The most influential history texts of the second half of the 20th century are essays on Rizal’s inadequacy. Here, for example, is Teodoro Agoncillo: “As a dreaming evolutionist, his clinical eye, so accurate and piercing in many instances, was, in this particular case, blurred by an unconscious attempt to defend the class to which he belonged.” And here is Renato Constantino: “He saw more clearly than his contemporaries and felt with more intensity the problems of his country, though his viewpoint was delimited by his particular status and upbringing. He was the first Filipino but he was only a limited Filipino, the ilustrado Filipino who fought for national unity but feared the Revolution and loved his mother country, yes, but in his own ilustrado way.”
If only there were more such “limited Filipinos” alive today! Our country would be a more civic-spirited, a more politically mature place. Unfortunately, the generation I belong to, and the generation that came ahead of us, took Rizal’s limitedness as a given. We looked at Rizal, and felt like apologizing.
Such was the measure of my mis-education.
My re-education began when I read Leon Ma. Guerrero’s flawed but fateful translation of “Noli Me Tangere” for myself, in the mid-1980s. Here was world-class literature, and it was savagely, even subversively funny. I was amazed to realize that, out of this tragic laughter, a nation began to emerge.
The process of re-education continued fitfully, through occasional immersion in the works of eminent Jesuit historians Horacio de la Costa and John Schumacher. (Some of the best writing about Rizal can be found in Schumacher’s “The Propaganda Movement” and “The Making of A Nation.”) It was only when I joined the Inquirer, however, and started to write opinion, that my re-education picked up pace. I read up on Rizal greedily, because in truth, the Philippines, both in terms of its limits and its possibilities, cannot be explained without reference to him.
Here’s what I have learned then: Rizal was a revolutionary spirit with an essentially religious sensibility, who sought to found a national, secular community. He was the most radical figure of his time, a true subversive who undermined the foundations of Spanish colonial rule, a self-sacrificing patriot who helped create the conditions of nationhood. That’s the truth. No apologies.