Jose Rizal
A student in Manila, 1879

It seems fortuitous that Rizal’s date of birth would fall just six days after the celebration of Philippine Independence Day – the proclamation of independence from Spanish rule by General Emilio Aguinaldo in Kawit, Cavite, in 1898. In 1962 then President Diosdado Macapagal decreed the change of date from July 4 to June 12 to reaffirm the primacy of the Filipinos’ right to national self-determination.
(E. SAN JUAN, Jr. Fellow, WEB Du Bois Institute, Harvard University at
Dr. José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonzo Realonda (June 19, 1861- December 30, 1896) wasn’t physically intimidating. Sources peg the National Hero’s height anywhere from 4’11” to 5’2”. The man who slammed Spanish colonial rule in a pair of scathing satirical novels was, in a word, short. His diminutive stature, however, belied the brilliance of his mind and the vastness of his intellect.
“Eternal and imperishable” — the same can be said of Rizal’s legacy. In an essay titled “Why Rizal Is Great,” National Artist for Historical Literature Carlos Quirino declared Rizal “the first individual of his country who could be properly called ‘the universal man.’” He continues: “So diverse were his accomplishments that any race or country in the world would have been proud to have claimed him for their own.”
“Rizal plays such a critical and pivotal role in understanding what it is to be Filipino, what a ‘nation’ is, and what ‘identity’ is,” said Maria Serena I. Diokno, who was appointed chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). “He was so insightful — there is much to learn from him and (he) continues to resonate and be relevant. His wit and satire was perfect for his period but if you read him again, you’ll realize that the questions debated during his time are similar to our uncertainty as a people today.”
(Rizal: Renaissance Man, by Sam L. Marcelo, June 10, BUSINESS WORLD, Reposted by The Philippine Reporter, June 10, 2011at,)
Dr. Jose Rizal is the greatest hero of the Philippines. God has richly blessed Dr. Rizal with superb intellectual, moral, and physical qualities. His God-given talents, he highly consecrated, making him sacrifice his life for the redemption of his own people. He was born on June 19, 1861. Jose was the seventh of the eleventh child of Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonso Realonda.
The Rizal (Mercado) family was blessed with eleven children – two boys and nine girls. They were as follows: Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olympia, Lucia, Maria, JOSE, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad and Soledad. In 1849, Governor Claveria issued a decree that all Filipino families should choose new family names from a list of Spanish family names. Jose Francisco Mercado chose his own surname Rizal from the Spanish word ricial which means “green field” or “new pasture.”
Jose was very frail when he was a little boy. He gets all the attention from his parents, his aya (maid) and the rest of the family. The death of Jose’s little sister Concha had hurt him so much. The death of his little sister was his first sorrow.
Before Jose went to Binan, Laguna for formal schooling, he has been proficient in the brush, chisel, penknife and the pen. He wrote a poem, entitled Sa King Mga Kababata (To My Fellow Children). From 1870 to 1871, Jose attended the private school of Maestro Justiniano Aquino Cruz. The school was a nipa house which is also the house of the teacher, not too far away from Jose’s aunt. He excelled in Spanish, Latin and other subjects. Time came when Jose learned all the things that Maestro Justiniano could teach him. He should be sent to college in Manila.
Jose is very fortunate to be able to go to school in Manila. He studied at the Ateneo de Manila and the University of Sto. Tomas. In 1879, Artistic Literary Lyceum of Manila, a society of literary men and artists held a literary contest. Jose Rizal at that time only eighteen years old submitted the poem, A La Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth) where he earned first prize. This was the first poem ever written by a native Filipino.
Jose Rizal finished four years in a medical course at the University of Sto. Tomas. He was expecting to have gotten higher grades, but due to discrimination of the Dominican friars, Jose did not gain what he expected. Against the will of his parents, he left for Spain on May 3, 1882. After several weeks passing different towns and cities in France, Dr. Rizal arrived in Barcelona. He wrote the essay Amor Patrio (Love of Country), the first he wrote in Spain. He sent this essay to Manila to be published by the editorial staff of the Diariong Tagalog. He used the pen name Laong Laan.
