Journey of Rizal

The following article is a commissioned article I wrote for this month’s issue (December 2010) of SMILE, the in-flight magazine of Cebu Pacific Air. You may browse the magazine online at http://www.cebusmile.com


EVERY TOWN OR city would have a street or park named after him. His diminutive yet dignified stature is immortalized in concrete or bronze. And his profile, distinguished by perfectly parted waves of hair, is etched on one-peso coins in every purse and pocket. Dr Jose Rizal may be as ubiquitous as jeepneys, coconuts and sari-sari stores in the Philippines, but Rizal Day — the anniversary of his martyrdom on December 30, 1896 — is almost always obscured by the fanfare of Christmas and New Year’s Day. Best known for his revolutionary novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Rizal, together with Gandhi, Sun Yat-sen and Tagore, is one of the “Four Great Asians” that stirred modern nationalism in the region. It would be good to don an overcoat and travel the paths of Dr Jose Rizal.

Early days in Calamba

Tender childhood, beautiful town, Rich fountain of rejoicing And of harmonious music. That drove away all pain: Return to this heart of mine.

– A Tribute to My Town (Un Recuerdo A Mi Pueblo) by Jose Rizal

Long before his travels to Europe, America and Japan as a globetrotting ilustrado of the “enlightened” educated class, Rizal’s journey started out in the little town of Calamba, Laguna. Born the seventh of 11 children to a wealthy family of farmers on June 19, 1861, the young probinsyano fondly called Pepe grew up in the first stone house in the area, beside the church where he was christened. Rizal’s ancestral home was destroyed during WWII, and reconstructed under the supervision of National Artist for Architecture, Juan Nakpil. Recently, the replica was painted in a garish shade of green to commemorate the family’s occupation and surname, which was derived from the Spanish ricial describing a verdant field ready for harvest.

Calamba’s Rizal Shrine makes for a relaxing stop on a scenic road trip looping around Laguna de Bay. One can indulge in a bit of nostalgia, exploring the quarter. A bronze statue of little Pepe and his dog, Berganza stand and watch in the backyard in which the young boy found so much joy.

JP Rizal St, Calamba City (open from Tuesday–Sunday, 8am–5pm), tel: +63 (49) 834 1599.

At home in Hong Kong

Father has put on weight and his cheeks have become slightly pink. He is always cheerful, always walking around, and he is very much pleased with Hong Kong. They are very grateful for having been able to come here.

– In a letter to Rizal’s sister Maria, dated December 9, 1891

After years studying medicine and writing two novels in Europe, Jose Rizal lived in self-imposed exile and practiced ophthalmology in Hong Kong for seven months between 1891 and 1892. He was a forerunner of the 140,000 OFWs presently making a living in the former British colony. The cityscape has greatly changed since then, after decades of cyclical demolition and construction. Wedged between space- age skyscrapers, a few inconspicuous remnants of our colonial history have survived to provide visitors a glimpse of 19th century Hong Kong Island.

D’Aguilar Street, the sloping L-shaped road where Rizal’s eye clinic once stood, is now the epicenter of shopping and nightlife in the happening Lan Kwai Fong area. The small historical plaque at Century Square is swallowed up by stylish boutiques, neon signs and ritzy bars, but more interesting fragments of Rizal’s quieter colonial world linger at the other end of the street. Turn into Lower Albert Rd and Ice House St for the brick-faced Old Dairy Farm Depot (established in 1890), Bishop’s House (circa 1843) and an elegant flight of granite steps built between 1875 and 1889. Flanked by the last four gas- powered street lamps in the city, these steps carried Rizal down to Duddell St where another office of his once stood. He would walk up Shelley St, past the corner of Caine Rd to 2 Rednaxela Terrace (“Alexander” mispelled by a Chinese sign painter). Rizal would have appreciated today’s Mid-Levels escalators, the world’s longest outdoor system. Go to Lan Kwai Fong and Mid- Levels via MTR Central.

Respite in Dapitan

By the spreading beach where sands are soft and fine. At the foot of the mount in its mantle of green I have built my hut in the pleasant grove’s confine; From the forest seeking peace and a calmness divine.

