Posts Tagged ‘jose rizal’

pop goes the world: rizal – hero or zero?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 June 2011, Thursday

Rizal: Hero or Zero?

Rizal – hero or zero?

The hotly-debated question as to whether or not Jose Rizal is worthy of the title “hero” raged anew with the celebration of the sesquicentennial of his birth last Sunday, June 19.

Born in 1861 to an affluent land-owning family in Calamba, Laguna, Rizal grew up in comparative comfort, obtained a good education at the Ateneo, Letran, and University of Santo Tomas, and developed his skills in science and the arts.

But he was not ignorant of hardship. His mother was imprisoned twice for various trumped-up offenses, the prailes in their area having cast avaricious eyes on their property. His brother Paciano was linked to native priests later charged with subversion; for this reason Jose had to use their other family name of “Rizal” rather than the one everyone else used, “Mercado”.

After his studies in the Philippines, he went abroad and obtained a medical degree and took further studies at the universities of Madrid, Paris, and Heidelberg. He came back to the Philippines, made his living as an ophthalmologist (some sources say he was the only one in South-East Asia at the time), wrote inflammatory works, and ran afoul of the Spanish colonial government.

All this background is well-known to most Filipinos – after all, being the designated “national hero”, the particulars of his life have been dinned to us from elementary school onwards. His fables of the lost slipper, tortoise and monkey, and the moths and the lamp serve as object lessons for young people, as well as cultivate the example of an observant, obedient, and prudent boy.

Hearing these stories as a child, I was first impressed, then later sickened by what I thought was abject prudery on the part of a young child. What a goody-goody, I thought. Then, in high school, we were forced to read his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which I found dreary and annoying because there wasn’t a happy ending to the Ibarra-and -Maria Clara love story.

It wasn’t until I learned more about this remarkable man when I was older that I realized just how much of the narrative about Jose Rizal that is imparted to young people is actually constructed and carefully selected to position him as a role model. He had fun, sowed his wild oats, and generally behaved as an ordinary red-blooded male, with the difference that he had greater things on his mind.

Some have criticized the choice of Rizal to bear the mantle of “national hero”. It was all hype created by the Americans, they say, therefore a decision tinged with a colonial agenda. Elevating to hero status a short, soft-spoken writer over the warriors Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, and others of their ilk was their way of keeping the brown Filipino monkeys in subliminal subjugation.

Critics add that Rizal wrote in Spanish, the language of the colonial oppressor.

Yet the upshot of the decades of Rizal in the top hero’s seat has resulted in his image being iconic to all Filipinos. His statues dot the lawns of school campuses and national parks nationwide. The silhouette of his face, outfitted with aviator-style shades, emblazons t-shirts and tote bags that are so popular, merchandisers can’t keep them in stock. Whether or not he deserves to be national hero, or whether another personality deserves the honor more, is a moot point. For now, he fulfills that role, like it or not.

But it that so bad? Filipinos aged 40 and older, who had to take the mandatory 3 units of the Rizal course and 12 units of Spanish in college, gained a better appreciation of how Rizal’s mind worked. He was a peaceful revolutionary, who sparked a people’s fight for independence with thoughts and ideas rather than bullets and knives.

His weapon of choice was a fountain pen and a bottle of ink. From these flew concepts so potent that the Spanish colonial government was more frightened of him than of the gun-toting revolucionarios. It was Rizal whom they wished to neutralize. They tried threats, they tried exile, but in the end they knew the only way they could still his patriotic heart was to put a bullet through it.

At a certain point we can decide for ourselves whether or not Rizal was a hero. As a writer, I choose to admire him, accepting his human frailties that all of us possess in some form or another.

Jose Rizal was a poet, artist, scholar, physician, swordsman, journalist, traveler, reformist, son, brother, lover, friend.

He was a writer whose many essays and two novels – Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – shook an oppressive foreign colonial regime, woke a people’s sense of nationalism, and led to the establishment of a country. His beliefs never wavered and he remained steadfast, even as he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for those beliefs.

He was a fighter who took up a pen instead of gun or sword to win our country’s freedom with thoughts and ideas rather than force.

