The letters of a ‘conscious hero’ | Inquirer Opinion
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The letters of a ‘conscious hero’

My most obscure book is a bibliography of Rizal manuscripts and materials locked up in a vault in the Filipiniana Rare Books division of the National Library. It is of limited interest and I convinced my publisher to run a small edition as a favor, promising that it would sell 500 copies in ten years. Surprisingly, the book has seen three editions, the latest in 2011, and it seems a new one is due soon. The Rizal bibliography began as a mass of field notes, a shelf list I undertook for easy reference in the future until the late Doreen G. Fernandez suggested that I publish it to share with scholars who needed to know exactly what was inside the library vault. I arranged the material in chronological order and came up with a calendar of materials that provided an outline of Rizal’s life and works. After completing it, I thought I had seen and handled most of the essential primary source materials for any study on Rizal—until I was commissioned to make an evaluation of the Rizaliana in the Lopez Museum and Library three years ago.

Most of the Rizal manuscripts in the Lopez Museum and Library are letters addressed to his family or individual family members. These are doubly significant because Rizal, in a letter to his sister Maria from Madrid dated Dec. 30, 1882, instructed her to: “keep all my letters in Spanish that begin with: Mis queridos padres y hermanos, because in them I relate all that is happening; when I return, I shall put them together and make them clearer.”


That Rizal considered some letters more important than others, filing letters that had to be preserved, suggests that some letters could be discarded, or perhaps, even destroyed after reading. This reminded me of Teodoro A. Agoncillo’s description of Rizal as a “conscious hero.” That Rizal knew and carved his place in Philippine history makes sense when you see him compiling and editing the primary source material that has come down to us after his death.

The Lopez Collection forms part of Rizal’s correspondence first compiled, arranged chronologically and published by Teodoro M. Kalaw, Director of the National Library of the Philippines, as the Epistolario Rizalino. These five volumes, in six books, appeared between 1930 and 1938. After the war, Rizal’s letters were reorganized and supplemented in 1961 by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, publishing four volumes in eight books: Correspondence with Family (two books), Correspondence with Colleagues in the Propaganda Movement (two books); Correspondence with Ferdinand Blumentritt (three books); and others who could not be classified into (one book of) Miscellaneous Correspondence. Contrary to popular belief, the JRNCC volumes do not contain Rizal’s complete correspondence as known in 1961 because at least 49 letters are missing, of which 38 are extant and form part of the Lopez Collection of Rizaliana.


In 1953, according to Jose P. Apostol, in his introduction to “One hundred letters of Jose Rizal to his parents, brother, sisters, relatives,” the National Library was unable to acquire a cache of original Rizal letters offered to the government for half a million pesos. Furthermore, the National Library could not even afford the P25,000 asked by the seller for the right to make photostatic reproductions of the collection. Fortunately, Eugenio Lopez Sr. acquired most of these letters in 1955, except eleven letters from the original cache sold to two other collectors that presently remain unlocated. These letters now form the core of the Lopez Collection of Rizaliana. When the JRNCC finally published Rizal’s “complete” writings, they missed out on 38 of the letters in the Lopez Collection.

By the time I had finished the Calendar of Rizaliana in the Lopez Museum and Library, other letters and manuscripts had come to light in the Philippines and abroad, a handful of these never before published. Counting three decades since I started I thought I would soon retire from Rizal and embark on something new, but all these materials bring me back to the specialization that made my career. There seems to be no end to Rizal studies.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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