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Notes on the Rizal Holdings at the
Library of Congress, June 17-27, 2011

Rizal Display at the Library of Congress
Rizal display at the US Library of Congress.

Rizal was 35 years old when he was executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896...Two years after his death, the revolution morphed into the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Recently on display at the Asian Reading Room in the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building were select monographs from the Jose Rizal Collection. The display commemorated the 150th anniversary of Rizal’s birth on June 19, 1861. Although the set of books and memorabilia represented about one-sixth of the entire collection, the display provided a splendid introduction to the writings of and about the preeminent Philippine national hero. It also included a variety of books and other materials that illuminate why his ideas and teachings had such a lasting influence on Filipinos and the country’s relationship with America long after his tragic death in 1896.

Who was Jose Rizal?

He was a Filipino patriot, an erudite man—scientist, doctor, linguist, sculptor, teacher, poet—a man of letters. As an author, he wrote Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive). Written in Spanish, the Noli and its sequel chronicled the injustices suffered by the people under Spain’s colonial rule imposed by the monarchy and by the Catholic Church. While in Spain, Rizal and other Filipino expatriates campaigned for representation of the Philippines in the Spanish Cortes. He believed in obtaining reforms through peaceful means. Rizal’s intention in writing his novels was to enlighten Europeans about the state of the land and the oppressive measures handed down by a colonial administration seemingly beyond the reach of the Mother country, abetted by the corrupt practices of a religious order over the common people. Ironically, his novels (smuggled copies) inspired such a strong sense of national consciousness that they ignited the Philippine revolution against the Spanish Crown.

Rizal was 35 years old when he was executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896, after a hurried and trumped-up military trial. His crimes: rebellion, sedition, and illegal association. Two years after his death, the revolution morphed into the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Letters of Rizal
A selected page from Letters of Rizal. In this chapter, he writes from Germany.
Library of Congress Rizal Collection; photo by Cheryl Orocio Brunner.

*  *  *

The significance of the Noli and the Fili in Philippine history cannot be underestimated. When they were published in 1887 and 1891 respectively, the Philippines was not yet the country familiar to the world today...

The Rizal Collection Display

The books displayed during the June 17-27 sesquicentennial commemoration are categorized as follows: Rizal’s novels, essays and other works; his journals and correspondence; essays and annotations on Rizal’s life and works; and literary works inspired by Rizal. A complete listing is found in the Appendix to this article.

Segregated from the rest of the books and encased in a glass display case were some rare books and memorabilia on and by Jose Rizal. The books listed here are part of the permanent Rare Book Collection of the Asian Division, Philippine Collection.

Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (History of the Philippine Islands, Antonio de Morga, published in Mexico in1609, with Annotations by Jose Rizal and Prologue by Ferdinand Blumentritt. In Spanish. Paris, Libreria de Garnier Hermanos (1890).

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) Jose Rizal; with annotations by R. Sempau. In Spanish. Barcelona, Casa Editorial Maucci (1902). Au Pays des Moines (In the Country of the Friars), Jose Rizal; translation of Noli Me Tangere with annotations by Henri Lucas and Ramon Sempau. In French. Paris, Tresse & Stock (1902).

Ang Tinig ng Makiling: Mga Tula ni Dr. Jose Rizal (The Sound of Makiling: Poems of Dr. Jose Rizal) translated into Tagalog from the original Spanish text by C. Santos. Manila, Montejo & Sons (1948).

Mariang Makiling, a Philippine Folktale, Jose Rizal using the pseudonym of Laong-Laan; translated into English from the original Spanish text by Charles Derbyshire (1916).

A second exhibit commemorating Rizal’s martyrdom is slated for December of this year. It will feature monographs on his imprisonment and trial. It will also exhibit newspaper accounts of his execution and martyrdom as well as a 1902 edition of Noli Me Tangere annotated in  Spanish by R. Sempau and published in Barcelona. This book is included inthe Library of  Congress’ Rare Book Collection. In the foreword of this edition is a journalist’s report on Rizal’s execution in Bagumbayan and the crowd that gathered to witness the execution. The report was quoted from the December 30, 1901 issue of La Correspondencia, a Puerto Rican newspaper.

Significance of the Noli and Fili

Rizal’s novels, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are popularly referred to in the Philippines as Noli and Fili. They have been translated into many different languages, with or without annotations. The exhibit included a copy of Rizal’s novels in the original Spanish, and various editions in English, French and Spanish with annotated editions. The novels were shown  in both their complete and various abridged versions.

The significance of the Noli and the Fili in Philippine history cannot be underestimated. When they were published in 1887 and 1891 respectively, the Philippines was not yet the country familiar to the world today but was simply a group of islands in the Pacific administered by Spain as part of its declining empire. Then named Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II—who would be king of Spain from 1556-1598— the Philippines had already been a Spanish colony for more than 300 years. Historian Leon Ma. Guerrero in the introduction to his English translation of the Noli (Lost Eden) observed:

The Filipinos were only beginning to think of themselves as Filipinos rather than as members of various tribes scattered among 7,000 islands between Borneo and Taiwan. Their segregation from their fellow Malays after the colonial wars of the East Indies were settled, and the consciousness that the Spanish oppression was suffered by all in common, had given rise to a feeling of separate nationhood, brought to a point by a dispute on the rights of the native clergy and the execution of three Filipino secular priests in 1872. [pp. ix-x]

Noli Me Tangere
Library of Congress Rizal Collection; photo by Cheryl Orocio Brunner.

Rizal needed a reliable benchmark from the past to show the origins of his people. In order to achieve this objective, he turned to one of the most eminent secular Spanish historians of the 17th century.

