Rizal is always an example whom we should have before us and whose teachings we should practice if we want to be useful to our country. His works are known to the whole world, but however great and admirable they are, I consider still more admirable the lessons which we can get from the acts and thoughts that he had expressed in confidence. In their public actuations and behavior our great men can show their inner selves in a favorable light, but in intimate situations they betray their true character, revealing it in its prosaic naturalness.
The characteristics of the personality of Rizal were his honesty, ingenuity, will-power, constancy and above all, his patriotism which he converted into his cult and religion. Wherever he went and according to the purpose which brought him to the different countries where he lived, the first thing he did was to distribute his time in accordance with a program which he usually fastened by the side of his bed and which he followed with the precision of a machine, not for one day, one month, or one year, but always. The time which he allotted for rest was spent in making clay statuettes or doing something manual but useful, like binding a book, making a wooden box for his pistols, etc., or in receiving those who lived with him and trying through pleasant conversation to inculcate into them his ideas and principles.
Rizal was the personification of probity and honesty. Dr. Baldomero Roxas relates that in 1889 in Paris he and other compatriots who used to eat together in a restaurant noticed that Rizal was worried because he did not receive on time his pension. Yet at that time he had received a draft for one thousand pesos without any accompanying letter to indicate for what purpose the money was remitted to him. The draft being drawn in his favor, they told him that he could very well make use of it. Rizal promised to think the matter over, but on the following day he told them (Roxas and his companions) that, being in doubt for what object the money was sent, he had decided to remit the one thousand pesos to M. H. Del Pilar just in case they were intended for the expenses of “La Solidaridad”
One of the subjects which he discussed frequently with us were the means which we could make use of in order to promote a revolution in the Philippines. He expressed his ideas on this point in these or similar words: “I will never lead a disorderly revolution and one which has no probability of success because I do not want to burden my conscience with an imprudent and useless spilling of blood, but whoever leads a revolution in the Philippines will have me at his side.”
When the El Filibusterismo was being printed in Ghent, I had a real anxiousness to read the original, but because I sensed that Rizal might not want me to do so, I desisted from asking his permission to read it. I was in charge of bringing the manuscript to the press and carrying back the proofs to the house, and I read with avidity what was being printed. When Simoun appeared in the first chapters of the works, Rizal asked me: “Do you know who is Simoun?”
I answered that he was Crisostomo Ibarra.
“How do you know? Could he not be Elias?” he continued.
I replied, “No, because Elias died at the foot of a balete tree of the wounds which he received when they pursued him in the lake.”
Then he told me, “That is true, and I regret having killed Elias instead of Crisostomo Ibarra; but when I wrote the Noli Me Tangere, my health was badly broken and I never thought that I would be able to write its sequel and speak of a revolution. Otherwise, I would have preserved the life of Elias, who was a noble character, patriotic, self-denying and disinterested – necessary qualities in a man who leads a revolution – whereas Crisostomo Ibarra was an egoist who only decided to provoke the rebellion when he was hurt in his interest, his person, his loves and all the other things he held sacred. With men like him, success cannot be expected in their undertakings.”
It appears strange to me that some of his biographers have presented Rizal as completely opposed to the revolution of 1896 when what really happened was this: The Katipunan, on the eve of the rebellion, wanted to know the opinion of Rizal and they sent to Dapitan one of their members, Pio Valenzuela, under plausible pretext. Upon being informed in detail of the organization and resources of the Katipunan, he opined that the revolt should be delayed and proposed that the cooperation of the educated and rich elements be assured first, pointing to Antonio Luna as one possible liaison between the popular mass and the educated and rich class. Moises Salvador and Mamerto Natividad who initiated me in the Katipunan, knowing the friendship which I had with Luna, requested me to transmit to him the recommendation of Rizal, but Luna refused on that occasion to join the revolutionary movement because he believed it was still premature.
In religious matters Rizal told me: “I have studied thoroughly all the religions and their philosophies. I began the study of Hebrew just to be able to read the Bible in its original, and I have decided after my profound study not to believe anything other than the dictates of my reason and my conscience.”
