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Dr. Jose Rizal's "The Social Cancer" and "Reign of Greed"

Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Communications Technology.

Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Dr. Jose P. Rizal

Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Dr. Jose P. Rizal

What pushes people to fight for freedom and battle against years of systematic abuse and oppression? What inspires people to just let and ride the waves until the storm had passed? What decides its people and country, to the point that either peaceful democratic assimilation or revolutionary movements are the only choices, to be free and independent? Can peace be obtained when justice has always seem to be never an option?

I am a Filipino: inheritor of a glorious past, hostage to the uncertain future. As such I must prove equal to a two-fold task—the task of meeting my responsibility to the past, and the task of performing my obligation to the future.

— I am a Filipino, Carlos P. Romulo

The Natures of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo

These two novels digs deeper into understanding the internal and external struggles of a country, divided by motivations, beliefs, and moralities by using almost real-life characters and often imposing satirical personalities to most. Written in a character-based structure, highlighting its plot as direct associations during the Spanish colonial rule, these novels are revered as two of the most prominent and prolific literary works written by a Filipino.

I remembered in high school that one of our requirements for our Filpino subject was to create a school play using two of the most world-class, historical, and enduring literary works ever written: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. These great literary masterpieces are also often used in dramas, theatrical plays, and movies.

"Noli Me Tangere" is translated "Touch Me Not" or "The Social Cancer," while "El Filibusterismo" is translated "The Reign of Greed." Both novels were about politically and historically driven fictional Philippines during the Spanish colonial period inspired by the writer's current living conditions, his views, and his beliefs.

Jose Rizal had his third unfinished work or novel, the alleged sequel and final book on the first two. Known by historians as “Maka-misa,” Rizal wrote this unfinished third novel in 1892 in Hong Kong. But what's more baffling is that the title Maka-misa is not actual name of it, but only a single chapter of the said unfinished novel. He began writing it in Tagalog language but had given up and continued to try and finish it in Spanish.

If you ever find yourself reading history textbooks or learning history lessons about the Philippines, especially during the Spanish colonial period, you'll learn that the country was greatly influenced by Spain by language, culture, names, behaviors, and even societal systems. But just like every part of the history of the world, there will always be white and black patches within a collective shadowed area.

Another Flame Ablazed: A Few Reasons What Lead Rizal in Writing the Novels

On February 17, 1872, three Filipino Catholic priests, who were openly supporting for the rights of native Filipinos and who were also political activists, from the province of Cavite were wrongly executed for charges of treason and mutiny, rendering them as "filibusteros." This fear-mongering injustice had been a long list of attempts to instill fear among the Filipinos so that they may never commit such a daring act again, especially in a colonial rule. It was referred to as the 1872 Cavite mutiny.

Recognized by their martyrdom, the three Filipino priests were Fathers Mariano Gomes, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora most prominently and commonly known as the GomBurZa.

In this another tragic event, and among many others throughout 333 years of Spanish colonial rule, their unjust trial and execution were believed to be one of the initial sparks that finally ignited the flames of Filipino nationalism and patriotism: the first lights in thousands of burning candles.

Even before the horrendous injustice, there were pockets of revolutions found within the country. They are often small and weak compared to the power of those that had oppressed them, and the majority of the people were still divided into multiple facets that could either help or risk the success of these revolutions. But what really followed is a series of revolutions and outcries for independence from the Filipinos against the colonial rule, seemingly bigger and larger than they were before, with the added wave of slow yet cumulative anger against issues of over-taxation, forced labor, racial discrimination, the castes, enslavement, and injustices made and done by the colonial Spaniards.

The Life of an Unofficial National Hero

Dedicating to the memory of the three martyr priests by writing the El Filibusterismo, José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda was a Filipino nationalist, polymath, and a prominent political activist. He was also tagged as one of the national heroes in the Philippines, along with numerous named and unnamed heroes in every region of the country.

Born in 1861 in the town of Calamba in Laguna province, he had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda, a large landed estate, and an accompanying rice farm by the Dominicans (one member of the Spanish friars).

From an early age, José showed charismatic intellect. He's one of the most educated Filipinos to ever exist during the Spanish colonial era.

