Rizal +’s accounts, however, are not simply a retelling of what we picked up in school. The colorful entries included in this compilation present the distinguished doctor from perspectives quite untold. They unlock the different sides of this historical giant in a way that could tickle the fancy of both the well-versed Rizalian or any ordinary Tom, Dick, or Harry who’d want to know more about him.
Don’t get me wrong. One cannot simply consider this compilation a quintessential encyclopedia about anything and everything about the man. As Yuson points out in his short but sweet preface, “There will always be so much more of Rizal to draw from and extrapolate on. This anthology barely scratches the surface.”
Rizal the Political Catalyst
It’s funny that the first two pieces that caught my attention are in subtle contrast with one another in how they depict the distinguished doctor. “Rizal in the American Congress,” which Vicente Albano Pacis penned in 1955, details the humble account of Congressman Henry A. Cooper as he showcased the hero’s endeavors as a veritable testimony to what was once considered unfounded hearsay: that the Filipino people were capable of possessing civilized morals and principles.
On the other hand, Adrian E. Cristobal’s piece, “Making Rizal Obsolete,” succinctly champions the hero’s goal of transforming his campaigns for change into nothing more than cautionary tales we can always seek guidance from when we lose our way once more. To quote from his column, “[...] we must eradicate the ills of present-day society so that Rizal’s teachings will become what they were meant to be, a mirror of the past.”
Something else that struck me after reading the two aforementioned essays is something I may have missed while learning about the fascinating life of the distinguished doctor: that Dr. Rizal was never just a prima donna who was salaciously seeking fame and glory (which is pretty much what most of our corrupt politicians do on the daily).
Another epiphany: Rizal has been unwittingly reduced into an icon, and his life has become nothing more than an academic requirement. Fact is, we may have never really learned from his experiences under Spanish rule.
A look into the eerily similar lives of the distinguished doctor and another great hero, the late Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., found in Rodel Rodis’ “Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino: Cosmic Brothers,” casts a light on how both men braved difficult odds to give a voice to the voiceless without resorting to needless violence. Rodis, with great reverence, draws comparisons between the lives of the two heroes — a comparison that isn’t really that obvious until you start seeing the signs.
Rizal the Intellectual
Politics aside, Rizal + also includes entries that present the distinguished doctor as an exceedingly cerebral witness to the changing world around him. From his musings about the written word to his experiences as a young scholar and his masterful skill as an unsung chess master, these accounts show a different side of Rizal’s experiences outside the revolution.
In John Nery’s “What Rizal Thought of Journalists,” we see here a quick analysis of how Rizal perceives members of the press and how he shines a new light on the more contemptuous side of journalism through the Fili character Ben Zayb. Nery gives a brief but delightful description of the despicable character: “About a hundred years before J.K. Rowling gave us the ‘enchantingly nasty’ Rita Skeeter, Jose Rizal created the equally inventive Ben Zayb.”
Nery also illustrates this perception by recounting the manner and method through which Ben Zayb exposes his sad and sorry state as a svengali who wields the pen as a means to maintain his footing in the halls of the elitistas. Personally, I find this characterization a bit ironic, considering Rizal himself was one of the most crucial figures in La Solidaridad. It begs the question: was he shooting down the competition or subtly fessing up to his ulterior motives?
Delving further into the written word, we can find in Jose Carillo’s essay “Did Rizal Ever Speak and Write in English?,” an in-depth analysis of the distinguished doctor’s proficiency in the English language, especially as one of his preferred modes of storytelling. Carillo briefly dissects a letter Rizal sent to one of his dearest friends, Ferdinand Blumenttrit, showing how he could have improved on his grammar and word choice despite already being self-conscious about his use of the language.
One debunking that struck me the most was how Rizal’s pivotal El Fili wasn’t exactly a jab at the Dominicans and the university. I always thought that he used the novel to express how the institution and some of its robed folks left quite a bitter taste in his mouth However, as Joselito Zulueta puts it, quoting from historian Fr. Fidel Villaroel, “The novel points out, for example, the competence and expertise of the Dominican mentors.”
