Rizal the bed spacer | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Rizal the bed spacer

/ 01:05 AM September 10, 2014

In his student memoirs, Jose Rizal speaks very fondly about his Jesuit education at Ateneo Municipal compared to his stay in the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas (the Royal and Pontifical University in the Philippines at the time). One should be fair on this issue and remember that Ateneo Municipal was a high school with a very strong humanities orientation, while Santo Tomas was a university where Rizal took premed courses. Rizal’s Ateneo high school grades were straight A’s (or sobresaliente) compared to the Santo Tomas grades which were quite good although sprinkled with notable (very good), bueno (good), and even one aprobado (passed) in general pathology and pathologic histology.

Rizal took art lessons at Ateneo and continued even in Santo Tomas. He wrote: “I continued studying painting. I copy heads from nature in oil. I have an ambition to become a landscape painter.” He even complained once that: “My hand is trembling for I have just played moro-moro, for you must know that I aspire to become a sort of swordsman.” Contrary to popular belief, music was not one of his strengths: “For a month and a half I studied solfeggio, piano, and singing. If you hear me sing, you would say that you were in Spain, for you would hear the braying of an ass.”


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What may be interesting for many college students today who live in dormitories is that Rizal was from out of town and had to board outside Intramuros on his first year at Ateneo. In my forthcoming book, “Rizal and Me,” he talks about being a boarder in his first year:


JR: Home was about twenty-five minutes from [Ateneo] because I didn’t want to stay in Intramuros that seemed to me very gloomy. I found a companion called Pastor Millena, a boy of my own age.  The house was small, located at Caraballo Street.  A river ran alongside one of its corners.  The house consisted of a dining room, a drawing room, a sleeping room, and a kitchen.  A trellis covered the small space between the gate and the stairs.

My landlady was a spinster named Titay, who owed my family over P300.  Her mother lived with us, a good old woman, crazy but almost harmless. Some young Spanish mestizos, the fruits of friar indiscretion. I shall not tell you how much I suffered, nor shall I tell you of my displeasures and joys.

ARO: You didn’t like the food at the Caraballo Street home because you spent lunchtime in the Colegio de Santa Isabel, which I often thought was an exclusive school for girls. What made you decide to move to gloomy Intramuros?

JR: In my second year I looked for a landlady inside the Walled City, for I was tired living outside the city.  I found [a boarding house] on Magallanes Street, number 6, run by old lady called Doña Pepay, a widow who lived with her daughter, Doña Encarnacion, also a widow with four sons:  José, Rafael, Ignacio, and Ramon.

Nothing extraordinary happened to me this year. [In my] third year, I returned to Manila and found Doña Pepay without a room for boarders. I had to stay at the house of D.P.M. together with a rich town mate called Quintero. I didn’t like it there because they were strict with me, but I kept regular hours, which turned out to be good for me.  I played with the landlord’s children.

After two and a half months, I returned to the recently vacated room in the house of my [former] landlady, Doña Pepay, and returned to the same routine as before.  The result of this on my studies was that I received only the first prize in Latin, that is, a medal, not like the year before, so that I returned to my hometown discontented, though I knew that many would have danced with joy for less.  My family decided to put me in the college as a boarder.  Indeed, it was time, for I was giving very little attention to my studies. I was already approaching thirteen years and I had not yet made any brilliant showing to my classmates.  Until here lasted my happiest days, though short; but what does it matter if they were short?
ARO: Can you describe your room in the Ateneo dormitory?

JR: I [returned to Ateneo] on June 16, 1875.  My classmates received me well. The ropero or brother wardrobe-keeper assigned me an alcove located in the corner of the dormitory looking out to the sea and the breakwater.  My room consisted of a space of about two varas (about 64 inches in length, or two square yards). It had an iron bed or cot on which they placed my bedding, a small table with a basin, which a servant filled with water, a chair and a clothes rack.


I forgot to mention that the little table had a drawer containing soap, comb, hair brush and toothbrush, tooth powder, etc.  The little money I had, amounting to some eight pesos, I hid under my pillow.  We didn’t go to the alcove but twice a day regularly, once in the afternoon for siesta and to wash up, then again at night to sleep.  During holidays, in the afternoons, we dressed and we went out for a stroll.  The rest of the time was spent in the study hall, in recreation, in class, in the dining room, and in the chapel.

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It is obvious that one’s grades are affected by the place where one stays outside of classes. We all know Rizal was bright, but he had to study hard, too.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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