Many Overseas Filipinos: Are the Modern-Day Versions of Dr. José P. Rizal y Mercado
An essay by Roberto Reyes Mercado, a Filipino media activist
and a member of the Knights of Rizal.
(Editor’s Notes: This essay is adopted from an article published
in the Festival Magazine, June 25, 1996, issue, which was in turn based
on a pamphlet written on Dec. 30, 1995, the 99th anniversary of
Dr. Rizal’s martyrdom.)
Many Overseas Filipinos, especially Filipino Americans, are talking about the 140th anniversary of the Philippines’ foremost national hero’s birth. He was born on June 19, 1861.
As many of the Overseas Filipinos probably realize, they are like Rizal. They are, by choice, and sometimes by force, exiles like Rizal. Many of them left the Philippines not only to secure a better economic life but also to breathe more easily in a political atmosphere that has more freedom, more tolerance and respect for human rights.
Some of the members of the Philippine expatriate press like to emulate Rizal. Some of them want to continue the unfinished business of Rizal – that is, the changing of the Filipino character. Some of them have even written protest, political novels, just as Rizal did. Some of them go to the extent of writing and circulating mere pamphlets, just as their hero did in Spain in the 1800s.
The Overseas Filipino understands the limitations of comparing himself to Rizal. Along with the more than 30,000 Filipino medical practitioners in North America and Europe, the Overseas Filipinos know that they cannot cure the physical ailments of the indigent Filipinos in their home country the way Rizal, the eye doctor, could. While many of them are well versed in English, not so many of them can talk in straight Spanish, French, German or Latin because they are not the linguists that Rizal was. The Overseas Filipinos are slowly learning a third language. Besides English and a Filipino language, the more than 200,000 Filipinos in Italy are learning Italian. The more than 500,000 Filipino workers in the Middle East are becoming conversant in Arabic. The more than 200,000 Filipinos in Spain are becoming, once again, masters of the Iberian tongue. Some of them try to write poems in English or Spanish, but not many of the budding Filipino poets are as poetic or as good as Rizal was. Many Spaniards consider Jose Rizal one of the top 1,000 writers in the Spanish language.
Changing the World
The Overseas Filipinos who want reforms could do better than Rizal did in his lifetime.
When Rizal was an exile abroad, there were probably less than 5,000 Overseas Filipinos, or, in those days, Españoles Filipinos. Some of the Overseas Filipinos were crewmembers of the Spanish galleons that jumped off their ships in what was then called Nueva España (these were parts of California and Mexico). Today there are more than six-million Filipinos outside the Philippines. The Filipino has displaced the Jew. There are now more Filipinos roving abroad than there are wandering Jews.
The modern-day Overseas Filipinos can help change the world more easily than Rizal could move for reforms, not only in his home country of the Philippines but also in his nooks of the Hispanic world. Not only is this possible because of their sheer quantity, but also because of the quality of their modern lives, or at least the fabric of life as found in their adopted countries. The Filipino is, indeed, a child of the universe. The Filipinos are probably the first true citizens of the world.
The modern Filipino has the Hollywood in him, which Rizal never had. Rizal was but a child of the first superpower in the world, Mother Spain. The modern Filipino not only has the Spanish heritage but also the American influence and training as well. Today’s Filipinos carry the nearly one century of American culture and socioeconomic linkages. And, just as in Rizal’s veins, in the arteries of the modern Filipinos flow the Chinese bloodlines, history and rich heritage. The Filipino today traces his ancestry to three great countries, China, Spain and today’s only superpower, the United States. The Filipino also has roots from the Malay countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Other countries, such as Great Britain, India, France, Saudi Arabia and even the Czech Republic, which is the site of the original Santo Niño de Praga, played roles in the development of the Filipino. No other people in the world can truly say that their roots are as universal as the Filipinos’.
The national leaders of the Philippines, however, refused to admit that the Filipinos have taken the best of different cultures. A Filipino civilization that came from the foreign countries that participated in the making of the Philippines, as a nation. Even in the 1930s, the then Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon said that "he preferred a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government that is run like heaven by the Americans." The Filipinos did not know how hellish some of their governments would become. In short, the Filipino national leaders, unlike Rizal, did not know how to use their Spanish, American, Chinese, Malay, and other foreign, connections to their advantage.
