Knights of Rizal in the time of Duterte
CHICAGO — Jose Rizal, unlike Ferdinand Marcos, is an authentic National Hero. Yet, Rizal after his death was unceremoniously dumped in a shallow grave at the Paco Cemetery –without a coffin. His heroic deeds, which inspired an oppressed people to rise against gross violations of human rights, eventually elevated him to the most revered burial ground in the Philippines.
Beneath his monument at the Rizal Park in Manila are his remains. His final entombment was done in 1911 by a grateful people led by the “Caballeros de Rizal”—the founders of what is now known as the Fraternal Order of the Knights of Rizal (KOR).
Yet, for all the gnawing national problems, the highest Philippine court is saddled with puzzling suits on whether or not the late dictator Marcos should be allowed to be buried in the “Libingan ng mga Bayani”—thanks to the directive of the new Philippine President Rudy Duterte, who saw it fitting for a plunderer and a human rights violator to receive a hero’s burial. Wait, could this be a case of the new emperor donning the old clothes of the dead tyrant?
Over this last Labor Day weekend in Newark, New Jersey, KOR members in the U.S. held its biennial assembly led by its newly elected Supreme Commander, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Reynato Puno.
It’s perhaps providential that Justice Puno became the KOR’s highest ranking official during the advent of the Duterte presidency—considering there are various controversial actions undertaken by the newly elected president that cry out for closer scrutiny under the lens of the ideals of our National Hero.
Justice Puno, even in his retirement, actively pursues a moral crusade for fair treatment of all Filipinos in the pursuit of justice. A respected and a practicing Methodist, he is a strong exponent of eradicating corruption in all segments of Philippine society.
Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Rizal’s advocacy for justice and freedom followed the standard of non-violence. Despite the personal injustices he experienced, Rizal was steadfast in his call for peaceful reforms. The execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora based on trumped-up charges adversely affected the future of his beloved brother, Paciano who was a follower of Fr. Jose Burgos.
Paciano becoming a marked man caused trauma to the young Jose. The Mercados adopted the surname, Rizal, if only to avoid the wrath of the authorities.
In 1872, his aging mother was incarcerated for three years based on the false testimony of her adulterous sister-in-law and her lover, a military officer of the colonial army. The 11-year-old Rizal would be radicalized by these incidents.
Then, there was an uncle who died and was denied burial in the local Catholic cemetery because he was a Mason. During his exile in Spain, Rizal’s father and his fellow Calambenos were pushed out of their farms because the colonizers imposed enormous taxes on their harvests, causing devastating poverty to all of them. These tragic stories were incorporated into Rizal’s two great novels.
Despite all these, Rizal remained civil in his fight for freedom and justice, to the frustration of other noted leaders of the revolution like Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto. Rizal believed in the rule of the law. Just like the new head of the Knights of Rizal—Justice Puno.
All these bring the focus on the raging debate on the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by those who are supposed to maintain law and order back home. While many Filipinos concede the need to address the drug problem gripping the country, there is also a growing concern that the poor and defenseless are falling victims to the policy of impunity of the Duterte regime.
The violence and oppression of Crispin, Sisa, Don Rafael and Elias in Rizal’s fiction come alive in alarming reality in the form of the killings that are growing by the day back home. For those who are courageous enough to caution President Duterte, he slams them with unsubstantiated charges or maligns them with intrigue and gossip.
Respect for women is compromised in Duterte’s utterances and jokes. The United Nations and allies like the U.S. are not spared from his outrageous tirades. Cosmopolitan citizens like Rizal would find the incumbent Philippine leader certainly out of sync with a world that seeks peace and understanding.
The KOR in its international assembly in Vigan last year got an invitation from former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Hilario Davide, Jr.—also a former KOR Supreme Commander– to hold the next international assembly in his home province of Cebu. However, word has it that KORs in Davao want it held in the home province of President Duterte.
There is a great opportunity for the Knights of Rizal to really pass on the Rizalian message to this president. While it has been a tradition to invite the president in such international assembly, the Knights should not succumb into the temptation of turning its forthcoming event as a vainglorious photo opportunity for all of them.
Meanwhile, the Knights of Rizal, as they assemble in New Jersey, now face a challenge to be part of the vanguard of protecting human rights and bringing in civility in our homeland. If the Knights are to be true to the principles and vision that Rizal had espoused in his life and writings, they will take a lead in demanding an end to the violence and incivility that have befallen the Philippines.
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