It was summer of 1980 when I saw this book lying around the house. It was a biography of a man who somehow inspired me to be.
That book was Jose Rizal: His Life, Works, and Writings by Gregorio Zaide. It had then a white book cover, thick, but the fonts were not too small for a fourth grader. Since it was my summer vacation, I read the book out of curiosity from cover to cover. It never occurred to me that it was a college textbook. I just realized it when I took Rizal course back in college.
After reading the book, I came to like Jose Rizal. I started dreaming of learning different languages; I started dreaming to write novels. I can speak and write in Filipino and English, and can speak a little Ilocano. Also, I had written novels. Still incomparable to him.
Rizal, the Subject Course
Fast forward eight years after, I was a college student then, taking up Rizal course. Our curriculum back then required us to take the course in summer. As a final project, our group decided to conduct an interview with the Rizalistas in Laguna.
Rizalistas are a group of people who consider themselves as a religious group whose belief lies on Jose Rizal as God’s messenger to mankind. There are many groups of Rizalistas across the country and we were able to interview a bishop of the Watawat Ng Lahi in Laguna. I brought my tape recorder with me and we taped the whole interview. But what struck me most was their church.
Basically, it was similar to a Catholic church, with an altar and cross, stations of the cross along the sides, and the pews. At the middle of the altar stood a statue of Jose Rizal and slightly behind it was a statue of an angel. Painted on the altar’s background was the Blessed Trinity. On the left side of the altar hung a copy of Mi Ultimo Adios, Jose Rizal’s last poem. On the right side stood the Philippine flag. I don’t remember now what was hanging on the right side of the altar, though (Was it the Ten Commandments?) What I found weird was the Stations of the Cross: instead of the pictures of Jesus’ trials, pictures of Filipino heroes were hung — Andres Bonifacio, Lapu-Lapu, etc.
I don’t remember now the details of the whole interview which was mostly how Watawat ng Lahi started, their practices and traditions, etc. At first, I couldn’t believe that there was such a cult or religion that venerates Jose Rizal as a demigod or deity. And after hearing the bishop’s words and seeing their church, it only proves that life is really stranger than fiction.
I may like Jose Rizal but not to the point of venerating him as someone holy.
After the interview, we went to Jose Rizal’s house in Calamba, Laguna for a short tour. That’s where the picture above was taken back in 1988.
A National Hero Forgotten
One sad thing about Jose Rizal is that today’s generation doesn’t know much about him. For one, his face is now relegated to the lowly one peso coin although streets, monuments, and national parks were named after him. I guess it is still required for high school students to read and study Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, the two novels which were banned during the Spanish era for its content against the Spanish rule. But it was these two novels that inspired Andres Bonifacio to launch a revolution.
For another, Filipinos still debate as to who should be the country’s national hero. Until now, it’s a toss up between Jose Rizal, an illustrado. and Andres Bonifacio, a peasant. The former believed in a peaceful movement and used his pen (the pen is mightier than the sword). The latter believed in an armed battle. Both have the same passionate nationalism in their hearts, they were just two different worlds apart.