What caught my eye while I was going through my options to include in this section is Carlos Cortes’ analysis of one of the least told tales in the distinguished doctor’s life — the Rizal-Zeferenz chess match of 1886. In his commentary, “Rizal El Jugador: A Great Brilliancy Prize Chess Game by the Master,” Cortes recounts all the moves made and offers great insight into the seemingly unorthodox strategy employed by Rizal during his bout with the German Chess Club president Friedrich Zeferenz.
Cortes, after stumbling upon an article written by fellow chess aficionado Manuel Benitez, expresses surprise upon realizing the similarities between the Rizal-Zeferenz match and the match between two other great players, Johannes Zukertort and Joseph Henry Blackburne. To quote, “A slight mix-up of moves, only to arrive at identical positions.”
Rizal (and) the Muse
Novelists, artisans and filmmakers have used Rizal as a subject of their creations, and several notable excerpts from this anthology show how, through the years, the life and times of the man have been depicted in masterful ways.
Duddley Diaz recounts in his anecdote, “On the Sculpture of Rizal as a Boy with His Dog,” 1998, how he drew inspiration from Rizal’s youth. “While reading Rizal’s childhood memories… [these] words struck me: ‘My heart was nourished as a child, when even as a child, I already wandered on the wings of fantasy in the high regions of the unknown.’”
Diaz goes on to describe how he concretized that line into his masterpiece, which was included as an important part of the Philippine Independence Centennial Celebration twenty years ago, expressing his joy as he saw several youths embracing the almost life-size statue of a young Pepe — an innocent expression of acceptance of the child-hero as one of their own.
Filmmaker Cesar Hernando also writes a brief history of the portrayal of Rizal in Philippine cinema in “Rizal in Movies.” Here, he lists every noteworthy film whose focal point was the distinguished doctor. From early movies like the adaptation Dr. Edward Meyer-Gross’ theatre production, La Vida de Jose Rizal, to more modern re-imaginings like Mike de Leon’s critically acclaimed Bayaning 3rd World, Hernando details each film, including their respective casts and filmic elements.
Attached to this entry are several visual highlights from some of the films, including a scene showing Eddie del Mar’s portrayal of Rizal in the 1956 hit Ang Buhay at Pag-ibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal, a profile of Aga Muhlach from the set of de Leon’s unfinished obra, Rizal, and the iconic profile of Cesar Montano in Marilou Diaz Abaya’s 1998 film, Jose Rizal. As an avid film buff, this section sent gleeful tingles down my spine, and if you are one as well, this contribution may well be a good palate cleanser after going through the more serious articles in this compendium.
While we’re on the subject of film, I’d like to point out one of the most generous contributions to this collection: the synopsis and an excerpt of Jose F. Lacaba’s 1997 Rizal Sa Dapitan. In these two separate selections, we see a short description of the film’s plot, which revolves around the final four years of the distinguished doctor’s life. We can also find part of the fourth draft of the screenplay from the 30th scene through the 31st.
What piqued my interest was the code-switching Lacaba employs in this draft -- he uses Filipino to describe the dramatis personae, setting and movements, but pens the character’s lines in English. What I’d like to know is if his choice to use the mother tongue as a method of instruction in the production of this film was a practical one or a quirk in his thought process as he worked on the screenplay.
So many parts of this invaluable anthology excite and intrigue the reader, leading to sundry questions that Rizal himself might have imagined in his inimitably prescient way as a genius, Renaissance man and paragon of moral, intellectual and aesthetic worth.
Francis Layf "Max" Custodio is a budding photojournalist based in Manila. If he's not raving about the best restaurants in the city with his girlfriend, he's either teaching his favorite Japanese students how to speak English or sitting on the couch with his six-string in hand.