Chapter 05: Home
During his five years' absence from the Philippines Rizal had been receiving many letters from his brother Paciano, from his sisters Olimpia, Narcisa, Josefa, Maria, Saturnina, Lucia and her husband Mariano Herbosa, from his mother, and from friends in the Philippines.
Hardly had he reached Spain when his friends wrote that a terrible epidemic of cholera was sweeping away thousands of victims in and near Manila. As letters concerning this scourge reached Rizal, they made his sensitive heart yearn to go to their relief. José's father did not write any letters, but he sent word at every opportunity to say how proud he was of his son's achievements. And his mother, Paciano told him, burst into tears as she read his letters. José had taken Paciano's advice and written them only the news that would "make them happy".
What made Rizal most heartsick was to read how his father was having trouble with the Dominican friars who claimed his land, while the price of sugar was so low that the family nearly faced ruin. The third year José was strongly inclined to return, at least as far as Hong Kong, but Paciano urged him to stay away; and his friend Felipe Zamora told him never to come back until he had changed his nationality to German, English, or American, -- then the Spanish government would not dare to touch him. (01) After Noli Me Tangere had been printed and smuggled into the Philippines, José M. Cecilio (02) begged Rizal not to come back to the Islands for at least a year. "We will wait and see what effect your book will produce. We are not now going to lose all the good of your brilliant career. We are doing all we can to make your book known; all who have read it are enthusiastic. But you stay there. I will write when you ought to come, as you believe, on account of your mother." He referred to the cataracts in Rizal's mother's eyes; he had been preparing ever since 1882 -- five long years -- to save her sight.
Another cause for many a heartache was the fact that after 1884 he did not receive letters from Leonor Rivera, (who always signed herself "Faimis") but he did receive alarming news about her. In March of that year he learned from his friend José M. Cecilio that Leonor's mother was opposed to her marrying Rizal. "In truth, dear namesake," wrote Cecilio, "this girl week by week is sick with fever, and it is, as you well know, the result of the ardent passion she feels for you." (03)
In 1882 Antonio Rivera moved with his family to Dagupan. (04) Here Mrs. Rivera bribed two post office clerks to give her all the letters that were written by either of the lovers. So the letters and gifts, which had been coming from Rizal to Leonor by every boat, suddenly stopped. She thought her fiancé must be ill. "I know José," she said, "he has given me his word. He will die before he breaks it."
The last letter Leonor ever received from José was written March 30, 1884. He wrote it to her and her father together:
"Today I visited your family (relatives in Madrid). I do not know whether it is my patriotism or what but this family is very dear to me. The children are charming. One of the children, José, talked until I had a good laugh. The oldest girl has been in Concordia (College) and knows many girls there. [Then he writes in French] The girls of my own country please me greatly, but I have found one back home who has charmed and who makes me dream. Whenever I am overcome with pensive melancholy I unfold all my past before my vision. I am going to be like that traveler who goes down the road smelling flowers; he passes without touching them for fear they may prove unreal. . . My days pass swiftly and I see that I am becoming old for my age, as many people tell me. [This at twenty-three!] I do not have the smiling face of those with tranquil hearts, and hopes for the future; yet I have done nothing that would not meet with your approval. My conscience does not trouble me, for I have deprived myself of many pleasures. I believe my heart has not lost any of its power to love, -- only the one I love most is not here." (05)
Rizal never received Leonor's answer to this letter, for her letter to him was intercepted in the Dagupan post-office. All the information he could get about her came indirectly through letters from friends.
Rizal's friend, Mariano Katigbak, wrote in June, 1884: "You would not know Leonor if you now saw her. Your sweetheart is going down very much, no doubt because of her worry. She, who, I think, knew love for the first and only time, has sacrificed the man of her heart, and sees that instead of the approach of a happy ending, that ending is getting farther away with gigantic strides." (06)
José M. Cecilio wrote in September, 1885: "I congratulate you on your good choice of the woman who is to be your faithful companion. She is no longer in Concordia College but in Dagupan, Pangasinan, beside her parents -- and I do not know whether she will return to finish her education.