Although Rizal only had 2,000 copies of the Noli printed, its impact was “phenomenal among an illiterate population where public opinion, such as it was, was moulded by a handful of Spanish-speaking intellectuals.” [p. xii, Guerrero] The publication earned Rizal enormous prestige among his countrymen but incurred for him the wrath of the friars—the powerful clergy in the Philippines—who deemed the novel subversive and heretical. From the moment the Noli was published, Rizal was a marked man and it was only a matter of time before his enemies would engineer his execution by firing squad. James Michener considered the Noli as memorable in the history of literature for a special reason: “It is the only novel I know that was directly responsible for its author’s death…” [p.viii, Foreword to Guerrero’s Noli translation, Lost Eden].

*  *  *

Historical notes on select monographs

Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (History of the Philippine Islands), by Antonio de Morga, (Mexico 1609). Annotations by Jose Rizal and Prologue by Ferdinand Blumentritt.In Spanish. (Paris, Libreria de Garnier Hermanos 1890).

If the book succeeds to awaken your consciousness of our past, already effaced from your memory, and to rectify what has been falsified and slandered, then I have not worked in vain, and with this as a basis, however small it may be, we shall be able to study the future.1
                                               
                                                Jose P. Rizal

Rizal’s Annotations

The tome Sucesos with Rizal’s Annotations is one of the very few surviving copies that Rizal published in 1890.  While the unannotated version of Morga’s Sucesos is available online in English, only an incomplete version of Rizal’s Annotations is available in English based on its incorporation in the book Rizal’s Life and minor writings by Austin Craig.

In 1889, Rizal wrote his Annotations to Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. At the time of its writing, he had already published his first novel, Noli Me Tangere but his second novel, El Filibusterismo, was still a working manuscript—it would not be until two years later, in 1891, that he would publish this sequel. Nonetheless, despite the odd chronology, he intended his Annotations to be a historical touchstone for his two novels. Since the Noli was a sketch of the ills of Philippine society and the Fili would be a prescription for solving these ills, Rizal needed a reliable benchmark from the past to show the origins of his people. In order to achieve this objective, he turned to one of the most eminent secular Spanish historians of the 17th century. Dr. Antonio de Morga was the first to write and publish a Philippine historical account. In Rizal’s words,

Like almost all of you, I was born and brought up in ignorance of our country’s past and so, without knowledge or authority to speak of what I neither saw nor have studied, I deem it necessary to quote the testimony of an illustrious Spaniard who in the beginning of the new era controlled the destinies of the Philippines and had personal knowledge of our ancient nationality in its last days.2

Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas  Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas
Photos by Lia Chang.

Rizal noted that in the art of ironworking, the pre-Hispanic natives were not that far behind from the 17th century natives.  Morga, according to Rizal, referred to an “ancient” Filipino who made the artillery cast for the new stone fort in Manila.

Antonio de Morga assumed his post as lieutenant governor of Manila in 1595 and stayed in that post for seven years [p.11, Rizal, Indolence of the Filipinos].  The post was the second highest in the colony, eclipsed only by that of the governor general. Morga’s two-volume tome, published in 1609, covered the period 1493-1603. His method of research was based on his personal observation and the documents of that period. These included official documents to which he had easy access, being a high ranking official of the Spanish Crown in the colony.

In annotating Sucesos, Rizal singled out observations by Morga that tended to refute certain canards by later Spanish writers and colonists. These reports had become accepted as “fact” regarding the “Indio,” i.e. that the pre-hispanic natives were so primitive that they did not have any means to protect themselves. According to Rizal, Morga showed that these natives had a sophisticated defense industry because it had “army and navy with artillery and other implements of warfare” and that the natives had “coats of mail and helmets, of which there are specimens in various European museums…”3 As a matter of fact, the natives were able to defend themselves from the frequent pirate raids that occurred before the Spanish came but after they had been disarmed, “the pirates pillaged them with impunity, coming at times when they were unprotected by the government, which was the reason for the many insurrections.”4

Mi Ultimo Adios
Library of Congress Rizal Collection; photo by Cheryl Orocio Brunner.

Rizal noted that in the art of ironworking, the pre-Hispanic natives were not that far behind from the 17th century natives.  Morga, according to Rizal, referred to an “ancient” Filipino who made the artillery cast for the new stone fort in Manila. Panday Pira was “ancient” because “he knew how to cast cannon even before the coming of the Spaniards” and moreover, after his death, there was a lack of large artillery from the Manila cannon works because there were no Spaniards skilled enough to take his place.5

In decrying the general bias of extant literature against Filipinos, Rizal attributed such bias to “Spanish historians of the Philippines [who] never overlook any opportunity, be it suspicion or accident, that may be twisted into something unfavorable to the Filipinos.”6 [p.323] Almost always, Rizal observed, the disconnect between reality and reportage were attributable to “some act of those pretending to civilize helpless peoples by force of arms and at the cost of their native land.” [p.323]

On the overarching claim that the natives owed their civilization to Spain, Rizal cited Morga’s accounts of pre-Hispanic Filipinos having trade relations with China, Japan and Cambodia. “But in our day it has been more than a century since the natives of the latter two countries have come here,” Rizal observed, suggesting that the causes which terminated the relationship “may be found in the interference by the religious orders with the institutions of those lands.” [p. 319] Rizal posited that the missionary activities in the islands were less about propagating the faith than for the purpose of obtaining access to spices and gold. Otherwise, why did they have to go so far afield when there were millions of non-believers nearer Spain waiting to be converted: “All of these [non-believers] doubtless would have accepted the Light and the true religion if the friars, under pretext of preaching to them, had not abused their hospitality and if behind the name Religion, had not lurked the unnamed Domination.” [p. 321]

He argued that even before the coming of the Spanish conquerors, the natives had a thriving and vibrant culture and that the arrival of “civilization” did not altogether bring development...

