Was Jose Rizal an American-sponsored Hero? by Ambeth Ocampo

 

 

 

Today is the 127th birth anniversary of the national hero JosÚ Rizal. It is a day  which will pass by mainly unnoticed because of the ambivalent attitude of  many  Filipinos, based on the fact that Rizal was not the leader of the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

Rizal  has  become  suspect  due  to a manifesto addressed to the Filipino people  stating  his  opposition  to  the very revolution which made us the first  Asians  to  rebel  against  a  Western  colonial power and establish Republic.  This  revolution in Rizal's view, was premature thus a senseless waste  of  time  and  human  lives. But nothing strikes the Filipino psyche harder than the idea that Rizal was an American-sponsored hero.

In compulsory Rizal courses all over the Philippines, students are either given  the  usual  lectures  that  Rizal  is  the  greatest Filipino -- the greatest  Malay who ever lived -- or that Rizal as our national hero should be  reconsidered, since he is in a sense a traitor to the revolution and he became  the  national  hero only because of the Americans who sponsored and encouraged the Rizal cult. It is true that the Americans had overemphasized Rizal,  thus  pushing other heroes like Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini and Emilio Aguinaldo to relative obscurity as second-class heroes. But one thing  which is not brought up is the fact that Rizal was already seen as a hero even before his execution on 30 December 1896.

During  his trial, Rizal was asked questions like "Did you have any part in  the  revolution?"  or  "Did  you  know  Andres  Bonifacio?"  Rizal was implicated  in  the  revolution he denounced simply because the password of the  KKK  or  Katipunan  happened  to  be  "Rizal" and the headquarters and meeting  places of the Katipunan had a picture of Rizal. Thus the Spaniards thought  the man was behind the revolution. Andres Bonifacio made Rizal the honorary  president  of the Katipunan and even attempted to rescue him from exile  in  Dapitan  so  he could lead, or at least inspire the Filipinos to revolt.

In 1898 Emilio Aguinaldo declared 30 December to be an annual "day of national mourning" in honor of Rizal. From all these we can see that although the Americans encouraged the hero worship of Rizal, the man was already a national hero to the Filipinos long before the Americans sponsored him as such. In a sense, the Americans simply built on the prevailing sentiment of the people. The transcripts of the trial of

Rizal states that he was "the soul of the Revolution." Thus, he might not have been the leader of the revolution -- he might not have believed that the revolution would succeed -- but Rizal inspired the revolution and for this alone his detractors should think of a new argument, rather than riding on the prevailing anti-American sentiment to denigrate Jose Rizal.

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