The Importance of the Jose Rizal Subject

The Importance of the Jose Rizal Subject
© 2013 by Jensen DG. Mañebog

THE RIZAL BILL was as controversial as Jose Rizal himself.

            The mandatory Rizal subject in the Philippines was the upshot of this bill which later became a law in 1956. The bill involves mandating educational institutions in the country to offer a course on the hero’s life, works, and writings, especially the ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’. The transition from being a bill to becoming a republic act was however not easy as the proposal was met with intense opposition particularly from the Catholic Church.

Largely because of the issue, the then senator Claro M. Recto—the main proponent of the Rizal Bill—was even dubbed as a communist and an anti-Catholic. Catholic schools threatened to stop operation if the bill was passed, though Recto calmly countered the threat, stating that if that happened, then the schools would be nationalized. Afterward threatened to be punished in future elections, Recto remained undeterred.

Rizal's Life, Works, and Writings: Free Online Syllabus & Lectures 

Concerning the suggestion to use instead the expurgated (edited) version of Rizal’s novels as mandatory readings, Recto explained his firm support for the unexpurgated version, exclaiming: “The people who would eliminate the books of Rizal from the schools would blot out from our minds the memory of the national hero. This is not a fight against Recto but a fight against Rizal.” (Ocampo, 2012, p. 23)

The bill was eventually passed, but with a clause that would allow exemptions to students who think that reading the Noli and Fili would ruin their faith. In other words, one can apply to the Department of Education for exemption from reading Rizal’s novels—though not from taking the Rizal subject. The bill was enacted on June 12, 1956.

RA 1425 and other Rizal laws

The Rizal Bill became the Republic Act No. 1425, known as the ‘Rizal Law’. The full name of the law is “An Act to Include in the Curricula of All Public and Private Schools, Colleges and Universities Courses on the Life, Works and Writings of Jose Rizal, Particularly His Novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Authorizing the Printing and Distribution Thereof, and for Other Purposes.“

The first section of the law concerns mandating the students to read Rizal’s novels. The last two sections involve making Rizal’s writings accessible to the general public—they require the schools to have a sufficient number of copies in their libraries and mandate the publication of the works in major Philippine languages.

Jose P. Laurel, then senator who co-wrote the law, explained that since Jose Rizal was the founder of the country’s nationalism and had significantly contributed to the current condition of the nation, it is only right that Filipinos, especially the youth, know about and learn to imbibe the great ideals for which the hero died. Accordingly, the Rizal Law aims to accomplish the following goals:

1. To rededicate the lives of youth to the ideals of freedom and nationalism, for which our heroes lived and died

2. To pay tribute to our national hero for devoting his life and works in shaping the Filipino character

3. To gain an inspiring source of patriotism through the study of Rizal’s life, works, and writings.

So far, no student has yet officially applied for exemption from reading Rizal’s novels. Correspondingly, former President Fidel V. Ramos in 1994, through Memorandum Order No. 247, directed the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports and the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education to fully implement the RA 1425 as there had been reports that the law had still not been totally carried out. In 1995, CHED Memorandum No. 3 was issued enforcing strict compliance to Memorandum Order No. 247.

Not known to many, there is another republic act that concerns the national hero. Republic Act No. 229 is an act prohibiting cockfighting, horse racing, and jai-alai on the thirtieth day of December of each year and to create a committee to take charge of the proper celebration of Rizal day in every municipality and chartered city, and for other purposes.

The Importance of Studying Rizal

The academic subject on the life, works, and writings of Jose Rizal was not mandated by law for nothing. Far from being impractical, the course interestingly offers many benefits that some contemporary academicians declare that the subject, especially when taught properly, is more beneficial than many subjects in various curricula.

            The following are just some of the significance of the academic subject:

1. The subject provides insights on how to deal with current problems

There is a dictum, “He who controls the past controls the future.” Our view of history forms the manner we perceive the present, and therefore influences the kind of solutions we provide for existing problems. Jose Rizal course, as a history subject, is full of historical information from which one could base his decisions in life. In various ways, the subject, for instance, teaches that being educated is a vital ingredient for a person or country to be really free and successful.

2. It helps us understand better ourselves as Filipinos

The past helps us understand who we are. We comprehensively define ourselves not only in terms of where we are going, but also where we come from. Our heredity, past behaviors, and old habits as a nation are all significant clues and determinants to our present situation. Interestingly, the life of a very important national historical figure like Jose Rizal contributes much to shedding light on our collective experience and identity as Filipino. The good grasp of the past offered by this subject would help us in dealing wisely with the present.

3. It teaches nationalism and patriotism

Nationalism involves the desire to attain freedom and political independence, especially by a country under foreign power, while patriotism denotes proud devotion and loyalty to one’s nation. Jose Rizal’s life, works, and writings—especially his novels—essentially, if not perfectly, radiate these traits. For one thing, the subject helps us to understand our country better.

4. It provides various essential life lessons

We can learn much from the way Rizal faced various challenges in life. As a controversial figure in his time, he encountered serious dilemmas and predicaments but responded decently and high-mindedly. Through the crucial decisions he made in his life, we can sense his priorities and convictions which manifest how noble, selfless, and great the national hero was. For example, his many resolutions exemplified the aphorism that in this life there are things more important than personal feeling and happiness.

5. It helps in developing logical and critical thinking

Critical Thinking refers to discerning, evaluative, and analytical thinking. A Philosophy major, Jose Rizal unsurprisingly demonstrated his critical thinking skills in his argumentative essays, satires, novels, speeches, and written debates. In deciding what to believe or do, Rizal also proved his being a reasonably reflective thinker, never succumbing to the irrational whims and baseless opinions of anyone. In fact, he indiscriminately evaluated and criticized even the doctrines of the dominant religion of his time. A course on Rizal’s life, works, and writings therefore is also a lesson in critical thinking.

6. Rizal can serve as a worthwhile model and inspiration to every Filipino

If one is looking for someone to imitate, then Rizal is a very viable choice. The hero’s philosophies, life principles, convictions, thoughts, ideals, aspirations, and dreams are a good influence to anyone. Throughout his life, he valued nationalism and patriotism, respect for parents, love for siblings, and loyalty to friends, and maintained a sense of chivalry. As a man of education, he highly regarded academic excellence, logical and critical thinking, philosophical and scientific inquiry, linguistic study, and cultural research. As a person, he manifested versatility and flexibility while sustaining a strong sense of moral uprightness.

7. The subject is a rich source of entertaining narratives

People love fictions and are even willing to spend for books or movie tickets just to be entertained by made-up tales. But only a few perhaps know that Rizal’s life is full of fascinating non-fictional accounts.

For instance, it is rarely known that (1) Rizal was involved in a love triangle with Antonio Luna as also part of the romantic equation; (2) Rizal was a model in some of Juan Luna’s paintings; (3) Rizal’s common-law wife Josephine Bracken was ‘remarried’ to a man from Cebu and had tutored former President Sergio Osmeña; (4) Leonor Rivera (‘Maria Clara’), Rizal’s ‘true love’, had a son who married the sister of the former President of the United Nations General Assembly Carlos P. Romulo; (5) the Filipina beauty queen Gemma Cruz Araneta is a descendant of Rizal’s sister, Maria; (6) the sportscaster Chino Trinidad is a descendant of Rizal’s ‘first love’ (Segunda Katigbak); and (7) the original manuscripts of Rizal’s novel (Noli and Fili) were once stolen for ransom, but Alejandro Roces had retrieved them without paying even a single centavo.


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