Looking Back

Rizal and Bonifacio as students

/ 12:04 AM November 09, 2011

Public school elementary and high school students returned to their classrooms last week while college students, on the other hand, enjoyed two three-day weekends before finally hitting the books this week. Most stressed are teachers like me who have to deal with a new syllabus, a new set of students, and yet another semester. If students enjoy unscheduled holidays resulting from bad weather or some other excuse, teachers feel the same way but cannot express it.

While preparing for class this week I wondered what our heroes were like in school. What if I had Rizal or Bonifacio or Aguinaldo in my class?


We all know that Rizal enjoyed school, at least in the Jesuit-run Ateneo Municipal, resulting in straight sobresaliente or “excellent” in all his subjects. Rizal’s Spanish grade is the equivalent of today’s 100 percent. That’s 1.0 in UP or A in Ateneo or 4.0 in La Salle. His grades went down a bit when he transferred to the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas and that has traditionally been explained to illustrate how unhappy he was in UST.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. When Rizal was in UST, the relationship between the Dominicans and the Rizals, who tilled their land in Laguna, was quite cordial. As a matter of fact, Paciano Rizal reminded his brother that they owed a debt of gratitude to the Dominicans who gave them unsolicited land concessions in Los Baños over others who asked for them. The rift between the Rizals and the Dominicans would come much later, when Rizal advised family and friends not to pay rent that they considered excessive or unjust. When they lost in court, the Rizals and others were evicted from Calamba.


Contrary to popular belief, the Ateneo Municipal of Rizal’s time was the equivalent of a high school. UST was the college or university level. Rizal’s exceptional Ateneo grades stemmed from his interest in the humanities and the classics that are the backbone of the Ateneo curriculum. When Rizal went to UST it was like moving into a different milieu. He had to take subjects he did not like, subjects he was not good at. Unlike his Ateneo record that overflowed with sobresaliente, his UST grades were Aprovechado or Notable (Very Good), Bueno (Good), and one Aprobado (Passed) in General Pathology. Based on the   records, summarized by the eminent Dominican historian Fidel Villaroel, OP, Rizal was awarded: one “Passing” grade, eight “Good,” six “Very Good” and six “Excellent” in 21 subjects taken in UST. Not bad, actually, and not to be unfairly compared with his Ateneo grades.

We have no school records for Andres Bonifacio who, according to the late Teodoro Agoncillo, barely finished the equivalent of today’s grade four. What is often forgotten by teachers and students who presume that Bonifacio was poor as a rat and barely made ends meet by peddling canes and fans on the street is that Bonifacio was home-schooled. His father may have been a tailor, but in the 19th century tailors were paid quite well and Bonifacio had a private tutor who taught him to read, write and do simple math. What the Supremo lacked in formal education he covered with a lot of reading.

If we are to believe Pio Valenzuela (a most unreliable historical source), as cited by Epifanio de los Santos in his 1917 Bonifacio biography, the Supremo often “went without sleep at night in order to read.” Valenzuela also provided a list of books that Bonifacio was supposed to have read, including “History of the French Revolution,”  “Lives of the Presidents of the United States,” “International Law,” “Civil Code,” “Penal Code,” the Bible (in 5 volumes), Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” Eugene Sue’s “The Wandering Jew” and “Ruinas de Palmyra.” Valenzuela also said that Bonifacio liked talking about the French Revolution.

Students who are made to choose between Rizal or Bonifacio should be taught to appreciate that we have two great heroes: Rizal and Bonifacio. They should be told that Bonifacio had such a high regard for Rizal that he could not begin the revolution without consulting Rizal, who was in exile in Dapitan. Rizal was the honorary president of the Katipunan. His picture was displayed in the hall during Katipunan meetings and his name was one of the passwords of the Katipunan.

It is not well known that Bonifacio, according to Valenzuela, read Rizal’s “Noli,” “Fili,” and   even the annotated edition of “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas” by Morga. If true, this is significant because Emilio Aguinaldo admitted to Nick Joaquin in the 1950s that he had not read Rizal’s novels! So how could the Philippine Revolution have been inspired by Rizal’s novels if not many people, Aguinaldo included, did not read them?

Not many people know that Bonifacio made the first Tagalog translation of Rizal’s “Ultimo Adios” from the original Spanish, an assertion rejected by the late Cavite historian Isagani R. Medina who claimed that the real translator was a Caviteño named Mojica. If true, that makes Bonifacio a plagiarist who stole someone else’s intellectual property and passed it off as his own. Frankly, I wish Dr. Medina is correct because the so-called Bonifacio translation is not one of the best.

So what does formal schooling actually give one aside from a piece of paper? Not much really. Real education comes from reading, conversation, travel and a continuous search for knowledge and the pursuit of truth.


Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.

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TAGS: “Noli Me Tangere, ” “El Filibusterismo”, andres bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal, student days
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