He learned the alphabet from his mother at three and could read and write at age five. His life was also one of the most documented 19th century Filipinos due to the vast and extensive records written by and about him, and these records are often found on the countries he had been to — from America to Japan, from Hong Kong and Macau to England. He had a pretty interesting dating life, too. He was once dubbed as the country's first "lover boy" for attracting women within and from different countries despite having a height of five-foot-three. There were at least nine women linked with Rizal, with most notably written in his literary pieces, letters, other works. They were namely:

9 women who were linked with Rizal

9 women who were linked with Rizal

His biographers have faced difficulty in translating his writings, diaries, notes, and other written forms because of Rizal's habit of switching from one language to another because he, himself, is a polyglot knowing 22 languages. These languages are listed below:

Languages Within the Philippines:

Languages Outside of the Philippines:





























Documented studies depicted him to be a polymath with the ability to master various skills and subjects. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright, and journalist. He was inspired to pursue Ophthalmology because of her mother's failing eyesight and his desire of helping her.

Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing, pistol shooting, and freemason.

As the leader of the reform movement of Filipino students in Spain, Rizal contributed essays, allegories, poems, and editorials to the Spanish newspaper La Solidaridad in Barcelona. The core of his writings centers on liberal and progressive ideas of individual rights and freedom; specifically, rights for the Filipino people. He shared the same sentiments with members of the movement: that the Philippines is battling, in Rizal's own words, "a double-faced Goliath"—corrupt friars and bad government.

He was a prolific poet, essayist, and novelist whose most famous works were his two novels, Noli Me Tángere and its sequel, El Filibusterismo. Those social commentaries during the Spanish colonization of the country formed the nucleus of literature that inspired peaceful reformists and armed revolutionaries alike.

Two Ends Within A Spectrum

Indeed, the grave needs for independence were seemingly plotted on a spectrum, with achieving using force through revolutions or using peace, subversion, assimilation, and aggressive anti-government propaganda: Rizal in the Propagandists, along with other notable Ilustrados or educated Filipino class during the Spanish colonial period. On the other hand, Andres Bonifacio, along with other notable people, also called as The Father of Philippine Revolution leads the Katipunan – a secret Philippine revolutionary society founded by anti-Spanish colonialism Filipino men and women with most members being indoctrinated with the rules to the secret society and are made to swear in secrecy.

The Propagandists knows that the country will never be prepared for owning its independence, for another nation will gobble it up just like how the Spanish did. Most of their revolutions and actions against the Spanish colonizers were mostly written in artistic mediums, those that will reach out to and "wake up" most Filipinos during the colonial era. The Katipunans know that in meeting true freedom from brutal oppression, a heart of true nationalism and patriotism to battle injustices by collectivity, bloodsheds, and revolutions will help attain the sweet taste of long-awaited freedom and independence. This doesn't mean that the Katipunans' all knowledge depended on inciting violence among the masses, against the oppresive government and corrupt religious system, much more as were never treated as terroristic acts of today. Most members, though farm owners, commoners, and those below the Spanish established social castes, pondered in the world of studies, education, and academia. They also wrote literary pieces, forged strategical alliances in neighboring regions within the Philippines and helped build up a nationwide opposition against the Spanish oppressors and to any that may come next.

The Propagandists prefer reforms and changes through written mediums, or the usage of propaganda, like publishing anti-colonial and anti-imperial newspapers, brochures, novels, poems, songs, or even stories withholding the hope of change and/or, in a last bid for a common ground, assimilation. Though they adhere to these brutal truths, they still also hoped and envisioned a free, independent, and self-governing nation. The Katipunan's primary goal is for the whole country to gain independence from Spain through revolutions, by concocting ambushes and plans to oust the oppressive regime and incite pockets of rebellion acts. The Katipunan also had a vision of forming a united country, a nation of peace and prosperity, one that is unbounded from any outside forces and one that enjoys freedom, democracy, and liberty. Both have two different perspectives and ideals to help their people, but had an underlying unified desire to release the Filipino people from their shackles and chains.

Because of these two ideologies, activism, nationalism, and patriotism gradually emerged as new forms of fighting against what a group of people, especially in young people and students, think and know is for the collective good. This is usually a fight against something they believe is morally and ethically wrong. Though the outcome depends on whether the voices of these people are heard, along with a rooting ambiguity of locating its moral standpoint, it is made sure that the voices of the masses must be heard. It is made sure that statements are made and they are heard. It is made sure that in every offense, it gives even the tiniest chance for the masses to finally be free and independent. It is made sure that liberty from hundreds of years of oppression is obtained. Because they know that if the masses remain quite, or divided, the people above them will abuse their power. And these abuse of power comes with a cost, severely damaging the morale and the people of the oppressed.

By 1896, due to Bonifacio's aggressive and strategic leadership, the rebellion by the Katipunan proved to be a nationwide uprising against the colonial and imperial government and regime. By this time, Rizal had earlier volunteered his services as a doctor in Cuba and was given leave to serve in Cuba to minister to victims of yellow fever.

