The Artist Abroad

A Rizal Who Never Was


New York—I have always been somewhat mystified by the controversy over whether or not Rizal retracted on the eve of his execution—this December 30th marks the 116th anniversary. The good friars who seemed overly solicitous concerning the fate of the 35 year old’s soul put it as a matter of defending the Catholic Church against his pointed and brilliant critiques. These critiques were especially telling in their portrayal of the clerics’ gross materialism, corpulent and carnal desires, and all too earthly machinations to preserve their power in a colonial state which they effectively ruled. For more than three hundred years, these men of the cloth had established in the archipelago a fiefdom where the civil state more often than not was simply an auxiliary to their supremacy. To them Spain was the church and the church was Spain, and in kind of parody the priests constituted the third element in this not-so-holy trinity.

If you follow the trajectory of the poisonous views the Catholic establishment held towards a man they labeled an apostate, the friars couldn’t care less about his soul. What they sought above all was revenge. They wanted their pound of bleeding flesh, which they got easily, through a mock trial from which the public was excluded and Rizal barred from testifying. He spoke truth to power, exposing the venality and moral turpitude of an all-too-human institution. To be laughed at, mocked, condemned by the accurate depictions of friar power and abuse, of the cruelty of the colonial state, in Rizal’s two brilliant novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and in his writings for La Solidaridad, the journal of the Propaganda Movement, was not something to be borne lightly. Who can forget the portraits etched in acid of such characters as Padres Damaso and Salvi? Or his satirical take on indulgences and the faux holiness of the parish confraternities? Ever wonder that despite centuries of Spanish occupation, despite royal decrees from Madrid, only a small percentage of Filipinos spoke Spanish?  That was due to the dogged refusal of the friars to allow most Indios to learn it beyond their cathecism. In the Fili, university students press for the establishment of an academy to teach Castilian, only to be sorely disappointed—a fictional representation of the real-life attempt of the women of Malolos to learn the language.

The attempt to get the doomed man to sign a retraction wasn’t about regaining his faith and welcoming him back into the fold. No. Rizal never lost his belief in the Divine, as is evident in the correspondence between him and Fr. Pablo Pastells, a Jesuit, undertaken while Rizal was in exile in Dapitan. As quoted by Austin Coates in his biography of RizaI, in a letter dated April 4, 1893, he writes, after affirming his faith in God: “I do not believe Revelation impossible; on the contrary, I believe in it; but not in the revelation or revelations which each religion or all religions claim to possess. Examining them impartially, comparing them and scrutinizing them, one cannot avoid discerning in all of them the human fingernail and the stamp of time in which they were written …”
In such writings the Enlightenment is evident as well as the spirit of reformation. In short, Rizal expresses elegantly a healthy and profound skepticism towards the institutional Church’s insistence on unthinking obedience. No wonder they wanted to get rid of him. Here was their most brilliant adversary, a brown-skinned urbane and cosmopolitan intellectual Indio whom they could never hope to equal in the court of reason, or any unbiased court, for that matter. Getting that retraction, or claiming to have gotten it, would have sweetened their revenge. Of course, from Rizal’s perspective, this would have added insult to (fatal) injury.

This is not new ground, of course. Pro- and anti-retraction advocates have long made their views known. The former include some very well-known and respected names from, according to Wikipedia, the late Nick Joaquin, National Artist for Literature, to the historian Ambeth Ocampo.

Still, I remain unconvinced. To believe that he would have renounced the works and beliefs of a lifetime, simply to escape the sentence of death, flies in the face of how he had lived his whole life. After all, he had decided to return to his homeland, knowing fully well he would be placing himself in the hands of those who hated him and who had the power and means to dispose of him legally—as had been done with the martyrs Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora in 1872 and to whom the Fili is dedicated. He could have easily remained in Europe or lived in Hong Kong, as he did briefly with his family. To believe that he would write and submit a letter—a letter that by the way was only produced in 1935, 39 years after the execution—saying he was in error regarding the Church’s behavior is to imagine a man so completely different from what he had been his whole life as to be unrecognizable, a figment of some clerical imagining. Consider how his body, uncoffined, was dumped unceremoniously into a hole in the ground. You would think a man who had given these priests what they wanted would at least have been accorded a Christian burial. Consider too these last seven lines of Mi Ultimo Adios, particularly the second one, from the writer Edwin Agustin Lozada’s translation:

I go where there are no slaves, hangmen, or oppressors,

Where faith doesn’t kill, where the one who reigns is God.