He was a martyr, shot by firing squad in a grassy field.

His 150th birthday was also Father’s Day, yet we cannot wish him that. He was not a father. He didn’t have time.

For all that he was, he is my hero.

* *  * * *

In other news, activist-poet Axel Pinpin recently told me about his upcoming writing project. Well known for his poetry in Filipino and “spoken word” performances reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron (find them on Youtube), Axel has ventured into the short story form and creative non-fiction to which he brings his own brand of wry humor, a search light that he manages to shine into the darkest corners of life experiences.

It’s a rare talent that deserves a wider audience, and he’s asked me to lend a hand with translation of his short stories. It’s a great honor to be asked to work with an artist of his skill; he could have had his pick from his wide circle of literary friends. I look forward to the chance to work with him.

Artistic collaborations are unpredictable; like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’re going to get, and that’s exciting. *** (Email:, Blog:, Facebook: Gogirl Cafe, Twitter: @jennyortuoste)

Rizal self-sketch here. Rizal in Luna’s Paris studio here. Axel Pinpin portrait here.

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jose rizal at 150

Today, 19 June 2011, is the 150th birth anniversary of Dr Jose Rizal (1861-1896), national hero of the Philippines.

He was a poet, artist, scholar, physician, swordsman, journalist, traveler, reformist, son, brother, lover, friend.

He was a writer whose many essays and two novels – Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – shook an oppressive foreign colonial regime, woke a people’s sense of nationalism, and led to the establishment of a country. His beliefs never wavered and he remained steadfast, even as he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for those beliefs.

He was a fighter, who took up a pen instead of gun or sword to win our country’s freedom with thoughts and ideas rather than force.

He wa a martyr, shot by firing squad in a grassy field, twisting his body forward to face his executioners at the sound of the fusillade and falling with his face to the blue Philippine sky.

Today is also Father’s Day, yet we cannot wish him that. He was not a father. He didn’t have time.

Always remember, never forget, his love and sacrifice.

Maligayang ika-150 kaarawan, Gat. Jose Rizal.

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rizal on life as a struggle

From my bookshelves: The First Filipino, a biography of Jose Rizal by Leon Ma. Guerrero (Guerrero Publishing, Manila: 1998)

Rizal is the Philippine’s national hero, a true Renaissance man – writer, physician, scholar, sculptor, farmer, amateur boxer, and much more besides. Along the way to his martyrdom at the hands of Spanish colonial forces in 1896, he found time to write two revolutionary novels, poetry, essays, and reams of correspondence,  perform eye surgery on his patients, and fall in love with several women scattered in different countries.

A replica of Casa Redonda, Rizal’s octagonal hut in Dapitan that served as his eye clinic. Image here.

From a letter Rizal wrote while in Dapitan to his nephew Alfredo Hidalgo:

Go ahead, then; study, study, and think over well what you have studied; life is a very serious matter, and only those who have brains and a heart have a good life. To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle. But this struggle is not an animal, material struggle, nor is it a struggle only with other men; it is a struggle with them but also with one’s self, with their passions but also with one’s own, with errors and with anxieties. It is an eternal struggle, [which one must sustain] with a smile on one’s lips, and tears in the heart. In this battlefield, a man has no better weapon than his intelligence, no greater strength than that of his own heart.

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pop goes the world: the relevance of rizal

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 11 November 2010, Thursday

The Relevance of Rizal

I’ve always been a fan of Dulaang UP, which puts on entertaining and thought-provoking productions at the University of the Philippines’ Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Their latest offering, Isang Panaginip na Fili, promises to be another visual and intellectual feast.

This production is Dulaang UP’s prelude to the 150th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, who was born 19 June 1861.

Says UP professor Amella Bersalona, “Isang Panaginip na Fili is a radical reworking of Rizal’s El Filibusterismo. For one, Jose Rizal himself is a central character in the musical.” The play is set in 1891, and revolves around the concept of Rizal “writing El Filibusterismo in a seedy hotel room in Paris.”

“The play is about the idea of transformation,” says Bersalona, a concept linked to the theme of “Ibarra’s transformation from reformist to filibuster” which constitutes “the very crux of the novel.”

