Rizal on Reform and Revolution (part 3 of 4)

Rizal on Reform and Revolution (part 3 of 4)

by Levy Abad

What were the tendencies that arose out of Jose Rizal’s ideas? The reform movement that he led exposed the abuses committed during the Spanish colonial and feudal rule. Aside from writing novels, he was also a part of the publications La Solidaridad and La Liga Filipina. This clearly proved Rizal’s involvement in the reform movement. According to Chris Antonette Piedad-Pugay, in his work “Jose Rizal and the Revolution: Revisiting Renato Constantino’s ‘Veneration Without Understanding'”:

“Another example of Rizal’s reformism can be found in his manifesto where he emphasized the necessity of education in the achievement of liberties. He also believed that reforms, to be fruitful, must come from above; and that those that come from below are shaky, irregular, and uncertain. Rizal’s weakness was his failure to fully trust his people. His idea that change should come from above is the clearest proof that he is kind of detached from what is happening on the ground. He repudiated the revolution because he thought that reforms, to be successful, should come from above.”

Notwithstanding these weaknesses, the reform movement became the spark that started the prairie fire. The problem with freedom is that, once the people get a taste of it, it develops its own dynamics and grows beyond the control of the regime. It has a life of its own. So, when the call for revolt was made, the masses embraced it. If Rizal cautioned the members of the reform movement not to engage in armed revolt, ordinary people like Andres Bonifacio who bore the full weight of the feudal rule of Spain would have reacted in a different way, the revolutionary way. The more intense the experience of oppression, the more the revolutionary tendency intensifies. To substantiate this, I would like to quote from a book by Renato Constantino, entitled A Past Revisited, (page 159):
“At first, the Liga was quite active. Bonifacio, in particular, exerted great effort to organize chapters in various districts of Manila. A few months later, however, the Supreme Council of the Liga dissolved the Society. The reformist leaders found out that most of the popular councils which Bonifacio had organized were no longer willing to send funds to the Madrid propagandists (assimilationists) because they, like Bonifacio, had become convinced that peaceful agitation for reforms was futile. Afraid that the more radical rank and file members might capture the organization and be unwilling to involve themselves in an enterprise which would surely invite reprisals from the authorities, the leaders of the Liga opted for dissolution. The Liga membership split into two groups: the conservatives formed the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, which pledged continued support for La Solidaridad; while the radicals led by Bonifacio devoted themselves to a new and secret society, the Katipunan, which Bonifacio organized on the very day that Rizal was deported to Dapitan.”

It is impossible to go back in time and measure the sincerity of those who joined the revolution. Some authors claim that the reason Rizal distanced himself with the initiative was because of the insincerity of some leaders. Unarguably, revolution was able to drive out the Spaniards.

Purity of heart was good but immaterial. Oppression was what fueled the people to revolt. We must remember that even revolutionaries are human beings, and utopian measuring sticks are useless. Even saints are sinners. Too often, leaders and scholars try to put a framework that will determine when the revolution starts and when they think it should end. The reality is that the implication, effects, or the success and betrayal of the Revolution of 1896 can still be seen and felt up to now.

Reflecting on the writings of Renato Constantino, Rizal’s tendency was the natural offshoot of his status in society since he belonged to the Ilustrado (erudite, learned). The Ilustrados were people whom the Spanish colonial authorities trusted to be their administrators over vast tracts of land or encomiendas. Rizal’s family was well-off. This afforded Jose Rizal and many of his siblings good education, attending the best schools like Letran, UST, and Ateneo. In fact, his family was able to send him abroad to study. The tendency of this class of people was to be cautious and weary of social movements as they might cause instability. They tended to veer towards reformism because they had a lot to lose in the process, although there were a few who transcended their economic background and embraced the struggle of the people wholeheartedly. I would like to think that Jose Rizal was one of them. On the other hand, ordinary people like Andres Bonifacio joined the armed revolt to end their oppression because they got nothing to lose but their bondage.
[to be concluded in the next issue]