Looking Back

Jose Rizal or Jose Rizal Mercado?

/ 04:30 AM September 13, 2019

Rizal, sometimes spelled with an “s” by the National Hero’s sisters, came from the Spanish word ricial, which refers to new growth in the after-crop of corn, or cattle feed that was cut green. Austin Coates, Rizal’s British biographer, defined ricial as “a green field ready for harvest.” Since the Rizals made a living tilling the land, they thought it more appropriate than Mercado, the surname imposed on them and the Spanish word for “market.” Textbook history does not tell us that Rizal was the only one in the Mercado family who first used this surname, making him suspect he was illegitimate.

We are taught that Jose used Rizal in school to avoid being associated with his elder brother Paciano Mercado, friend of the ill-fated Fr. Jose Burgos, executed in February 1872 with Fathers Mariano Gomes and Jacinto Zamora. What textbooks leave out is that some hitch in Rizal’s admission at Ateneo was resolved on the intercession of Manuel Xerez, nephew of Father Burgos. School records in the UST Archives show that Jose used Rizal and Mercado interchangeably, and sometimes even together.


If further proof is needed on this point, two of Rizal’s honor cards from Ateneo to be auctioned off this weekend clearly state that a prize for Natural History in September 1876 was conferred on “Jose Rizal,” and a prize for Greek in September 1874 was conferred on “Jose Rizal Mercado.” This minor error suggests there is more that needs correction in our current history and Rizal textbooks. I wish teachers would stop forcing their students to know and memorize Rizal’s full baptismal or registry name, a useless bit of information since the hero signed and identified himself simply as “Jose Rizal.”

“Rizaliana” refers to publications about Jose Rizal, a subset of a larger, more general grouping of publications on the Philippines or “Filipiniana.” In recent years, the terms Filipiniana and Rizaliana have gone beyond libraries to cover art, antiques and collectibles about the Philippines or the National Hero.


Browsing auction catalogs recently prodded me to look up the terms used in sales: Memorabilia are objects associated with memorable people or events, with significance and rarity driving up desirability and price; Ephemera, Ephemeras or Ephemerae, often used to describe materials on paper, comes from the Greek ephemeros, meaning something short-lived or something whose purpose lasted only a day, like bus tickets, a newspaper or other transitory items not meant to be retained or preserved; Memento,
from the Latin verb meminisse (“to remember”), or the French word that refers to something kept as a reminder of a person, place or event; Souvenir the French verb for “remember,” originated from the Latin subvenire (“come to mind”); and Relic comes from either the Latin reliquiae (“remains”) or the Latin verb relinquere (“to leave behind or abandon”—which explains the meaning of “relinquish”). A
relic can be something that has survived from the past that is irrelevant in the present, or something that has survived from the past that still has historical or sentimental interest. Or it can mean a physical part of a saint’s body, or something associated with a saint.

Relics of the saints are classified by the church as follows: First Class, a whole body or piece of the human remains of a saint; Second Class, objects or possessions frequently used by a saint in his or her lifetime like clothing, a book, a rosary or even a spoon; Third Class, objects that touched a First or Second Class relic.

If we are to apply this to Rizal, the only First Class relic available to the curious or devout is a piece of his backbone displayed in Fort Santiago. According to family lore, it is chipped on the side, caused by the bullet that killed him. Rizal’s remains rest under the Rizal Monument in Luneta.

Second Class relics would be his clothing, a piece from the coat he wore to his execution, manuscript letters, honor or calling cards he touched in his lifetime, the tampipi his family used to hide contraband copies of the “Noli” and “Fili.” I don’t know how to classify a letter envelope or stamp licked by the hero: Does a trace of saliva good for DNA testing qualify as a First Class relic?

Finally, a Third Class relic could be me, since I once touched his backbone, a First Class relic.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Austin Coates, Jose Rizal, Jose Rizal Mercado, national hero
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