Jose Rizal: A Biographical Outline
© 2013 by Jensen DG. Mañebog
THE MAN tied elbow to elbow refused the traditional blindfold and even requested to face the firing squad that would seal his fate on that day.
José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda was born on June 19, 1861, approximately 35 years before that fateful day. The seventh of the eleven children born to a relatively well-off family in a Dominican-ownedtenant land in Calamba, Laguna, Jose Rizal lived and died during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines.
In his early childhood, Jose had mastered the alphabet, learned to write and read books like the Spanish version of the Vulgate Bible. At young age, he already showed inclinations to arts. He amazed his family by his pencil drawings, sketches, and moldings of clay. Later in his childhood, he showed special talent in painting and sculpture, wrote a Tagalog play which was presented at a Calamba fiesta, and penned a short play in Spanish which was presented in school.
At the age of eleven, Rizal attended the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and obtained at the age of 16 his Bachelor of Arts degree with an average of "excellent". In the same year (1877), he took Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas, while at the same time enrolled in a course in land surveying at the Ateneo. He finished his surveyor's training in 1877, passed the licensing exam in May 1878, though the license was granted to him only in 1881 when he reached the age of majority. He enrolled in medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in 1878. Sensing however that the Filipino students were being discriminated by the Dominican professors, he left UST without finishing his course.
On May 3, 1882, he went to Spain and enrolled at the Universidad Central de Madrid. In June of 1884, he received the degree of Licentiate in Medicine at the age of 23. A year later, he completed his course in Philosophy and Letters with the grade of “excellent.” Wanting to cure his mother's advancing blindness, Rizal went to Paris, Heidelberg, and Berlin to get further knowledge and training in ophthalmology. In Heidelberg, he completed his eye specialization.
Being well-traveled, he is said to have learned 22 languages. He wrote extraordinary poems, contributed nationalistic essays to publications, religiously kept his diary, and corresponded to his friends and relatives. In March 1887, he published in Berlin his first controversial novel, the Noli Me Tangere, which revealed the tyranny and arrogance of the Spanish clergy and officials in the Philippines. To bring to light that the Filipinos had an impressive civilization even long before the Spanish colonization, he annotated and reprinted in Paris Morga’s Successos De Las Islas Filipinas. On September 18, 1891, Rizal’s more militant novel, El Filibusterismo was printed in Ghent.
As leader of patriotic Filipinos, he became one of the leadersof the literary and cultural organization Propaganda Movement, the patriotic society Asociacion La Solidaridad (Solidaridad Association), the temporary social society Kidlat Club, the society of Filipino patriots in Paris Indio Bravo, the mysterious Redencion de los Malayos (Redemption of the Malays), and founded the La Liga Filipina, a civic organization that subsequently gave birth to the Katipunan. In various ways, Rizal asked for radical reforms in the Spanish colonial system and clerical powers in the Philippines and advocated equal rights before the law for Filipinos.
When Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1892 (his second homecoming), he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago from July 6 to July 15 on a trump-up charge that anti-priest leaflets were found in the pillow cases of his sister Lucia who arrived with him from Hong Kong. He was then exiled to Dapitan, an island in Mindanao. While an exile, he engaged in agriculture, fishing, and commerce while operating a hospital and maintaining a school for boys. Moreover, he did scientific researches, collected specimens of rare species, corresponded with scholars abroad, and led construction of water dam and a relief map of Mindanao.
Rizal fell in love with Josephine Bracken, a woman from Hong Kong who brought her stepfather to Dapitan for an eye operation. Josephine became Rizal’s ‘common-law wife’. The couple had a child who was born prematurely, Francísco Rizal y Bracken, who died a few hours after birth. Prior to his relationship with Josephine, Jose Rizal had become romantically involved with other women, the most notable of whom were Segunda Katigbak, his first love, and Leonor Rivera, his so called true love.
In 1896, Rizal received a permission from the Governor General to become a volunteer military physician in the revolution in Cuba, which was at the time also raged by yellow fever. But the ‘Katipunan’ started the Philippine Revolution on August 26, 1896. The powerful people whose animosity Rizal had provoked took the opportunity to implicate him to the rebellion. After a trial in a kangaroo court, he was convicted of rebellion and sentenced to death by firing squad at Bagumbayan Field (now Luneta).
Dressed in a black coat and trousers and tied elbow to elbow, Rizal refused to kneel and declined the traditional blindfold. Placid and a bit pale, he even requested to face the firing squad, maintaining that he was not a traitor to his country and to Spain. After some sweet-talk, Rizal agreed to turn his back but requested that he be shot in the small of the back, for that would twist his body and cause him to fall face upward.
The night before his execution, Rizal perhaps had a mental flash back of the meaningful events in his 35-year existence we have outlined here. But more than anyone, he himself had known for long that his execution would certainly come to pass, and not even an Andres Bonifacio nor Emilio Aguinaldo would have saved him from the executioners’ Remingtons and Mausers.
Facing the sky, the man died in that serene morning of December 30, 1896. But since then, he has lived perpetually in the hearts and minds of true Filipinos. (© 2013 by Jensen DG. Mañebog)
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Jensen DG. Mañebog, the contributor, is a book author and professorial lecturer in the graduate school of a state university in Metro Manila. His unique book on Rizal comprehensively tackles, among others, the respective life of Rizal’s parents, siblings, co-heroes, and girlfriends. (e-mail: email@example.com)
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