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Remembering Rizal on his birth anniversary

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Today, June 19, 2023, marks the 162nd anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal’s birth. We not only commemorate his life but also his legacy in various fields such as literature, arts, medicine, and philosophy. He is, after all, widely regarded as the “greatest Malayan who ever lived.”

It is disheartening that many young individuals today fail to grasp the significance of Rizal’s short yet impactful life. It is rare for someone in their 30s to exhibit such immense intelligence and have words and actions that carry profound consequences for a young nation, yet Rizal proved that age is not a limitation but merely a number.

Academicians, cultural experts, and even political pundits have consistently emphasized that to truly honor Rizal, we — especially the youth — must not forget his contributions to our nationhood. While the youth may probably recognize him from multiple films or documentaries, or as the face on our one-peso coin, the statue in the center of Luneta Park, or the namesake of a province, it is crucial that Rizal’s name continues to resonate with the values of freedom, intellectual pursuit, and national pride.

One of the best ways to (re)acquaint ourselves with Rizal is through his books. High school students cannot graduate without deep diving into the world of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Both literary masterpieces, these works played a pivotal role in igniting the sense of nationalism among Filipinos who, for centuries, were shackled under colonization. Rizal’s pen awakened the spirit of nationalism and lit a fire within the hearts of his compatriots, urging them to fight for their rights and reclaim their independence.

Beyond his literary prowess, Rizal’s intellectual curiosity is endless. A man of many talents, he was not only a skilled writer but also a painter, sculptor, musician, and linguist. His thirst for knowledge led him to become a doctor, anthropologist, archaeologist, botanist, etc.  He even knew how to speak in over 20 languages.

Despite the brevity of his 35 years on earth, Rizal left an indelible mark on our nation’s history, challenging oppressive systems and enlightening minds. He proved that education possesses the power to break the chains of oppression, thus his insistence for the youth to be educated as seen, for example, in his establishment of a small school during his exile in Dapitan.

What truly sets Rizal apart is his humanity. He was not a mythical figure but a man who experienced both genius and doubt, of curiosity and caution.  His beliefs were idealistic yet grounded in reality. He advocated for peaceful change, yet he simultaneously challenged the status quo. Though he explored the world, he still yearned to set foot on the land of his birth. Today’s Filipino youth can learn invaluable lessons from Rizal’s life, helping them navigate their own paths with purpose and perseverance.

As we celebrate Rizal’s birth anniversary, it is not sufficient to merely pay homage to his achievements. Each of us must hold dear the values of freedom, justice, and love for country. If we ever waver in our nationalism or lose our way when faced with challenges, we need only recall Rizal’s works, his life, and his legacy. Through these, we will surely find our way back and continue to move forward as one nation.


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