Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Martyr of Manila

Magnet # 429: Philippine Islands Piso

Material:  Wood, Metal, Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

The Philippines honor one of their most beloved figures on this day, known there as Rizal Day.  It was the day in 1896 when Jose Rizal, an advocate for greater rights for the Filipino people, who were then under Spanish control, was executed.  But in all likelihood, he had done nothing worthy of such a severe punishment, and Rizal therefore went on to become a martyr for the Philippine Revolution and a national hero when the country won its independence.

Jose Rizal was born to a family of wealthy farmers of Chinese descent  in the town of Calamba in 1861.  Even though he was the seventh of eleven children, he received plenty of attention and soon began showing signs of being a genius - by age three, he had learned the alphabet and he could read and write by the time he was five.  When formally educated, he received honors, but he later dropped out of the Univeristy of Santo Tomas when he realized its Spanish Dominican friars were discriminating against the native students.  But, as his mother was going blind, becoming an ophthalmologist was of great importance to him, so he traveled to Spain to complete his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid.  He left without his parent's knowledge or approval, so they must have been pretty upset. Regardless, I'm sure they must have been pleased when he later operated on his mother to help save her sight.  During his time away, Rizal completed his first novel, Noli Me Tangere, a nationalistic work partially inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin.  In it, he revealed the injustices the Catholic Church and the Spanish colonial government had committed in his homeland.  The work resulted in his arrest when he returned for a visit, but he managed to talk his way out of trouble and continued on, even creating a sequel for the work.  But writing and medicine were hardly the extent of his talents - he was also an accomplished artist, sculptor, fencer, marksman, mapmaker, and had still more interests.  He also spoke more than ten languages, and charmed many acquaintances over the years, leaving behind many admirers as he traveled across Europe.  But when he returned to the Philippines in 1892, he faced quite a few enemies in the government.  It should be noted that Rizal never advocated independence for the Philippines.  Instead, he used peaceful means to call for representation of his home within the Spanish legislature, freedom of speech, and equal rights for all in the Philippines.  Nonetheless, the leaders there wanted him dead and by accusing him of participating in the brewing rebellion.  After spending four years in exile, he was arrested on the way to Cuba and tried in Manila on charges of conspiracy, sedition, and rebellion.  He was found guilty and executed by firing squad after quoting Christ's last words - "it is finished."  He was only thirty-five.  The authorities might have been relieved to have him dead, but it was temporary - his demise proved to be the catalyst that the Filipino people needed to call them to arms.  They rose up and within two years, had freed themselves of Spanish rule.

This year's celebration falls on the 114th anniversary of Rizal's death and features events such as flag-raisings and wreath-layings across the nation, particularly at Rizal Park in Manila.A movement has actually been formed that aims to move the observance to June 19, the day of his birth, rather than the one on which he perished.  I'm not quite sure if Rizal Day is a really big deal in the Philippines, however.  When I was home for the holidays, one of my Dad's Filipino colleagues called him and I told my Dad to wish him an early Happy Rizal Day.  It may have just been a bad connection, but he didn't seem to know what my Dad was talking about, so that made me wonder just how prevalent the observance is in its native land.  Regardless, this man's brief but brilliant life and unjust execution is still worthy of remembering all these years later.  And it's clear his nation still loves him - that's Rizal's image portrayed on coin that's inside the magnet pictured here, which I converted from a keychain.  It's such a shame that we'll never know which further accomplishments he could have made, but without his sacrifice it might have taken the Philippines far longer to ever achieve its independence.


  1. You must learn a lot while preparing this blog-facts about many different places, people, and historical events. A side benefit of your avocation is life-long learning.

  2. Yes, I'd pretty much knew Rizal just by name before this post, and it was fun learning more about him and so many other subjects.