Morga was not spared from criticism, even though Rizal held his scholarship in high regard. In the preface to his work, Morga wrote that the purpose for writing Sucesos was so he could chronicle “the deeds achieved by our Spaniards in the discovery, conquest, and conversion of the Filipinas Islands—as well as various fortunes that they have from time to time in the great kingdoms and among the pagan peoples surrounding the islands.” Taking issue with the scope of these claims, Rizal argued that conversion and conquest were not as widespread as portrayed because the missionaries were only successful in conquering and converting a portion of the population of certain islands. Moreover, the glory of the great discoveries and conquests of Spanish ships in remote areas of the globe, according to Rizal, should be shared by the different nationalities and peoples who actually participated in the expeditions, notably those expeditions captained by Columbus (Italian) and Magellan (Portuguese), whose crew included “negroes, Moluccans, and even men from the Philippines and the Marianes Islands.” [p.311] Rizal also observed that Spaniards used the word “discovery” very carelessly, citing the case of an admiral who reported that he had discovered the Solomon islands, even while the admiral acknowledged in the same report that the islands had been discovered earlier. [p.322]

Mariang Makiling
Library of Congress Rizal Collection; photo by Cheryl Orocio Brunner.

Rizal also criticized the Catholic bias in Morga’s writing:

Three centuries ago it was the custom to write as intolerantly as Morga does, but nowadays it would be called a bit presumptuous. No one has a monopoly of the true God nor is there any nation or religion that can claim, or at any rate prove, that it has been given the exclusive right to the Creator of all things or sole knowledge of His real being. [p.311]

Morga exhibited cultural bias as well, according to Rizal. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Morga’s assertion that Filipinos liked fish better when it was rotting. Morga was probably referring to bago-ong, a condiment of fermented tiny shrimps or fish, considered a gustatory delight in many Filipino tables. Rizal’s defense: de gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there is no dispute).

The English, for example, find their gorge rising when they see a Spaniard eating snails, while in turn the Spanish find roast beef English-style repugnant and can’t understand the relish of other Europeans for beefsteak a la Tartar which to them is simply raw meat. The Chinaman who likes shark’s meat, cannot bear Roquefort cheese, and these examples might be indefinitely extended. [p.329]

Rizal added, for the instruction of the uninformed, that bago-ong is “not improved when tainted” and that it “neither is, nor ought to be decayed.” [p.329]

The aforementioned are only a few of Rizal’s Annotations  that are included in Craig’s tome, Rizal’s life and minor writings.

Rizal had intended his Annotations to set the stage for making a more objective analysis of the ills plaguing Philippine society under Spanish colonial rule. He argued that even before the coming of the Spanish conquerors, the natives had a thriving and vibrant culture and that the arrival of “civilization” did not altogether bring development, but in many ways brought ruin and demoralization to the native population. His Annotations supported his campaign for peaceful reform, arguing for a more balanced treatment of the colony by providing a viewpoint of the oppressed to the colonizer.

Blumentritt’s critique of Rizal’s Annotations

Rizal’s observations and accusations highlighted the rupture between the glory of conquest and civilization, and the reality of the oppressed native inhabitants.

Ferdinand Blumentritt, a secondary school principal from Leitmeritz, Austria, was already an avid scholar of Philippine ethnography when Rizal started corresponding with him in 1886. They became fast friends and when Rizal finished his annotations of Morga’s work, he invited Blumentritt to write the prologue to his work. What resulted was more than a prologue. Blumentritt provided a brief monograph on the sociology of European society and predicted the Philippines’ independence from Spain. He listed the obstacles to the Philippines’ assimilation into Spain and counseled Rizal on a strategy to advance his ideas by identifying his “enemies” in Spain, some of whom could be potential allies.

Writing in Spanish, instead of his native German, Blumentritt praised Rizal’s work as “scholarly and well-thought out.” [p. 367 of the English translation, Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission]. He acknowledged that Morga’s Sucesos “enjoyed the fame of being the best chronicle of the “conquest” of the Philippines [p. 365]. Blumentritt noted that Morga’s Sucesos was so rare that “the very few libraries that have it guard it with the same solicitude as if it were the treasure of the Incas.” [p.365] Rizal’s Annotations therefore, and the reprinting of the Sucesos, filled a void in literature, one that Spaniards—to their shame—ignored.

Blumentritt commented that Rizal’s accusations and observations about the conduct of the European conquerors were not novel. According to him, “the Germans specially discussed this theme almost in the same manner as you do” and cruelties were also manifest in Germany’s treatment of its former colony, Venezuela. Noting that German rule in Venezuela lasted only a few years, Blumentritt remarked—ironic in hindsight—that “German cruelties were no different from those committed by other nations and the German historians rightly condemn with the greatest harshness the crimes of their fellow nationals.” [p. 369] Rizal’s observations and accusations highlighted the rupture between the glory of conquest and civilization, and the reality of the oppressed native inhabitants.

What gave Rizal’s work “imperishable value” according to Blumentritt was that it provided a viewpoint of the oppressed:

But without doubt it interests us how the picture of these days of discovery and civilization is presented to the descendants of the maltreated, to the victims of European intolerance. Naturally, I have found out that you have painted it from other points of view different from ours and that you have discovered things which have escaped the attention of the Europeans because even the most impartial among us could not renounce all the inveterate preoccupations of race and nationality. [p. 369]

Blumentritt criticized Rizal's annotations on two counts.  He first observed that Rizal had committed the mistake of many modern historians who judged events in the past in the context of contemporary ideas and mores.  "This ought not to be so.  The historian ought not to impute to the men of the XVI century the broad horizon of ideas that stirs the XIX century." [p. 369]

The second criticism dealt at length with what Blumentritt perceived as the overreach of Rizal's denunciations of Catholicism.  He opined that Rizal should confine his critique to the religious orders in the Philippines who spared no effort to suppress calls for reform.  Blumentritt was making a distinction between religion and the religious corporations that were guilty of the many abuses and harsh treatment of the Filipinos.

Both the religious orders and the government employees would be threatened by the prospect of representation of the Philippines in the Spanish parliament because the Filipinos would likely expose their abuses in the colony and request their expulsion.

