Looking Back

Why Rizal Day goes almost unnoticed

/ 05:06 AM January 03, 2020

Rizal Day usually comes and goes almost unnoticed, a nonworking holiday overlooked by the public because it falls between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Worse, the rites are set around 7:05 a.m., the recorded time Rizal’s life was snuffed out by a bullet, and are thus missed by citizens who sleep in late because it’s a holiday.


Congress once initiated a measure to move Rizal Day from Dec. 30, the date of his death, to June 19, the date of his birth, so that it would neatly fall a week after June 12, Independence Day. But that measure was unacted upon and ended up in the archives.

Rizal Day starts as early as 6 a.m., when a hardy group of men, the Knights of Rizal, gather in Fort Santiago wearing their trademark uniforms, some ornamented by sashes and an assortment of medals.


The Knights, their ladies and a youth group then walk solemnly from the gate of Fort Santiago to Bonifacio Drive toward the Rizal monument, tracing the martyr’s final walk to the place of execution on the morning of Dec. 30, 1896.

The Knights have to arrive in their designated space by the monument shortly before the official ceremony begins.

As the Knights begin the Rizal Walk, government officials gather by the iconic Luneta flagpole, the navel of the country—Kilometer Zero from which all distances in the archipelago are reckoned.

Marked on the ground are the positions of “VVIPs” (very very important persons), whose names or titles are arranged, by order of precedence, in relation to the president, who is guest of honor. Rizal Day has three components: the Philippine flag is raised, and then lowered to half-mast; the Philippine Airforce conducts a fly-by in Rizal’s honor, capped by the dropping of confetti and flowers from Air Force choppers onto the monument; and the laying of wreaths by the monument that many people forget is actually a tomb.

Rizal’s remains lie somewhere under tons of bronze and granite.

The highlight of the ceremony should fall around 7:05 a.m., and is marked by the firing of cannons and the most eerie sound you will ever hear wafting from Manila Bay.

This unusual sound comes from all the foghorns and whistles blaring from ships docked on the harbor. When the president is absent or is represented, the rites are downgraded and certain parts of the program like full arrival honors and a gun salute are omitted. If the president is absent, there will be less jostling for position and social-climbing around the flagpole.


From the time the guest of honor is received to the time he or she leaves takes about 25 minutes, or half an hour maximum. This short moving ceremony, to honor the man who is considered the Father of the Nation, is one of the duties of the president.

Joseph Estrada was a no-show once, and his spokesperson’s excuse was that Rizal Day was not on the president’s schedule for that day! At least that spokesperson was truthful.

This year, the President was earlier announced as a no-show, and rather than making up a decent excuse, the spokesperson flippantly said, “Palagi naman na daw nagpupunta sa Luneta, iba naman.” Adding insult to injury, the spokesperson remarked: “Ang dami naman nating heroes.” (President Duterte eventually changed his mind and led the Rizal Day rites in Davao City.)

Perhaps the spokesperson should be reminded that other heroes are not forgotten and each has designated days in the calendar, marked either as national or local holidays. And to make sure nobody is forgotten, there is a catch-all “National Heroes Day” that falls on the fourth Monday of August each year.

The problem with official commemorations is that it goes by rote and ritual, making people forget rather than remember. Emilio Aguinaldo declared the first Rizal Day in 1898 when flags were flown at half-mast, black cloth was hung from houses, and races and other forms of merriment were not allowed as a sign of mourning.

Then the Americans came, appropriated Rizal, and turned Rizal Day into a time for baseball and agricultural and beauty queen contests.

I spent Rizal Day visiting Luneta and the Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago, eavesdropping on people’s comments. While many were curious about Rizal’s life and legacy, they clearly had to unlearn many wrong things they picked up from school.

To appreciate Rizal, one has to read beyond the “Noli,” “Fili” and “Ultimo Adios” required in class. Rizal wrote far more, but unfortunately, Rizal wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Duterte, Estrada, Holiday, Jose Rizal, Luneta, Rizal Day
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