Chapter 12: Hong Kong
Rizal was convinced that he could accomplish nothing further in Europe. Against his will he had been drawn into a political controversy among the Filipinos. One group was bent upon making him the Filipino leader, while another group rallied around Marcelo H. del Pilar. Friends of Del Pilar were beginning to print the kind of attacks that always appear in political conflicts. Rizal resolved to take himself out of the picture at once. He wrote to Del Pilar:
"I ought not to introduce division in this publication [La Solidaridad]. I prefer to be buried in solitude and isolation, rather than disturb the harmony and peace of its editors. (01) My politics -- if the life I am leading can be called politics -- is to become eclipsed and to leave you as the head of the Filipino politics. I wish to be sure that I may never be regarded as a stumbling block to anybody, even though this involves my own fall." (02)
It had become a fixed principle of this great soul to resolve the clash of conflicting ambitions by sacrificing himself.
He had now lost all faith in the power of any of the Filipinos in Spain to do effective service for the Philippines. He wrote to Manila:
"If our countrymen repose their faith only in us who are here in Europe, they make a great mistake. I do not wish anybody to be deceived . . . . This general credulity that we may be able to aid from these distant lands seems to me to be a great error. The medicine must be applied close to the wound.
"If it had not been for the fact that I did not wish to shorten the lives of my parents, I would have returned to the Philippines, come what might. Those five months when I was there are a living example, a book far better than Noli Me Tangere. The battlefield is in the Philippines; there is where we ought to be found. . . . Would to God my parents were not in danger of being killed, for then you would see me back in our homeland. There is where we ought to aid one another, there is where we ought to suffer together and possibly triumph." (03)
Rizal desired to get away from Europe for still another reason. Persistent rumors reached him that some of the Filipinos in Madrid were getting money from the Philippines by using his name, and then wasting and misappropriating it. (04) Old Graciano Jaena, who had been the founder of La Solidaridad, but had been jockeyed out of his position and left in poverty, wrote to Rizal urging him to help bring about the "downfall of these little patriots who exploit patriotism for their own profit . . . We should swear to prevent, by every means, the triumph of these false apostles of the salvation of the Philippines." (05) Rizal would not then nor at any other time lift a finger against his countrymen, but he could not rest so long as he was entangled with any affair which was in the slightest degree questionable. He must get away!
Hong Kong was clearly the right place to go, at least for the time being, not only because it was near the Philippines, but also because his dear friend Basa was there. Then in Hong Kong, as Jaena wrote, "You will find a group of enthusiastic young men not yet contaminated by these miserable passions that divide us in Europe. Stir up their zeal, direct their ideals into the right road, and you, with our exquisite tastes, will do much good for the Philippines. . . . I have written to them and they will receive you in Hong Kong as their master and guide." (06)
He sailed for Hong Kong on the S. S. Melbourne on October 18, 1891. He was the only Oriental in his class. Most of the others were Germans, for the ship had sailed from Hamburg. One day the wind blew a door open. A woman said in German:
"If this man in front of me were a gentleman he would close the door."
Without a word Rizal rose, closed the door, and resumed his seat. Then he pleasantly opened conversation with them in German, and talked so fluently that they treated him with respectful awe. He was the most cultured and highly educated person on the ship.
With him he carried eight hundred copies of the first edition of El Filibusterismo, hoping that he might be able to introduce them into the Philippines little by little, through ship captains, Chinese, or other travelers. But, if we may believe Retana, "nearly all the copies were confiscated and immediately spoiled. A few 'sons of the land' possessed El Filibusterismo, but because of the severity of Despujol, most of the possessors reduced the book to ashes. The first edition of Rizal's second novel therefore became very rare soon after it was born. Hence it is that a bookseller in Madrid came to ask for a single copy no less than four hundred pesos." (07)
When Rizal reached Hong Kong he opened his office as an oculist. Dr. Lorenzo Marques, a prominent Portuguese physician, admired his skill as a surgeon, and had great affection for him as a man. All of Dr. Lorenzo's eye cases were turned over to the distinguished Filipino, and he soon had a thriving practice. He could have become a successful and renowned practitioner if only this nightmare of his country and his relatives had ceased to torment his nights. But nearly every mail contained news like the following from his brother-in-law Manuel Hidalgo:
Governor General Vallerian P.
