The murmur of a brook in Dapitan | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

The murmur of a brook in Dapitan

Before I first set foot in the Rizal Shrine in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, I knew Dapitan only as a busy street behind the University of Santo Tomas campus in Manila. Lined with eateries and boarding houses, that Dapitan is one of many streets in old Sampaloc that refer to Rizal’s life and work: Dimasalang and Laong Laan (his pseudonyms), Maria Clara, Sisa, Elias, Tiago (characters from his “Noli Me Tangere”), Simoun, Isagani (characters from his “El Filibusterismo”), and Craig (pronounced the Spanish way, “Cra-eeg” was his American biographer Austin Craig). Some of the street names are odd; the lead character of the “Noli” is given two streets: Crisostomo and Ibarra.

Today, to get to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte, one takes a flight of an hour and 25 minutes from Manila to Dipolog, then a 12-kilometer land trip from Dipolog. In 1892, the remote and sleepy town must have seemed like the end of the universe for Rizal who had previously lived in Madrid, Paris, London and Berlin. A lesser man might have wallowed in depression and loneliness, but Rizal took it as a challenge and applied everything he knew to making his place of exile a better place: He ran a school and medical clinic there; he made the plaza beautiful by lining it with trees and building a relief map of Mindanao across the church; he built a water system for the town; he taught its residents how to fish with a net, and amused them with simple magic tricks that some mistook for divine power.

Rizal was exiled in Dapitan because like nearby Dipolog it was a Jesuit mission. It was hoped that the Jesuits could convince this Ateneo alumnus to turn away from his subversive and separatist ideas as well as his “shipwreck of Faith.”


When Rizal arrived in Dapitan in the evening of July 17, 1892, he chose to stay with the commandant, Capt. Ricardo Carnicero, rather than the Jesuit parish priest whose unacceptable conditions for the home stay were that: Rizal publicly retract his religious errors and correct his anti-Spanish and separatist ideas, make a general confession, and live the life of a fervent Catholic and Spanish subject.


Rizal and Carnicero became fast friends, and the “prisoner” was allowed to move about freely. On Sept. 21, 1892, the mail boat Butuan brought welcome news: Lottery ticket 9736 shared by Rizal, Carnicero and Francisco Equilior of Dipolog had won the second prize jackpot of P20,000. (When he was a student in Madrid, Rizal’s weekly budget included one-tenth of a lottery ticket. His persistence had finally paid off.) From his P6,200 share of the jackpot, Rizal gave P2,000 to his father and P200 to his friend Jose Ma. Basa in Hong Kong. The balance he used to buy idle land from various owners in Talisay, a kilometer away from Dapitan.

It is not well known that Rizal was a licensed land surveyor who saw promise in idle land. His beach-front estate is now jointly protected as a reserve by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.


On Dec. 19, 1893, Rizal described his life in exile to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt:

“I shall tell you how we live here. I have three houses: one square, another hexagonal, and a third octagonal, all of bamboo, wood and nipa. My mother, my sister Trinidad and a nephew live in the square house; my boys or some good youngsters whom I teach arithmetic, Spanish and English live in the octagonal house; and my chickens live in the hexagonal house.

“From my house I hear the murmur of a crystal clear brook which comes from the high rocks [behind the property]; I see the seashore, the sea where I have small boats, two canoes or barotos, as they are called here. I have many fruit trees: mangoes, lanzones, guayabanos, baluno, nangka, etc. I have rabbits, dogs, cats, etc.

“I rise early, at five, visit my plants, feed the chickens, wake my people up and get them busy [for the chores of the day]. At half-past seven we take breakfast with tea, pastries, cheese, sweetmeats, etc. Later, [in the day] I treat indigent patients who come to my land; I dress, I go to the town in my baroto, treat the people there, and return at noon when lunch awaits me. Then I teach the boys until four p.m. and devote the afternoon to agriculture. I spend the night reading and studying.”

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