Rizal and other heroes are important because they tell us about ourselves.

Ambeth R. Ocampo, author


By Ernesto C. Perez II


This Sunday we shall celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of our National Hero Jose Protacio Rizal. We beam with pride as we commemorate his life, achievements, and contributions to our history as a nation.

But, I know Jose Rizal is not a super hero as some people depict him to be. He was mortal. He had weaknesses and shortcomings.

And like every Filipino, he faced trials and tribulations not only from the outside but from the inside as well.

My introduction to Jose Rizal came in high school. We studied “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” I passed the subject, which is to say that I don’t remember what I got out of that course.Jose Rizal

My next encounter with Dr. Rizal came in PI 100 at UP Diliman. I remember my professor lecturing on the contribution – or lack thereof – of Jose Rizal to the revolution of 1892 until his death in 1896. I also passed that course.

Apart from these two experiences, Jose Rizal is iconic to me because of what I have read from newspaper columnists and featured articles in magazines; and from what I have heard in lectures and discussions in my journey in life.

A few days back, I reflected on the relevance of the life of Jose Rizal to me and our country as we struggle to be a great, strong and respectable nation. I wanted to discover who he really is and how I can learn from him.

My search led me to a book by Ambeth R. Ocampo entitled “Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures.” Of particular interest was his essay “Rizal re-discovered” delivered as the Mangahas Lecture on November 29, 1995.

It was a very pleasant read. I discovered that Jose Rizal authored a third novel after El Filibusterismo entitled “Makamisa.” Mr. Ocampo describes it as Rizal’s funniest novel.

The fact that I do not know of this third novel highlights my ignorance of the works of our National Hero. I vaguely remember now the characters of the two great novels of Jose Rizal, which is sad to say the least.

Pointedly, Mr. Ocampo said that Rizal is absolutely amazing because we are told that in school. But then, he asks: how many Filipinos get to know Rizal by reading Rizal?

Mr. Ocampo goes on to declare that “Ten years of research on Rizal has made me realize that Jose Rizal’s greatest misfortune was being acknowledged as the prime National Hero of the Philippines.”

He states that Rizal is often cited all the time, but seldom read. In fact, he boldly writes that if you drop the name Rizal in lectures and footnotes you can silence opposition and appear intelligent.

This is so because very few scholars have actually read his entire work – fewer still who have read everything in the original language of Spanish. Apart from Mr. Ocampo and other historians like Teodoro Agoncillo, no one can say that they truly know Jose Rizal.

The following is an excerpt of the portion of the essay of Mr. Ocampo which I find profound, insightful and rings true today:

“Rizal has been used and abused for all sorts of things from patriotism to commercials: we have Rizal marches, Rizal cement, Rizal Commercial and Banking Corporation and even Rizal Funeral Homes. Anything with Rizal’s face is a sure seller. Rizal has become so much a part of everyday Philippine life that he is taken for granted.

“If Rizal were not a national hero, people would not bother with him, and Filipinos would be spared all those floral offerings and those boring speeches on June 19 and December 30. Rizal as the prime National Hero has been given a peculiar dignity in stone and bronze which has set him apart from the common man. Rizal was perfect. Rizal was nationalistic. Rizal was intelligent. Rizal was a renaissance man, etc. My sister, who took the Rizal course, had to memorize Rizal’s supposed achievements from A to Z.

What remains in our minds, unfortunately, is an idealized image culled from textbooks which do not do justice to Rizal. If Filipinos read more about him, they would not only get to know Rizal, but would understand themselves better.

“To my generation, Rizal has become so exalted, he is a rebuke to ordinary mortals like you and me. This explains why young people today cannot relate to Rizal, and why he is always invoked by teachers, preachers, and politicians…”

The underscoring above including the others below are mine to emphasize the powerful words of Mr. Ocampo I have aptly quoted.

As I continued to read his essay, he introduces to me a different Rizal – a boy of weak constitution, small frame of body and an abnormally large head.

To appreciate the greatness of Jose Rizal we must remember Mr. Ocampo’s words that “the evolution of Rizal’s character was largely dependent on his physique.”

A Yugoslavian Rizalist, Ante Radaic once argued that Rizal had developed a massive inferiority complex because of his physical smallness and frailty. But Mr. Ocampo was quick to dismiss this argument and point out how Rizal dealt with this handicap and how it made him great.

What made Rizal the hero he is today was his capacity to rise above his physical limitations and to attempt great deeds.

I did not know that Rizal was sensitive about his height. I did not know he would get into fights to assert himself while at other times, he would withdraw into his little world of books and his studies.

I did not know that he was a prankster as a child – an expression of his negative aggressive behavior. I did not know that because he was pilyo, he was caned regularly by the schoolmaster in Biñan.

Nobody talks about the grades Rizal received at the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas which were not as impressive as those he earned in the Ateneo.

I did not know that he was not a doctor because he did not sit for the final exams leading to a Doctorate in Medicine.

I did not know that, during his formative years, he struggled to develop himself – physically and emotionally.

Mr. Ocampo introduced me to the real Jose P. Rizal not to destroy his image but for a higher purpose. He says –

Since Filipinos are reared on stories of Rizal’s superhuman greatness they lose any and all attachment to and affection for him. He is someone to emulate, an ideal to strive after. Being ordinary mortals, however, we tend to be crushed by his example. We cannot match Rizal. This is the fatal flaw in our love-hate relationship with Rizal – he loses his humanity and becomes a cold, dead piece of stone or bronze at the Luneta or public plaza. If we get to know Rizal as he is, without his overcoat, we are not denigrating him, but making him more of a model. Rizal had a painful childhood coping with his physical and emotional handicaps and he makes this very clear in his Memorias when he says, ‘Imagine yourselves in my place and that is, if you have hearts, you will feel as I felt.

The genius of Mr. Ocampo’s essay is that he forced me to look at my own handicaps and weaknesses so that I can find ways to overcome them and make great deeds.

He discusses the importance of dealing with adversities in this manner –

“Handicaps are part of life: they may be physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or socio-economic. How we deal with these given handicaps, be they real or imaginary, spell success or failure, happiness or misery. Much has been said about Filipinos being slow, dull-witted, small, dark-skinned, and pug-nosed. Yet, for Rizal, these were traits to be proud of…”

Perhaps, Rizal remains a hero for Filipinos because we unconsciously see ourselves in him, Mr. Ocampo said. And, he concluded his essay thus:  “If we realize, for example how Rizal rose from his weakness (or better still, emphasize weaknesses) and became what we know of him today, then we can likewise rise from our limitations and become the people we should be.”

I praise Mr. Ocampo for showing to me how Rizal is relevant to me today and for days to come. Jose Rizal is truly someone to emulate.

Is Dr. Jose Rizal worthy of your emulation? What do you think?