"I am sending you copies of the official letters and decrees ordering the deporting of twenty-five families from Calamba, so you may realize the critical plight of our town. I am preparing a letter to the Queen Regent (08) which Nancy will also sign. In it I am telling all that [Governor General] Weyler has done against us and how impossible it is for us to get justice. I have told not only about our own family but also about all who were involved in the last deportation from Calamba. If the Queen will not listen we will write to Queen Victoria of England appealing for protection in the name of humanity against the deportation of twenty-five persons from Calamba, including father, Nening, Sisa, Lucia, Paciano, and the rest of us. . . . We are impatiently awaiting our own deportation, perhaps to Jolo. We are not afraid. We avoid, when we can do so, letting them see us, but if they take us, we will go without fear, without anxiety. I am convinced that, come what may, though the very skies fall, all will come out well, because we have done no wrong. Nening feels the same." (09)
Such letters, full of magnificent courage but nursing hopes which Rizal's bitter experience in Europe had taught him were futile, wrung his heart until it bled. He wrote his loved ones:
"I am following step by step the bitter Calvary which you are treading. Do not be afraid, for I am working and working. If you would allow me to go there and reunite with you, what joy that would be! Perhaps everything would be different! So just give me your permission and I will come at once. I hope and have assurance that we will come out all right. I have learned of the exile of four of our fellow townsmen to Jolo, and of the return of my brother to Manila. I have learned too, that Nanay, Pangoy, and Trinidad have once more been summoned before the civil government. Paciano, a little patience! Courage!
Eagerly longing to embrace
"Working and working," that letter had said. And he was making fine progress with a new plan! This was to take his relatives and the three hundred families, who had been dispossessed in Calamba, to Borneo and there to establish a new Filipino colony under the free British flag.
Rizal took a steamer from Hong Kong to Borneo. The British governor of that Island conceded the Filipinos 100,000 acres of land, a beautiful harbor, and a good government for 999 years, free of all charges. (11) Jaena wrote from Barcelona: "I received your postal card which you sent me from Borneo. Congratulations for the idea of founding a country of Filipinos. It will be a base from which must issue later the redemption of our Archipelago. . . . have a piece of land ready for me there, where I can plant sugar cane . . ." (12)
Other friends in Europe were equally excited and could hardly wait to join the expedition. (13)
He began to gather his loved ones about him in
Hong Kong in spite of many difficulties. On December 12, 1891, his heart was
beating high with new hope as he wrote to his sister Maria:
At length his mother and sisters Lucia, Pangoy, Josefa, and Trinidad, were able to get out of the Philippines; and they reached Hong Kong after a stormy voyage and much seasickness. (15)
Rizal performed the second operation on the cataracts which had grown in his mother's eyes, and she could now see with both eyes.
He urged the rest of the family to hurry over as soon as possible. Saturnina agreed to come (16) though she named some objections. Spanish was not spoken in Hong Kong and she thought it would be a long, painful process to learn English. Could they do business without knowing the English language? Would the children's diplomas from Hong Kong be good in the Philippines?
And self-confident brother-in-law Manuel de Hidalgo did not like it at all. "This idea about Borneo is no good. Can't we stay in the Philippines, in this lovely country of ours? And besides, what will people say? Why have we made all these sacrifices? Why should we go to a foreign land until we have first exhausted all of our efforts for the welfare of the country which nurtured us from our cradles? Tell me that!" (17) Naively he expected that his letter to the Queen (08) would reform the Philippines!
"Until we have first exhausted all of our efforts! . . ." Manuel had said. This was exactly what Rizal was doing -- exhausting every effort. All efforts were failing excepting this Borneo project and one other plan, which meant probable death. Was conceited Brother-in-law Hidalgo after all right? Perhaps Rizal ought to accept death to make the Philippines safe for his relatives, rather than take them to another country.
Again and again he wrote of going to Manila "to see the Bull close up", but repeated and frantic opposition prevented him. "The committee has a real fit of terror," he wrote, "every time I say I am going from here. I have always believed a man goes into hiding only when he is very much afraid." (18) He was not afraid, and meant to go if there were the slightest hope of his doing any good. Then came an event which was pregnant with destiny. Governor General Weyler departed and a new Governor General named Eulogio Despujol arrived in Manila. (19) Despujol promulgated a fine sounding program of reforms. Was this the opportunity for which Rizal had been praying?
He wrote the Governor General a beautiful
letter of congratulations: "You are in a country," he said, "profoundly
demoralized and on the eve of falling into a lamentable skepticism, which
might drive it into a crisis; and I consider your step as the act of a wise
governor and as that of a man of good purpose. . ." Then he offers the
Governor General his aid:
Your loyal and
But no reply came from the Governor General. On the contrary, the persecution of Calamba continued unabated. Brother-in-law Leyba wrote: (21) "We have passed the Christmas holidays sadly, with neither dancing nor entertainments, for we have lost all heart for such things. . . Matias Belarmino was seized Christmas night in his house, and because he was ill of malaria, he was held in the Calamba jail until he recovers and can be taken to Manila and exiled to Jolo."
Rizal sent scores of pages of accusations to the Spanish government, including a letter to the Queen (08) herself from his mother. (22) All the comfort he got was this: His former lawyer Lunares Rivas of Madrid felt "deeply about the great troubles that have come upon yourself and your family. . . You have seen enough of the world to know how such things occur without the government knowing about it and without being able to remedy it as quickly and as energetically as they might wish. A thousand considerations of state prevent it, and this is as true in Spain as in England and Holland and all colonizing countries. . . (!)
