Last 19 June 2011, the Filipino people (well, some of the population) celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of the so-called “First Filipino”, Dr. José Rizal. Many activities were lined up by different organizations across the country for meaningful memorials and festivities to praise and highlight the life and works of Pepe.
I didn’t shy away from such activities. I proudly and happily participated in some of the activities in Metro Manila and one in Calamba, Laguna – the very town where Rizal was born and raised.
Last 10 June, I gave a talk and read my speech in an SM Calamba affair. It was an event celebrating the city’s most distinguished citizen’s 150th birthday and that was none other than Pepe Rizal. The point of the celebration, which was of course, a marketing strategy, was to remind residents of Calamba that Rizal, their fellow kababayan, was a globe-trotter and future hero who took pride in the place where he was born and raised. It was a commendable act on the part of SM City Laguna to boost the morale of its Calambenyo shoppers. With the event’s “Rizal, the Calamba-boy in Europe”, many distinguished guests from the local government and elite as well as the diplomatic corps and academe were invited. Also present were members of the local chapter of the Order of the Knights of Rizal and various town historians. Luckily, I was also given the chance to mingle with these people.
Then on the eve of the sesquicentennial, I went to Instituto Cervantes with my favorite Spanish teacher in Ateneo, Sra. Chita, to join the 150-member chorus that read Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” and also to celebrate the international Dia del Español, a providential celebration commemorated in all the Spanish-speaking countries around the globe. Although the Philippines has sadly waned in terms of Spanish-speaking citizens, it was only timely and meaningful that the birthday of the country’s foremost writer and speaker (and lover) of the Spanish language falls a day after.
Finally, last 19 June 2011, I along with my good friend Mika, who studies in Spain, joined the family and descendants of José Rizal for a by-invitation-only dinner at the Fort Santiago grounds. Ms. Lisa Bayot and Ma’am Peachy Avanceña sent me an invitation days before the event and I was both ecstatic and delighted.
In the same area, the My Rizal Movement with the cooperation and support of the Intramuros Administration and the Heroes Square Foundation held various activities for the general public in celebrating the 150th birthday of the national hero. Despite the non-stop drizzling and some rain showers, it was heart-warming seeing entire families sharing meals and watching the performances. The evening was capped off by a beautiful fireworks display. The food, which was divine, was catered by Via Mare. Their paella, I must say, was impressive and sinfully delicious.
Food and wine flowed generously that evening, and I must say, it was all worth it. For celebrating the First Filipino’s 150th birthday is indeed a homage and act of remembrance worthy of nothing but the finest and noblest of acts.
Feliz Cumpleaños Pepe!