Recognizing the many challenges to Rizal's bid for reform, Blumentritt sought to paint for Rizal a clear picture of the forces at play.  He listed the obstacles to the Philippines' assimilation into Spain and counseled Rizal on a strategy to advance his ideas by identifying his "enemies" in Spain, some of whom could be potential allies.  He divided the majority of Spaniards into two groups—those who would oppose reform out of self-interest and those whom Blumentritt described as being "deluded."

The first group was exemplified by the friars and the government employees in the colony, who instead of governing and administering the colony, exploited the inhabitants.  Both the religious orders and the government employees would be threatened by the prospect of representation of the Philippines in the Spanish parliament because the Filipinos would likely expose their abuses in the colony and request their expulsion.

The second group consisted of "deluded" Spaniards whom Blumentritt classified into three types.  The first type believed in the superiority of the white race—"Everything that does not smell of their county is repugnant to them." [p. 372] The second type included those who believed that granting assimilation to the Filipinos would be premature because they were not ready—there were too many savage tribes and even the Filipinos who had been Christianized and civilized were nevertheless poorly educated and culturally backward.  The third type included the "routinists and doctrinaires who believe that the purpose of the colonies is to provide the Spaniard with employment and money" and who expected Filipinos to be grateful "to be born, to live, to suffer, to pray, to pay and to die" for the greater glory of Spain. Blumentritt counseled Rizal that his best chance for reform was to appeal to this third type because, despite their self-interested motives, they had no inherent anti-Filipino prejudices so that "it is supposed that someday, they may fraternize with those from the Philippines, if they are informed of their true condition." [p. 376]

With these observations, Blumentritt painted for Rizal the different faces of his opponents in Spain, and the obstacles to his campaign for representation in the Spanish parliament.

Rizal quote
Quote: "Do not forget that if knowledge is the heritage of mankind,
it is only the courageous who inherit it."—Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, 1887

Rizal on Indolence and Education

In his masterful essay, The Indolence of the Filipino,7 Rizal deconstructed the underdevelopment of his country which the Spanish blamed on the indolent nature of his countrymen.

The word indolence, Rizal noted, “has been greatly misused in the sense of little love for work and lack of energy, while ridicule has concealed the misuse.” He likened the concept of indolence to superstition and the devil as the cause of everything that cannot be understood or explained. “In the Philippines, one’s own and another’s faults, the shortcomings of one, the misdeeds of another, are attributed to indolence,” according to Rizal, and that if, perchance, someone went to the root cause of the problem outside of accepted beliefs, that person courted persecution or worse. However, indolence did exist, according to Rizal, but “instead of holding it to be the cause of the backwardness and the trouble, we regard it as the effect of the trouble and the backwardness, by fostering the development of a lamentable predisposition.”8

This predisposition to “indolence” by the native was an adaptive response to the heat in the tropics, according to Rizal, but did not cause his backwardness:

Among men, as well as among nations, there exist not only aptitudes but also tendencies toward good and evil. To foster the good ones and aid them, as well as correct the evil and repress them, would be the duty of society and governments, if less noble thoughts did not occupy their attention.9

Just as the government is guilty of fostering indolence, so is the native guilty of magnifying such indolence. According to Rizal, “Peoples and governments are correlated and complementary.”

The problem was “not that indolence exists more or less latently but that it is fostered and magnified,” and this, according to Rizal, was the “effect of misgovernment and of backwardness... not a cause thereof.”10

There were many reasons which caused this backwardness, among those were the pirate attacks instigated by the Spanish and the conscription of entire villages into forced labor —to build ships for the Spanish crown, fight its wars and man its expeditions. Many fled to the mountains to escape such enslavement, thereby abandoning their trades and their previously well-tended farms. For those who stayed, their initiatives were dampened by having to seek permission from the government authorities to tend their farms and likewise, permission from priests who saw signs of conspiracies everywhere. Moreover, the colonizers failed to set exemplary behavior to inspire the natives. Not only were the Spaniards in the colony lazy and constantly surrounded by servants but they openly disdained manual labor, monopolized businesses, and fostered gambling.

This process of brutalization, Rizal observed, was perpetuated by the educational system of the country:

From his birth until he sinks into his grave, the training of the native is brutalizing, depressive and antihuman (the word ‘inhuman’ is not sufficiently explanatory: whether or not the Academy admit it, let it go). There is no doubt that the government, some priests like the Jesuits and  some Dominicans like Padre Benavides, have done a great deal by founding colleges, schools of primary instruction, and the like. But this is not enough; their effect is neutralized. They amount to five or ten years (years of a hundred fifty days at most) during which the youth comes in contact with books selected by those very priests which boldly proclaim that it is an evil for the natives to know Castilian, that the native should not be separated from his carabao, that he should not have any further aspirations, and so on;11

Rizal concluded that this daily verbal castigation lowered the dignity of man and robbed him of his self-esteem. What was necessary to regain this self-esteem was for the native to have liberty to “allow expansion to his adventuresome spirit and good examples, beautiful prospects for the future.”12

Just as the government is guilty of fostering indolence, so is the native guilty of magnifying such indolence. According to Rizal, “Peoples and governments are correlated and complementary.”13 The native becomes complicit in his own degradation when he ceases to struggle and gives in to paralysis:

That continual struggle between reason and duty, between his organism and his new ideals, that civil war which disturbs the peace of his conscience all his life, has the result of paralyzing all his energies, and aided  by the severity of the climate, makes of that eternal vacillation, of the doubts in his brain, the origin of his indolent disposition.14

Rizal noted that the indolence was magnified by two factors: “defect of training and lack of national sentiment.”

The Philippines was on the cusp of being born—and with Rizal gone, the transition was not going to be peaceful.

