng buhay ng kapwa nila Pilipino.
Kumpara sa Noli at Fili, mas nailarawan dito ang epekto ng labis na kapangyarihan ng simbahan sa mismong takbo ng buhay ng mga tao. Ipinakita ang kapit ng simbahan sa lahat ng bagay, at kung gaano kabulok ang mga prinsipyo ng Katolisismo sa Pilipinas, na dulot ng paggamit dito ng mga kolonyalista sa pagsakop ng bansa.
Makikita ang respeto ni Rizal sa tunay na ideolohiya ng relihiyon, dahil ang pinupuna niya sa kanyang kwento ay ang mga nangyayaring kamalian sa pagpapatupad nito sa pang-araw-araw na buhay ng mga tao. Hindi niya sinasabing huwag dapat maniwala ang mga Pilipino sa Katolisismo; ipinahihiwatig niyang huwag dapat magpaalipin sa maling pagkakaintindi sa mga prinsipyo nito. Ang relihiyon ay dapat makatulong sa mga taong naniniwala dito; hindi ito dapat maging dahilan pa ng kahirapan. Batay dito, masasabing mali nga ang paratang ng mga prayle sa kanya bilang erehe. Wala naman siyang sinasabi laban sa Katoliko. Hindi pagiging erehe ang paglalarawan sa katiwalian ng isang (o dalawang—o tatlong) taong tumatayo sa unahan ng altar kapag oras ng misa, at nakikita ng mga tao bilang sagot sa lahat ng kanilang pagdadalamhati.
Sa aklat na ito, parang hindi na paghingi ng pagbabago mula sa pamahalaan ang dapat gawin ng mga tao. Maaaring rebolusyon na nga talaga ang dapat mangyari, rebolusyon laban sa simbahan, dahil mahirap baguhin ang isang institusyong pinaghaharian ng mga dayuhan, na siya ring naghahari-harian sa lipunan, sarado sa puna ng iba, lalo na sa puna ng mga indiong iniisip bilang nakakababang-uri. Hindi lang rin sa sekular na aspeto ang kapangyarihan ng simbahan, pati ang spiritwal na kondisyon ng mga tao ay nakapailalim rito. Ito ang pangunahing dahilan sa pananatiling makaluma ng pag-iisip ng ordinaryong Pilipino, hindi man ang ang gobyerno mismo, dahil kahit ang gobyerno ay nangangailangan pa ng pagsang-ayon ng simbahan.
Sayang talaga at hindi natapos isulat ni Jose Rizal ang aklat niyang ito. Sa aking opinyon, kung naisulat niya ito ng buo, at sa wikang Tagalog, mas makakatulong ito sa proseso ng pagpukaw ng damdamin ng mga Pilipino. Mas malapit kasi sa ordinaryong Pilipino ang mga pangyayari sa kwentong ito; ang mga tauhan ay maaaring maisip na makakasalubong mo lang habang namamalengke ka o naglalakad sa may simbahan. Ang Noli at Fili kasi ay may maaaring ituring na kathang-isip lamang, kahit ang mga inilalarawan ditong mga pangyayari ay maaari namang mangyari sa tunay na buhay. Si Ibarra ay maituturing na bida sa isang nobelang kathang-isip, dahil may nagawa siyang hindi naman maaaring magawa ng kahit sino lang. Ang mga tauhan sa Makamisa ay hindi ganoon; mas malapit sila sa karanasan ng ordinaryong Pilipino.
Kung ang Noli at Fili ay mga epiko, ang Makamisa ay kwentong-bayan. Pero ano ba ang mas alam ng mga tao, kahit ng mga batang may murang edad? Mas kilala pa at pinauulit-ulit ang mga kwentong bayan kaysa sa mga epiko. Mas maraming karaniwang tao ang nakakaalam sa mga kwentong bayan. Hindi naman lahat ng tao kilala sina Agyu sa Ulahingan. Kung natapos siguro ang Makamisa, baka mas kilala pa ito ng karaniwang tao kaysa sa Noli at Fili. Parang tsismis kumpara sa World News, mas inuulit-ulit at kinaaaliwan ng madla dahil malapit sa pang-araw-araw na buhay ng karaniwang tao.

 All reviews and reflections are originally posted in Rizaliana Media of MYRizal150


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