Rizal’s wise counsels

Jose Rizal’s writings for La Solidaridad continue to have significance for our times, if only we take the time to read them.

Of those who hold the reins of government, he wrote: “If those who guide the destinies of the Philippines should, instead of granting the reforms that are demanded, continue to erode the state of the country, exacerbate the hardships and repressions of the suffering and thinking classes, they will succeed in making them risk a troubled life, full of privations and bitterness, for the hope of obtaining something uncertain. What would they lose in the struggle? Almost nothing. The life of the large discontented class offers no great attraction that it should be preferred to a glorious death. Poverty inspires adventurous ideas, stimulates a desire to change things, diminishes regard for life.”


Rizal was proven right by the revolution of the Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government in 1898, and again by the revolution of the people against the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. The latter may not have been violent, but the people were ready to engage in combat the armed forces of the dictatorship. But the core of the army of Marcos turned against him and joined the people.

To false messiahs, Rizal had this warning: “All the minor insurrections that had broken out in the Philippines had been the work of a few fanatics and discontented military men who, in order to attain their ends, had to resort to deceit and trickery or take advantage of the loyalty of their subordinates. Thus, they all fell. None of their insurrections was popular in character nor based on the basic need of the people, nor did it struggle for the laws of mankind or of justice. Thus, the insurrections did not leave indelible memories in the people. On the contrary, the people, realizing that they had been deceived, and their wounds healed, applauded the fall of those who had disturbed their peace!”


The many coup attempts during the presidency of Cory Aquino did not spring from the basic need of the people; neither were they struggles for human rights and justice. The leaders of the mutinies promised higher pay for the soldiers and promotions for deserving officers, but did not offer any reforms for the suffering masses. It was very clear in all these mutinies that the military adventurers were just out to grab power for themselves. The people could only cheer their fall.

But this should not lull the current administration into complacency. Rizal posed the question: “What if the movement springs from the people themselves and adopts for its cause their suffering?”

This is the movement that the forces on the Left have been patiently trying to mount for years. More than 50 percent of Filipinos live a daily life of severe privation and extreme bitterness. Constitutional authority and democracy have so far failed to feed the hungry. To them, losing their harsh life would not be losing much. They can easily be incited to join any struggle, even a violent one, if it presents some hope of a better life as what happened in 1898 and 1986.

If the people have not embraced the cause of the Left in all these years, it may be because it is not clear to them how the alien ideology can feed their empty stomachs. The recent destruction of consolidated farms by certain elements of the Left to spite the capitalists has eroded considerably its credibility as the hope of the fatherland.

Addressing the issue of a free press in the Philippines, Rizal asked, “Is it preferable to govern in the dark or to govern with understanding?” The President and his minions who entertain thoughts of suppressing or controlling the press, and the cordon sanitaire that shields him from adverse commentaries, should take counsel from Rizal’s words. He wrote: “If the great Napoleon had not muzzled the press, perhaps it would have warned him of the danger into which he was falling.”

Rizal also said, “Justice is the foremost virtue of civilized societies. It subdues the most barbarous nations. Injustice arouses the weakest.”

Our corrupted judiciary has aroused the Filipino people to a point close to climax: total contempt for and defiance of it.


Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a member of a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals and academics.

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