An old law obliged undergraduates to study Rizal's "Noli me Tangere" and "El
Apparently, it is still in force, for today students continue to study the
subject to obtain their college diplomas.
The problem is not that college students are forced to know something about the
national hero; rather, very few teachers know him enough to teach the matter
And, introduced haphazardly to the works of Rizal, students graduate with a
distorted view not only of our national hero, but also of our history.
The law is not bad, and the moral adage does not apply to it, namely: that a
law that leads to no good is bad, and does not oblige.
Still, it seems that the Philippines is the only country that forces its
citizens to study their national hero. American students are not obliged to
study the writings of George Washington, nor Spaniards the life of Charles III
or any of their great kings.
For heroes should be left to stand by themselves. They are, by their own
intrinsic merits, always an inspiration. Are we really sure Rizal belongs to
this select group of human beings? Do we still doubt Rizal's place in history?
To obey the law, ill-prepared teachers split hairs trying to prove that Maria
Clara or Sisa personify the Philippines, the former in her glory, the latter in
Students, of course, end up hating the Spaniards -- even today! -- when even
Rizal knew how to distinguish between the people and their government.
In a quiz, third year college students had to explain whether Rizal's first
novel was a tragedy or a comedy. Of this group, very few, alas, knew what
"tragedy" or "comedy" is.
A number wrote that the Noli is a comedy because they laughed at the antics of
Do˝a Victorina or Do˝a Consolacion.
Others wrote that Rizal wrote a "powerful" tragedy, because the story made them
cry and sympathize with the sufferings described in the novel.
Only about three or four wrote that the Noli is a tragedy because the
protagonist's "tragic flaw" led to his failures.
These students will soon finish their academic training in a little over a
year. And yet, they still have not understood the various literary genera to
read a book intelligently!
How then will they understand the commercial propaganda that bombards us daily,
fighting for our wills and pocketbooks?
The students had to analyze the last sentence of Chapter 24 of the Noli: "Put
on your masks; you are again among your brothers!"
One or two wrote that, in contrast to the gaiety and free exchange in the woods
during the picnic, the characters of the story began to pretend that they were
in the towns.
Another added that in the woods, the characters were so free that the constable
even dared criticize Fray Salvi to his face, and the latter also pointed out
the petty crimes he was committing. Everyone was free and not afraid to be
himself or herself. But when they approached the town, they had to pretend they
were not who they were!
A correct interpretation, but not complete. For, ironically, Spanish colonial
policy dictated that the people should be taught to live in permanent
settlements that grew into our towns. The towns were the stage where culture
and civilization were transmitted to our ancestors.
The irony is that, by Rizal's time, it was the complete opposite. Town life
meant people could no longer be themselves. In the town, if we may borrow
today's terms, one found robbers in robes -- abusive guardia civil, corrupt
town officials, immoral friars, etc.
This, indeed, was the social cancer Rizal wanted to uncover.
The authors of the Rizal Law, of course, had the best of intentions -- to
inspire the youth with Rizal's ideas as to spur them to imitate him.
Unfortunately, inspiration and imitation can never be forced. As philosophers
say, only when we know something do we begin to like it. Only when Rizal is
known will the youth want to be like him.
Rizal's intrinsic merits should suffice! If the national hero is a man of great
worth, people will follow his example.
Early in 1898, the Spanish intelligence in Hong Kong reported to the Manila
government that the Filipino community -- almost all of them prominent exiles
after the Cavite mutiny -- observed Rizal's first death anniversary on 30
December 1897, with special ceremonies celebrating Rizal's heroic death to
extol his greatness.
Why mention this? Simply, to show that even before he was officially declared a
national hero, or even without a law imposing the duty to read his works, his
contemporaries already felt Rizal was someone to emulate.
As in the Church, the process of canonization always starts with proof that
there has been a cultus localis, that the future saint (or hero) has from the
start people who have already considered him as one.
Canonization, or official declaration that Rizal (or anyone else) is a hero, is
the end of the process.
It confirms, but can never create a hero.
SOURCE: MANILA, PHILIPPINES | Monday, September 25, 2000