The Information-Highway Advantage
Today is the age of computers, facsimiles, telephones and e-mail. It is the age of the so-called information highway. The modern-day versions of Rizal can, with more ease, disseminate their ideas than what their hero could.
The 21st-century Filipinos can propagate better what Rizal wanted to do. He was a man of peace and for this reason; he did not advocate a bloody rebellion. He did not even want the Filipinos to secede from Spain. He only wanted reforms for the Philippines. Reforms such as representation in the Spanish government in Madrid, Spain.
Rizal, as a man, easily predated Mahatma Gandhi, whom the world experienced only in 1947. The Spanish authorities in Manila made the supreme blunder of executing Rizal. His martyrdom only accelerated the revolution and the killings that accompanied it. Had Rizal lived, he could have done what Gandhi did. Rizal could have fasted too, just as Gandhi’s fasting kept Hindus and Muslims from massacring each other.
Rizal was way ahead also of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was largely responsible for the civil-rights movement in the United States.
Perhaps, the Overseas Filipinos, especially the Filipino Americans, can continue with the unfinished business of Rizal. Perhaps the modern-day versions of Rizal can preach – with more effectiveness and reach – the need to stop the violence in their home country. The Muslims and Christian settlers in Mindanao are killing each other. The communist rebels are fighting the right-wing soldiers. Perhaps, they may succeed where Rizal failed. Rizal’s ideas of reforms did not die with him.
Children of the Universe
Before the Filipinos and the Overseas Filipinos can proceed with the reforms, they probably have to acknowledge the universal idea that Rizal tried to implement. The Filipinos must understand that they are children of the universe and that they must take advantage of their right heritage. The Filipino has not really turned his Spanish, Chinese and American heritage to his benefit. The Filipino leaders try to project an ultranationalist stance that seems to reject the notion that the Filipino people are a unique breed. They look like Chinese-Malay mestizos, have Hispanic names but are the most Americanized Asians. Until and unless the Filipino leaders accept this reality, the country can only attain minimal progress and economic gains. Why? The Philippines still has to take advantage of its being a former territory of the United States. For America is still the biggest market in the industrialized world. The Philippines does not flaunt its Chinese ancestry to the People’s Republic of China. China is the world’s biggest market. Instead the Filipino-Chinese businessmen and industrialists like to deal with Taiwan, in spite of the One-China policy of the Philippines.
It seems that the Philippine leadership does not exercise sensitivity in its dealings with the countries that participated in the making of the Philippine nation. The Philippine tourism officials, for instance, decided to launch the 1998 Filipino "independence" centennial in a Lisbon, Portugal, trade fair. The Filipino officials lack the foresight of remembering the long, traditional feud between the Spaniards and the Portuguese. How insensitive could the Philippine officials get? Don’t they ever read history books? Are they that stupid, naive or what?
Speaking of tourism, the Philippines lags behind her neighbors in attracting tourists. The Philippines, for instance, attracts less than 300,000 tourists from the United States, where there are more than three-million Filipino Americans. On the other hand, Singapore attracts more than 450,000 American tourists despite the fact that there are less than 5,000 Singaporeans in the United States. Indonesia attracts more than 400,000 tourists from the United States. Yet there are only 20,000 Indonesian Americans.
Yet, the Filipino tourism officials never bother to think that the United States and Spain, the mother countries of the Philippines, are the third and second most-popular tourist destinations in the world. In 1995, Spain attracted 45.1-million tourists, up by 4.38% from the previous year’s arrivals. The United States attracted 44.7-million tourists in 1995. China, a country that played an important role in the development of the Philippines as a nation, ranks fifth in the list of the most popular countries for tourism. China attracted 23.4-million tourists in 1995, up by 10.9% over the past year’s figures. Mexico, a country that history considered a sister state of the Philippines, attracted in 1995 19.9-million tourists, up by 16.11% over the previous year’s number of visitors. We have to ask these countries to help us develop the excellent tourism potential of the Philippines. We must learn from the experience of our mother countries!
The leaders of the Philippines must, therefore, learn from the lessons that Rizal tried to teach the Filipino people.