José Rizal

Jose Rizal


Jose Rizal (fullname: José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda) was born in Calamba in the province of La Laguna de Bay in Luzon on June 19, 1861.  He was the 7th child of Francisco Rizal Mercado and Teodora Alonzo y Quintos. His affluent parents were farmers who cultivated rice and sugarcane on a land they rented from the Dominican order.  Rizal lived a happy life in his town and even wrote a poem about it at the age of 15 called “Un recuerdo a mi pueblo”(a memory of my town).

In June 1869, the 8-year old Rizal was enrolled in an private, boys-only school in Binan.  His Intellectual giftedness allowed him to easily study Spanish and Latin and surpass his peers.  After two years Rizal left the school and continued his education a year later on the  Ateneo de Municipal in Manila.  A  male-only school run by the society of Jesuits and still operating untiltoday. Rizal graduated after three years with Sobresaliente or top honors. 

In 1877, Jose Rizal enrolled in Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). In 1878, he decided to study Medicine at the same university, when he learned his mother was suffering from a deteriorating eyesight. Rizal was a good student, although not excellent and finished second in class 4 years later.

Noli me tangereIn May 1882 Rizal left Philippines without informing his parents. He boarded the ocean steamer Salvadora heading for Singapore.  From there, he took the Djemnah to Spain where he arrived more than a month later.  He enrolled at Universidad Central de Madrid to study medicine and also took courses in Philosophy and Literature.  In Madrid, Rizal read the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is about the abuse of black slaves in America. This inspired him to write a book about the treatment of Filipinos by Spanish authorities.  He started writing the book in Madrid and named it Noli Me Tangere, which is literally translated to touch me not in Spanish.

After his study in Madrid, he went to Paris to work as an assistant for a renowned French ophthalmologist. This is also where he continued to work on his book. A year later he continued his study at the University of Heidelberg where he earned a doctorate degree in ophthalmic. His famous novel “Noli me Tangrere” was also completed in Germany and printed on March 21, 1887. The Catholic Church was heavily criticized in the novel, for the role they played in colonial oppression and the book was banned in The Philippines.

When Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1887  he was already marked as subversive by the spanish authorities because of his novel.   A year later, Rizal again left The Philippines, because his presence caused danger to his family and friends. After a year-long journey around the world, where he travelled from Hong Kong to Macau, then to Japan, the US and England, he was back again on mainland Europe. He continued studying European languages and mastered a number of foreign languages including French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin.

While in Europe, Rizal received the news that his family has legal problems with their landlord, the Dominicans.  Rizal went to Madrid to find a lawyer that could defend their case at the supreme court. Unfortunately, before he could find a lawyer, his family was already expelled from their land and banished to Mindoro and Manila.

Disillusioned, Rizal left Madrid and headed for Belgium to continue the work on his second novel, El Filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed), a story about the last days of Spanish rule in the Philippines. In the book, Rizal heavily criticizes the Spanish colonial government and is in particular harsh on the Roman Catholic Church, who is abusing its powers. The book was published in Ghent, Belgium in September 1891

A month later Rizal left Europe form Hong Kong to join his family who had fled The Philippines to avoid persecution.  In Hong Kong, he picked up his work as an opthalmologist and succesfully operated his mother’s left eye. However, the cruel and unequal treatment of Filipinos by the Spanish authorities and Friars continued and Rizal decided to return to the Philippines in June 1892, to establish La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League). 

The goal of La Liga was to reform the Spanish colonial system and improve the life of Filipinos. Rizal shared his views and goals with Governor General Despujol in a series of Interviews, who heavily disagreed with him. As a result, a few days after his arrival in Madrid, he was arrested and exiled to Dapitan, Mindanao.

Rizal lived in Dapitan from July, 1892 to July 1896 and led a simple but fruitful life. He started a school underneath his hut, practiced medicine and even won PHP 6,200 in the Manila lottery.  During his time in Dapitan, the rebellion against the Spanish authorities continued to grow. The Kapitunan, a secret revolutionary society was established in 1892 as a successor of La Liga and was now heading the rebellion. Rizal disagreed with the hard-line approach taken by the Kapitunan for a bloody revolution and tried to dissociate himself from the society by volunteering as a doctor in Cuba.

Governor General Ramón Blanco approved Rizals’ application and Rizal left Dapitan on August 1, 1896. Nevertheless, Rizal was arrested in Barcelona on his way to Cebu and being returned for trial in Manila.

While being incarcerated in Fort Santiago, Rizal wrote the manifesto A Algunos Filipino (Manifesto to Certain Filipinos) in which he summoned his countrymen to end the violent revolt and instead turn to education and a peaceful dialogue with the authorities.

The Dominican Friars meanwhile had started a lobby in Madrid to replace Governor General Ramón Blanco, who according to them didn’t oppress the uprising enough. Blanco was replaced by a hard-line candidate and Rizal tried before a military court, charged with conspiracy , rebellion and sedition.  He was meted death penalty and  on December 30, 1896 killed by a firing squad in Bagumbayan Field, nowadays more popularly known as Rizal Park. General Governor Blanco later personally apologised to the Rizal family for not being able to prevent the death of Jose Rizal. 

The anniversary of the execution of Dr. José Rizal is observed annually on Rizal day, 30th of December and is a national holiday in The Philippines.