More dangerous dead than alive
Every Filipino knows how Rizal refused to be shot in the back as a traitor, how he argued with the officer on duty for the execution requesting to face the firing squad like a man without a blindfold. Every Filipino knows how he prepared as he heard the officer bark the orders: [Carguen!] Ready! [Apunten!] Aim! so that when he heard [Fuego!] Fire! he executed what I have often described as “The Rizal Twist”—taking the bullet in the back and turning his body round such that he would fall dead on his back, with eyes open and face toward the sky. It is a dramatic end to a story we think we know well.
It is ironic that Rizal is best remembered for getting shot for two novels that are hardly read whole these days, except in badly abridged, and badly translated, editions in high school. I don’t know how or why the “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” were inserted into the high school curriculum but it is this “introduction” to Rizal that kills off any and all enthusiasm to read the novels whole and to understand them more deeply when the students are in college. We have a law that mandates the study of Rizal in college, but since the implementing rules of the law did not specify a course of study some misguided professors actually use the Rizal course to denigrate Rizal and his legacy to extol Andres Bonifacio or whoever else. This line of thinking comes from the fact that Rizal’s choice of weapon was a pen rather than a gun or bolo, and that during his trial Rizal condemned the Katipunan for using his name, photograph and reputation without his permission. He was, after all, the honorary president of the Katipunan without his knowledge and consent. While he condemned the outbreak of the revolution and even wrote a Manifesto urging the Katipunan to lay down their arms, this was not circulated by the Spanish authorities who noted that Rizal condemned the ill-timing of the revolution but not its ultimate aim, which was freedom for the Philippines.
When Rizal’s trial opened on Dec. 26, 1896, to a packed room, the gallery was bored witless by the 95-minute presentation of the case; everyone wanted to hear what Rizal had to say. A summary was reported as follows:
“I have always disapproved of the revolutionary movement, counseling the conspirators not to overthrow by violent means the Spanish domination. In effect, and on repeated occasions, I have placed before their eyes the example of Cuba where the rebels had the valuable help of the United States and disposing of arms, men experienced in warfare, and ships to provide them with all their needs to sustain it, yet had to succumb at its last stage … before the might of the metropolis.”
Rizal said that for the revolution to succeed it needed more than warm bodies, bolos and bravery. All these needed to be strengthened by sufficient funds and sufficient arms. He added that to bring the revolution to a successful end the rebels needed the support of a foreign power. A revolt that has no chance to succeed, in his opinion, was a waste of time and lives. He did not tell the rebels to give up, rather he advised them to wait for a better time.
“Asked if he knew Andres Bonifacio, he answers in the negative and manifests great wonder that the latter should keep among the acts and documents of the Katipunan his photograph. Rizal presumes that his picture was acquired in Madrid.” Rizal was probably introduced to so many people during the founding of the Liga Filipina in 1892 that he did not recall that Bonifacio attended the meeting. That or he pretended not to know Bonifacio before the court to save both of them.
Toward the end of the trial, Rizal is asked if he wanted to say anything else. He stood up and speaking from handwritten notes he had with him declared that his conscience was clear, he did not plan nor encourage the revolution. He was innocent of the crimes of rebellion, sedition and illicit association brought against him. All this was in vain. In the end, he was sentenced to death; even if he didn’t raise a bolo or fire a single bullet, he was condemned as the “living soul of the rebellion.” Rizal inspired the Philippine Revolution. After his execution in Bagumbayan on Dec. 30, 1896, he became more dangerous dead than alive.
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