rizal redux

a decade or so ago, when all i had read were renato constantino’s and teodoro agoncillo’s versions of revolutionary philippine history i actually believed that andres bonifacio, not jose rizal, deserved to be national hero; that rizal didn’t even approve of that glorious revolution that bonifacio led; that he was against all violence, and would have preferred to continue fighting for reforms and representation in mother spain, which fit in exactly with the benevolent-assimilation drama of the new colonizers, no wonder the americans chose to build him up as national hero/role model rather than the radical bonifacio.

and then i got into floro quibuyen’s A Nation Aborted, an alternative reading of rizal’s words and deeds, correspondence with family and friends, as well as testimonies and diaries of people who knew him personally, and wow what an eye opener.

Rizal certainly never precluded the use of force, if it became necessary, as his 19 June 1887 letter to Blumentritt reveals:

I can assure you that I have no desire to take part in conspiracies which seem to me premature and risky in the extreme. But if the government drives us to it, that is to say, when there remains to us no other hope than to seek out ruin in war, when the Filipinos shall prefer to die rather than to endure their miseries any longer, then I too shall advocate violent means. [page 18]

i see now that rizal was the mind and spirit behind the revolution that bonifacio organized and led on the ground as supremo.

The leading light <…> was Rizal, whose initiative in building a “historic bloc” against the colonial regime through his founding of the Liga Filipina, forged an “educative alliance” between the ilustrados and the masses. Though the Liga Filipina lasted barely a week, it provided the model, as well as the springboard, for Bonifacio’s revolutionary party, the Katipunan. [305]

so why did he not lead or take part in the revolution himself? why did he submit to arrest? what was he thinking?

What was Rizal’s vision? In his letter to Marcelo H. del Pilar Rizal had declared explicitly that “our sacred mission” is “the formation of the Filipino nation.” And so he had called on his fellow expatriates to come home “to fight for the nation, the Philippines.”

The great puzzle for us postcolonial Filipinos is that when the moment of truth came in 1896, rather than leading the revolution, Rizal allowed himself to be arrested and, while awaiting his inevitable death sentence, condemned the revolution.

This seeming contradiction has bedeviled nationalist historians like Agoncillo and Constantino. Agoncillo regarded Rizal as a “revolutionary reformist” or a “reformist revolutionary,” which only adds to the confusion. Constantino was more unforgiving, and therefore more mistaken, in dec;aring that Rizal’s real agenda was the hispanization of the indio and the assimilation of the Philippines to Spain.

But is there a contradiction in Rizal? Our problem is that we tend to view the nation in Enlightenment terms, the liberal concept of the nation-state. The nation-state is founded on the principle of sovereignty and is constituted by a people, a state, and a geographic territory. In a so-called democratic nation-state, the theory is that sovereignty resides in the people and the state is to exercise power–in making and enforcing laws as well as waging wars against other sovereign nations-states–in behalf of the sovereign people it supposedly represents.

Yet, Rizal’s vision went beyond the liberalism of the Englightenment, his was a post-Enlightenment vision which at the same time drew on the earlier pre-Enlightenment ethics of Catholicism. Rizal’s concept of the nation, particularly as inscribed in the Noli-Fili,both predates and transcends the liberal concept of the nation-state. Rizal’s perspective is antistatist, counterposing the nation against the state, in terms of an ethics that transcend the imperatives of the state.

For Rizal, the seizure of state power–the quintessential revolutionary goal from the American and French revolutions to the national liberation movements of the twentieth century–cannot be the solution, for the simple reason that the state itself is the problem. Rizal did not welcome the revolution when it came. But he did not condemn his people for embracing it [Emphasis mine].  In his farewell to his people, he linked his martyrdom with their revolutionary struggle:

En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio
Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar
El sitio nada importa, cipres, laurel o lirio,
Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,
Lo mismo es si lo piden la Patria y el hogar.

Bonifacio understood well Rizal’s sentiments when he enlarged the stanza into two in his Tagalog translation:

Sa pakikidigma at pamimiyapis
ang alay ng iba’y ang buhay na kipkip
walang agam-agam, maluwag sa dibdib
matamis sa puso at di ikahapis
[emphasis Quibuyen’s].

Saan man mautas ay di kailangan
cipres o laurel, lirio ma’y putungan
pakikipaghamok at ang bibitayan
yaon ay gaon [gayon] din kung hiling ng Bayan.

