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

Updated on July 17, 2020
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With a Bachelor of Science in Information and Communications Technology degree, Darius was a former high school literary and feature writer.

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

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

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 historically driven fictional Philippines during the Spanish colonial period inspired by the writer's current living conditions, his views, and his beliefs.

Rizal had his third unfinished work or novel. Known by historians as “Maka-misa,” this unfinished work was started by Rizal in 1892 in Hong Kong. Maka-misa is not actually a title of the novel but only a single chapter of the unfinished novel. He began writing it in Tagalog but gave up and continued writing 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.

On February 17, 1872, three Filipino Catholic priests from the province of Cavite were executed for charges of mutiny as well as conspiring a looming need of Filipinos for freedom by overthrowing the colonial Spanish friars and Spanish rule. This was an attempt to instill fear among the Filipinos so that they may never commit such a daring act again. It was referred to as the 1872 Cavite mutiny.

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

But in this tragic event, their trial and execution were believed to be one of the initial sparks of Filipino Nationalism: 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, and injustices made the colonial Spaniards.

In short, people got angry. That anger turned into deepening hatred. And the hatred fueled their desire to be free.


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 and polymath. 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, namely:

  • Segunda Katigbak — Rizal's supposed first love, but was a harmless infatuation between a 14-year-old convent-bred girl and a teen-aged Rizal. Segunda was already betrothed to a Manuel Luz of Lipa, Batangas, when they met.
  • Leonor Valenzuela — Nicknamed Orang, Leonor Valenzuela was commonly described as a tall girl with regal bearing who was Rizal's province-mate. She was the daughter of Capitan Juan and Capitana Sanday Valenzuela, who were from Pagsanjan, Laguna.
  • Leonor Rivera — Leonor Rivera-Kipping was the childhood sweetheart, and “lover by correspondence” of Philippine national hero José Rizal. Rivera was the “greatest influence” in preventing Rizal from falling in love with other women while Rizal was traveling outside the Philippines.
  • Consuelo Ortiga — Consuelo Ortiga y Rey was considered the prettier of the daughters of Don Pablo Ortiga y Rey, the Spanish liberal and former mayor of Manila who became vice-president of the Council of the Philippines in the Ministry of Colonies.
  • O-Sei San — O Sei San was a nickname given to Seiko Usui , a native of Japan. She had an intimate relationship with Jose Rizal during Rizal's vacation on Yokohama. She was 23 years old when she met Rizal. Her former status as a daughter of samurai gave her an address's of "O Sei San" and "The Honorable Miss Sei."
  • Gertrude Beckett — In the same year he began and ended his relations with O-Sei-San, our JR, then 27, went to London and met a woman named Gertrude Beckett, the eldest daughter of his landlord. Gertrude showered Rizal with all the love and attention of a girl who is hopelessly in love.
  • Nelly Boustead — Nellie Boustead, also called Nelly, was the younger of the two pretty daughters of the wealthy businessman Eduardo Boustead, son of a rich British trader, who went to the Orient in 1826.
  • Suzanne Jacoby — Doctor Jose Rizal was 29 years old when he met Suzanne Jacoby when he went to Belgium in January 1890 with his friend Jose Albert and left the expensive city of Paris. The lady is the niece of his new landladies. During his 6-month stay in Brussels, he and Suzanne had a great time together
  • Josephine Bracken — Josephine Bracken was the woman who stayed with Rizal until his execution in 1896. She was also, allegedly, the woman whom Rizal married. However, accounts of their marriage have been much-debated over the years.

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 show 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. Rizal was also a polyglot, conversant in twenty-two languages.


Two Ends of the Spectrum

Indeed, the grave needs for independence were seemingly plotted on a spectrum, with achieving using force and violence or using peace and assimilation: Rizal in the Propagandists, along with other notable Ilustrados or educated Filipino class during the Spanish colonial period, on the other hand; Andres Bonifacio leads the Katipunan, a secret Philippine revolutionary society founded by anti-Spanish colonialism Filipinos on the opposite.

The Propagandists prefer reforms and changes through written mediums, or the usage of propaganda, like publishing anti-colonial newspapers, pieces, novels, poems, songs, or even stories withholding the hope of change and/or assimilation. 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. Both have two different perspectives and ideas to help their people but had an underlying unified desire to release the Filipino people from their lasting chains.

Because of these two ideologies, activism and nationalism gradually emerged as new forms of fighting against what a group of people, especially in young people and students, think is the collective best for the general good. This is usually a fight for something they believe is morally and ethically wrong. Though the outcome depends on whether the voices of these people are heard, along with 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 made sure that in every offense, it gives even the tiniest chance for the masses to finally be free and independent. It 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 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, 1986, in his last letters to his family.

The Fall Gave Rise to the People

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

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 of which were never identified.

He was executed by firing squad on the the first light of December 30, 1986 saying his last words, those of Jesus Christ: "consummatum est", – it is finished.

The story of Noli and Fili 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 team in society has its own perspective. It is a commentary of belief for rights, justice, and freedom, and the need to attain it — no matter what the cost.

With two novels created to mimic the writer's intention of gaining independence for its people, not by a continuous cycle of hatred and violence, but by love, empathy, compassion, and peace.


Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal's Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, "The Noli," as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise against the colonial Spanish regime.
El Filibusterismo (Penguin Classics)
El Filibusterismo (Penguin Classics)
José Rizal was one of the leading champions of Filipino nationalism and independence. His masterpiece, Noli Me Tangere, is widely considered to be the foundational novel of the Philippines. In this riveting continuation, which picks up the story thirteen years later, Rizal departs from the Noli's themes of innocent love and martyrdom to present a gripping tale of obsession and revenge. Clearly demonstrating Rizal's growth as a writer, and influenced by his exposure to international events, El Filibusterismo is a thrilling and suspenseful account of Filipino resistance to colonial rule that still resonates today.
  1. Frank Laubach, Rizal: Man and Martyr (Manila: Community Publishers, 1936).
  2. http://nhcp.gov.ph/the-two-faces-of-the-1872-cavite-mutiny/
  3. Austin Coates, Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr (London: Oxford University Press, 1968) ISBN 0-19-581519-X
  4. "The life and works of Jose Rizal". www.joserizal.com. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  5. Craig, Austin (1914). Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot. Yonker-on-Hudson World Book Company.

  6. Fadul Jose(ed.) (2008). Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press. ISBN 978-1-4303-1142-3
  7. Valdez, Maria Stella S. (2007). Doctor Jose Rizal and the Writing of His Story. Rex Bookstore, Inc. ISBN 978-971-23-4868-6.
  8. "José Rizal > Quotes". goodreads. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  9. "Nationalista Party History". Archived from the original on 27 June 2007. Retrieved 30 July 2007.

© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente


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