Torre de Rizal, or Insulting the national hero
It is a mistake to think that our generation would know Jose Rizal’s wishes better than the revolutionary generation he inspired and which erected his monument. Rizal did write that he wanted only a simple tombstone to mark his grave—but he wrote that at a time when the Spanish continued to rule the Philippines. The same person who declined the possibility of a rescue by the Katipunan on the day of his execution because he did not want innocent blood shed did not want to be remembered through a grave that would attract other martyrs.
But when a measure of self-rule had been obtained after two wars against two colonial powers, the emerging nation’s revolutionary generation hastened to honor the memory of the First Filipino. They did it in large part through public subscription: People from all walks of life donated money for the establishment of a Rizal monument. This extraordinary circumstance has not been noted in the ongoing debate over the construction of the Torre de Manila and the national significance of the Rizal Monument and its surroundings. The monument required P100,000 in funding. Between 1905 and 1912, Filipinos donated over P100,000 to the fund; the American government contributed only P30,000.
The monument committee that was created by law included Rizal’s older brother Paciano, a general in the revolution, and the courier of Rizal’s message to the Katipunan rebels assembled in Imus, Cavite, in late December 1896. Three accounts by revolutionary generals—Santiago Alvarez, Artemio Ricarte and Emilio Aguinaldo—all agree that Paciano intervened. In the end, that convinced the Katipuneros not to attempt a rescue of Rizal. Alvarez’s retelling is the most vivid: “And he [Paciano] said his brother Dr. Rizal would agree to be rescued, if only one life were to be risked, because that would be equal to his own in service; but if two lives were to be risked, then don’t even think [about] it because he could not agree, since two lives in service to the nation could never be equal to one.”
And yet this same person was part of the committee that labored to build a monument worthy of the hero—the very same one who conveyed Rizal’s startling message from jail cell to revolutionary assembly, the one man whose personal sacrifice supported Rizal’s studies abroad and the publication of his subversive writings. Other members of the committee included friends and allies of Rizal—recipients of his letters and advice, believers in his cause. Would they have dared to dishonor Rizal’s own wishes, about being buried in a simple grave, about the admonition not to observe any anniversaries, if they did not know that, the historical conditions having changed, Rizal would approve changes to his final resting place, too?
Everyone on that committee knew that Rizal worried often about the legacy he would leave behind: hence the ambitious plan to complete a deathless poem before his execution, the decision to wear the clothes of a European (that is, as an equal of the Spanish) to his death, the determination to avoid inflicting any more pain on his family and his circle (thus, the admonition: “No anniversaries”). They all thought that the simple obelisk design finally chosen because of both choice and circumstance was appropriate—our own Torre de Rizal. The enthusiastic Filipinos who supported the public subscription drive must have thought so, too—and it has been ever thus, until the construction of Torre de Manila forced interested parties into contorted rationalizations.
The simplicity of the Rizal Monument as landmark, as the country’s first signpost (it is no coincidence that the Kilometer Zero marker is right in front of it), even as a living symbol of the nation itself, works not only because it mirrors Rizal’s no-frills character, but because it depends on the history of its location: Luneta, the Bagumbayan of old, where almost 900 people were executed by the Spanish colonial regime, including the priests Gomburza, over 70 members of the Katipunan, and Rizal himself.
The excellent essay “The Centenary of the Rizal Monument,” found on the official government portal, offers an eloquent understanding of the symbiosis between monument and killing field.
“As an object, then, the monument shies away from magnificence. It does not tower, there are no ornate details, no grandiose aesthetic claims. It is the land that surrounds it, however, the land on which it rose, that resonates with the history Rizal was party to and his memory helped cultivate—the stories of centuries-long subjugation, of ‘benevolent’ assimilation, of city-razing warfare, of politicians eager to attach their names to that of the national hero’s. It is the Luneta—an annexed tract of land beyond the seat of the Spanish colonial government and religious authority; the centerpiece of the holistic overhauling of new Western conquerors, for both good and bad; and the machinations of politicians in the past half a century—that bears for the Rizal Monument the burdens of the historical narrative that it hosted—a historical narrative that is of all us Filipinos.”
It is this story of the Filipino nation that the Torre de Manila seeks, blithely, to set aside.
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