"I have seen the Foreign Minister about the Calamba matter, and have acquainted him with all the details, telling him of my proposal and the part his ministry has to play in it. My impression is that the ministry is distressed by the injustice with which things have been done, and that he will seek a method of correcting said grievances, without infringing upon the authority and prestige of the Governor General. (!) (23)
Beautiful words these were, but very weak, vague, and empty!
Juan Luna wrote from Paris that on January 30, 1892: "There was held in the Martin Theatre in Paris a protest meeting against the oppression of your relatives and neighbors in Calamba. Persons in authority and of great fame spoke, but I fear that after protests by opposing Spaniards, it will end in protests and no more. The atrocities perpetuated against your family will pass into history, but no justice can be expected from the Mother Country, who almost always puts herself on the side of the men with the sword to maintain her accursed prestige, and never on the side of justice."
These ominous words echoed in his ears: "No justice can be expected from the Mother Country". What paths then lay open for him? Should he take up arms with the revolutionary party which was growing stronger with every new atrocity? As though heaven were answering his question, came a letter from his fine friend Fernando Blumentritt:
"I urge you not to become involved in revolutionary agitations. He who enters a revolution ought to be able to have at least the probability of success, if he does not wish to charge his conscience with the shedding of useless blood. Always it has proven true that when a country rose against another which dominated her, a colony against the mother country, the revolution has failed to triumph by its own strength. The American Union became free because France, Spain, and Holland joined her. The Spanish Republics [led by Simón Bolivar and others all Latin American Republics, save Cuba and Puerto Rico had declared their independence from Spain by 1825] achieved their liberty because there was a civil war in the home country [Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808] and because North America distributed arms and money to them. The Greeks attained their freedom [from the Ottoman Empire] because the English, French, and Russians aided them. . . If today an insurrection is undertaken in the Philippines, it will end in tragedy, because of your situation in the Islands; standing alone and without a navy there is no probability of your success. Besides the insurgents do not have ammunition for more than five months. I may add that there are too many among the Filipinos who believe in the Friars. A revolution will only give glory to the dead and increase the oppression of the tyrants." (24)
Whether or not Rizal was an absolute pacifist is a fit subject for debate. That he fixed his hopes upon the education of his own country and of Spain until the very last, is certain. He agreed with Blumentritt that insurrection promised only suicide to the Filipinos.
His Borneo project still remained. It alone promised to give his relatives and neighbors relief. Besides, Borneo would be an admirable location from which to pursue the process of education which he believed the Philippines needed most.
Meanwhile in Manila Governor General Despujol
fulfilled some of his liberal promises. Thirteen of those who had been
deported from Calamba to Jolo were pardoned and were returned from exile.
Now was the time, if ever, for Rizal to make the effort in behalf of Borneo.
Brother-in-law S. Ubaldo worked strenuously though secretly in Manila to
find money for the new colony. Relatives and friends contributed money,
jewels, and diamonds for the expedition. People from adjoining provinces,
where oppression was as bad as in Laguna, eagerly sought for information.
(25) The next step necessary was to secure permission from the government
for the colonists to go. After waiting three months for a reply to his first
letter to the Governor General and receiving no reply, Rizal wrote a second
letter (March 21, 1892) and give it to a sea captain who promised to deliver
the letter in person to Governor General Despujol. (26) The letter said:
"Late last year I had the honor to write to Your Excellency offering my poor services; various persons had assured me that Your Excellency, true to your habits of courtesy, would see fit to answer me; and since, up to this moment, I have not received a letter from you, I have to assume that mine must have gone astray.
He was whipped into quick action by
article written by Lete in Madrid, the most caustic attack that had ever
appeared in La Solidaridad. Because José had stopped contributing
articles for that paper, and because he would not help the revolutionary
party, he was accused of settling down comfortably in Hong Kong and
abandoning his country's cause. He had kept his plans as secretly as
possible because he knew he was being watched more closely than any other
Filipino, and this secrecy exposed him to the allegation of doing nothing.
The attack called him egotistical, cowardly, and weak, and said he dreamed
he could win his country's redemption with pious words. A man with Rizal's
keen sense of honor would find this intolerable. To Del Pilar, as editor of
La Solidaridad, he wrote a vigorous protest, but ended by saying.
Rizal made his preparations to leave for Manila in spite of the frantic opposition of friends and relatives. "Nearly everybody opposes your coming and I am of the same opinion," wrote Antonio Lopez. (29) When his sister Trinidad learned of it she became hysterical. "She cried and begged me to advise you not to return, for you would be killed." (30)
Yes. . . probably killed . . . but what could he do to lift their cause out of petty politics to a pure selfless devotion except to offer himself, their leader, a willing sacrifice? What could shock Spain like the news that he had died without malice or fear?
On June 20, 1892, Rizal wrote two beautiful letters packed with fate, one to his relatives and friends, the other to his countrymen. He sealed them and, on the envelope of each wrote: "To be opened after my death." (31) These letters he left with his friend Dr. Lorenzo Marques of Macao.
In all the long pages of history, there is
scarcely a parallel for the two letters which follow: (32)