Reform and revolution | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Reform and revolution

/ 09:10 PM January 19, 2012

It is unfortunate that many students are still reared on the dated Agoncillo-Constantino histories of the 1960s, that are ideologically slanted to give preferential option for the revolutionary hero of the masses, Andres Bonifacio, against the reformist and burgis Jose Rizal.

Schoolchildren are often made to choose, who should rightfully be our national hero? Rizal or Bonifacio? Why can’t they be taught that both Rizal and Bonifacio are national heroes? There should be no conflict between them if only because Bonifacio himself looked up to Rizal and even consulted him, through an emissary sent to Dapitan, before he hatched the revolution.


Renato Constantino, in his landmark 1968 essay “Veneration Without Understanding,” argued that Rizal was against the revolution. Constantino based this view on a document Rizal issued in December 1896, asking the Katipuneros to lay down their arms and condemning the violence that was planned without his knowledge and consent. Constantino also argued that Rizal was an American-sponsored hero, citing without any documentary proof, an alleged Philippine Commission meeting when the American colonial government chose Rizal as the foremost national hero because he was non-violent and reformist, unlike Bonifacio or Aguinaldo. What Constantino conveniently leaves out are: that Rizal was considered a hero in his lifetime; that he was honorary president of the Katipunan; that his picture was displayed during Katipunan meetings; and that his name was one of the passwords of the Katipunan. Then, of course, the annual commemoration of Rizal’s death each year in Dec. 30, was started by Emilio Aguinaldo’s short-lived First Philippine Republic in 1898 (before the American colonial period) and continues to our day.

Then, the December 1896 Manifesto, used against Rizal both by the Spanish who condemned him to death for inspiring the revolution, and the pro-Bonifacio groups in our day, is not read in full. Rizal was not against the revolution but felt, rightly so, that it was premature.


Rizal is branded a mere “reformist” because they have not read his letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt from Geneva on June 19, 1887, his 26th birthday, that reads:

“I assure you that I have no desire to take part in conspiracies which seem to me very premature and risky. But if the government drives us to the brink, that is to say, when no other hope remains but seek our destruction in war, when the Filipinos would prefer to die rather than endure their misery any longer, then I will also become a partisan of violent means. The choice of peace or destruction is in the hands of Spain, because it is a clear fact, known to all, that we are patient, excessively patient and peaceful, mild, unfeeling, etc. But everything ends in this life, there is nothing eternal in the world and that refers also to our patience.”

Alas, we do not know the issue or situation that gave rise to Rizal’s words. But these words are significant if only to show that Rizal was not averse to revolution or violence if necessary. We also have to realize that when some historians and teachers of history created a gap between reform and revolution, between the campaign for reforms and assimilation in Spain and the outbreak of the Philippine revolution, they fail to see that Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and others saw reform and assimilation only as a first step to eventual separation from Spain, the independence of “Filipinas.” Reform was a means to freedom not the destination.

Polarizing our youth and developing a Rizal vs. Bonifacio mindset resulted in two contrasting positions of reform/revolution convenient for classroom debate, when the real lesson should have been convergence. These positions are clearly seen, iconographically, with Rizal/Bonifacio, such that when students play out the characters in the “Noli Me Tangere” representing positions of reform/revolution, Ibarra always looks like Rizal in monuments, with the black coat, book and quill; while Elias looks like Bonifacio in statues, wearing a white camisa de chino and red kundiman pants, and carrying a bolo and a flag. Rizal and Bonifacio did not meet till 1892, during the foundation of the Liga Filipina in Tondo. Rizal could not have thought of Bonifacio when he published the “Noli” in 1887. Thus, if we are to understand Rizal correctly (and even astrologically because Rizal is a Gemini), when Ibarra and Elias discuss their positions on reform and revolution, this is not Rizal and Bonifacio arguing. Rather, both Ibarra and Elias are Rizal. In the “Noli” we see Rizal thinking aloud, arguing with himself.

We presume Rizal chose reform over revolution in 1887, by killing off Elias rather than Ibarra. To make up for this twist in the “Noli,” we have Simoun in “El Filibusterismo” (1891). Simoun incited violence and the persecution of his people to move them to revolt. He failed—not because Rizal was against the revolution, but because he reflected on the anger and bitterness in his heart following the agrarian dispute in Calamba, and realized that one must start with a good intention to succeed. A poisoned tree cannot produce good fruit. Rizal demanded a pure heart.

Purity of intention is the challenge because it is so hard to find both in Rizal’s time and ours.

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TAGS: Andres Bonifacio, featured columns, heroes, Jose Rizal, opinion, Reform, revolution
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