April is National Literature Month

National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal, executed for his writings

The proclamation of National Literature Month highlights the important role  literature plays in preserving Filipino values and  inspiring today’s literature.


Mildred German 

Unceded Territories – One of the most famous books in Philippine literature is Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Dr. Jose P. Rizal. In this 1887 novel, Rizal described the perceived inequities of the Spanish Catholic friars and the ruling government in the Philippines. Originally written in Spanish, Noli Me Tangere is more commonly published in Tagalog, or English, and is commonly taught in Philippine schools. The book was first published in Berlin, Germany.

Dr. Rizal is also the author of El Filibusterismo, a sequel to the Noli Me Tangere. El Filibusterismo, also known by its alternative English title, The Reign of Greed, was first published in 1891 in Belgium. Like the Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo was originally written in Spanish, is more commonly published in Tagalog, or English, and also commonly taught in Philippine schools.

A physician and linguist, Dr. Rizal is most commonly known as the national hero of the Philippines. The national park, Luneta, has been dedicated to him, alongside with a monument. Rizal Park is considered as one of the largest urban parks in Asia, covering an area of 58 hectares (140 acres).

Spoke 22 languages

Dr. Rizal spoke more than 22 languages. He read the whole Bible and claimed that there is no purgatory mentioned in the Bible. Rizal’s notion of purgatory is a controversial one as it challenged the Roman Catholic Church on the authenticity of its doctrines and its role in the Philippine society under Spanish Catholic friars and colonial rule.

Not only that Dr. Rizal’s writings reflect the inequities in Philippine society but  his intents and hopes for his Motherland are reflected in his writings as well.

“Filipinos don’t realize that victory is the child of struggle, that joy blossoms from suffering, and redemption is a product of sacrifice.” -Dr. Jose Rizal

Despite his  intentions and high hopes, Rizal  did not  directly participate in any armed revolts such as the Philippine Revolution of 1896 led by the Katipunan under Andres Bonifacio. For such reason, he was perceived as a “pacifist,” a role model and a scholar that the Philippine government under American rule deemed  fit to be the national hero.

Fearing Rizal’s influence, the Spanish colonial government executed him for the crime of rebellion, in large part by his writings believed to inspire the 1896 Philippine Revolution. He was executed by firing squad in the Luneta on December 30, 1896 after a mock trial.

Pen as a weapon

Dr. Rizal’s death  shows in large part the power of the pen as a weapon, and as a threat to the colonial machine. We note how literature has been used to critizise social realities, inspire beauty, and make revolutions. This intrigues me to ask: How are we in this generation taking inspiration from the power of literature?

With the growing technology, doors have opened for more ways to communicate. With the more high-tech publications – media, creative arts, and highly-educated artists and authors we have,  the colonial mentality and influence are still pervasive. Attacks against critical writers, artists, and journalists is rampant. Such attacks on human rights are used by fascists to perpetuate their power.

Yet the creative and literary art historically keeps finding its way to triumphantly serve the most marginalized and the oppressed. Arts and storytelling remain essential to present-day revolutions and education.

While Rizal was sought and executed by the Spanish government, the elder of the Katipunan, Bonifacio, died due to an internal leadership conflict and betrayal. Dr. Rizal wrote  his death warrant through Noli Me Tangere and focused on independence in his second novel, El Filibusterismo.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top