Rizal Monument in Winnipeg, Manitoba unveiled on August 21, 2020. (Photo: Carol Raymundo)

My brush with the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal

Teodoro ‘Ted’ Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian news.Com

On December 30, Filipinos will celebrate Rizal Day to commemorate the life of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. He was executed by firing squad on December 30, 1896 at the age of 35 by the Spanish colonizers at Bagumbayan, the site of the present-day Rizal Park in Manila.

All over the world where Filipinos are, Rizal is immortalized and venerated and an active organization – the Knights of Rizal keeps his memory alive.

The Knights have chapters including several in Canada – Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Scarborough, Montreal, Quebec and Windsor among others.

Oftentimes, these chapters outdo each other in how big their celebrations are or how large a statue they erect for the national hero.

The latest to go up is the life-size statue of Rizal in Winnipeg, Manitoba, unveiled last August 20, 2020 after years of planning by the Winnipeg chapter of the Knights of Rizal.

According to Sir Knight Felino de Jesus who together with former City Councillor Mike Pagtakhan were the ’brains’ behind the project, the monument costs $250,000 to build. The cost, according to de Jesus was picked by the developer who ‘donated’ it to the city.

It will soon be followed by a bust in Aidre, Alberta initiated by the Philippine Consulate.

Markham, Ontario unveiled its monument on June 10, 2019. Knights of Rizal officers and guests pose in front. The project is a partnership between the City of Markham and the Filipino Canadian Community of Markham.

 

Rizal’s enduring legacy

Despite criticism of his place in history, Rizal weathers the storm and continues to live in the minds and hearts of the Filipino people including expatriates in the diaspora.

Prominent scholars and people in the Left argue that Rizal was an American-made hero, carefully crafted by the occupiers to project a hero who was not a radical but a pacifier. These critics say that Rizal preferred to have a Philippines ruled by Spain as a province to eventually b given independendence.

Andres Bonifacio on the other hand, wanted a radical revolution to free the country from Spanish rule.

Rizal’s two incendiary novels, Noli Me Tángere and El filibusterismo inspired Bonifacio to take up arms but cost Rizal his life when he was executed by Spanish authorities on December 30, 1896.

Growing up with Rizal

Except for memorizing and presenting in class Rizal’s famous ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ (My Last Farewell) in Spanish as part of our course,I have really no understanding of who he was and why he became our national hero.

But he loomed high in my young mind then.

Everyday as I walked to my high school, I pass by his statute in our town square and would gaze at the  imposing man dressed in the European garb holding a book. I would commit to memory his words ( in our native Cebuano) engraved around the obelisk on which he stood. 

One quotation which inspired me was:

“Walang ulipon kon walay mag pa-ulipon.” (There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves)

I went to the University of San Carlos run by the German order, Society of Divine Word (SVD). There, we were to take the mandatory Rizal Course except that the textbooks were ‘expurgated’, meaning that parts of the book critical to the Catholic church were taken out.

Today, in my eighties now living in Canada, I am haunted  by the memory of Rizal, still grappling to understand his place in Philippine history.

And I still haven’t read his two novels – Noli Me Tángere and El filibusterismo in its entirety.