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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Rizal, the hero of Dapitan
The Netherlands
January 12, 2010
Photos : Sir Carlos Arnaldo

(Dapitan, 28 December 2009) The landing of Rizal in Dapitan is as contradictory as its presentation in bronze sculpture. It is the newest monument to the national hero, scheduled to be inaugurated later today by the President of the Republic of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on the very shores of the island of Dapitan, actually a long, narrow sandbar fronting the city proper, then a military outpost in the wilds of the ‘great island,’ Mindanao.

This December 28 and 29, the Order of the Knights of Rizal will be represented by its highest official, Sir Virgilio Esguerra, KGCR, Supreme Commander, to participate in the celebrations and the inauguration of the bronze sculpture, the Landing of Rizal in Dapitan. Ceremonies will be conducted by the Knights of Rizal Dapitan Chapter.

He was sent to Dapitan by the Spanish guardia civil, as a traitor for whom they found insufficient evidence to condemn. He arrived as a free man and was escorted by the Commanding General himself to be lodged at his office and residence in town.
Click to enlarge image.
Choy at Dapitan

He was sent to exile on this forsaken island? He arrived as a doctor ready to set up practice.

He was persecuted for his beliefs in social equality, and justice. He landed as an educated renaissance man, ready to open a school and educate the talented young citizens of Dapitan.
The Landing in Dapitan">Click to enlarge image.
The Landing in Dapitan

The landing scene in life-size bronze shows Rizal leading his ‘captors’ from the skiff to the shore, he is dressed, as usual, in his Spanish styled overcoat. Commanding General Ricardo Carnicero accompanies him, but walking slightly behind.

Yes, Rizal leads the way. Ironically, Rizal appears triumphant, not dazed or daunted. He is strong, not weakened by the inane questioning of his ignorant captors and their friar consorts. Rizal is the dominant figure here, not the guardia civil nor the church. He is more triumphant descending this skiff, than MacArthur landing in Lingayen from a battleship.

In Dapitan, Rizal is the hero, not the prisoner in exile.

Click to enlarge image.Statue of Rizal in the park fronting St James Churchm Dapitan
A rather complete and anecdotal account of Dapitan, based on letters and documents of the time can be found in the chapter, ‘Rizal in Dapitan,’ in the Great Island (Studies in the exploration and evangelization of Mindanao; Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2004) by the late Fr Miguel Bernad, S.J. Fr Bernad was a prolific talker, a highly organized speaker, and an elegant writer. He lends his gentle plume to this work making use of, but refusing enslavement to the discipline of sources. Mme Elisabteh Enerio, Professor of History at Xavier University, in Cagayan de Oro, led me to this significant work of our dear late friend, and to other writings, as well as the letters of Rizal. She herself is an avid reader of Philippine history and literature and finds great comfort in the writings of José Rizal. In this short article I can capture only small but vivid snapshots, all showing that exile was hardly the term for Rizal’s life in Dapitan.

Click to enlarge image.
St James Church, Dapitan
Upon arriving in Dapitan, he was originally offered the choice to set up lodging with the Commanding General, or stay with the Jesuits, then assigned to the island. Again, a nemesis situation, as his favourite mentor, Fr Francisco de Paula Sanchez, S.J., was on hand to welcome him, the very same Jesuit, now ordained, who as a scholastic at the Municipal de Ateneo in Intramuros had been his teacher in religion, Spanish, Latin and Greek. He would naturally have chosen the Jesuits, but the Manila Jesuit Superior had already sent ahead a letter to the local parish priest to welcome Rizal provided he recanted his being a mason and returned to the fold to receive the sacraments. According to Fr Bernad in his book, Rizal opted to stay with the general, and against all expectation, they became very good friends, the general even supporting many of Rizal’s projects. Other historians, among whom, Fr John Schumacher, S.J., as Elisabeth pointed out, believe that there is no documentary evidence to show that Rizal ever formally became a mason, though he did hold several beliefs common to the masons.

Click to enlarge image.Chinchin Gutierrez in the role of Josephine Bracken in the film of Jose Rizal.
During his four year sojourn in Dapitan, aside from a paradise romance with Josephine Bracken, Rizal made a number of significant contributions to Philippine society at that time. His earliest was the creation of a large relief map of Mindanao, eventually to be followed by similar maps of all the other island regions of the country. This he did with the help of Fr Francisco’s scientific knowledge of measuring heights and distances and his measuring instruments. The relief maps were originally built in stone and shell and constructed to reflect the exact topography of the island of Mindano, as it was then known and charted. The other islands, however, were never completed. And that of Mindanao has now been flattened by yearly rains and poor maintenance. Today, exhibiting little relief, it is a somewhat flat grassy plain showing only the outline of the ‘great island.’

A second major work was his description of the structure and process of the Tagalog language. This was particularly in preparation for similar studies of the languages spoken in Mindanao.

A third, though short-lived project, was his establishment of a school for young talented boys to learn the humanities, in very much the same way he did as a student at the Municipal de Ateneo. For this he was helped by Fr Francisco de Paula Sanchez. And under his influence, and in response to his scientific bent, Rizal adjusted the usual curricula or ratio studiorum, adding algebra, geometry and geography. The students also practised farming and fencing, as they sing in their academy hymn:

Los problemas de ciencias exactas,

De la patria la historia estudiamos

Tres y quatro lenguas hablamos

Acordando la fé y la razon.

