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Looking Back

Questions on Rizal’s love life

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Everyone, with the notable exception of the prosecutors in the ongoing impeachment trial, misses Miriam Defensor-Santiago on the floor of the Senate. While she excused herself from the trial, she appeared at a convention on hypertension and provided everyone with a mouthful of pre-Valentine’s Day quotes, one of the most memorable being, “ang pag-ibig parang bayad sa dyip, minsan di nasu-suklian.” (Love is like a jeepney fare, sometimes you get shortchanged.) Wishing to supplement Miriam’s list with Valentine quotes from our heroes, I ran through the 25 volumes of Rizal’s writings first and came out empty-handed. There were lofty lines on love of country, but Rizal often concealed his emotions; thus even in his most trying times he would not be quoted saying, “Huwag na tayo magpa-epal dito!” Research for this column eventually led to my notes on Rizal’s girlfriends, the subject of a future controversial bestseller. These notes are consulted every year while columns that fall on or around Valentine’s Day are being planned.

Internet sources, the last time I checked, lists nine women linked romantically to Rizal. A third of the names on the list are familiar to everyone interested in our hero’s love life: Leonor Rivera, O Sei-san and Josephine Bracken. The other names may well be more obscure but still known to the curious: Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Valenzuela, Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, Gertrude Beckett, Suzanne Jacoby and Nellie Boustead. Eight women appear as a curious set of pre-war paintings by Pablo Amorsolo on the loves of Rizal. I don’t know who was the historical source used or consulted by Amorsolo, but his set even includes Dora Blumentritt who was but a child when Ferdinand Blumentritt was corresponding with Rizal! Unless we have a hero into pedophilia, Dora cannot ever be on our list. Another set of paintings depicting Rizal’s women, was copied from the Amorsolo set in the collection of the Bank of the Philippine Islands; these are now in the Yuchengco Museum in RCBC (Rizal Commercial and Banking Corp.).

Are there only nine women associated with Rizal? Only nine women we can consider more than mere dates but real girlfriends? In my reading and re-reading of Rizal’s writings, I have come across stray references to other women whose names are lost to history. There is a woman in his student diary hidden under the name “L” who lived in a house to the east of his hometown Calamba. His father didn’t approve of “L” and Rizal was forbidden from continuing his visits. There is a woman described in a stray piece of writing; he met her while she was chasing butterflies. There even was a beautiful prostitute in Vienna with whom Rizal spent a night and who grew into the “missing link” in the great urban legend that makes of Rizal the father of Adolf Hitler. Gregorio Zaide adds a young lass from his hometown, Pagsanjan, to the list. Then there are other claimants as numerous as all the places Rizal is supposed to have visited, as numerous as all the beds he slept in. The late Teodoro Agoncillo would react to any proposal to affix a historical marker in yet another place associated with the hero. Agoncillo once declared, “aba, lahat ata ng eskinitang inihian ni Rizal ibig lagyan ng historical marker!” (It would seem that every little corner Rizal relieved himself is being considered worthy of a historical marker!)

My own count, based strictly on reliable documentation, is about a dozen women, and this list does not include more than half a dozen more names Rizal himself provides in a diary entry dated when he embarked for Europe in May 1882:

“Leonores, Dolores, Ursulas, Felipas, Vicentas, Margaritas, and others: Other loves will hold your attention and soon you will forget the traveler. I’ll return, but I’ll find myself alone, because those who used to smile at me will save their charms for others more fortunate. And in the meantime I fly after my vain idea, a false illusion perhaps. May I find my family intact and afterward die of happiness!”

Of a dozen women linked to Rizal only four were relationships serious enough for him to offer marriage: Segunda Katigbak, Leonor Rivera, Nellie Boustead and Josephine Bracken. Then to complete things further, there is only one woman he loved above all else, a woman who completed him, a woman he could never marry—his mother, Teodora Alonso. When people ask why Rizal never married nor had children, the standard textbook answer is that Rizal was married to his country. Could it be possible that in the large brood of 11 children born of the union of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso, some children would remain unmarried to care for their parents in their old age?

No book on Rizal’s women is complete because we only know of the women in relation to Rizal, we do not know of them before or after Rizal. We do not even know basic biographical information, like complete dates of birth and death on some of them. After Segunda Katigbak was jilted by Rizal, she married Manuel Luz. What became of her? How many children did they have? We know Leonor Rivera married the English engineer Charles Henry Kipping, but when did she pass away? Where was she buried? It’s the same question that hounds people searching for Josephine Bracken in Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong. We will need a subpoena to poke into Rizal’s private life.

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