The defect of training rendered the native’s self-esteem vulnerable to external impositions, leading him to seek refuge in the most destructive of all routine —“routine not planned but imposed and forced.”15 This attitude made him susceptible to demands and blandishments without his use of sound judgment. Lack of self-esteem, however, could be overcome by liberty and good examples, according to Rizal, but any progress would require change.

The lack of national sentiment, on the other hand, fostered in the native a yen for luxurious things and frivolity without fostering in the native a corresponding improvement in his means of survival. The native’s power to discriminate as to what would be beneficial to his people and what would be harmful, was lost. Corollary to this loss of the ability to distinguish, the native also lost his ability to initiate good measures for the improvement of his people. As a result, the entire nation became reactive and not proactive, and could no longer foresee danger, until such danger visited the country.

Transitions

The death of Jose Rizal on December 30, 1896 signaled the beginning of a new political order in the Philippines. While Rizal lived, a diplomatic solution to the Filipino people’s grievances against the colonial government was a possibility.  His execution by firing squad made him a martyr and snuffed all chances of reconciliation between the colonizer and the colony. The Philippines was on the cusp of being born—and with Rizal gone, the transition was not going to be peaceful.

On June 12, 1898, less than two years after Rizal’s death, the Philippines declared independence from Spain. General Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the revolutionary forces, proclaimed the sovereignty and independence of the Philippines from Spain, after a public reading of the Act of Declaration of Independence. However, neither Spain nor America recognized the new government of the Philippines. Spain had been defeated by the American forces in the Battle of Manila Bay just a few weeks earlier. In December 1898, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the Spanish-American War and Spain ceded the Philippine to the United States. Resistance to the American forces who had earlier been viewed as allies began. On June 2, 1899, the first Philippine Republic declared war against the United States. In March 1901, Aguinaldo was captured by American forces and on July 4, 1902, war officially ended.

Rizal quote
Rizal being a true Renaissance man was well traveled. His brother Paciano secretly
supported his travel to Europe in 1882 without the knowledge of their parents.
Library of Congress Rizal Collection; photo by Cheryl Orocio Brunner.

The Public School System

Throughout the 333 years of Spanish colonial rule (1565-1898), education in the Philippines was primarily focused on and heavily influenced by religion. This is not strange when one views it from the context of the friars who established missions in the Philippines in order to carry out Spain’s twin goals of conquest and propagation of the Catholic faith. Moreover, access to education in the first 297 years (1565-1862) of colonial rule was limited to the religious instruction of a few Filipinos. In 1863, Spain liberalized its educational policy in the colony and provided for the establishment of at least one primary school for boys and girls in each municipality. Primary education was free and the teaching of the Spanish language was compulsory. Several institutions of higher learning had been established by religious orders in the colony but not only were their curricula heavily influenced by religion, they were generally restricted to a wealthy few. Some of the students left for Europe to pursue higher education in an atmosphere that was less religiously oriented. Jose Rizal was one of these.

The Thomasites... numbered about 600. These teachers and the U.S. soldiers who had started teaching Filipinos the English language, laid the foundation of the Philippine public school system.

The American colonial government wasted no time in overhauling the Philippine educational system. While war was still raging, many American soldiers started teaching English and holding classes for Filipinos. Upon instruction of President McKinley, a system of primary education which trained the people “for the duties of citizenship and for the ordinary avocations of a civilized community” was instituted and English was made the medium of instruction. [Instructions of  President William McKinley to The Secretary of War Elihu Root dated April 7, 1900]. Through Act No. 74, a secularized and highly centralized public school system was installed by the new colonial regime within the first ten years of American rule. Helping accomplish this daunting task were the Thomasites.  The Thomasites— named after the transport vessel USS Thomas that carried the largest contingent of  teachers—numbered about 600. These teachers and the U.S. soldiers who had started teaching Filipinos the English language, laid the foundation of the Philippine public school system.

On April 7, 1903, in a public address to his countrymen in Fargo, North Dakota, President Theodore Roosevelt acknowledged that Rizal’s writings guided the American policy in its Far East colony:
"In the Philippine Islands the American government has tried and is trying, to carry out exactly what the greatest genius and most revered patriot ever known in the Philippines, Jose Rizal, steadfastly advocates." [p.vii, Foreword, Craig, Rizal’s life and minor writings]

Rizal had campaigned for peaceful reform in the Philippines and for the education of his countrymen.  In a statement he wrote days before his execution, he reiterated some concerns he had expounded in The Indolence of the Filipino:

My countrymen, I have given proofs that I am one most anxious for liberties for our country, and I am still desirous of them. But I place as a prior condition the education of the people, that by means of instruction and industry our country may have an individuality of its own and make itself worthy of these liberties. I have recommended in my writings the study of the civic virtues, without which there is no redemption. I have written likewise (and I repeat my words) that reforms, to be beneficial, must come from above, that those which come from below are irregularly gained and uncertain. [Italics supplied.] [www.schillerinstitute.org/educ/hist/rizal.html] accessed on July 30, 2011  

Rizal had touched on the topic of “reform from above” earlier in his essay, The Philippines a Century Hence, where he sought to forecast the future of the Philippines:

If the Philippines must remain under the control of Spain, they will necessarily have to be transformed in a political sense, for the course of their history and the needs of their inhabitants so require. This we demonstrated in the preceding article.

We also said that this transformation will be violent and fatal if it proceeds from the ranks of the people but peaceful and fruitful if it emanates from the upper classes.

What Rizal meant exactly by reforms coming from “above” and transformation emanating from the “upper classes” is not clear but it would appear that the new colonial government, the United States of America, despite a very tumultuous start, paid attention to Rizal’s call for education.

Rizal in the U.S. Congress

When the last line, “Farewell, dear ones, farewell! To die is to rest from our labors,” had faded away, there was a long, deep silence. Then the entire House broke into prolonged applause.

Although Rizal’s ideas were never heard in the Spanish parliament during his lifetime, they were granted a hearing in the U.S. Congress just six years after his death.

