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What Aquino and Rizal had in common

/ 10:53 PM August 19, 2013

They came home. They did not have to; the threats they faced to life or liberty were real and manifest, the work they could have done outside the country to continue to contribute to the freedom struggle useful and varied.

The advice they received was almost uniformly negative. “I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends and a few of my most valued political mentors,” Ninoy Aquino wrote in his arrival statement. He had planned to read it the day he returned to Manila 30 years ago; he did not get the chance.

Jose Rizal prepared two letters before leaving Hong Kong in June 1892, to return to the Philippines for the second time. They were to be opened in the event of his death; about three years after his execution, Apolinario Mabini became the first to make them public.


In the letter addressed “A los Filipinos,” Rizal wrote: “The step that I have taken or I am about to take is undoubtedly very perilous, and I need not say that I have pondered on it a great deal. I realize that everyone is opposed to it; but I realize also that hardly anybody knows what is going on in my heart.”

Aquino knew the stakes involved.

“A death sentence awaits me. Two more subversion charges, both calling for death penalties, have been filed since I left three years ago and are now pending with the courts.” And again: “Six years ago, I was sentenced to die before a firing squad by a Military Tribunal whose jurisdiction I steadfastly refused to recognize. It is now time for the regime to decide. Order my IMMEDIATE EXECUTION OR SET ME FREE.” (The capitalization is in the version printed in the booklet “Human Society No. 21,” published the day after his funeral.)

I do not get the impression that Rizal saw in advance that the Spanish legal machinery would be used to entrap him (he certainly did not foresee that it would take the authorities four years to spring it). But he clearly understood that he was putting his life on the line.

We read in the other letter, the one addressed to his family: “Gladly I depart to expose myself to danger, not to atone for my faults (for on this point I do not believe I have committed any), but to finish my work and to confirm with my example what I have always preached.” (I am using the translation of the two letters as found in Dr. Robert Yoder’s  indispensable website, “The Life and Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal.”)

Both Aquino and Rizal could be accused of some wishful thinking.

Cory Aquino’s speech at her husband’s funeral Mass in Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, on Aug. 31, 1983, contains the following telling paragraph.

“… And he told me that most likely he would be rearrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas to allow him to call me up. If, on the other hand, he would be placed under house arrest, he would call me up as soon as he arrived at our home in Quezon City. Then he told me that if [he] were brought back to Fort Bonifacio, there would be no need for me to hurry home. Instead, he said I should take my time finishing my packing. And in the event that our children and I would be issued passports, he said that I should take our three older daughters on a side trip to Europe.”


The master politician, adept in the most intricate arts of politics, did not fully realize the danger he posed to a failing, increasingly decrepit regime. It was a misreading made also by the writer and reluctant political reformer.

Several days before returning to Manila, Rizal wrote Marcelo del Pilar another vigorous letter, responding to what he perceived to be a personal attack against him on the very pages of La Solidaridad, but ending with the following prayer: “I wish to see you in Manila or here [that is, Hong Kong] so that we can come to an understanding and again become what we had always been. I hope that once out of that atmosphere [the toxic politics of the Filipino colony in Madrid], and seeing ourselves more closely, we may understand each other.”

So Rizal, too, thought it was possible to conduct meetings with the most renowned critics of Spanish rule, right in Manila.

I understand this misreading of the political situation, this practical failing, to be a direct consequence of the moral clarity Aquino and Rizal had both achieved. Aquino in his arrival statement: “I return voluntarily armed only with a clear conscience and fortified in the faith that in the end justice will emerge triumphant. According to Gandhi, the WILLING sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.” Rizal, in his letter to all Filipinos: “At present I know that the future of my country gravitates in some degree towards me, that at my death, many would rejoice, and consequently many are longing for my downfall. But what am I to do? I have duties of conscience above all else …”

* * *

To mark a personal milestone, I have set about putting new life into my old blog. (Talk about wishful thinking.) By this week, I should have uploaded all my columns, as well as some of the speeches and lectures that are a by-product of a columnist’s life. I will also start compiling all my Rizal-related writing on a Facebook page. Please follow my blog at, and look for Revolutionary Spirit on Facebook.

* * *

My Opinion Journalism class in UP will host the inimitable Jessica Zafra in this semester’s Shaping of Opinion forum, on Aug. 29, from 9 to 11 am, at the College of Mass Communication auditorium. The basic question remains the same: What is it that you do, and how do you do it? World domination, here we come!

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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