Looking Back

Fighting over champagne

Marcelo H. del Pilar once quoted Jose Rizal as saying, “Where there are two Filipinos unity is not possible.” We will never know if Rizal was misquoted, but that line should encourage us to do some soul-searching. It is more relevant to us today than another famous line put in Rizal’s mouth about the necessity of looking to the past to achieve one’s goals: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinagdaanan,  di makararating sa paroroonan.” Rizal never said this; he actually wrote something better, in 1879, as an epigraph to his play “Council of the Gods.” It goes: “Con el recuerdo del pasado entro en el porvenir (I enter the future remembering the past).” If our textbooks carried better quotes to live by, the world would be better off.

People who think Rizal would have become a good president of the Philippines should think twice. He may have had a high IQ but he lacked EQ. He was respected but was not as well-liked as Plaridel (Del Pilar).


If Rizal went into politics today, he would not even be elected barangay captain because he was too serious. He would not sing or dance Gangnam style to woo voters. He would neither cheat nor buy votes. And if Rizal were elected at all, he would surely end up being shot in Bagumbayan all over again!

This anecdote narrated by Plaridel to Deodato Arellano in March 1891 is one reason Rizal did not get elected leader of the expatriates in Madrid:


“It is a tradition in the [Filipino] colony to have a fraternal dinner on the night of the 31st of December. In the morning of that day the question of serving champagne was brought up in our lodgings, all the more since the boys had taken a great deal of trouble preparing speeches. A thousand ways were discussed to make champagne available that night, and at lunch time there was a great deal of chaffing about it among ourselves, but I kept my mouth shut, and without saying a word was planning to pay for the champagne myself; I wanted to give them a surprise. No sooner said than done; after lunch I went to Bayo’s house to get hold of some money for the night’s champagne. From Bayo’s house I went, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, to the house of Doña Justa Jugo where we had been invited to tea on the birthday of her son. While I was there Rizal arrived and called me aside to tell me: ‘Before coming here I passed by your house and I saw a resolution being prepared asking you to pay for the coffee tonight.’ ‘Agreed,’ I answered. Imagine, how could I not agree when I had been ready to pay for something more expensive!

“Came the night and the young people, in high spirits as usual, signed a paper which they would not let me read: when we were sitting down to dinner, a resolution, very wittily drafted by Lete, and signed by twenty-five guests (we were all in all thirty-one, I believe) was read out, asking me to pay for the coffee, Cunanan for the cigars, and Rizal and Dominador Gomez (who had not yet arrived) for the champagne.

“I expressed my agreement and so did Cunanan. But Rizal had the good or bad taste to protest and argue. I tried to head off his protest by suggesting that the champagne be paid [for] by Modesto Reyes and Mariano Abella, who had agreed to do so, in addition to those already named; but perhaps because Rizal did not hear me, we being far apart, I at the head of the table and he at the extreme left, with the authors of the resolution at the extreme right, my suggestion for reinforcements was not taken up and, on Rizal’s initiative, he began at the left end of the table to collect one peseta per person to pay for the champagne. In the midst of the hubbub someone approached me and whispered: ‘Mr. Editor, the resolution is withdrawn but we are grateful for your kindness with regard to the coffee; we expected nothing less from your generosity.’

“I understood the bitterness that Rizal’s protest had aroused. The latter, who was oblivious to it, continued gay and witty while I worried about a quarrel breaking out. The collection of one peseta was paid from the left end to the center, but from there to the right end nobody wanted to contribute.

“Witticisms, very ingenious and wounding, began to be directed against Rizal from the right end, but I took advantage of the fact that Rizal did not seem to realize the point of the jokes and stood up to approach those at the right end and asked them confidentially not to spoil such a brotherly gathering. They all listened to me and there were no more jokes for the rest of the dinner.

“Came the time for the toasts. Dr. Rosario started them off and he was so eloquent in the periodic sentence in which he bewailed the lack of diligence of some in their studies that he drew tremendous applause, but at the end of the clapping Rizal was heard saying: ‘We should be sorry for it, not applaud it.’ This caused some sour looks but it passed.” (Translated from the original Spanish by Leon Ma. Guerrero)

It is unfortunate we only have Plaridel’s account of Rizal’s surly behavior. All we know is that the election between them was cooked up shortly afterward, resulting in Rizal’s election after repeated balloting. But Rizal walked out, thus giving the leadership to Plaridel by default.


In a letter to Plaridel in October 1891, Rizal referred to this episode with bitterness: “A glass of champagne has dissolved the idol made of clay. If it was really clay, what does it matter if it is gone?”

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TAGS: Deodato Arellano, Jose Rizal, Leon Ma. Guerrero, marcelo h. del pilar, Philippine history, Plaridel
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