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Rizal at 150 and our heroes who never made it to 40

I was born a few years after the nation marked the centennial of Jose Rizal’s birth in 1961. We’re celebrating his 150th birthday this month. I’m nearly 50.

I reflected on this recently as I read yet another article on the upcoming commemoration of Rizal’s birth.

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What an amazing, but short, life of courage he led.

His death and martyrdom are now part of our story as a people, of course. But you can’t help but think: How much more could Rizal have accomplished if he had lived past 50, or even just past 40?

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It’s interesting to note that as a young man Rizal apparently thought about, and perhaps was even fascinated by, his own death.

Historian Rey Ileto quotes in his book “Filipinos and their Revolution,” a letter Rizal wrote to Marcelo Del Pilar in 1890:

“In my boyhood it was my strong belief that I would not reach the age of thirty, and I do not know why I used to think in that way. For two months now almost every night I dream of nothing but of friends and relatives who are dead. I even dreamed once that I was descending a path leading into the depths of persons seated and dressed in white, with white faces, quiet, and encircled in white light. There I saw two members of my family, one now already dead and the other still living. Even though I do not believe in such things and though my body is very strong and I have not sickness of any kind, nonetheless I prepare myself for death, arranging what I have to leave and disposing myself for any eventuality. Laong Laan (Ever Prepared) is my real name.”

Ever prepared — for death. It speaks, perhaps, to the interplay of youth, death and heroism in our history.

For a sad fact about our journey as a nation is that greatness and patriotism have, at times, meant an early death. At key historical junctures, young Filipinos accepted this as a price worth paying to move the country forward.

Many of our greatest heroes never reached 40. Never reached what was supposed to be a turning point in life — some even call it the age when life really begins. When you supposedly have acquired enough knowledge, wisdom and experience, but are still young enough and have enough time to use these to make even more meaningful contributions to the world.

Take Rizal who died at 35. And there were others whose journey was cut short.

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Those who led the revolution against Spain, including Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini and Emilio Jacinto. The modern-day rebels, Lorena Barros, Edgar Jopson, Eman Lacaba and Ferdie Arceo, and many others who died fighting the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

(In an odd, even unfortunate twist, Marcos is playing the role of an asungot in the Rizal commemoration. Here we are remembering the greatest Filipino hero in our history, while allies of the late despot are trying to repackage Marcos as a fake hero. But never mind that for now.)

Rizal, of course, was the most brilliant of the young Filipino heroes who died young — they who lived, led and inspired others, struggled and fought for whatever was the prominent cause of the day, who helped move our collective story forward — and then suddenly left this world, Like a brilliant star that steaks through the night sky before disappearing.

As we remember Rizal, we should honor the others too.

I tried to do just that years ago — when I turned 40. As I stared middle age in the face, I remembered those great Filipinos who never had that chance.

To pay tribute to them, I tried poetry.

“Kuwarenta.”

Noong tumuntong ako ng

Kuwarenta
Naisip ko silang
Hindi umabot dito

Ferdie Arceo
Bente uno


Ellecer Cortez

Bente dos


Emilio Jacinto

Bente tres

Kwarenta raw
Ang tunay na simula
Ng Buhay
Ang unang hakbang
Sa paglalakbay

Pero silang naiwan
Silang di nakapagsimula
Ng Biyahe

Gregorio del Pilar
Bente kuwatro

Jessica Sales
Bente singko

Jennifer Cariño
Bente sais

Malayo
Ang Nalakbay
Malago
Ang Pinunlang Simula

Lean Alejandro
Bente syete

Lorena Barros,
Bente otso

Bobby de la Paz
Bente nuwebe

Kahit di nakapagsimula
Ang biyahe
Naudlot
Ang paglalakbay

Noong tumuntong ako ng

Kuwarenta
Ginunita ko silang
Hindi nakarating dito

Voltaire Garcia
Trenta’y uno

Gabriela Silang
Trenta’y dos

Andres Bonifacio
Trenta’y tres

Bagamat ang kanilang
Mga Simula
Pinagtalunan
Ang katuturan
Wasto ba’t tuwid?

Ang landas
Puno ng lubak
Matirik ang mga liko
Walang linaw sa layo

Edgar Jopson,
Trenta’y kwartro

Jose Rizal
Trenta’y singko

Simula pa ring
Ihinain
Sa ating tumitikim pa
Ng buhay

Macario Sakay
Trenta’y siyete

Isinapin sa daan
Para sa ‘ting patuloy na
Nakapaglakbay

Alex Orcullo
Trenta’y otso

Kinilala ko sila
Pinarangalan
Silang naiwan
Sa daan
Silang naglatag ng kasaysayan

Apolinario Mabini
Trenta’y nuwebe

Naisip ko sila

Noong tumuntong ako ng
Kuwarenta

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel

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TAGS: activism, heroes, history, Jose Rizal, martyrdom, patriotism, Philippines, Politics
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