(Dr. Jose Rizal (1861-1896) by: Sir Felix O. Gonzales, KCR, 1999 – 2001 Order of the Knights of Rizal – Malaya Chapter at
He became the leader of the Propaganda Movement, contributing numerous articles to its newspaper, La Solidaridad, published in Barcelona. Rizal’s political program, as expressed in the newspaper, included integration of the Philippines as a province of Spain, representation in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), and the replacement of the Spanish friars by the Filipino priests, freedom of assembly and expression, and equality of Filipinos and Spaniards before the law.
During his first stay in Europe, Rizal wrote his novel, Noli Me Tangere. The book was written in Spanish and first published in Berlin, Germany in 1887. The Noli, as it is more commonly known, tells the story of a young Filipino man who travels to Europe to study and returns home with new eyes to the injustices and corruption in his native land.
Rizal used elaborate characters to symbolize the different personalities and characteristics of both the oppressors and the oppressed, paying notable attention to Filipinos who had adopted the customs of their colonizers, forgetting their own nationality; the Spanish friars who were portrayed as lustful and greedy men in robes who sought only to satisfy their own needs, and the poor and ignorant members of society who knew no other life but that of one of abject poverty and cruelty under the yoke of the church and state. Rizal’s first novel was a scalding criticism of the Spanish colonial system in the country and Philippine society in general, was met with harsh reactions from the elite, the church and the government.
Upon his return to the country, he was summoned by the Governor General of the Philippine Islands to explain himself in light of accusations that he was a subversive and an inciter of rebellion. Rizal faced the charges and defended himself admirably, and although he was exonerated, his name would remain on the watch list of the colonial government. Similarly, his work also produced a great uproar in the Catholic Church in the country, so much so that later, he was excommunicated.
Despite the reaction to his first novel, Rizal wrote a second novel, El Filibusterismo, and published it in 1891. Where the protagonist of Noli, Ibarra, was a pacifist and advocate of peaceful means of reforms to enact the necessary change in the system, the lead character in Fili, Simeon, was more militant and preferred to incite an armed uprising to achieve the same end. Hence the government could not help but notice that instead of being merely a commentary on Philippine society, the second novel could become the catalyst which would encourage Filipinos to revolt against the Spanish colonizers and overthrow the colonial government.
His emphasis on freedom attracted the hatred of the old-style Spaniards, obliging him to emigrate. He then lived successively in Japan, North America, England, France and Belgium, where he wrote his second political novel El Filibusterismo. For a time he then practiced as a doctor in Hong Kong, where he married an Englishwoman; later he went to British Borneo, where he intended to found a Filipino farming colony. From there he gained permission to visit his homeland again, but he was arrested there and interned in Dapitan. When the revolt broke out in the Philippines he was accused of initiating it. He was tried three times and the third time he was condemned to death.
Although already a doctor of medicine, he was completely filled with patriotic ideas. The unhappy fate of his homeland under the rule of the Spaniards and the oppression of an all-powerful clergy made up the content of his literary products, mostly dressed in the garb of belles lettres. When, after a lengthy voluntary exile, he returned home, he accordingly became the object of incessant persecution. The growing discord in the Philippines and the ultimate outbreak of the revolution, not yet quelled even now, were largely ascribed to him. He was finally arrested and interned in Mindanao; when he was brought back from there to Manila, simultaneously with the replacement of the Governor, regarded as too lenient, by General Camilio de Polavieja, the direst rumors immediately began to spread as to the fate awaiting him. This concern was converted all too soon into reality: on 30th December 1986, without judicial sentence and apparently without proof of guilt, as public opinion has it, he was shot.
(Professor Rudolf Virchow’s Obituary for Dr. José Rizal in 1897 Prof. Rudolf Virchow (1821 to 1902) at
In 1896, the Katipunan, a nationalist secret society, launched a revolt against Spain. Although he had no connections with that organization or any part in the insurrection, Rizal was arrested and tried for sedition by the military. Found guilty, he was publicly executed by a firing squad in Manila. His martyrdom convinced Filipinos that there was no alternative to independence from Spain. On the eve of his execution, while confined in Fort Santiago, Rizal wrote Mi Ultimo Adios (“My Last Farewell”), a masterpiece of 19th-century Spanish verse.


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