Rizal was a great bibliophile, but in visiting his library, I wondered why he did not have the Encyclopedia of Larousse of which he had spoken to me in laudable terms. I asked him why he did not acquire said work, and he answered me with these words which became engraved in my memory: “I have not bought Laroussee because in speaking of our race he expressed himself in these words: ‘it is an effeminate race without virility or energy which has permitted without any struggle the uprooting of its nationality, usages, customs, beliefs and even its language’. Unfortunately, this is true and, if you don’t believe me, just look how we take shame even in using our own dialects which many of our countrymen pretend not to know. All the races, including the Kaffirs, have their own type of beauty, but for us a type is only beautiful when it approximates more or less that of the Caucasian, and our women, thru bleaching creams and make-up, like to appear more or less white forgetting that the beautiful color Kayumanggi has also its own charms for one who has no prejudices. I do not pretend to say that all we have is good, but we have many things which, with slight modifications, cannot be improved upon.”
To lament like an inspired poet before the ruins of Italica without trying to look for the remedy was contrary to the character of Rizal, and he revealed his indomitable energy and gigantic stature when he told me: “I swear upon my honor that I will consecrate my entire life, my energies, my intelligence and even my blood in order to make Larousse and his collaborators change their opinion regarding us, and some day perhaps my name will appear in their pages in a manner that will do honor our race.”
Rizal, with his habitual high sense of proportion and justice, told me without any false modesty that Dr. T. H. Pardo de Tavera deserved to appear ahead of him in the encyclopedias for his linguistic works, especially for his reform of our alphabet with the resulting improvement in our spelling.
I frankly confess to you that in spite of the great admiration I already felt then for the Apostle of our liberty, these manifestations gave me doubts, and I even thought they were uttered by an exalted Quijote; but we are all witnesses to the fact that scarcely several years after those words were spoken, our people, under the impulse of the ideas planted by Rizal, demonstrated virility and energy, reconquering its lost liberty and defending it as long as possible against one of the most powerful nations of earth.
Rizal was a Puritan, but his puritanism was reasonable wand without hypocrisies. Having recently arrived in Brussel s and not knowing French, I hardly went out of the house. One day, he invited me to amuse ourselves, telling me that we could pass the time in the house of two sisters who he knew. There we went and I came to like the amusement because a few days later I asked him again when we could make another visit, but he became serious and answered me that he considered a good time as necessary once a month but more than once he considered it already a vice, and he was not willing to encourage vices.
Rizal could not tolerate hypocrisy. He disdained all persons who do not act in accordance with the principles which they preach. He admired but did not respect the great writer Leon Tolstoy. In his youth, the latter led the frivolous life of the officers of the Russian Imperial Guard in which he served as one. During his last years he wrote books and novels of socialistic tendencies, advocating the subdivision and distribution of the vast poorly cultivated lands in Russia among the peasants. He owned an extensive estate called, if I remember right, Yasnaya Poliana. The peasant who tilled the soil and heard of his ideas entreated him to cede his land to them. Taken by surprise, Tolstoy asked for a few days to consider their petition. After the lapse of the period, the farm laborers returned to find out his decision. According to Rizal, Tolstoy told them: “I am sorry to inform you that now I have nothing and am as poor as you are.” He had transferred to his wife’s name his deeds of the title.
Knowing that Rizal had been to the United States, I asked him on one occasion: “What impression do you have of America?”
“America,” he answered, “is the land par excellence of freedom but only for the whites.”
“Do not the liberation of the slaves and the founding of the Liberian Republic, which is the first and only Republic of colored people founded by whites, prove the altruism of the Americans?”
“Apparently, so it seems, but if you get to the bottom of it, it can be deduced that the liberation of the slaves was the consequence and not the object of the American Civil War, and that Liberia was founded in order to attract Negros to return to Africa and there-by solve in this manner a problem of vital interest to the United States.”
In Ghent we lived in a room paying so much for our lodging and breakfast. Rizal asked me: “How much would the room cost us without the breakfast?”
