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Did the Americans make Rizal a hero?

July 20, 2019


THIS month, we celebrated three major anniversaries which have connections with the birth of the Nation: the 127th anniversary of José Rizal’s founding of the La Liga Filipina (July 3, 1892) and Andres Bonifacio’s establishment of the Katipunan revolutionary movement (July 7, 1892); and the 150th birth anniversary of Pio Valenzuela, one of the Katipunan leaders who linked Rizal and the Katipunan (July 11, 1869).

In answering the assignments of their teachers, kids have made me a sort of Ernie Baron in Facebook messenger. I refuse to directly answer their questions but I try to point them in the right direction. One frequently asked question is, “Did the Americans make Rizal a hero?”

This is proof that Renato Constantino’s influence as a scholar and thinker is still felt to this day. His 1969 Rizal Day lecture titled “Veneration without understanding” is still often quoted in its arguments about Rizal’s heroism. Contrary to popular belief, Constantino did not question Rizal’s heroism per se, but questioned whether Rizal as a hero was relevant to the times, which in the late 1960s was a time of activism and revolutionary fervor. In just a few weeks, the First Quarter Storm would explode and rock the nation, its spirit may well be perceived as different from the peaceful reform and peaceful separation from colonialism which Rizal espoused.

One of Constantino’s arguments was that Rizal was an American-sponsored hero. The implication in the mind of many was that the Americans “established” Rizal as “the” National Hero, or the Americans made Rizal a hero. Constantino established Americans’ sponsorship of Rizal as a hero (which is a fact) by citing the three things the Americans made during the onset of their occupation that highlighted Rizal as a hero among others: the changing of the name of the province of Morong to Rizal (Act 137), the erection of a national monument in his honor (Act 243) and the declaration of December 30, the anniversary of his death, as a day of observance.

Constantino cites a 1946 Philippines Free Press article saying that Civil Governor William Howard Taft suggested at a meeting of the Philippine Commission in 1901 to Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Benito Legarda and José de Luzuriaga, “And now, gentlemen, you must have a national hero.” The Free Press continued, “In the subsequent discussion in which the rival merits of the revolutionary heroes were considered, the final choice — now universally acclaimed as a wise one — was Rizal. And so was history made.” Theodore Friend’s Between Two Empires elaborated on the deliberations: “…American colonial officials and some conservative Filipinos, chose him as a model hero over other contestants — Aguinaldo too militant, Bonifacio too radical, Mabini unregenerate.”

The first time I read this when I was a student, I felt that one thing was already wrong in the story — they deliberated on Emilio Aguinaldo, who was very much alive at that time. That would have been utterly impossible.

True enough, at a Philippine Historical Association Conference in 2011, historian Ambeth Ocampo declared that he had checked the voluminous Philippine Commission Reports which detailed all the meetings of the commission and the meeting cited was not there. It did not happen! Aside from the fact that there was actually no law that the Americans promulgated declaring José Rizal as “the” official National Hero of the Philippines.

But did the Americans really make Rizal a hero? My favorite answers come from Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s In Excelsis:The Mission of José P. Rizal and Ambeth Ocampo’s Rizal Without the Overcoat, books that I read when I was young, which can be summarized in two simple items:

One: Less than two months before the outbreak of the Philippine-American War, meaning the Americans had not firmly established their total occupation of the Philippines, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the Philippine Revolutionary Government, proclaimed Dec. 30, 1898 (the second anniversary of Rizal’s death) as the first Rizal Day, in honor of Rizal “and other heroes who died during the Spanish domination of the Philippines.” He mandated a day of mourning in which flags would fly at half mast, buildings and homes would be creped, offices and businesses would be closed and church bells tolled.

Two: Even before Rizal died, the Katipunan made the word “Rizal” the password of their highest order of membership, the Bayani, and placed his photos in membership meetings. He may have been falsely executed for the founding of the Katipunan but the Spanish charge that he was the “very soul of the rebellion” may not have been unfounded. Andres Bonifacio translated Rizal’s “Last Farewell” to Tagalog and distributed it to further inspire the revolutionaries. That revolution of the Filipino people won us our own freedom after 333 years and Rizal was the hero foremost in our hearts.

So yes, Rizal was already a hero to many Filipinos, and because of this, the Americans used this and rode on his popularity and linked him and his ideals to their pet project — the public school education system.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net


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