In 1902, the U.S. Congress was debating whether to enact into law the first organic act of the  Philippines under American rule. The act would include a bill of rights for the Filipinos and the appointment of two Filipino resident commissioners who would represent the Philippines in the United States Congress but exercise no voting rights. The passage of this bill was being considered in a country that was administering its first colony overseas, in an era where many of its own citizens could be legally discriminated against because of the color of their skin. Many prominent Americans—Democrats and Republicans alike— thought that Filipinos were savages, pirates and barbarians,  reason enough to deny autonomy to the Filipinos.

The night before his keynote speech sponsoring the bill, Congressman Henry A. Cooper of Wisconsin was looking for a way to gain his colleagues’ support.  On his way home, he saw in the window of a bookstore in Washington, D.C., a copy of An Eagle Flight.  Published in 1900, the book was an abridged English edition of the Noli Me Tangere. It included a brief biography of Rizal and the untitled poem he wrote on the eve of his death, later entitled Mi último adiós (My Last Farewell). Cooper bought the book and read all night. [ p.256 –Excerpts from the Congressional Deliberation on the “Noli” and “Fili” Appendix A of  Rizal's moments of truth, Pedro A. Gagelonia. Manila, National Book Store, (1973)].

What happened in Congress the next day was beautifully memorialized by journalist Vicente Albano Pacis in his article Rizal in the American Congress published in 1952.Cooper narrated to the journalist what transpired on the floor during his speech:

Soon after I’d started speaking, gentlemen on both sides of the House stood up and demanded to be heard. They badgered and interrupted me often. Finally I refused to yield the floor. I made a long speech; I covered every phase of the Philippine problem—economic, social, political, and Philanthropic. But the strongest argument which I had to demolish was the claim that the Filipinos were savages unfit for self-government.Therefore, I had to address myself especially to this particular point; and, just as President McKinley looked upon God for guidance, so I called upon your Rizal for support. He didn’t fail me.

Cooper gave a short biography of Rizal and a summary of the Noli Me Tangere. He told his fellow congressmen of the untitled poem Rizal wrote on the eve of his death:

I will read it, that the house may know what were the last thoughts of this ‘pirate,’ this barbarian, this ‘savage,’ of a race ‘incapable of civilization’!

With eloquence and feeling, Cooper recited Mi Ultimo Adios as translated into English by Derbyshire. When the last line, “Farewell, dear ones, farewell! To die is to rest from our labors,” had faded away, there was a long, deep silence. Then the entire House broke into prolonged applause.


Famed Filipino singer-songwriter Gary Granada puts music to Mi Ultimo Adios

Much encouraged by the applause, Cooper continued his oration:

Pirates! Barbarians! Savages! Incapable of civilization.’ How many of the civilized, Caucasian slanderers of his race could ever be capable of thoughts like these, which on the awful night, as he sat alone amidst silence unbroken save by the rustling of the black plumes of the death angel at his side, poured from the soul of the martyred Filipino? Search the long and bloody roll of the world’s martyred dead, and where—on what soil, under what sky—did Tyranny ever claim a nobler victim?
[http://philippinesfreepress.wordpress.com/2005/12/28/
rizal-in-the-american-congress-december-27-1952]
, accessed on July 18, 2011.


Reputable environmentalist singer-songwriter Joey Ayala's version of Mi Ultimo Adios.

The bills were vigorously debated in the Philippine Congress. The debate was fueled by the opposition of the Catholic church, which charged that Rizal’s works violated canon law.

The bill passed and became the Philippine Organic Act of 1902 (Cooper Law). The day was June 19, 1902—Rizal’s 41st birthday, had he lived.

Republic Act 1425 (Rizal Law)

Today, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are taught in all educational institutions in the Philippines.

In 1956, the Philippine Congress passed Republic Act No. 1425 which requires all public and private schools, colleges and universities to include courses on Rizal’s life, works and writings in their curricula. The law also requires all educational institutions to keep in their libraries adequate copies of the original and unabridged editions of his two novels and his biography and other works. It directs the Board of National Education to oversee the translation of the two novels into English, Tagalog and the principal Philippine dialects; their printing in cheap and popular editions; and distribution free of charge to persons desiring to read them “through the Purok organizations and Barrio Councils throughout the country.”  These mandates of printing and distribution were not specified in the proposed congressional bills and would have been left to the discretion of the Board.

The precursors to this law, Senate Bill 438 and House Bill 5561, were substantially identical, and recognized in their preambles “a need for a re-dedication to the ideals of freedom and nationalism” for which Philippine heroes, including Rizal, had lived and died. Their explanatory notes manifested that:

It is a national shame that in an era such as this, the works of Jose Rizal are not as assiduously read in his own country as they are in some countries of South America. To ignore them, as most of us do, is to ignore Rizal and what he stood for. To praise him without taking the trouble to study that which elicits our praises is to be hypocritical.

Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo must be read by all Filipinos. They must be taken to heart, for in their pages we see ourselves as in a mirror: our defects as well as our strength, our virtues as well as our vices. Only then would we become conscious as a people and so learn to prepare ourselves for painful sacrifices that ultimately lead to self-reliance, self-respect, and freedom. [p.254 Gagelonia]

The bills were vigorously debated in the Philippine Congress. The debate was fueled by the opposition of the Catholic church, which charged that Rizal’s works violated canon law. Legislators siding with the church attacked the bill, arguing that its enactment would be a constitutional violation because the compulsory nature of the bill would trespass upon religious conscience. They pointed out that there was no need to enact such a law because Rizal’s works were already required reading material in high schools.[p. 292 Gagelonia]. In one testy exchange, a senator supporting the church said that the 600 Catholic schools in the church would rather close than allow their students to study Rizal and his works. This assertion was countered by another senator who stated that he doubted the Catholic hierarchy would give up such a lucrative endeavor.  On one occasion, the debate became so heated that a fistfight broke out among members of congress.