In May, 1886, Cecilio again wrote that "The beautiful but delicate Question of the Orient is still in Dagupan beside her parents who rave about her. Her friend Sixto Lopez told me that he had been in that town, taking supper in their home. . . This young man became most enthusiastic over the Question, whom he found each day more precious and thrifty, but according to him she is now no more to be seen with as much finery as when we were together in their house." (07)
It was with mingled eagerness and apprehension that Rizal slowly steamed homeward by way of the Suez Canal, reaching Manila on August 3, 1887. He was pulled thither by his three great loves: his family, his country, and a frail sweetheart pining for him in Dagupan.
He hurried to Calamba to meet his family, who nearly smothered him with affection. The first thing he did was to perform the delicate operation of removing his mother's cataracts. It was a perfect success, -- the first time the operation had been performed in the Philippines. (08)
His next thought was to fly to Dagupan to see Leonor. But he did not go! His reason can be understood only in the light of Philippine custom during the Spanish period. Absolute unquestioning obedience to the word of parents was the unwritten law, even when a son or daughter had come of age and had left home. Marriages were arranged by mutual agreement of parents, who paid little attention to their children's attacks of romantic love. Whether we believe that these customs were better than those of our day or not, we must admire Rizal for the manliness with which he obeyed them as he followed everything which he believed to be his duty. Leonor's mother, as Rizal already knew, was bitterly opposed to the engagement, and against her opposition, custom made marriage impossible. When, therefore, Rizal asked his parents for permission to go to Dagupan they did not consent. Without a word of anger or even a protest, the great man bowed his head and said, "Very well, father, I will not go." Never up to that moment had the voice of duty been so terrible. Three years later when his younger sister Soledad was chafing under the restraint of her parents, Rizal reminded her of his own sacrifice:
"Regarding myself," he told Soledad," I can tell you (without trying to offer myself as a model for you), that in my love affairs I have always behaved myself honorably, because I would have felt humiliated if I had behaved myself in any other manner. I have disapproved of all young people who behaved in a secretive manner and hid themselves in the dark.
"I urge you earnestly to be considerate of the gray hairs of our parents, who are already very old and ought to enjoy the glory of their last days. There is a certain selfishness in parental love, it is true, but it is a selfishness that is the child of an excess of love. Parents do not wish to see their children unhappy. I am a man, and when I came back to our country I had more years than you have, more experience, more mature judgment, and above all, more obligations. You know well, as all know, that it was my duty to have gone, and I could have gone to Pangasinan, since I was engaged, and since this had been one of my greatest longings for many years. Nevertheless, in spite of this desire which I had nurtured for so long and which I even yet cherish, the opposition of our parents was enough for me to sacrifice all my sentiments. I longed to go to Bacolor, but they were opposed, so I surrendered and obeyed. And nevertheless from my disobedience there would have resulted not the least dishonor. Leonor has done the same as I, although she was able to go and desired to go to Manila with her father to visit her cousins. One word of opposition from him was enough; she did not insist upon going; and frankly, if she had insisted and I had known about it, I surely would not have gone to see her.
"This also is what I ask of you, of Trining, and of Pangoy. Hold always before your eyes the honor and the good name of all. Do not do anything that it is not possible to tell and repeat before everybody with the head upraised and the heart content. If you have a lover, instead of those secret places and conversations which do nothing but lower the honor of a woman in the eyes of a man, conduct yourself with him in a noble and honorable way, like honest men, and not as robbers or adventurers who conceal themselves and are clandestine. The more you esteem your own honor, the more others will esteem and value you. Thanks to our parents, you have instruction and education. I can speak to you like this, for you are my sister, and I repeat: 'Think about your honor and ours.' You have many relatives. Give them a good example and make us proud of you.
It was the fine sense of honor revealed in this letter to his sister that prevented Rizal from seeing Leonor during his six months' visit to the Philippines.
Fortunately, José had enough hard work to prevent him from brooding over his sorrow. The fame, which resulted from the operation on his mother's eyes, spread at once. As a child, Rizal had been found of sleight of hand tricks, and some of the ignorant people had treated him with superstitious awe even before he left Calamba for school. This new miraculous operation brought back old memories and set people to talking first at Calamba and then far through the Islands. People flocked to Calamba, and Rizal presently found himself the most renowned doctor, and one of the busiest, in the country. During the next five months his fees amounted to 5,000.