– My Retreat (Mi Retiro) by Jose Rizal

Considering the number of landmarks commemorating the hero, the “Shrine City” of Dapitan may very well be eponymously named after him. Implicated in a brewing rebellion, Rizal was banished to this faraway town in western Mindanao where he lived from 1892 to 1896. Fortunately, this sleepy city is blessed with natural beauty. Graceful mountains tumble onto the sandy shores that embrace a breezy bay. There, Rizal was far from idle. These years were the most prolific of his life. With the money he won from the Manila lottery (apparently, his only vice), he purchased agricultural land along the coast of Talisay, where he built a house; a dormitory for his pupils studying arithmetic, Spanish and English; and a third one for raising chickens. Like his childhood home in Calamba, he also had fruit trees — mango, jackfruit, guyabano and sweet lanzones.

He developed a system of waterworks for the town. He had nearby marshes drained to control malaria. And he discovered three new species: Draco rizali (a flying lizard), Rhacophorus rizali (a small frog), and Apogonia rizali (a small beetle). But there are more legacies: the town plaza brightened by hibiscus, santan and acacia and armed with coconut oil powered street lamps is his handiwork. The 900m2 Relief Map of Mindanao in front of the St James Church (established 1871) is his as well. Today, Rizal’s farm in Talisay is a Rizal Shrine, worthy of a visit. Brgy Talisay, Dapitan City (open Tuesday–Sunday, 8am–5pm).

Stopovers in Dumaguete

The steamer anchors quite near the shore because of the great depth of the water. Dumaguete spreads out on the beach. There are big houses, some with galvanized iron roofing… I observed that the people of Dumaguete are fond of decorating their houses with plants and flowers.

– From Rizal’s diary, August 1, 1896

After hearing piano music amidst colonial homes and lush greenery, Dr Rizal likened Dumaguete to a little European town. It is no surprise that travelers time and again find it impossible not to fall in love with this southern settlement in Negros Oriental. Much of the old-world charm survives in the “City of Gentle People” that is supported by magnificent green acacias, historic churches and period buildings like the Victorian-style Silliman Hall, the oldest standing American structure in the country, today, an anthropology museum.

Even the sun seems to favor this place. Every morning, a spectacular light show greets joggers at the lamp-lit and leafy shoreline of Rizal Boulevard, where our hero was said to have enjoyed long strolls during stopovers en route to and from Dapitan. A lesser known story according to old folks’ tradition is that he also had breakfast at the Locsin House — or what residents simply refer to as “the white house” — which is located at the corner of Sta Catalina and Locsin Streets. The white house was once the residence of Lt Cornelio Yapsutco, a champion of the revolution against Spanish rule. While the first level has been converted into shops, the second storey retains the hardwood floor and furnishings of an airy Spanish-period home. One can try arranging a visit to this private home through the Dumaguete City Tourism Office, tel: +63 (35) 422 9409 at Quezon Plaza.

Farewells in Manila

Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed, Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost, With gladness I give you my Life, sad and repressed; And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best, I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

– My Last Farewell (Mi Ultimo Adios) by Jose Rizal

Manila is the stage on which Jose Rizal’s tragedy played out. By 1896, the revolution erupted into a nationwide uprising. In order to disassociate himself from the armed rebellion, Rizal volunteered, with the permission of Governor-General Ramon Blanco, to leave Dapitan for Cuba where he was to minister to victims of a yellow fever epidemic. En route to yet another exile, he was arrested, imprisoned in Barcelona, and taken back to Manila to be sentenced to death under the charges of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.

He was imprisoned at Fort Santiago, the northern corner of the Spanish walled city of Intramuros. At the Fort’s present-day Rizal Shrine commemorating his life and death, the multifaceted hero’s personal effects and excerpts from his writing are showcased with theatrical flair. Some items on exhibit are his sculptures, medical instruments, Hong Kong business card, seashell collection, specimens from Dapitan, early editions of his novels and the original farewell poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, written on a small piece of paper concealed in an oil lamp.

Outside, worn-out brass footsteps trace Rizal’s path out of Fort Santiago to face his executioners. From Intramuros, hop on a jeepney to Rizal Park (aka Luneta), which is the site of his martyrdom. The hero is entombed at Luneta underneath the iconic granite obelisk facing Kilometer Zero, a fitting resting place for a genius and instrument of nationhood. Alight at Central Terminal LRT-1 for Intramuros and UN Avenue LRT-1 for Rizal Park. Rizal Shrine, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila (open from Tuesday–Sunday, 8am–5pm), tel. +63 (2) 491 3994.

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2 Responses

  1. Ian says:

    Rizal could escape the trial if he chooses to be out of the country but his love for the country is greater than his for travels.
    Nice article. BTW, I linked your site already, care for link exchange?

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