The idea of taking a work familiar to all educated Filipinos and remixing its themes and narratives to create something different will have the effect of making viewers become more attentive to the unfolding of the play. Of course, an assessment of the production values would be an integral part of the experience. These are the first things people notice – the quality of the actors’ performances; music; lighting, sound, and direction; and so on.

Yet there are other levels of analysis that would enable viewers to have a deeper enjoyment of the work. The first level would involve comparison, spotting the differences between what is in the novel and what is in the play, a tracking of the latter’s narrative structure and how far it departs from the original.

The second level requires a revisitation of themes on a conceptual dimension. What are they – transformation? The political environment and social change? Communication, and the success or failure thereof? What are the parallels of these ideas in the present time, and how would these concepts be relevant to us now?

Spectacles like plays can be viewed on a surface level, but there is more useful takeaway if one asks questions and challenges what one is seeing and experiencing.

Another question that the prospect of seeing this play raises is, is Rizal still relevant? Are his works dated, helpful only to high school and college students who are required to study his novels? Or do his ideas as embedded in his works still hold validity, his works being historical records of the social and political issues of his time?

A large part of Fili and Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere, deals with the social injustices suffered by Filipinos in circa 1880s Philippines, principally Manila.  With Filipinos of the time crushed under the colonial Spanish regime, laboring under the abuses of the Roman Catholic friars who controlled much of politics and society, Rizal was consumed with exposing these societal ills to find a cure for them. In Fili and Noli, he explored different methods for achieving social justice and equality of political status with the colonists.

While the details of the situation back then may be radically different from today, the themes in Rizal’s novels and other works are universal and timeless. Present-day Philippines is still suffering from abuses – not from a colonial master (though the vestiges of that trauma still pervade the Filipino psyche), but from corrupt government officials. The Roman Catholic Church still holds an inordinate amount of power and influence – look at how some prelates recently advocated civil disobedience should the Reproductive Health bill be passed.

It has been over a hundred years since Rizal died, yet no answers have been found to the questions he posed. Will we as a nation ever learn from the past? When will we rectify mistakes that are still being perpetuated?

Rizal is such an iconic figure that he is a stock character in popular culture. Image from here.

There is so much of value in Rizal. Whatever you feel about him being named as “national hero” by the American colonial regime, it is undeniable that his works were influential during his time and made significant contributions to the Philippine revolutionary effort.

But why do we continue to disregard the more significant and profound aspects of Rizal’s legacy, focusing instead on imposing a shallow appreciation of his seminal works upon high school and college students who often read them out of context?

Knowing us as a race, I can only quote the national hero’s own words: “Adios, patria adorada…”

This Dulaang UP play should help us view Rizal and his works in a fresh light. Written by Floy Quintos, Isang Panaginip na Fili’s original music was composed by Ceejay Manuel Javier. Reprising the role of Pepe Rizal is Franco Laurel, for which he won an Aliw Award in 2009. Alternating for the role is Red Concepcion, who was last seen in Repertory Philippines’ “Equus”.

Fili will run from November 24-28 and December 1-5 and 8-12, at 7pm from Wednesdays to Fridays, and at 10am and 3pm on weekends. For tickets, call Cherry at (0917)750-0107, or the Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349 or 433-7840. ***

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pop goes the world: towards a ‘bookful’ society

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 21 October 2010, Thursday

Towards a ‘Bookful’ Society

A newspaper article from a couple days ago heralded the use of “tablets” in selected Laguna public high school next year in lieu of textbooks. The headline used the term “e-book readers”. The two devices are different from each other in fundamental ways and I wonder if the proponents of this project are aware of this. Certainly they should know which term to use when speaking of them.

Next school year, around 1,000 “tablets” are to be distributed to freshman students of the Laguna National Science High School, UP Rural High School, and one public high school from each of the province’s four congressional districts.

The devices, said to cost $100 each and will be sourced from China, have already been dubbed “Rizal Tablets”, after the national hero. They are expected to provide students with easy access to instructional materials since each device can come pre-loaded with the prescribed textbooks and references.

Laguna provincial board member and educational committee chairman Neil Nocon was said to have “likened” the Rizal Tablet to “Apple’s iPad or Amazon Kindle”.