I talked to the landlady and she told me that she would reduce the rent so much if without the breakfast. Rizal made his calculations and concluded that if we made our own breakfast we could save something. He bought tea, sugar, alcohol and a box of biscuits. Upon arriving at the house, he opened the biscuits and counted and divided them equally between us. He told me that we owned so many biscuit each and that, by dividing the number of biscuits by 30 days, we would have so many biscuits for each breakfast. The first day, because of my personal pride, I contented myself with my ration. And so with the following day. But on the third day, I told him that my ration was not enough for me. Then he answered: “You can borrow from your ration for tomorrow.” Thus frequent borrowing I ate up all my share in 15 days, while he rigorously limited himself to his daily ration.
In Brussels we took our meals in a house and Rizal on one occasion suggested that we eat pansit. We were spending so much a day and so we spent one day’s appropriation for the purchase of the necessary ingredients. It seems, however, that he committed an error in his calculations this time for we spent two day’s appropriation and the pansit came out more than what we intended to have. In order to remedy the error we were compelled to have pansit for lunch and supper for two days.
Another evidence of his will-power is the following: He was addicted to pistol practice and every month he allotted a certain sum for the purchase of cartridges, figuring out beforehand the number of cartridges which he could spare daily. During all the time that I lived with him, I never saw him fire a single bullet in excess of what he had allotted for his daily practice.
One of the anecdotes of his life which he related laughing was this: When for the first time he returned to the Philippines after graduating in medicine, his townmates in Calamba swelled with pride in having one who had studied medicine in Germany and they called him the Doctor Aleman (German Doctor). The peasants corrupted the word Aleman, converting it into Uliman, and circulated among themselves stories of miraculous cures effected by Dr. Uliman. One day, he saw in front of the stairs of his house a peasant who was hesitant and undecided whether to go up the stairs or not in order to satisfy his curiosity and see the renowned Dr. Uliman, but his natural respectfulness and courteousness held him back. Rizal, noticed the predicament of the peasant, asked him what he wanted. The latter answered that he wanted to consult Dr. Uliman. Rizal told him that he was not Uliman and that he was merely nicknamed as such. The peasant made the sign of the cross and said, “Susmariusep, kayo po pala laang; marami pong salamat, huag na po.” (Jesus, Mary and Joseph, so you are only the one; nevermind; many thanks) He expected that Dr. Uliman would have a beard flowing down to his chest, wearing gold-rimmed spectables, and he could not help but express his disillusionment upon seeing a young man of his color and race.
He also related to me that the first time that he returned to the country, he embarked in a steamer of the Messageries Maritimes and because he spoke Spanish, French, German, Italian and English and understood more over in Dutch, he could talk with all the passengers. In the third class, however, he saw a Filipina and, naturally, he wanted to speak to her, but all his efforts we in vain. This Filipino was a nurse-maid whom a European family had engaged to take care of a child during the trip and who, upon arriving in Marseille, was shipped back home. She was a Visayan who did not speak anything except her dialect which Rizal did not understand.
In Berlin, when he was making the final touches on the manuscript of his Noli, his pension failed on a certain occasion to arrive on time, and inasmuch as in that city he did not know anybody to whom to come for help, he checked up how much he still had and found out he had but few marks left. He laid aside something for stamps and telegrams just in case of necessity and alloted the balance for his meals during the time which he estimated would pass before he could receive an answer from a friend in Paris from who he had asked for a loan. The money which he had on hand must have been very little because it was enough only to buy the bread he would need while waiting for the funds that he was expecting to receive. Consequently, he had to resign himself to a ration of bread and water for several days. He was very hungry, but he wanted to keep up his personal dignity and that of his race to the extent of concealing even to his landlady his precarious situation. In the rent of his room only breakfast was included. In order to make it appear that he was eating, he left the house during the usual time for lunch and dinner. “You cannot imagine,” he told me, “how much I suffered walking along the streets smelling the pleasant odor of the victual that were being prepared in the kitchens, which in Berlin and other cities in the north, were usually situated in the basements and received their light and ventilation through these openings. Also, the palatable foods which were exhibited in the show windows of the food stores contributed to make my hunger more acute.”