In displaying a portion of its Rizal collection to the public, the Library of Congress has shone a light into an obscure but important period of American history—a period when it had a colony in Asia.

Certain compromises were reached. Instead of using the words “compulsory reading matter,” as proposed in both bills, the current wording in Section 1 was adopted (“courses on the life, works and writings of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, shall be included in all schools, colleges and universities, public or private”). The teaching of the unabridged editions was limited to collegiate courses.

Furthermore, the Board of National Education was required to promulgate rules and regulations that allowed a student to ask for an exemption from reading the unabridged version of the two novels. The student would have to execute a sworn, written statement, claiming trespass against his religious conscience.

Republic Act 1425 is wider in scope and more detailed than the original bills. It includes provisions for maintaining adequate copies of the novels and other works in the libraries, and for the distribution of Rizal’s works all over the country.  In one sense, however, the Catholic church obtained a signal victory for its 600 educational institutions. The originally proposed bills made Noli and Fili compulsory reading matter in all Philippine public and private schools, colleges and universities. Heads of educational institutions who were found guilty of failing to comply with the mandate would be subjected to the penal provisions of immediate dismissal from service and disqualification from teaching, while the educational institution itself would face withdrawal of its governmental accreditation. The law that was enacted does not contain any of these penal provisions but leaves it to the Board of National Education to “promulgate rules and regulations, including those of a disciplinary nature, to carry out and enforce the provisions of this Act.” 

Light in the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has become the largest repository of recorded knowledge in the world and a symbol of the vital connection between knowledge and democracy.
http://www.loc.gov/loc/legacy/preface.html, accessed on July 28, 2011.

In displaying a portion of its Rizal collection to the public, the Library of Congress has shone a light into an obscure but important period of American history—a period when it had a colony in Asia. Its relationship with the Philippines started badly in 1898—what Filipinos initially thought was a friendly force liberating them from imperial Spain quickly became just another colonizing force to be resisted. A period of turbulent relations followed, referred to in history books in the Philippines as the Philippine-American war, and in the U.S. as the Philippine insurrection.

After he published the Noli, Jose Rizal became widely acknowledged as the leader of the Filipino struggle against oppression.  His martyrdom on December 30, 1896 elevated his stature to almost mythic proportions.  It was therefore only prudent of the colonial government to recognize this fact. Rizal desired education for his people as a precondition for self-government. America desired to administer a faraway colony. America decided to build its platform of government in the Philippines based on education.  The introduction of the American public school system in the Philippines signaled a change in the relationship for the better, though far from smoothly. English became the lingua franca in schools and literacy increased exponentially. The observation of one of Rizal’s American biographers about the Philippine-American relationship in 1913 is apropos:

Though those who claim to champion the Philippines' cause apparently are unaware of it, these Islands have a population strangely alike in its make up to the people of America; their history is full of American associations; Americans developed their leading resources, and American ideas have inspired their political aspirations. It betrays blindness somewhere that ever since 1898 Filipinos have been trying to get loose from America in order to set up here an American form of government.”[italics supplied].

Editor’s Explanation by Austin Craig, University of the Philippines, Manila, December 20th, 1913, introducing Jose Rizal’s The Indolence of the Filipino as translated into English from the original Spanish by Charles Derbyshire.

[http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6885/pg6885.html], accessed on July 28, 2011.

In this globalized world of the 21st century, it behooves scholars everywhere to continue to shine a light so that the blindness will turn into sight.

____________

1 Craig, Austin. Rizal's Life and Minor Writings, Phil Education Co., 1927, Ch. 13, "Annotations to Morga's 1609 Philippine History," p. 310.
2 Annotations, Id.
3 Annotations, Id. p. 313
4 Annotations, Id. p. 312
5 Annotations, Id. p. 319
6 Annotations, Id. p. 323
7 Jose Rizal, The Indolence of the Filipino, Project Gutenberg (2004)
8 Id. § 1.
9 Id. § 1.
10 Id. § 1.
11 Id. § 4.
12 Id. § 4.
13 Id. § 5.
14 Id. § 5.
15 Id. § 5.

NOTE COMPLETE CITATION: Craig, Austin. Rizal's Life and Minor Writings, Phil Education Co., 1927.

NOTE COMPLETE CITATION: Rizal, Jose. Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas por el Doctor Antonio de Morga, obra publicada en Mejico el ano de 1609 nueva mente sacada a luz y anotada por Jose Rizal y precedida de un prologo del Prof. Fernando Blumentritt, Paris: Libreria de Garnier Hermanos, 1890.

Appendix

Select Books from the Jose Rizal Collection on Display
at the Asian Reading Room,

Thomas Jefferson Building Library of Congress
June 17-27, 2011

Novels

Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal; with annotations by R. Sempau. In Spanish. Barcelona, Casa Editorial  Maucci (1902).

Au Pays des Moines, Jose Rizal; translation of  Noli Me Tangere with annotations by Henri Lucas and Ramon Sempau. In French. Paris, Tresse & Stock (1902).
An Eagle Flight, José Rizal. Adopted from Noli Me Tangere. New York, McClure, Phillips & Co. (1900).

Lost Eden, Jose Rizal; translation of  Noli Me Tangere into English by León Ma. Guerrero with foreword by James A. Michener. New York, Greenwood Press, 1968.

Social cancer, Jose Rizal. Complete version of Noli Me Tangere translated from Spanish by Charles Derbyshire.  Manila, Philippine Education Co.; New York, World Book Co. (1912).

El Filibusterismo, José Rizal; facsimile of the original manuscript. In Spanish. Ghent, Belgium, F. Meyer van Loo Press (1891).

El Filibusterismo, José Rizal; (unexpurgated) translated into English from the original Spanish text by Jorge Bocobo. Manila (1957).

The Revolution, Jose Rizal; translation of   El Filibusterismo into English by Jovita Ventura Castro. Anthology of ASEAN Literatures, v. 3a2; Manila? ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information? (1991).