The Filipinos adored him too for the book Noli Me Tangere, which had reached the Islands before him and had found eager buyers. People said that all the characters in the book were real people, as in point of fact, they were. It was history written with fictitious names. Those who knew Rizal's home well, realized that he had seen or heard of the incidents which he had related, and that only the names were new. Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, a youth who went to Europe to study and to find out how to bless his country, is Rizal, himself. His father has trouble with the friars, is thrown into prison, and dies. This is a composite of Rizal's father and mother. Though they were still living when the book was written, hundreds of other martyred men made that part of the story true in every corner of the archipelago. Maria Clara is Ibarra's sweetheart and fiancée, but because he has trouble with the friars, the girl's father, Captain Tiago, breaks off the engagement and marries her to another man, which breaks her heart and results in her death. Maria Clara is Leonor Rivera; her father represents Mrs. Rivera. Tasio, the philosopher, is José's brother Paciano. The people of Calamba with sure finger pointed out all the rest of the characters: Father Damaso, the cruel Dominican friar, who claims most of the land about Calamba; poverty stricken Sisa, the victim of the bad system, who does not have enough to eat and goes hungry while her boys have a little food; Civil Guards arresting Sisa for alleged theft, -- they had seen them all time and time again. The book was a thousand times true. The picture of the Governor General who requests the archbishop to cancel the excommunication, perfectly represents well-meaning Terrero, who was Governor General when Rizal reached Manila. Indeed, as Rizal had said, every incident in the book had "actually happened".
His friend Regidor wrote from London one of scores of delighted comments of Noli Me Tangere: (09)
"I have today finished your most interesting story; and I confess frankly that I have never read anything truer or more gratifying in reference to this shame which curses our society. Who does not know Father Damaso? Ah, I have met him! . . . And although in your brilliant impersonation of him in the novel you have him wearing the garb of a dirty Franciscan, always coarse, always tyrannical, always corrupt, I have met him and studied him in real life in the Philippines, at times in the white habit of the white habit of the Augustinian, sometimes as a Franciscan, as you have presented him, and sometimes in the bare feet and tunic of a Recollect. . . Your Capitan Tiago is inimitable, combining as he does the characters of two or three of our countrymen. Who does not find those who personify this disgraceful type, a worthy cousin to Ate Isabel. I have met them. . . The old man Tasio brings to my memory two or three famous countrymen of ours, those who have fallen during the night, among them the apostate Quaker, Francisco Rodriguez, and I remember others whom you and I know whom we cannot yet name. Father Salvi is the truest representative of the much-vaunted Filipino missionary. How many persons who pretend to know our country will claim that the noble and unfortunate Elias is a pure ideal? . . . This type among us is well known to you and to me, because we have thought and felt and suffered with them. . . The 'good servant' Don Primitivo and the 'wise' Sibyia, picture perfectly the ancient Thomases, Josephs, and Laterans full of distinctions and Latin, which is useless for reason as well as for life. . . How many children of my infancy, infatuated with this supposed erudition still are living! . . . These are really perfect types of the social life of the Archipelago, I do not know how to praise Ibarra enough. His life and misfortunes are so like my own humble history! I do not know whether anyone will dare to dispute the absolute truthfulness of this victim of despotism and colonial corruption, but if this should happen, I could point out to him historical facts. . . It is even better than a photograph.
"Maria Clara is the sublime type of pure love, of paternal respect, of gratitude, and of sacrifice. There are unfortunate victims of the religious-colonial avarice, exiled martyrs who with slight variations can be called Lucia of Ymus, others Anita of Binondo, others Ysabel of Pangasinan etc etc. . . . The fanaticism of Hermanas Terceras completes the coloring of this admirable description.
"If we pass from persons to the politico - philosophical - social implications of this book it is a perfect mirror of some, if not all, the great evils that afflict our land. You exhibit naked the cancer which most needs to be remedied . . . and by doing this in a humorous vein which you carry through so skillfully by relating history and anecdotes of daily occurrences, either employing irony or sarcasm, you hold the facts to ridicule and draw from the reader a cry of indignation.
"You are still a child and have already produced this red hot shot against that system!