Nuestos brazos manejan a turno

El chuchillo, la pluma , la azada

La piqueta, el fusil y la espada

Companeros de fuerte varon.

We study the problems of the exact sciences,

And the history of our country.

We speak three or four languagegs,

Reconciling Faith and Reason.

With our hands we handle in turn

The knife, the pen, the spade,

The pick axe, the gun, the sword—

Companions of the brave man.

Fourth, he set up a clinic in a sawali and bamboo house on a part of the long sandbar of Dapitan called Talisay. Here he treated patients principally as an ophthalmologist, as that was his training in Manila, Madrid, Paris and Heidelberg. He had many patients from all over the nearby provinces and islands, and even as far as Hong Kong. Most of the time, however, he had to work as a general practitioner and tend to more common ailments, but all these services he often provided without fees.
Click to enlarge image.The hexagonal sawali house where Rizal received his patients and performed eye surgery.

Retiro.">Click to enlarge image.Large fishing bangkas with spider nets, fronting the Retiro.
In 1885, several years before Rizal left for Dapitan, the Dominican friars had claimed the whole of the Calamba territories; including the residence and farm of the Rizal family, their neighbors and tenants. Though this was disputed in court, the land was finally ceded to the Dominicans, who then started the process of evicting the farmers and tenants. With all the opposition they had, the Dominicans then decided to evict only five families as an ‘example.’ This had hurt Rizal very much and he wanted to do something to restore this unjust situation. So he bought another plot of land near Dapitan, and called it Nueva Kalamba, preferring the ‘k’ spelling to the hispanicized ‘c’ spelling. Here (his fifth project), he resettled the old Calamba farmers gradually and slowly, so as not to attract attention of the friars nor of the guardia civil.

The life of Rizal in Dapitan is epitomized in his Retiro, a plot of 16 hectares where he built a clinic for his medical practice, his own residence, and a workshop and school. Here, Rizal also did a little farming. Mi Retiro, Rizal’s own poem, describes it.

Su techo es fragil nipa, su suelo debil cana

Sus vigas y columnas madero sin labrar

Nada vale por cierto mi rustica cabana

Mas duerme en el regazo de la eterna montana

Y la canta y arulla noche y dia la mar.

Or in Nick Joaquin’s elegant hand --

Its roof is fragile nipa , its floor is brittle bamboo

Its beams and posts are rough as rough-hewn wood can be

Of no worth, it is certain, is my rustic cabin

But on the lap of the eternal mount it slumbers

And night and day is lulled by the crooning of the sea.

Let us hear the story of Rizal’s life here, in his own words, his letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt on 19 December 1893 (Epistolario Rizalino, V. Part II,No. 110, pp. 657)658)

I am going to tell you how we live here. I have a square house, another hexagonal, and another octagonal –all made of bamboo, wood and nipa. In the square one, my mother, my sister Trinidad, a nephew and I live. In the octagonal, my boys live—some boys whom I teach arithmetic, Spanish and English –and now and then a patient who has been operated on. In the hexagonal, are my chickens. From my house I hear the murmur of a crystalline rivulet that comes from the high rocks. I see the beach, the sea where I have two small crafts—two canoes or barotos as they call them here. I have many fruit trees—mangoes, lanzones, guayabanos, baluno, nanka, etc. I have rabbits, dogs and cats, etc. I get up early—at 5:00. I visit my fields, I feed the chickens, I wake up my folks, and start them moving. At 7:30 we take breakfast --tea, pastry, cheese, sweets, etc. Afterwards I treat my poor patients who come to my land. I dress and go to the town in my baroto, I treat the people there and I return at 12:00 and take lunch. Afterwards, I teach the boys until 4:00 and I spend the afternoon farming. I spend the evening reading and studying.

Retiro">Click to enlarge image.Statue of Jose Rizal in the gardens of the Retiro
I say this retiro de Talisay sums up Rizal’s life in Dapitan, because it was here where he lived in peace and walked the gardens in meditation and reflection, often with Fr Francisco, his lifetime partner and soul brother. You can still visit this retiro in Dapitan, pretty much as it was in Rizal’s time. It is also instructive to sit on the grass near the sawali clinic in front of the bay and read the whole poem in Spanish or in English. Read again too his letter to Blumentritt.

He held his medical practice here and operated on his own mother in the sawali clinic. He ran the little academy behind and planted his garden.
Click to enlarge image.

But in all, his was a life of service to the community-- hardly the makings of a life in exile.

His principal threat to the Spanish judiciary system was his campaign to move the evicted farmers from the lands in Calamba (Laguna) to Nueva Kalamba near Dapitan, not because this was wrong to do, but because it pointed to the wrongness of their being evicted and their lands being grabbed by he Dominican Friars. Similarly, had the colonial authorities been more intelligent, they would quickly discover that his very educational efforts were ‘subversive,’ in the sense that he was teaching his students how to learn their environment and understand their political situation of indebtedness and slavery to the whims of business, the church and the guardia civil, and how to speak to the world at large. Rizal believed deeply that education was the first step to liberty.

In every way, José Rizal the humanist, was still in many ways, Rizal the brash student putting into practice the teachings of his Jesuit scholastics about equality, social justice, equality, and peace.

Hence even his bronzed statue today depicts Rizal as landing, not in defeat, but in triumph.

Source: http://www.mnnetherlands.com/categories/articles/217/217_rizaltheheroofdapitan.php

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