Jose Rizal died a martyr, a rebel with a cause, but a hero without a country. Was it a useless death and sacrifice?
At that moment, early morning of December 30, 1896, when a fatal bullet struck him in the spine, there was no Philippines, there was no country, no bayan, no bansa. ‘Filipinas’ were still 7,000 islands, over a hundred indigenous tribes, a dozen or so main language groups. But nothing tying it all together. . . . Except –
Except that nationhood was inchoately laboring in the consciousness of Filipino patriots of his time, or as put more elegantly in a paraphrase by James Joyce: through his martyrdom, Rizal “forged from the smithy of his soul, the uncreated conscience of his race.”
In this cryptic line of his would-be autobiography, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce was expressing his personal need for building the notions of nationalism and dedicating himself to the Irish homeland in his own conscience and eventually in the minds of all the Irish facing the dominance of England in those times.
In his poem, El Amor Patrio, Rizal too sought to sow in the hearts of his countrymen a deep love of country, a sense of unity and patriotism, even to the point of death, “hasta se halla placer en sufrir por ella.”
Principally among a few ilustrados and writers of la Solidaridad, among the signers of the Liga Filipina and the first blood-sworn warriors of the KKK, education and the idea of a Filipino nation were gradually seeping into the souls of these patriots and inflaming them to rise in revolution against the Spanish. If Rizal himself did not support the revolution at that time, it was because he believed it was essential first to plant the concepts of nationhood and nationalism in the souls of his countrymen, to believe that it is worthy to die for the homeland, the land where you were born, where we are all bonded to one another, as we are all born on and from the same soil.
But Rizal could have escaped death. There was the retraction insisted upon by the Jesuits, though formulated by him and written in his own hand.
But since there were no signs of the Spanish relenting on Rizal’s guilt and treachery, since he was not given a Church burial, since he was not allowed to marry Josephine Bracken in a Church ceremony, and since his family continued to suffer in shame because of Church obstinacy and ignorance, it would seem most likely that Rizal did not sign any retraction. Otherwise the Spanish authorities should have been rejoicing over this easy victory. As his great grandniece, Asuncion Lopez Rizal Bantug (author of Lolo José: an illustrated portrait of José Rizal) said, “He did nothing to retract. So why should he recant?”
Instead, he was prepared to face execution and he did so knowingly and willingly.
And hence in dying, what Rizal began in the smithy of his soul, we are to continue today, building up the nation he envisaged and died for.
A useless death? Is there no country? No Philippines?
Or are we still building it?
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