"Your devoted friend and admirer,
Retana says the principal conclusions of
Noli Me Tangere
Vigilant spies carried Noli Me Tangere to the government, and the government appointed a committee from Santo Tomas University to examine it. The committee did a thorough job. The rector of Santo Tomas reported to the Archbishop: "In returning the copy you sent us, we have noted with a red pencil the statements against Spain, the Government and its representatives in these Islands. With a blue or black pencil other statements, impious, heretical, or scandalous, or objectionable for other reasons. All the narrative, absolutely all taken together and in its details, the important and unimportant incidents, are against doctrine, against the church, against the religious orders, and against the institutions, civil, military, social and political, which the Government of Spain has implanted in these islands. Noli Me Tangere of J. Rizal, printed in Berlin, if circulated in the Philippines, would cause the gravest dangers to faith and morals, would lessen or kill the love of these natives for Spain, and stir up the passions of the inhabitants of the country, and cause sad days for the mother country". (10)
A government decree followed at once, excluding the book from the Philippines, requiring a search for any copies of it that might be in the Islands, and providing that any Filipino found with Noli Me Tangere in his possession should be deported and his property confiscated and given to the person who should betray him. The decree had no effect excepting to advertise the book and to enhance the popularity of its writer. Copies were smuggled into the Islands to be read secretly. They were buried in fields at the approach of offices and dug up when the officers had gone.
Even Rizal's friends the Jesuits turned against him. When he visited the Ateneo, Padre [Federico] Faura "knowing the change and the great wickedness which had put impiety into his soul, tried to bring him back to the right road. But in vain, for the unfortunate man with obstinate coldness -- though making a great profession of being loyal to Spain -- said that all discussion of religion was useless, for he had already lost the inestimable treasure of his faith. Padre Faura then said that if his beliefs were like that, he should no more set his feet within the Ateneo." (11)
Not until some five months had passed, was Rizal molested. Then he was called to Malacañang [The Governor's, now Presidential palace] for an interview with Governor General Emilio Terrero, who told him that the Dominican Committee had found Noli Me Tangere very dangerous. Rizal assured Terrero that the book was innocent of the slightest slander against the government, though it did reveal some friar injustice, and asked him to read it before passing judgment. The Governor General agreed to read the book, and was secretly pleased at its exposure of the friars. At his next interview he was very friendly, and being solicitous for Rizal's welfare, gave him a bodyguard, Lieutenant José Taviel de Andrade, A Spaniard, became one of Rizal's warmest admirers and friends, and remained so to the end of his life. (12)
Partly or wholly as a result of reading Noli Me Tangere, Governor General Terrero started an investigation of the notorious inequalities in taxation which then existed. In the course of this investigation, the municipal government of Calamba was requested to make a statement of its relationship to the big Dominican Hacienda, the one on which the Rizal family lived. It seemed to Rizal that this request was another answer to his life question: What could he do for his family, his town, and his country? He urged the people to tell all the truth, but to avoid exaggeration. With these facts before him, he prepared a report so moderate in tone and so loaded with indisputable facts, that the whole town, the officials, and even the agents of the friars signed it. One of Rizal's characteristics was a marvelous ability to see and say the exact truth.
The friars had acquired about one tenth of the agricultural land of the Philippines -- and the best tenth -- in a variety of ways, but seldom if ever by paying for it. Much they secured by grants from the government, which they dominated, some came by gifts from pious old people for perpetual prayers for themselves or their dead, some by debts at usurious interest. The friars did not have definite landmarks in spite of the fact that the people owning land in their neighborhood wanted landmarks. (13)
They would often ask these neighbors to make gifts of money or products for the church, and then, (in Spanish, which they were careful to see that the Filipino laborers did not learn) they gave receipts for payment of canon, as though they owned the land of those who made the gifts. After a number of years they presented these "rental receipts" to the government as proof that the neighbors acknowledged friar ownership.
Usually when the rentals were small, the tenants paid them, but as the rentals increased until there was little left for the families to live on, they refused to pay if a leader appeared with enough courage to defy the friars. Rizal possessed the courage and the intelligence the Calamba tenants needed.
The principal points in his report to the Governor General were: (14)
"Calamba is one of the most industrious agricultural towns of the province, as is shown by the forests cleared and cleaned, and by the machines and mills. In spite of this, agriculture is decaying, the farmer is ruined, and learning is declining (formerly there were twenty students in three colleges, today there are only four). Some farmers have left and gone to other sections, and the only reason all do not imitate them is because they have no capital and are in debt and have all their belongings tied up in the land of the hacienda. A bad future threatens the town if the government does not remedy these evils. . . Calamba, January 8, 1888."
This extremely important document states in Rizal's clear logical fashion the conflict which lay at the foundation of his entire career. Had there been no Calamba outrages there would have been no immortal Rizal.
The mistake in the entire report was its confidence in the Governor General. He failed them.