First, the iPad and Kindle are dissimilar and should not be confused with each other. The terms are not interchangeable.

“iPad” is a brand name and refers to an Apple product that looks like a handheld computer monitor. It glows like one, can connect to the Internet via Wifi and 3G, and is used primarily for consumption of media – surfing the Internet, playing games, and reading e-books. The generic name of similar devices is “tablet”.

An Apple iPad is great for viewing content in color. Image from here.

“Kindle”, on the other hand, is a brand name for an “electronic book reader” developed by online retail giant It can only be used for reading texts in electronic formats. It also comes in WiFi and 3G flavors, but for now can be used only to access the Kindle Store to purchase and wirelessly download e-books.

It is not backlit; it uses a different technology called “e-ink” that will make you think of the Etch-A-Sketch of your childhood days, and was designed to mimic as closely as possible the look of printed text, with charcoal-black letters on a gray background. The font size can be changed, a boon for the visually challenged. It can even function as an audio-book device, although the built-in computer voice is tinny and none too pleasant. Have your loved ones read to you instead.

The Amazon Kindle is fantastic for reading. Image from here.

Now, the pros and cons. I own a second-generation Kindle and am waiting impatiently for my US-based cousin to come over to Manila next month with the third-generation version I ordered. The Kindle is very light, weighing only several ounces, and can be held for long periods in one hand, making it great for reading in bed. Since there is no backlight, there is no glare. The e-ink screen lets you see the text even in bright sunlight. A full battery charge can last a week or longer, as long as the wireless feature is not switched on. However, all it can do is let you to read books.

You can do more things on an iPad, such as surf the Web and use a wide variety of “apps” (applications) that allow you to do most things you can already do on an iPhone and more. The display is fabulous – crisp and clear and in brilliant color, perfect for playing “Plants vs. Zombies”. But it’s heavier than an e-book reader; the backlight might cause eyestrain if used to read for extended periods (about as long as it takes to read several textbook chapters, perhaps?); and the battery charge lasts only hours.

In a campaign speech last May, senator Richard Gordon proposed buying a Kindle for each of 17 million public school students to “raise the quality of education” by making access to textbooks easy and cost-effective. I remember liking the proposal when I first heard it – anything that gives people access to information is a good idea.

Laguna’s move to pilot-test the use of such devices as early as next year is exciting. Will the use of tablets or e-book readers spread the love of reading among young people? Will it raise functional literacy? Will it provide our students with knowledge and critical thinking skills? Let’s hope so.

But before they do roll out the plan, the Department of Education, the Laguna provincial board, and educators should look closely into the merits and disadvantages of each kind of device and be certain they are making the right choice for students. Which of these two types of devices do they actually plan to get?

It has also been mentioned that this project comes close to DepEd secretary Bro. Armin Luistro’s “vision of a bookless society”. I assume he means a society that uses handheld electronic devices for reading, not a society that does not read. I hope that the students given such devices will be allowed to use them to read for pleasure and not just for school, because the cult of the book brings some of the deepest joy that thinking man can experience.

A well-written story can take you to another place, another time, and put you in the mind of a character very different from you and make you feel what she or he feels. Fictionist Stephen King called it “falling through a hole in the paper”. In this case, it would be “falling through a hole in the screen”, but as long as the result is the same, I have no objection.

And may we soon bring about a “bookful” society, where the written word is enjoyed as much as the mindless drivel on television. If he were still alive, that would make Jose Rizal very happy, especially if it means that his Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and other works will be made available to a wider audience. ***

Jose Rizal portrait here. From here, image of Stephen King holding a one-of pink Kindle as described in his for-Kindle novella “Ur”.

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pop goes the world: do we need another hero?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 June 2010, Thursday

Do We Need Another Hero?

President-elect Noynoy Aquino has come under public scrutiny lately for not wanting to quit smoking and for short-listing television talk-show host Boy Abunda for a high government position.

Stop laughing, this is serious. The smoking thing started when Aquino was asked if he would quit for World ‘No Tobacco’ Day on May 31. Obviously uncomfortable with the question, he said he is not inclined to give up the habit as it would pressure him more – and forget about the promise he made to quit smoking if he wins the elections.

