This year, the entire Filipino people celebrates with much joy and enthusiasm the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. José P. Rizal, the Renaissance Man of Calamba, the National Hero and the person the eminent diplomat and thinker León Ma. Guerrero considers “The First Filipino”. But Rizal, we must never forget, shouldn’t be permanently approached as a seeming demi-God or be seen as an inaccessible person whose greatness we cannot achieve. Indeed, his talents as a polyglot, writer, medical practitioner, scholar, farmer and ultimately, as a genius, can really be intimidating.
But the Rizal of 1861 is the same Rizal the youth of 2011 must idolize and respect, love and imitate. Do we expect all the young Filipinos of a globalized, internet-savvy world read the Classics, speak Antiquity’s languages, and die as martyrs for an already-free nation? No.
However, so much more has yet to be done for the Philippines of 2011. The example of Rizal, his interior spirit, his unwavering love for country, his passion for life and his thirst for excellence should never be ignored. In him, we find the power of perseverance, the transformative power of the written text and the beauty of a poetic worldview. We, the promise of tomorrow, the beloved Filipino youth of Dr. Rizal, still need to heed his call. We still need to rise up to the challenge of his piece A la juventud Filipina. We still need to follow in his footsteps.
Baja con la luz grata
De las artes y ciencias a la arena,
Juventud, y desata
La pesada cadena
Que tu genio poetico encadena.
Descend, O youth, — the lovely light
Of art and science in your train; —
On life’s arena, smite
And break the heavy chain
Where long your pinioned poetry hath lain.
And those very same steps Rizal took 150 years ago are the same steps that I believe would bring us to a truly developed Philippines, a Philippines that greatly values its freedom and democracy, a Philippines nourished and loved by a people proud to call themselves Filipinos. Indeed, as sons and daughters of the First Filipino, it is our moral duty and civic obligation to fight for the values Rizal lived for. Are these values so lofty and grand we cannot achieve them? No, certainly not.
Just read and savor the sayings he imparted. Enjoy and study the poems and novels he wrote. Let us lavish ourselves with Rizal’s knowledge and we shall realize eventually that he makes absolute sense. Rizal is intelligible, Rizal is accessible, Rizal is young.
150 years after his birth, we have with us today his spirit, his example, his body of works. We must live with the same poetic and prophetic view Rizal had, a view of the world that goes beyond the physical and superficial and tries to see life as truly a gift from God. We must learn to live with this view on life because only then can we go beyond materialism, apathy and greed. Only with such a poetic view of life can we appreciate the grandeur of human life and the need for human flourishing. And truly, his life reflected this same poetic view. Rizal, the Romantic, was nevertheless, very much in touch with this world because his poetic understanding was shaped, rooted and grounded on his experiences as a Filipino, as a scholar and as a person.
Why is Rizal relevant to today’s youth? Because despite the decay and seeming degradation of humanity, amidst the destruction of morals and ignorance of the sanctity of life, we find hopein people like Rizal who valued truth, freedom and justice, equality and study. We find inspiration in Rizal – we find life’s meaning in him, he who embodies what Christ Himself said, “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Rizal was right 150 years ago and he will remain correct today. How come? Because when he said that there can only be true freedom when there are no oppressors and there is none who allows himself/herself to be oppressed, he hmight’ve already imagined a Philippines free from Spanish rule but still impoverished precisely because of the Filipinos’ immensely-divided people. He wanted us to be united, to be in solidarity, and to have compassion and love for one another. 150 years from his birth, have we heeded his call?
Mi patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adiós.
Ahí te dejo todo, mis padres, mis amores.
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.
My idolized country, sorrow of my sorrows,
Beloved Filipinas, hear my last good-bye.
There I leave you all, my parents, my loves.
I’ll go where there are no slaves, hangmen nor oppressors,
Where faith doesn’t kill, where the one who reigns is God. — por Jose Rizal (1896)
Rizal must live in us; we must live Rizal.