The report was filed away without any action taken, and the friars proceeded to persecute those who had reported against them. The town submitted a second document to the government appealing for protection:
"Our previous report, signed by three officials of the hacienda, has come to the ears of the lay-brother manager of the hacienda, who, in anger, threatened to raise the rentals of some and to dispossess others. Officials circulated the rumor that because the tenants had told the truth, the town would be dragged in chains, because the corporation was rich and would spend ten thousand pesos on the case in order to come out triumphant. . .
"Soon the threats were carried into action by trying to drive the tenants from their land, force them to stop work, etc. Alarmed at these insane threats, we appeal to the government of the nation to intervene directly and immediately to prevent incalculable evils.
"Since it is impossible to live in peace with the hacienda, the town was placed in the dilemma of having to tell lies to the government so as not to die, or of being dispossessed because we honestly complied with our obligation; in this anomalous situation the town requests that it be separated from the hacienda, and that the land be sold or ceded to those who have invested their money and their labor in it.
"The town, situated in the heart of the hacienda, will be morally corrupted if, as a result of this fight started by the Governor General, it sees that the fruit of its honesty is hunger, vexation, and misery.
"As a matter of fact, Mr. Asanza, who, they now claim, originally ceded this hacienda to the corporation to pay his debts, could not have been the owner of the whole town, for he had bought it from nobody, and had not cleared nor planted it. The citizens of Calamba are the ones who, thanks to their efforts, money, and labor, have made these lands workable and productive, while the hacienda has contributed nothing excepting ruin to many farmers.
"The town has suffered far too long without complaint; but now, exhausted with poverty, in a great and terrible crisis, it turns with its miseries to a Governor General who is full of fatherly intentions. It turns to him, not asking subsidies, nor privileges, nor sacrifices, but only justice and equity, to which it has a right as a member of a nation known for its justice and noble qualities." (15)
Signed by seventy persons.
But again Governor General Terrero kept silent. Instead of a reform, the investigation turned out to be a trap, from which neither Rizal's family, nor Calamba, nor Rizal himself would ever escape. (16) It was the bitterest blow possible to a man who had pinned his faith on education and gradual reform. It was the beginning of his loss of faith in Spain. Writing about it later, Rizal revealed how the gall had penetrated his soul: (17) "The government was afraid to fight for the truth and abandoned the unfortunate town. * * * The document was read, signed by all the leading people; the author signed it with his full name; women, landowners, Chinese, servants, laborers signed it, the whole town signed it, because we had the courage of our convictions and because we believed in the sincerity of the government and in its zeal for the country's welfare.
"Nothing, nothing was done. Of all this there remain only the retaliations upon the unfortunate town, the victim of its loyalty to the government and its own good faith. . . ."
Indeed, this experience and the fate that overtook Calamba as a result, gradually produced a new Rizal, older, sadder, disillusioned, and baffled. When he wrote the Noli Me Tangere he implied that much of the plight of the Philippines was due to their own weaknesses and that things would improve when they deserved improvement. But this Calamba atrocity proved his book wrong. He had failed! He must begin again. . .
What cut deepest was the pathetic manner in which his countrymen looked to him for help. They seemed to have no other hope, and they seemed to believe he could accomplish anything. Their admiration and confidence knew no bounds. They boasted not only about his mighty brain but about his equally mighty muscles. Everyday with the regularity of clockwork he had spent a half hour with rings and horizontal bars and dumb-bells until his arms were like steel. Stories are told to this day about his strength. They tell how he put a bar across his shoulders behind his neck, wrapped his arms over it, and challenged six men to take it from him. They could not do it! (18)
Most of all the people trusted him for his integrity. If he said a thing all the world knew it was true. He would say to his nephews and younger sisters time after time, "I would rather shoot you than have you tell a lie!" The first impression the living members of his family still recall is his inflexible integrity.
Rizal's daring exposure of the Calamba oppression and injustice had gone
farther than the Governor General had expected. The Spanish way was not to
apply a drastic cure to such wrongs, but to cover them up, for fear of an
uprising of the people, and even more for fear of the tremendous power which
the friars wielded. Terrero decided that Rizal had done more than enough; so
he advised him that for his own good it would be better for him to leave the
country at once. (19) The advice was a sugarcoated command. Rizal's six
months with his family in Calamba had come to an end. Would he ever, he
wondered as he prepared to leave, see that home of his happy childhood
again? He never did.