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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rizal and the broken dawn


‘How will the Philippines, now more than 100 years into Rizal’s predicted future, endure? Hopefully, the fundamentals are sound.’
FROM the speech of the optimistic Sandoval on the future of the Philippines:
“Spain is now breaking the eastern sky for her beloved Philippines, and the times are changing, as I positively know, faster than we imagine. This government, which, according to you, is vacillating and weak, should be strengthened by our confidence, that we may make it see that it is the custodian of our hopes. Let us remind it by our conduct (should it ever forget itself, which I do not believe can happen) that we have faith in its good intentions and that it should be guided by no other standard than justice and the welfare of all the governed.”
Such breath-taking naiveté negated by another declamation, this time from Simoun to Basilio:
“What will you be in the future? A people without character, a nation without liberty – everything you have will be borrowed, even your very defects! You beg for Hispanization, and do not pale with shame when they deny it you! And even if they should grant it to you, what then – what have you gained? At best, a country of pronunciamentos, a land of civil wars, a republic of the greedy and the malcontents…”
All characters and their missives are from Jose Rizal and his second published novel, “The Reign of Greed” (El Filibusterismo). Pessimists, realists, optimists and the apathetic – all found in Rizal’s political fiction as well as in 21st century Philippines. Who will prevail?
Then there’s the superstitious. “The meal ended, and while the tea and coffee were being served, both old and young scattered about in different groups. Some took the chessmen, others the cards, while the girls, curious about the future, chose to put questions to a Wheel of Fortune.”
And the sublime. “But you must think of other and greater things; the future lies open before you, while for me it is already passing behind; your love is just awakening, while mine is dying; fire burns in your blood, while the chill is creeping into mine. Yet you weep and cannot sacrifice the present for the future, useful as it may be alike to yourself and to your country.”
The trivial co-exists with the solemn, thus, Ibarra’s father contrasts the inanities of the present with the sacrifices of the past in order to permit the abundance of the future, castigating the protagonist in the process. This time the citations are from Rizal’s first published full-length fiction of 19th century society, “The Social Cancer” (Noli Me Tangere).
Rizal’s prognostications are more direct and pointed in his non-fiction works, particularly the landmark essays carried in La Solidaridad magazine. “The native is, moreover, very fond of peace and prefers a humble present to a brilliant future. Let the various Filipinos still holding office speak in this matter; they are the most unshaken conservatives.”
This is an excerpt from “The Philippines A Century Hence” wherein Rizal famously expressed that a people’s destiny can be foretold by opening the book of its past. After establishing the impermanence of alien brutalization of the Malay race, the essayist predicted the independence of the Pearl of the Orient plus the sustainability of that independence against post-Hispanic invaders.
Rizal proved true. After Spain, the United States of America colonized the novelist’s homeland, and later still, the Empire of Japan killed one million souls in the Philippines during World War Two.
The coming of the Americans and the Japanese were occasioned by factors endemic to these expansionist societies’ imperialist evolution. But the choice of the Philippines as a colony was also governed by the Rizalian Archipelago’s strategic features. More so with the shifting balance of power among the rival imperialisms. This was palpable at the times of confrontations and recorded by the participants. Pedro Alejandro Paterno in his May 31, 1898 open letter to his “Beloved Brethren” (the Filipinos) offered a choice: “Under Spain our future is clear, and with all certainty we shall be free and rule. Under the Americans our future is cloudy; we shall certainly be sold and lose our unity; some provinces will become English, others German, others French, others Russian or Chinese.”
A similar assessment was made by a non-Filipino 14 years later: “At present, the Philippines are a potential apple of discord thrown into the Balance of Power in the Pacific. The present policy of indefinite retention by us, with undeclared intention, leaves everybody guessing, including ourselves. Now is the accepted time, while the horizon of the future is absolutely cloudless, to ask Japan to sign a treaty agreeing not to annex the Philippine Islands after we give them their independence. By her answer she will show her hand.” [James H. Blount. The American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898-1912. NY: The Knickerbocker Press, 1912]
This precarious weighing of the scales continues to bedevil the Philippines, and not to forget, Rizal identified half a dozen potential invaders of his native land. The US retains its status as the world’s only superpower, while Japan is still Earth’s third-largest economy. And now, the risen East Asian hegemon, which was on Rizal’s watch-list, is the second-largest economy.
The apocalypse purportedly heralded in the Mayan Long Count is a bust, but Armageddon is embedded in the Biblical Book of Revelations. Palestine is an unending chain of historical explosives, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the mother of all flashpoints, but the Indo-Pakistani Partition, the East Asian territorial rows and the game of Chinese checkers in the East Seas are all tinderboxes. How will the Philippines, now more than 100 years into Rizal’s predicted future, endure?
Hopefully, the fundamentals are sound. “The Filipino has many excellent qualities which go far to make amends for his shortcomings. He is patient and forbearing in the extreme, remarkably sober, plodding, anxious only about providing for his immediate wants, and seldom feels ‘the canker of ambitious thoughts.’ In his person and his dwelling he may serve as a pattern of cleanliness to all other races in the tropical East. He has little thought beyond the morrow, and therefore never racks his brains about events of the far future in the political world, the world to come, or any other sphere…” [John Foreman. The Philippine Islands: A Political, Geographical, Ethnographical, Social and Commercial History of the Philippine Archipelago. London: T. Fisher Unwin, MCMVI]
Otherwise: penyakit itu tiada akan semboh, siapa akan tahu? {If that disease is not to be cured, then who can tell?}

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