Rizal’s concept of the nation resonated deeply with the Pasyon tradition and thus struck a chord in the popular imagination. It resonates as well with the very contemporary notion of civil society. [4-6]

and why did he not escape from dapitan, when he could have, easily?

What he tried successfuly to prove, byhis refusal to escape, was a moral imperative that the Filipinos must have the courage to do what was good for the community even in the face of colonial domination. If his example could be universalized, that is, if every community in the Philippines followed the Dapitan example, in which the ilustrados and the masses worked together for the well-being of the community, a national trend towards social transformation would have ensued. If the Calamba example could inspire every community to resist injustice anywhere, it would be easier to perpetuate injustice anywhere, it would be easier to promote the public welfare. If more and more Calambas and Dapitans could sprout all over the archipelago,a massive movement for social transformation could emerge. This could bring about the reform of civil society on a national scale. In such a situation Spain would have no choice but grant the demands of the people. But if, given such a social momentum, Spain refuses to budge, the people would be better prepared to rise up in arms. With a united people and a strengthened civil society, a revolution would have a better chance of fulfilling its dreams. [312-313]

and a united people who had just won the revolution vs spain would have had a better chance of seriously spurning america.

The road to Redemption is never easy, and many sacrifices have to be made. Over the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Rizal and his family, Bonifacio and Jacinto, Mabini, Evangelista, Malvar, and Sakay, and thousands of nameless others, offered their best years, their youth and their talents, if not their lives, to pave the way for an envisioned national Redemption–a robust and democratic civil society. Looking at the sorry mess in which the Philippines finds itself today, one wonders if all that sacrifice has meant anything at all. But if Jose Rizal were confronted with this question, he would surely have replied that a good man or woman has no choice but to do what is right. [313]

Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism
Floro C. Quibuyen
Ateneo de Manila University Press 1999

not surprisingly leftists who swear by constantino are offended.   here’s roland simbulan’s scathing review:  Rizal as Religion, haha.    quibuyen’s reply:  Constantino as Dogma, hehe.


  1. i love this, given how i’ve been taught to love bonifacio over and above rizal (and since i haven’t read quibuyen, hehe), and all the way here, where Rizal’s footsteps are honoured with plaques no matter how small, or seeming inconsequential. we aren’t taught to be proud of him enough i think, and i speak as someone who has been in school as student and teacher since forever. we are just required to read his books, which is totally different from appreciation, which is totally different from knowing rizal, and how he spoke the way he did.


  2. reb p.

    i should start reading quibuyen :)this is so nice. ive read some of ambeth ocampo’s and ive learned to love and appreciate rizal not just a hero but also as a simple bright guy.

  3. ang mga historian natin hiwang-kalamay ang utak, pinaghihiwalay ang mahahalagang parte ng rebolusyon, may konsepto silang dapat ganito – dapat ganoon – ang rebolusyon ay hindi nagsimula kay rizal, hindi natapos sa cavite, ang mahalaga, walang krimen si rizal, walang krimen si bonifacio, pareho silang pambansang bayani. tama si rizal hindi handa ang taong bayan, si bonifacio lang ang handa sa himagsikan, at aminin natin hanggang ngayon, hindi handa ang pinoy sa rebolusyong magbabagsak sa isang sistema at orden ng lipunang ipinakain sa atin ng kultura ng mga hari – yung kultura ng vatican

  4. jojie-riyadh

    As writers would say, we look back at history to understand the present and how relevant both of these heroes to us today will define the acceptance of the their idealogy towards our future state. If we embrace Bonifacio’s ideals we MAY find the true Filipino spirit of nationalism. If we adore/admire’s Rizal intellectual rectitude, we shall forever hold the dichotomy of relevance in our society, a cultural influence of the Western values alienating a dysfunctional society of confused Malay race.

  5. GabbyD


    “What he tried successfuly to prove, by his refusal to escape, was a moral imperative that the Filipinos must have the courage to do what was good for the community even in the face of colonial domination.”

    why is not escaping good for the community?

  6. jojie umali-riyadh

    @GabbyD -:=) As my senior colleague (Dr. Mohd Carlito Astillero) in the Order of Knights of Rizal (OKOR-Riyadh Chapter) has theorized, Rizal tried to emancipate our people from the colonial domination by pursuing the tripod of development thru socio-economic and political means, that is, his exile in Dapitan gave him the chance to establish agriculture cooperative (socio-economic emancipation)but failed poltiical emancipation since he was deprived of political leadership to engage the Spanish authorities to grant political independence.