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Rizal and leadership

By Dr. Pablo S. Trillana III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:08:00 01/04/2011

Filed Under: Jose Rizal, Heroism, People

THERE WAS A FROG that lived in a well with his fellow frogs. The well was rather deep, though from the bottom the frogs could see a piece of sky. To them, that was their world, the well, the water and a little sky. One day a big storm filled the well with water until it spilled into the ground, sweeping along all the frogs. When the sun shone and the water receded, the frogs leaped back into the well.

Except this one frog. He liked the world outside the well?the trees, the flowers, the grassy land, the sky, not just a patch, but an endless field of blue that at various times of the day was adorned with the sun, the moon and the stars. Compared with the dark, deep well, this clean, open and radiant world felt much better. Imagine what one could do here, the frog thought. He could leap from place to place, soak in the warmth of the sun or cool off under the glow of moonbeams and starlight. The possibilities were endless. Without recognizing it, the frog had undergone a paradigm shift. He found a new way of seeing and, no matter what others might say, he vowed to tell his friends.

We can certainly use a similar epiphany at this time. It doesn?t need much cogitation to know that the country needs a paradigm shift to make things better. The task is nothing new. Every turning point in our history had been ushered by a new way of seeing. Awakened by the light of recognition, we rose and acted and were reborn. A hundred years ago, making like David challenging Goliath, we dared rise against Spain and became the first nation in colonized Asia to gain independence. A hundred years later, we invented People Power and showed the world how to end authoritarian rule without bloodshed.

Yet it seems our heroism has always fallen short. The First Republic was untimely ended by American imperialism as much as it was by the Filipino leadership?s naďveté. Edsa?s promise of political rebirth was aborted by the weaknesses or failures of succeeding governments. Perhaps our leaders weren?t tenacious enough, perhaps they were seduced by power. The point is, while they clocked impressive mileage, they didn?t go the distance. Consequently, a lot is right about our country today, but a lot is wrong too.

It seems we have yet to find the right recipe, so to speak?the right way of whipping together all the right ingredients in their right proportions. True, this is easier said than done. And who is to show us how?

Our history is a good teacher; it is filled with examples of heroic men and women whose sense of leadership suffered no barriers, including death. Take Jose Rizal, whose 114th death anniversary we celebrated last week. His entire life is a study on the principles of leadership. Let me just cite six of these.

One, the principle of clear ideas. Without a clear idea of where you are going, all planned moves will fail. As Dr. John Maxwell, a leading exponent of what makes for successful leadership, puts it: ?Everyone can steer the ship, but it takes the leader to chart the course.?

The idea of a Filipino nation didn?t come to Rizal overnight. It was something he had nurtured from childhood. As an adult Rizal pursued his patriotic sentiments through more substantial works, notably his two political novels, ?Noli Me Tangere? and ?El Filibusterismo.? Three years before his death in 1896, he summed up his thoughts about nationhood with abundant clarity: ?In my heart I have suppressed all loves, except that of my native land; in my mind I have erased all ideas which do not signify her progress; and my lips have forgotten the names of the native races in the Philippines in order not to say more than Filipinos.?

Two, the principle of personal worth. People must first believe in you before they follow your lead. Maxwell calls this the ?law of the buy-in.? Rizal had proven his worth in many ways. He had been variously described as the Protean, the First Filipino, the Great Malay. Not the least of his admirers was Andres Bonifacio. Bonifacio established the Katipunan on the day the arrest and deportation of Rizal were published in the Gaceta de Manila. In a way, notes historian O. D. Corpuz, the founding of the Katipunan was ?a reaction to the ? persecution of the awakening people?s idol.? As we know, the Katipunan ended Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.

Three, the principle of wholeness. Look at the big picture. Not for Rizal was blind acceptance of the idea of nationhood. He wanted the Filipinos to desire nationhood because they understood what it meant. Through ?Noli? he exposed their present lot?the dying victims of social cancer inflicted by Spain. And to make them realize what they were missing, he annotated Morga?s 1609 ?Los Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas,? a glowing report on the vibrant life in the archipelago before the Spanish conquest. Rizal?s notes underscored the Filipinos? rich past, thus belying the Spanish claim that they owed their culture to Spain. And finally, Rizal gave Filipinos a glimpse of the future through his most spacious essay, ?Las Filipinas Dentro de Cien Anos.? His prediction: ?the Philippines one day will declare herself inevitably and unmistakably independent.?

Four, the principle of many rivers. You must explore and be open to alternative solutions to problems. Rizal had mapped out not one but several roads toward national redemption. In 1891 he published the ?Fili? which urged revolution. In Hong Kong, he wrote a reconciliatory letter to Governor-General Eulogio Despujol, offering his services to mend the differences between the Philippines and Spain through reforms. He also visited Sandakan, a British outpost in North Borneo, where he could establish his ideal Filipino community. Once back in Manila in 1892, he founded La Liga Filipina, a secret society that aimed ?to unite the entire archipelago into one compact, vigorous, and homogenous body.? He was ready to chart whichever course events took.

Five, the principle of the extra mile. Fili?s Simoun asked Padre Florentino what must be done while the country still groaned and had not been finally rid of social cancer. The good priest answered: ?Sufrir y trabajar.? Endure and work. Rizal brought his notion of nationhood as far as he could?beyond death, in fact. In death, his abstract idea became flesh, making him the rallying point of the fight for freedom.

Sixth, the principle of the moral force. What Asia needs now, writes Time?s Zoher Abdoolcarim, are ?men and women with moral, rather than political, authority; individuals who fight for justice, not power, who do not only create wealth but ensure its equitable distribution, who respect heritage, who transcend nationalism and are accepting of other faiths and culture.?

Neither money nor position can compel a people to follow anyone?s lead. In the final analysis, Rizal reminds us: ?Only love can work wonders, only virtue can redeem.?

Dr. Pablo S. Trillana III is supreme commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal.

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