Aquino steps outside Carmel church for a smoke. Image here.

In a recent speech, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon called tobacco use “ugly and deadly” and urged “all governments to address this deadly threat.” The World Health Organization says tobacco-related diseases are the second-highest cause of death globally after hypertension, killing one in 10 adults. It is an epidemic that is “preventable” with the strong support of government.

For this reason, Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and several non-government organizations have urged Aquino to kick the vice, citing “leadership by example” and the difference he could make in the lives of the country’s smokers via his example. However, Cabral acknowledges that it’s Aquino’s choice to continue, “as long as he does not smoke in front of others or harm them with his smoking.”

Come on, he’s not going to light up in the bathroom or closet. He’s the president and he’ll smoke where he pretty darn pleases.

Cabral perceives Aquino as having influence as a role model, which is a symbolic function. A role model is a person whose way of life serves as a source of inspiration for others to transform themselves for the better. He becomes a sign for what is good and worthy of emulation.

Why is he seen as such? As a public figure, he lives his life in the media, his behavior and actions subject to everyone’s observation, deconstruction, speculation, and outright fabrication. That comes with the territory. Don’t complain. You can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Yet Aquino remains cool and unflappable. He makes decisions as he deems fit. For one, he mused on tapping Abunda’s media and marketing expertise for the government, also citing his stature as an “icon” and his effectivity in communicating ideas to his audience. Noynoy has said he wants to offer Abunda a position as undersecretary or assistant secretary – pretty high up the food chain for someone who is not career government.

Pundits criticize this choice, saying there are many other candidates better suited for the position. Abunda himself has defused the situation by saying that he wants a “simple life”, and that he is still under contract to the ABS-CBN network. A successful businessman, he certainly earns more in entertainment and through his other entrepreneurial activities.

Boy Abunda: celebrity icon. Image here.

Apart from the connection via friendship (Abunda is very close to Noynoy’s sister, talk show host Kris Aquino, and was also the family spokesperson upon the death of Kris and Noynoy’s mother, former president Corazon Aquino), the president-elect is showing just how powerful the influence of popular culture is. Because Abunda, by dint of his engaging performance on air, has become wildly popular among his viewers, he is seen as an “effective communicator”. For running a successful talent management company, he is deemed to have marketing and business skills of the caliber to run a government agency.

What does that say about the Filipino, when the incoming head of state – his image also largely a product of popular culture – relies upon the icons of media to help with the “marketing” of a country?

It says that the power of popular culture should not be underestimated, and that those who wield it have immense responsibility, for they can use their influence for good – or evil.

Looking at Aquino’s choice of Abunda from another angle, it is the acquisition of the talents of people from showbiz (and other private industries) for the public good, or “privatization”. In the US, a comedian wants Steve Jobs to become president and reverse the economic meltdown. He did it for Apple – two million iPads have been sold since it was launched two months ago, and its market capitalization has surpassed Microsoft’s, for years the giant in the IT world. The idea is, if it works there, it’ll also work here. But that’s not necessarily so. Private success does not always translate into public effectivity.

To sum up, Aquino is not a “good role model” for refusing to ditch cancer sticks and for being swayed by popular culture and personal agenda when making some decisions that have national repercussions.

But we didn’t elect him to be the national role model or hero. That’s Jose Rizal. We voted Aquino in as president. His job is to make the right choices, set the right priorities, and do what needs to be done. Government corruption, poverty elimination, culture of impunity – the list of issues that need reforms is inexhaustible.

The National Hero’s image on a banknote.

Good governance is the toughest job of all – harder even than quitting smoking. And if the president struggles, we all struggle – the political equivalent of inhaling second-hand smoke.

A Wise Guy friend says, “Stop looking for messiahs. Wala sa Wowowee at Star Talk ang pag-asa. It’s not the president’s job to create co-dependents; dapat lang maiahon niya ang bayan sa kahirapan.” And it is our job as citizens and members of media to keep him on track, give him feedback from the grassroots, and tell him whether or not he’s doing the job we elected him for. ***

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