What would Rizal say (to Duterte)?
At an Inquirer forum on Philippine independence and the rise of China, the young historian Leloy Claudio said something in passing which generated some Twitter attention. “If Rizal were alive today, he’d be ‘dilawan,’” Claudio said. He was referencing Rizal’s struggle for civil liberties as an indication that he would be, in today’s reductionist, polarized setting, not a Duterte supporter but an Aquino reformist—that is, a “Yellow.”
We mark Rizal’s 156th birthday at a time when the incumbent President is seeking to overhaul Philippine society itself; as Claudio’s remarks suggest, Rizal today seems more indispensable than ever. I think I know why: He reminds us what it means to be Filipino.
That is (has always been) my starting point: The hero historians call “the First Filipino” defines our best qualities. He had his faults, of course, but his example of purpose, polymathic achievement, and patriotism helps us imagine a better, nobler nation.
What would he say if he were alive today, and face to face with President Duterte in Malacañang?
He would have found common ground with the President on the Filipinos’ need for self-assertion, for relying on our own resources, our own sources of hope. In October 1891, preparing to leave Europe for the second time, he wrote a letter in Tagalog explaining why he was returning to the real battlefield. There was nothing to hope for in Spain. “Huag umasa ang Filipinas [sa iba]; umasa sa sariling lakas.”
But Rizal would have dismissed Mr. Duterte’s hostility to the European Union (and the United Nations and the United States) as irrational and against our own interest. He not only thought of (non-Spanish) Europe as his “adopted country” and the template to follow for national development; he wrote eloquently of our common humanity. “All the honorable men of the world are compatriots,” he wrote.
Rizal would also have been horrified by the Marcos years; he would have condemned the dictatorship as a fulfillment of the prophecy in “El Filibusterismo” that he placed on Padre Florentino’s lips: “Why independence, if the slaves of today would be the tyrants of tomorrow?”
His patriotism was based on a long, honest view of history; he even asked Ferdinand Blumentritt to correct any mistakes he made in his scholarship on Morga. What does this tell us? That he would not have invoked the massacre of Bud Dajo by the Americans without recalling the massacre of Muslims by the Marcoses.
Finally: He would have attacked the President’s kill-mere-suspects policy as very like that of the colonial Spaniards. To them he had a message: “I wish to show those who deny us patriotism that we know how to die for our duty and our convictions.”
I had the chance to take part in a “forum on civil liberties and democracy” at De La Salle University the other Thursday; the task assigned to me was “Understanding Dutertismo”—a term, I said at the forum, that I understand was first used as a conceptual framework by the eminent Randy David, on the eve of the 2016 elections. Noting that the term was maturing as the Duterte administration evolved (or showed its true nature), I tried to present an argument based on what a fully evolved Dutertismo would be like. I share my conclusions in “The 7 No’s of Dutertismo,” over at my Newsstand blog.
As a member of the Asia News Network, the Inquirer also contributes to the Asian Editors Circle, a series of weekly columns written, on a rotation basis, by editors and columnists of the ANN. After “After #Chexit: Do nothing?” and “Duterte’s American fixation,” I’ve written a third column; it ran on June 17 in the Singapore Straits Times, the Jakarta Post, the Daily Star of Bangladesh, the China Post of Taiwan, and the Statesman of India. “Can the world hold Duterte to account?” surveys the options open to those of us who are “anguished about the killings.”
Something former dean Luis Teodoro said about fake news has provoked me; I have consequently been worrying the question of definition for the last several days. I have been tweeting from the “Keep it Real: Truth and Trust in the Media” conference at the Singapore Management University to do some ground-clearing. On Twitter, I’m @jnery_newsstand.
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