The country observes the 116th anniversary of the execution of Jose Rizal today (Sunday), a sober counterpoint to the revelry and joy that will surely follow tomorrow, as we mark the close of this old year and the arrival of the new one.
I don’t know—and historians don’t say—why the Spanish authorities chose to put Rizal to death just a day before New Year’s Eve, and so soon after Christmas, which then as now must have been as grand a public holiday as Filipinos could muster.
But there you are. Between the rejoicing occasioned by Christmas and New Year comes this sobering event recalling the martyrdom of our national hero.
Rizal’s death anniversary today becomes especially significant because of several developments. One, as illustrated in a front-page sepia photograph in yesterday’s issue of the Inquirer, today marks the centenary of the “formal and final” interment of Rizal, when his remains were transferred from his sister’s home in Binondo to the base of the Rizal monument in Luneta. A procession re-enacting that transfer will take place today presided over by no less than President Aquino.
Second, Rizal merited a mention in the one “historical” film of the Metro Manila Film Festival, a bio-pic titled “El Presidente” on the life and historical viewpoint of Emilio Aguinaldo. During a heated debate over the “new government” meant to unite the various factions of the Katipunan, someone suggests that to avoid a conflict between the “Magdiwang” faction led by Andres Bonifacio and the “Magdalo” faction led by Aguinaldo, they name instead Rizal as the new president. Even then, Rizal was respected as a leader of the reformist, if not revolutionary, movement, and recognized as the primary voice against Spanish colonization.
But someone points out that Rizal was currently incarcerated, and in due time, a military court finds him guilty of “insurrection” and orders his execution.
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The third reason Rizal deserves mention today, more than a hundred years after his passing, is that his name, his views, not to mention his iconography, are being used to argue both the “pro” and “anti” sides of the debate over the reproductive health bill.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has apparently appropriated Rizal’s image in a banner quoting the hero’s declaration that “The Young are the Hope of the Nation.” Then, below Rizal’s portrait, the banner declares “Ngunit sa RH Bill, patay kang bata ka (But with the RH Bill, children are going to die)!” Apparently, the banner refers to what the bishops believe will be even greater access to abortion once the bill is signed into law.
In the blogsite “The Filipino Scribe,” the writer questions the CBCP’s implication that Jose Rizal would have been against the RH bill had he been alive. On the contrary, says the writer, citing Rizal’s famous “Letter to the Women of Malolos,” he encouraged them to continue their agitation for the establishment of an educational institution for women like them, a development that the local Catholic authorities had sought to block. “You have discovered that it is not goodness to be too obedient to every desire and request of those who pose as little gods, but to obey what is reasonable and just, because blind obedience is the origin of crooked orders and in this case both parties sin,” Rizal wrote in his letter.
“Rizal is pro-education and pro-women empowerment. He is also anti-Catholic dogmatism. Had Rizal been alive today, he will most likely be one of the stalwarts of the pro-RH camp, no doubt,” declares “The Filipino Scribe.”
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Well, regardless of where our national hero stands on this continuing contentious debate, it hardly matters for apparently the “RH bill” has already been signed into law.
An ally of President Aquino, Rep. Janette Garin, one of the champions of the RH bill in the House, says P-Noy will formally announce today his signing into law of the RH measure. Garin said the President signed the bill into law last Dec. 21, and that the new law will henceforth be known as Republic Act No. 10354.
“We can see Aquino’s intention to give families better quality of life and, at the same time, reach out to opponents of the RH bill,” Garin said, apparently trying to give a positive spin to the rather clandestine signing.
Others interpret the very low-key signing as a way to “appease” the ruffled sensibilities of Filipino bishops who felt themselves rebuffed with the passage of the measure. Maybe it’s meant to dampen what one commentator called the “triumphalist” stance of the RH measure supporters.
Well, let me tell you. Compared to the celebrations held in the wake of the signing of other “pro-women” measures, like the Progressive Anti-Rape Law, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law or the Magna Carta of Women, the post-passage celebrations in the wake of the RH law have been sedate and sober—if still happy and joyful. Can’t you even let us sisters celebrate?
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I know, I know. The bishops and their rabid followers are smarting. Not all their sotana-wearing presence in the House, their denunciations from the pulpit, the parades of women in red could deter the march of progress.
But there was also much to be joyful for, much to be grateful for, much to trumpet about this singular achievement. Indeed, the new law was never meant to bring down the bishops, much less the institutional Catholic Church. If at all, the new law is meant to help women and men realize their own reproductive dreams and goals, as well as to give their children true quality of life and a real education in what it means to be human, to be loving and to be sexual.
That is something worth celebrating, and I would have wanted to see P-Noy joining in the revelry of happy and reproductive men and women.