Rizal and the RH bill | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Rizal and the RH bill

When asked what Rizal’s position on the RH bill would have been, I am stumped because it is asking a dead National Hero to comment on a current social issue.

There are times when the nation looks back on the past in search of advice or context for the present. To answer the question above is to put words in Rizal’s mouth, and one can do that both ways. Looking at Rizal’s home life one will see that he was the seventh of 11 children. He had one older brother and nine prolific sisters as recounted by Teodora Alonso in a letter to Rizal in 1883:


“Now I am going to mention to you, one by one, my new debts to the Lord. On June 6, 1882 Lucía delivered a baby boy who was named José. On 15 September 1882 Neneng gave birth to a boy who was named Alfredo. On 14 June 1883 Sisa gave birth to a girl who was given the name María Consolación. On 3 September 1883 Olimpia gave birth to a boy who was named Aristeo. On 24 November 1883 Lucía gave birth to a girl and on the 26th Neneng gave birth to a girl also. Both girls are not yet baptized but they will be on Sunday. Here many die of childbirth but they went through it safely.”

It is not well-known that Rizal’s first patient when he returned to the Philippines was his sister Olimpia, the most beautiful of the Rizal sisters who was with child. Rizal attended to her, but both baby and mother died. Of course, this was not intentional, and is never recorded in our textbooks and will be the subject of another column.


Narcisa, one of his favorite sisters whose nickname “Sisa” was immortalized in “Noli Me Tangere,” wrote him on Feb. 27, 1886 to say:

“I suppose you don’t know yet that I’m now the mother of six children. In this letter you will see the names of the three older ones written by themselves, and of the last ones, the older was Isabel, the deceased one, and the two, one girl and one boy, are called Consolación and Leoncio López, who is as fat as a melon. The children of Sra. Neneng are three. They are called Alfredo, Adela and Abelardo. Olimpia’s shortly will be three, like Sra. Neneng’s. The two who are not here are called Aristeo and Cesario; the older one called Aristeo, what a lively boy he is! His godfather is Sr. Paciano. He will be a useful boy when he gets older. At the age of two, he already knows a great deal. He is the only consolation of our parents, I tell you, because when you see this child, even if you are angry, you will be obliged to laugh. He is so funny.”

Homesick in Europe, what joy Rizal got from these letters one can only imagine. Neneng, for example, described Alfredo Porfirio or “Freding” in a letter dated Dec. 14, 1882 as having “a well-shaped body, he is stout, round-faced, having a sharp nose, small chin and eyes, flat head, bald on the left side.” She added: “When we go to Manila, we shall have his picture and mine taken and will send them to you.”

Lucia Herbosa in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1882 described a son born to her in 1882 that they named Jose: “I amuse myself with José’s ear, which is like yours. I tell you that it is really like yours, but I pray that the likeness does not stop there, but that he may have your disposition, your goodness and diligence in good works.”

In July 1886 Lucia’s husband wrote Rizal about their daughter Delfina who was suffering from “a little inflammation … which is the cause of her absence from school.” He continued: “What a pity she did not become a boy! She is bright and very studious. Her mother is always telling her not to read because her inflammation might worsen, but she is so hardheaded.”

Imagine a child insisting on reading! Delfina was to figure in Philippine history 12 years later, in 1898, in Hong Kong when she assisted Marcela Agoncillo in sewing and embroidering the first Philippine flag.

All these nephews and nieces, as well as a group of boys, would be educated by their “Tio Jose” a decade later when he was in exile in Dapitan. But before that, Paciano was concerned about their education, asking Rizal on July 18, 1886: “Furnish me with information of the best schools there. We have many nephews, most of them promising. It is a pity that these ones should fall into the hands of teachers who teach unwillingly and do so only for show. It is true that they inculcate in children very sane principles, such as fear and humility, the first being the beginning of wisdom and the second of apostolic and civic virtue, but it is also true that fear and humility lead to dullness.”


Rizal also commented on the way children were brought up in the Philippines and how their education centered on prayers and praying. He noted that back home: “Children are not allowed to be themselves, to make noise or to play. Instead they are made to recite the rosary and novena until the poor youngsters become very sleepy and understand nothing of what is going on. Consequently when they reach the age of reason, they pray just as they have prayed when they were children without understanding what they are saying; they fall asleep or think of nonsense. Nothing can destroy a thing more than the abuse of it, and praying can also be abused.”

Based on the above, one can see that if Rizal supported the present RH bill, Teodora Alonso would probably have pulled rank, twisted his ear, and scolded him.

Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.

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TAGS: History, Jose Rizal, RH bill, Rizal family, Teodora Alonso
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