Essays and other works

Sucesos de las islas Filipinas por el doctor Antonio de Morga, obra publicada en Mejico el ano de 1609, nuevamente sacada a luz y anotada por Jose Rizal y precedida de un prologo del prof. Fernando Blumentritt. In Spanish. Paris, Libreria de Garnier Hermanos (1890).
Wit and wisdom of Rizal, as reflected in his works and writings; edited by Pedro A. Gagelonia. Manila, National Book Store (1973).

Dr. José Rizal's mi último adiós in foreign and local translations. Manila, National Historical Institute, (1989-1990).

Ang Tinig ng Makiling: Mga Tula ni Dr. Jose Rizal; a collection of  poems of Jose Rizal, translated into Tagalog from the original Spanish text by C. Santos. Manila, Montejo & Sons (1948).

Mariang Makiling, a Philippine Folktale, Jose Rizal using pseudonym of  Laong-Laan; translated into English from the original Spanish text by Charles Derbyshire (1916).

Journals and Correspondence

The Young Rizal, José Rizal, translated into English from the Spanish text of Memorias de un estudiante de Manila.  Manila, Bardavon Book Co., (1951?).

Epistolario Rizalino, José Rizal correspondence.  In Spanish and Tagalog. Edited by Teodoro M. Kalaw.  Manila, Bureau, of Printing, (1930).

Diarios y Memorias, José Rizal; in Spanish.  Manila, Comision Nacional Del Centenario de José Rizal (1961).

One Hundred Letters of Jose Rizal to his Parents, Brother, Sisters, Relatives. Original handwritten plates with corresponding translations. Manila,  Philippine National Historical Society (1959).

Rizal's correspondence with fellow reformists, Manila, National Historical Institute (1992).

Rizal-Blumentritt correspondence. Manila, José Rizal National Centennial Commission (1961).

Reminiscences and travels of Jose Rizal, translated and annotated by Encarnación Alzona with introduction by V.G. Sinco. Manila, José Rizal National Centennial Commission (1961).

Yo, José Rizal, Antonio M. Molina. Madrid, AECI : Ediciones de Cultura Hispánica (1998).

Essays and Annotations on Rizal’s life and works

José Rizal, romantiko realista : isang pagsusuring pampanitikan ng Noli me Tángere at El Filibusterismo, Ante Radaić; translated into Tagalog by Trinidad O. Regala, edited by Apolonio B. Chua. Manila, University of the Philippines Press (1999).

Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot. A Study of the growth of free ideas in the trans-Pacific American Territory, Austin Craig. Manila, Philippine Education Company (1913).  Heavily illustrated with sketches by Rizal and portraits at different times in his life.

Rizal in Meiji Japan: the reluctant guest, A.H.R. Abubakar in cooperation with Sadaichi Moriya. Philippines, A.H.R. Abubakar (1982).

Rizal and Spain : an essay in biographical context, Miguel A. Bernad. Metro Manila, National Book Store (1986).

Rizal's unfading glory : a documentary history of the conversion of Dr. José Rizal, Jesús Ma. Cavanna y Manso.  Rizal Centennial ed., rev. and enl. Manila (1961).
Rizal, kinadak-ang bayani, Cayetano M. Villamor.  Cebu City, Villamor Pub. House, (1949).

In excelsis : the mission of Jose P. Rizal, humanist and Philippine national hero, Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. Makati City, Studio 5 Designs (1996).

Rizal, Teodoro M. Locsin. Manila, T.M. Locsin (1996).

Man of the century: biography of Jose Rizal, Pedro A. Gagelonia.  Manila : Villanueva Pub. Inc. (1964).

Rizal's life and his works, José Ma. Hernández, Esteban A. de Ocampo, Zosimo C. Ella. Quezon City,  Bustamante Press (1972).

Rizal, versatile genius. Students of Rizal. Edited by Demy P. Sonza.  Iloilo City, Central Philippine University (1958).

Rizal's moments of truth, Pedro A. Gagelonia.  Manila, National Book Store, (1973).
Jose Rizal, Antonio Iraizoz.  In Spanish. Habana , Molina y compania (1929).

Rizal's life and minor writings, Austin Craig. Manila, Philippine Education Co. (1927).

Makabagong pamaraan sa pag-aaral ng El filibusterismo, Magno Perlada Mendoza. In Tagalog. Quezon City : G.M.S. Pub. Corp.] ; Manila : Exclusively distributed by G. Miranda, (1980).

The Jose Rizal Centennial Edition, The Journal of History, vol. IX Nos. 2 & 3, Manila, Philippine National Historical Society (June-September 1961). Contents:

  • Discovery of Rizal’s Improvised Chapel-Cell at Fort Santiago by Carlos E. da Silva
  • The Reconstruction of Fort Santiago and Intramuros by Pres. Carlos P. Garcia
  • Rizal and Education by Jose E. Romero
  • Educational Ideals of Rizal by Prudencio Langcauon
  • Jose Rizal: The Hero of the Philippines; Ideal Filipino; Dedicated National Servant; Nationalist; Historian; On Graft and Corruption; Place in World Affairs   (collection of writings and speeches by Eufronio M. Alip, professor, historian, Rizalist and civic leader.
  • Bibliography on Jose Rizal in the Private Library of Eufronio M. Alip
  • Doctors Afield: Jose Rizal by R.L. Citters
  • Anthology of Rizal’s Works by G.C. Borlaza and M.G. Dorado
  • Blumentritt on Rizal’s Annotations to Morga’s History of the Philippines.

Literary works inspired by Rizal

The Ghosts of Rizal, a play, Edmundo Libid. Manila, E. Libid and Molave Pub. Group (1996).

30 December 1896, a play, Remé A. Grefalda. http://www.oovrag.com/plays/plays2009b-1.shtml  (1996).

© M.R. Gonzales Wedum

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