Rizal was arrested en route to Cuba via Spain and was imprisoned in Barcelona on October 6, 1896. He was sent back the same day to Manila to stand trial as he was implicated in the revolution through his association with members of the Katipunan. During the entire passage, he was unchained, no Spaniard laid a hand on him, and had many opportunities to escape but refused to do so.

Rizal was tried before a court-martial for rebellion, sedition, and conspiracy, and was convicted on all three charges and sentenced to death. Before his execution, Rizal wrote a proclamation denouncing the revolution. The roots of these convictions stem from the two novels he recently published and distributed among the Filipino people, which were somehow used as evidences for a propaganda against the colonial Spanish friars and the Spanish government.

"Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated...Love them greatly in memory of me... Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries."

— Jose Rizal, December 30, 1896, in his last letters to his family.

Of Comedy and Tragedy

Rizal was a reformist during his early years which means he wanted compromise between the Filipinos and the colonial Spanish Government. However, after depriving the country of reforms, Rizal became radical, which is one of the core characteristics of activists.

Apart from deeply creating scrutiny against the colonial regime, he also acknowledged the hypocrisies and traitorous actions of his own countrymen through satiric writing within his novels. Most of these include the subjugation from the oppressors ever since their status in the class heightened, the blissful ignorance of their social and political views, the continued shaming of smart and sharp people, the blissful denial of the oppressors' atrocities towards their fellowmen, and the inherited oppresive ideals from the Spanish regime to which they do to their own countrymen as well.

In short, the books covered a plethora of satire, sarcasm, horrors, and influence the Filipino people have gained and suffered throughout the entirety of more than three hundred years under the colonial regime. Resistance movements might have existed but a lot of them are not united and sporadic. And while others didn't care at all and continued to ride the tidal waves, some even supported the colonial regime because of their affiliated and personal interests. Most of these are even metaphorically or allegorically highlighted within his two persevering novels.

He, in turn, still hoped that his people would recognize the immense tragedies of their objective truths by means of written literatures.

I die without seeing dawn's light shining on my country... You, who will see it, welcome it for me... don't forget those who fell during the nighttime.

— Jose Rizal speaking through Elias in Noli Me Tangere

The Fall Gave Rise to the People

Rizal stuffed unknown papers in his pockets and shoes on the eve of his execution. He did this because he presumed that his corpse would be turned over to his family after his execution. But his body was dumped by Spanish officials in an unmarked grave in Paco cemetery. The papers have since deteriorated and the contents were never identified.

He was executed by firing squad on the the first light of December 30, 1896 saying his last words, those of Jesus Christ: "consummatum est," – it is finished. Today, Rizal's can be seen on the one peso coin of the Philippine currency. A day dedicated to his influence and heroism is also commemorated every year (the same day he died). He is also widely known in several countries as one of the smartest Filipino that ever lived. He also has his own statue in the Philippines (The Rizal Park) and more statues erected across multiple countries (there's also one in Spain).

The story of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo gives off a societal message that the citizens should be the leaders of its governing body, and not the other way around. That strength lies in numbers of people who want to change something that is inappropriate, or give voices to those who suffer injustices. They are novels mirroring the life of each person whilst delivering a story that each separate teams in society has its own perspective. They serve an underlying commentary and of belief for rights, justice, and freedom, and the need to attain it — no matter what the cost. They also show hard-to-notice topical sarcasm and satirical statements that would make your head nod in full agreement, especially if it's for or against our own diverse belief systems, social constructs, and ever-changing norms.

These two novels were created to mimic the writer's intention of gaining liberty, freedom, independence for its people, to have it manifest in real-life situations, during the hundreds of years of oppression and darkest days of imperialism. These also serve lessons for the generations that read it and take it to heart, from nationalism and patriotism to responsible social and political activism and ways of fighting for what is right.


  1. Frank Laubach, Rizal: Man and Martyr (Manila: Community Publishers, 1936).
  2. The two faces of the 1872 Cavite Mutiny retrieved from National Historical Commission of the Philippines
  3. Rizal: A Man for All Generations by Luis H. Francia from The Antioch Review
  4. Austin Coates, Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr (London: Oxford University Press, 1968) ISBN 0-19-581519-X
  5. The life and works of Jose Rizal. www.joserizal.com.
  6. Craig, Austin (1914). Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot. Yonker-on-Hudson World Book Company.
  7. Fadul Jose(ed.) (2008). Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press. ISBN 978-1-4303-1142-3
  8. Valdez, Maria Stella S. (2007). Doctor Jose Rizal and the Writing of His Story. Rex Bookstore, Inc. ISBN 978-971-23-4868-6.
  9. "José Rizal > Quotes". goodreads.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente

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