Rizal on Reform and Revolution (part 2)

Rizal on Reform and Revolution (part 2)

by Levy Abad

The fresh ideas from abroad during the time of Jose Rizal cannot be anything but the ideas coming from the revolution in France and the American Revolution, which was also inspired by the former. According to the essay of Elmer Ordonez, Rizal’s readings, as well as those of the ilustrados at the time, included Zola’s Germinal and other Anarchist texts. He furthered that Rizal read a lot of French Literature and particularly liked Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo. Rizal also read Moliere, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Napoleon’s memoirs, in addition to his readings of the lives of the Presidents of the United States, Morga’s Sucessos de las Islas Filipinas, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue, Beaumarchais’ Barber of Seville, and Marriage of Figaro, which were considered dangerous works and subversive in nature during Rizal’s time. (Reference: The Books that Jose Rizal Read and How It Shaped His Life–Totoy Batotoy)

In Rizal’s second novel, El Filibusterismo, the frustrated reformist Ibarra returns in the guise of Simoun, the Jeweller–what Simon calls the “liberal reformer who became an ‘anarchist’ or “Putschist.” The concept of a Marxist Leninist revolutionary was not developed yet. (“Rizal and the Literature of the Left” by Elmer Ordonez, Manila Times, Dec. 29, 2007)

Rizal was born on June 19, 1861, in a country ruled by Spain. The economy during this time was characterized by feudalism, vast tracks of land solely under the control of a handful of feudal lords. Concepts like suffrage (elections), separation of power, separation of church and state were non-existent. We have to take note that prior to the Revolution of 1896, two hundred revolts occurred with the intention of breaking the feudal chains. All these concepts came into fruition after the Revolution of 1896 when U.S. colonial rule took over and introduced a distorted version of the ideas of enlightenment to consolidate their colonial rule by using concepts of democracy, republicanism as a facade and reactionary violence to crush the continuing resistance of the Filipino people.

What was the role and significance of the Revolution of 1896? After 365 years of Spanish colonialism and successive revolts, Filipinos finally decided to organize the Katipunan as a result of the martyrdom of Rizal on December 30, 1896. Rizal was accused of being the founder of the Katipunan, or Brotherhood of Revolutionaries. In the column of Ambeth Ocampo, “Reform and Revolution,” he explained that “the December 15, 1896 Manifesto was used against Rizal both by the Spaniards who condemned him to death for inspiring the revolution, and the pro-Bonifacio groups in our day, is not read in full. Rizal was not against the revolution but felt, rightly so, that it was premature.”

He continued that “Rizal is branded a mere ‘reformist’ because they have not read his letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt from Geneva on June 19,1887, his 26th birthday, that read in part: ‘I assure you that I have no desire to take part in conspiracies which seem to me very premature and risky. But if the government drives us to the brink, that is to say, when no other hope remains but seek our destruction in war, when the Filipinos would prefer to die rather than endure their misery any longer, then I will also become a partisan of violent means. The choice of peace or destruction is in the hands of Spain, because it is a clear fact, known to all that we are patient, excessively patient and peaceful, mild, unfeeling, etc. But everything ends in this life, there is nothing eternal in the world and that refers also to our patience.’”

Prior to this, Rizal was active in the reform movement abroad. He was a member of La Solidaridad, an organization founded in Spain on December 13, 1888, composed of Filipino liberals and students, aimed to increase Spanish awareness of the needs of its colony, the Philippines. Rizal was also a founder of La Liga Filipina (1892), a progressive organization in the homefront with the purpose of involving the people directly in the reform movement. Both initiatives were designed to be a machinery of the reform movement. The Spanish authorities, threatened by these initiatives, seized on Jose Rizal to punish him for his ideas. We know what happened next, Rizal was martyred and the armed revolt known as the Cry of Balintawak in August 1896 ensued under the leadership of Andres Bonifacio.

[to be continued in the next issue…]