Goodbye, dear parents, brothers and sisters, fragments of my soul,

Childhood friends in the home now lost,

Give thanks that I rest from this wearisome day.

Goodbye, sweet foreigner, my friend, my joy;

Farewell, loved ones, to die is to rest.

Copyright L.H. Francia 2012

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  • agustin

    Rizal was our national hero executed through the strong pressure of the catholic friars. imagined  our hero being demonized by these friars. filipinos should hate them.

    • romeyo chill

      we shouldn’t hate “them”, we should only hate what they did and not repeat their action with ourselves:)

  • Roy Rosales

    our national hero,bro jose rizal is a freemason,initiated,passed and raised a master mason in spain under the grand oriente espanol,as well as majority of our heroes whose principal tenets in
    masonry is brotherly love,relief and truth.his exposure of the devilish characters and and self serving dictatorial decrees of the spanish friars,thru his noli me tangere,el filibusterismo,have open the eyes of the filipinos of their wrongdoings.shame on the catholic church.the present hierarchy has still the stigma or hangover of their spanish predesessors.they were responsible for the untimely death of our national hero,i repeat,shame on them

  • Roy Rosales

    there is nothing to retract in masonry in general and with our bro mason bro.jose rizal in particular.those spanish friars responsible for for his death[,i think they are in hell already in hell right now,]are phaseouts in spain.they were dump here by the spanish govt due to their criminal records instead of being imprisoned.
    masonry is the oldest brotherhood associations in the world,irrespective of your religion as long as u believe in god.

    • romeyo chill

      So, you do believe in hell? hmmmn….

  • PhonexPoliticalParty

    My own interpretation of those last lines is so “bakya” I am almost embarrassed to post it here. But here goes:

    For there I leave you all,  kin and loved ones behind
    To go where there’s no slaves, hangmen, oppressors” kind
    Goodbye, parents, siblings – fabrics of my being
    Childhood friends in our lost home of no returning
    Thank goodness that this day, so tiring, ends at last
    Goodbye, sweet stranger,  my friend, my rejoicing
    Goodbye, loved ones and all!  To die is but to rest.

    As for this Rizal who never was,  I could not find him in this article.  But this shouldn’t be strange.

    Last night,  as I was down by the C.R.
    I saw my bird that wasn’t  there
    It wasn’t there again today
    I wish, I wish – hard it will stay.

    (Please don’t sue me for plagiarism.  I really could not remember the author’s name of the original poem I made a spoof of above.)

    • jurbinsky77

      Can we be serious in discussion like this? So many of the Filipinos live in Freudian world.

      When a hero, dead or alive is the topic of the discussion, let us show deference or respect to his/her memory or his/her deeds.

      • PhonexPoliticalParty

        Hinihingi ko ang iyong paumanhin.  Hindi ko sinasadyang nasaling ko pala ang iyong sensibilidad.

        Tungkol sa pagiging siryoso,  naririto ang salin ko sa Pilipino:

        “Ay siya!  Paano?  Sa iyong kandungan
        Magulang at pawang mahal ko’y iiwan
        Ako’y paroon na sa walang alipin
        Sa walang berdugo’t mga mapaniil
        Pagsampalaya doo’y di nakitil
        Doon naghahari ang Lumalang natin
        Paalam sa inyong hibla ng kaluluwa
        Mga kapatid ko, aking ama’t ina
        Mga kababatang naging kaibigan
        Sa nawalay namin na dating tahanan.
        Paalam sa iyo, dayuhang kay tamis
        Tanging kaibigang ligaya sa hapis.
        Paalam lahat kong minahal sa buhay
        Mamayapa na’t pahingang mamatay.”

        Hindi katakataka(strange) sa isang kritiko na hindi niya matagpuan ang Rizal who  never was, sa tatlong kadahilanan.  1)  Kasi nga,  never was. 2) Kung sarili niyang ari,  hindi niya makita,  iyon pa kayang kadakilaan ng bayani?

        Pinapatunayan lamang nito na sa mundo,  tatlo lamang ang klase ng tao: 1) Iyong marunong magbilang 2) Iyong hindi.

  • Rigoberto_Tigdas

    Only fools will believe that Rizal recanted. The fact that we made him our National Hero is a proof that we Filipinos are principled people who can never be cowed by any entity.

  • JosephIvo

    Does it matter? Do we know what a dead penalty does to someones mind?

    What matters are his ideas when free. What matters is that a master freemason is the hero of a catholic country!!!! (???)


    Did Galileo recant?  Did the Catholic church ever officially accept that earth is not the center of the universe.

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