Later on, during the war against America, when I was in the mountains reduced to eating tubers and shoots of wild palms, I had occasion to confirm the sufferings which Rizal in his hunger must have felt upon smelling and seeing palatable dishes. I was lying down in my hammock, and in order to have something to do to entertain myself, I told my servant to look in the knapsack for some old newspapers. He brought me a rumpled piece which was used to wrap my only other clothes. Unfortunately, the only part remaining of the newspaper was the portion containing the advertisements and among which was one of a grocery store which carried a list of the most appetizing foods. Mu hunger increased and I had to close my eyes. Rizal’s sufferings must have been greater because he suffered through both smell and sight while I suffered only through sight.
When Blumentritt began to publish his first writings about the Philippines, he was inclined to believe in the beneficial works of the friars for the country due to the fact, undoubtedly, that he had until then never had any occasion to read anything but the writings of the friars or of persons who were fond of them. A serious and long polemic took place between Rizal and Blumentritt by correspondence, and, finally, Rizal, with his exalted pen of a patriot and, above all, his irrefutable logic placed at the service of truth and justice, succeeded in making Blumentritt change his manner of thinking. Rizal told me: “The most difficult and serious polemic that I have ever sustained and will perhaps sustain in the future, was that which I had with Blumentritt because of his scientific knowledge and culture, and to me it is a title of glory of which I am most proud to have been able to convince this sincere and disinterested orientalist and thereby convert him into the most determined defenders of our race and aspirations that we have ever had.”
When the Spanish colony in Madrid decided to elect a president there were two candidates: Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar. Rizal announced beforehand that he would not accept the presidency if he did not obtain at least two-thirds of the votes. Both candidates had their respective enthusiastic and determined followers. During the election there were heated disputes and even personal encounters. Rizal, even though he was elected legally by roll call voting, renounced the position, giving as a reason that his chairmanship might provoke animosity among Filipinos; that he did not want to be the cause of the split; and that for the sake of union he would leave the field to Marcelo H. del Pilar, announcing that he would leave for Paris, which he finally did.
With respect to the supposed retraction of Rizal repudiating Freemasonry and returning to the Catholic religion, my personal opinion is expressed in the following letter which I wrote to the President of the Hongkong Committee from Yokohama on March 6, 1897:
My dear friend:
The reading of the last thought of our regretted Dr. Rizal caused my profound emotion. How truly great was that man! It seems that the Spaniards wanted to persecute him down to his grave because they calumniate him, attributing him confessions and retractions which he was not capable of making. This is not the time for polemics and it is better for us to remain silent and to try only to carry out what that great patriot failed to accomplish because of the shortness of his life……”
The greatest mark of glory of Rizal, which makes him deserve our eternal gratitude is the disinterestedness and self-denial which he demonstrated in subordinating his private interest and those of his family to those of his country. When, upon obtaining his degree of Master of Philosophy and Letters and Doctor of Medicine, a brilliant future opened up before him, he did not hesitate to sign his own death sentence by writing and publishing his Noli Me Tangere. He did not even stop to consider the sad prospect of cheating his family of the just hopes which it pinned on him or the certainty that he would reduce it to ruins and misery. Instead, he obeyed nothing but the impulses of his noble and generous heart which dictated to him the duty of liberating his people from the slavery to which they were chained.
What benefits can we get from these teachings of Rizal? It is evident that not all of us can pretend to be reformers of our people, but we can practice the preachings which that great apostle died for, reducing our efforts for the upliftment of our own selves in accordance with the ideals of Rizal. When politicians practice self-denial in order to consider nothing but the general welfare of the country; when judges make their decisions according to the dictates of their conscience, without taking into account outside influences; when a lawyer takes for his sacred mission the defense of truth and justice; when a physician unites to his private interests the welfare of humanity; when a farmer tries his best to get from the land of the maximum produce possible; when a merchant or an industrial magnate takes for his motto the prosperity of his country; when a student studies not only in order to come out with flying colors in the examination but also to be able to investigate the secrets of science in order to place them at the service of his country; then undoubtedly we will have complied with the doctrines preached and practiced by Rizal and will have laid the solid foundations of a strong nationalist feeling which no power on Earth can destroy.
JOSE ALEJANDRINO, “Price of Freedom” p. 1-14.
Filipiniana Reprint Series headed by Renato Constantino.