Looking Back

Rizal: the boy and the adult (1)

/ 01:40 AM September 14, 2016

IN ANOTHER life, I shed Ambeth Ocampo and my birthday, which is Aug. 13, to take on a new name Ignacio Maria and a new birthday (actually feast day), July 31. In the monastery my abbot once dreamed aloud that I would one day do for Benedictine scholarship what I did for Philippine history; that instead of Rizal, I would spend the rest of my life undertaking erudite commentaries on the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who is best remembered by the public for the breed of dog that bears his name.

One day in the cloister, I remembered two pieces of sculpture by Rizal that displayed the wide gap between his thinking as a boy in the Jesuit-run Ateneo Municipal and his thinking as an adult who had lived and studied abroad.


The first piece, carved out of soft batikuling wood, is a rather crude statuette of the Sacred Heart to which the Jesuits maintain a special devotion. (One of the urban legends in the present Ateneo de Manila University is that the Loyola School of Theology was supposed to be named the Sacred Heart Institute of Theology—until someone pointed out its not so holy acronym.)

Rizal’s Sacred Heart has been reproduced many times over, and it is often given as a gift to the select few who are honored by the traditional Ateneo University Awards.


The original sculpture now in the Ateneo Archives is flat but quite competent as a boy’s effort. It manifested the religious fervor of Rizal as a Sodalist in school, in a time of innocence before he suffered what he described as a “shipwreck of faith.” This Sacred Heart statuette was brought to Rizal’s death cell in Fort Santiago by the Jesuits who had hoped that memory and a miracle might yet rekindle the embers of his juvenile faith. They were sorely disappointed by Rizal.

In his mature life, Rizal had formed another small statuette in clay, the original of which is now lost. That one depicted a hefty friar, identifiable as one by his tonsure and habit with cowl and belt. The friar held in his right hand a tray with a wine bottle and a glass; on his belly was a silhouette of a woman that the impious refer to as Rosario; and at his feet a bulging sack of (presumably) money. Rizal incised on its base the words “Orate fratres!” (Pray Brothers!), giving us a hint as to the satirical sculpture’s title. This sculpture, which resembled Rodin’s depiction of Balzac, is often referred to as “Fray Botod,” from an essay written by Rizal’s contemporary Graciano Lopez-Jaena.

Who is Botod? Lopez Jaena asks in a long and winding sketch: “Look at him, there he goes, walking on the plaza, that chubby friar talking with a woman at the foot of the talisay tree…. Fray Botod is not his proper name or his family name. Botod means pot-bellied.” Lopez-Jaena continues his description: “…fur seal with a moustache… short stature; bloated face forming a disk like a full moon, round cheekbones, thick prominent lips, small eyes…. large reddish nose, with flaring nostrils… hair the color of maize, the crown like a coconut shell… depressed and wrinkled forehead.” And those were only the physical characteristics.

What about Fray Botod’s character? “Gluttonous… a usurer, worse than a Jewish money-lender, fond of women… Fray Botod is a well-fed pig who eats, drinks, sleeps and thinks of nothing else but to satisfy his carnal appetite.”

Like my classmates who first read Fray Botod in college, we were filled with anger and revulsion. We fused and confused Fray Botod with the other despicable religious in the “Noli Me Tangere”—Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi on whom we based our stereotype image of the friar of the Spanish colonial period. Nobody taught us to revisit the caricature and ask ourselves today: Were Damaso and Botod for real? And if they were, should we see them more as exceptions rather than the rule. Perhaps we should ask ourselves how much of the anti-friar accounts, left as a legacy by the so-called Propaganda Movement, are accurate or even truthful.

In the “Noli Me Tangere” is a scene where Maria Clara and her friends are in a river hunting for heron’s nests that were believed to make the bearer invisible. Although they do not wear the skimpy swimming attire that women of the 21st century wear, their wet bathing attire emphasized the gracious curves of their bodies as Fr. Salvi, hidden in the bushes, ogles at them.

The friar gets excited by “their bare arms, their loose hair, the graceful neck ending in a suggestion of a bosom. Their diminutive rosy feet playing in the water aroused strange sensations and feelings in his impoverished, starved being and made him dream new visions in his fevered mind.” Few teachers dwell on this part in the Noli to point out that Salvi is playing with himself all along.


Contrary to popular belief, it is the Dominican Fr. Salvi, rather than the Franciscan Fr. Damaso, who is the real villain in the novel, and we can probably relate this to the agrarian troubles endured by the Rizal family who were tenants of the Dominican hacienda in Calamba, Laguna.

The same is true with Marcelo H. del Pilar who published “Frailocracia” (Frailocracy in the Philippines), “Soberania Monacal” (Monastic Supremacy in the Philippines), and, of course, “Dasalan at Tocsohan” (Prayer and Temptation).

More than five years in a monastery gave me perspective. Being branded once as a “friar historian” by rabid critics (who didn’t know the difference between religious orders) made me rethink what I learned in school. Conclusion on Friday


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: character, Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, opinion, Rizal
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