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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 BS 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 and compromise between fragmented people and factions be obtained when fairness and justice has always seem to be never as options?

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

This is a complex story of a pacifist who raised his pen and, subsequently, unintentionally inspired multiple nationwide uprisings and revolutions.

These two novels dig deeper into understanding the internal and external struggles of a country, divided by a plethora of motivations, beliefs, ideologies, 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.

"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 living conditions, views, beliefs, and ideologies under the Spanish rule.

The two novels follow the main protagonist Crisostomo Ibarra, an intelligent and educated Filipino that had studied in Europe and returned to the Philippines. He would later change his identity into Simoun due to a series of complex events that turned his visions and beliefs from being idealistic, wishing for positively reasonable reforms among his town and people, to anarchistic, wishing for revenge and vicious vengeance against those that had wronged him. Like Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo aims at enlightening society, and at bringing the Filipinos closer to the truth.

The end of the sequel, as well as the overarching plots that revolve around the stories that focuses on different and complex characters, can be interpreted in wheels within wheels within wheels: that the answers for injustices are not the acts of more, and that hatred will not create anything but monsters.

Through Rizal, he quoted one of the character's dialogues as if they were his own ideals: "Only love brings, in the end, marvelous works; only virtue can save!" This was pretty ironic since love was one of the reasons why Crisostomo/Simoun, in the books, turned into a full-blown anarchist, and love was also one of the reasons why his orchestrated plans to overthrow the oppressive church and regime in the second book failed. Keeping you hooked on reading their separate yet intertwining stories, he filled the novels with whole grains of sarcasm, humor, and irony. Rizal, in his works, also used these methods as weapons to try and destabilize the brutally oppressive colonial regimes of his time: controlling, vile governments and powerful, corrupt religious authorities.

In Ibarra's defense, the inherent hatred towards those that had blatantly wronged him and his methods for committing unimaginable vengeance was utterly justifiable. But, as we all know in reality, hatred will only result in further hatred, and one of the books' message is that we, as readers, will never truly see the light if we let ourselves succumb to our darkest visions of our so-called "enemies."

It's an intense, ruling, exhausting, and complex ambiguity that offers real-life dilemmas.

Why independence if the enslaved of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?

— Father Florentino to Simoun, El Filibusterismo, Chapter 39

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.

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.

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Read More From Owlcation

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 equal 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.

For a little bit of historical context, being a Filipino priest during the Spanish period of the country is a rare and huge feat for natives. The reasons are because:

  1. Education, of any form, is strictly prohibited to the natives, since being an educated Filipino during this period means you are more prone to critical thinking leading to rebellious acts. Despite this, natives with wealth and power are often sent overseas to study instead. Those below the castes and classes are often underprivileged to study and are often barred from education; and
  2. Being a priest, it being one of the highest authorities during at the time, is highly restricted for those only with pure Spanish blood. The exception is that some Filipinos can also be priests at this time, but often held lower power than their Spanish counterparts.

Though being a priest is highly restricted, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is forbidden for Filipinos to be one as well. A couple hundred of Filipino priests have come and done during this period, and they almost served the same hierarchal and class status as those with pure Spanish blood.

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.

Even before the horrendous injustice, there were already 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 June 19, 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 often have faced difficulty in translating his writings, diaries, notes, and other written forms because of Rizal's habit of writing his notes in switching from one language to another. He, himself, is a polyglot knowing 22 languages. These languages are listed below:

Languages Within the Philippines:

Languages Outside of the Philippines:





























Referencing his recovered historical letters also became ardous due to Rizal's multitude pseudonyms and pen names. Documented studies also 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 when he returned to France because of her mother's failing eyesight and his desire of helping her. He also built a school in Dapitan when he returned home, teaching various subjects of English and physical education.

Among many other poetries that he had written thoughout his lifetime, “A la juventud filipina" was an award-winning poem written by Rizal in 1879. It was dedicated to the Filipino youth, whom he described as "bella esperanza de la patria mía"—hope of the nation.

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 he travelled across the Americas and Asia, he studied abroad and journeyed across most parts of Europe along with other Illustrados. The illustrados were a group of middle-class educated Filipinos in the 1800s, to study their democratic and liberal values. He also visited several countries in the Orient, most notably Japan, to learn about its already rich history and beautiful culture. And while he travelled the world, he always contemplated about the merciful fate of his fellowmen back home under the colonial rule; he always compared the beauty he had observed from the outside world to the defiled, woeful state of his own native country. This, in turn, made him hope that his country and fellowmen deserved more better.

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 became a prolific novelist whose most famous works were his two works, Noli Me Tángere and its sequel, El Filibusterismo, depicting social commentaries and criticisms during the Spanish colonization of his country that formed the nucleus of his literature. And though its distributions to the masses were ardous due to the intensive censorship of the colonial church and state, these novels still landed on almost all forms of citizens: from the rich to the poor, from reformists to revolutionaries.

Two Ends Within A Spectrum: Reform or Revolution?

The grave needs for independence were seemingly plotted on a spectrum, with achieving using force through revolutions or using peace, subversion, assimilation, aggressive anti-government and anti-church propaganda: Jose Rizal in the Reformists, or the Propaganda Movement, along with other notable Ilustrados. He also lead the creation of a secret society called La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League). Derived from both La Solidaridad and the Propaganda Movement, the society directly sought for the direct involvement of other people in the reform movement; Andres Bonifacio, also called as The Father of Philippine Revolution, along with a group of other notable peoole leads the Katipunan – a secret Philippine revolutionary society founded by anti-Spanish colonialism Filipino men and women. It was a covert movement were most members were indoctrinated with the rules to the secret society and are made to swear in secrecy, and they grew as the nation slowly awakened from its deep hallucinated slumber.

The people of the Propaganda Movement know that the country will never be prepared for owning its independence, let alone run its own sovereignty, for another powerful nation will gobble it up just like how the Spanish did. Most of their 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 Reformists (often also called as Propagandists) prefer the dissemination of social 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 radical changes, and/or in a last bid for a common ground, assimilation, these were highly propagated towards the masses as a means of "waking" them up from the ugly truths of their current state and society. This, in turn, also means that the reformists believed that one way to have compromise with the colonizers, without the need of violence and human death, is to have the Philippines be an autonomous province of Spain. Though they adhere to these painfully brutal truths, they still also hoped and envisioned a free, independent, and self-governing nation without conditions. One of 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 and, tragically, had been happening for hundreds of years. 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.

Though they spearheaded a movement to "call out" the corrupt and vile, there was an antagonistic atmosphere between the Reformists and the common people. The Katipunan also had internal conflicts, mostly politically-inclined, that almost resorted to them being dispersed and their revolution movements being delayed.

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. One of his closest ally in the Reformists, Antonio Luna, also denounced the revolution. The roots of these convictions stemmed 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 a compromise between the Filipinos and the Spanish colonizers. However, after depriving the country of essential reforms, Rizal became radical, which is one of the core characteristics of activists.

He had expressed his regrets and mistakes by having, keeping, and trying a superficial peace between the Filipinos and colonial Spain. This was highly implied in his letters to one of his closest friend named Ferdinand Blumentritt, that, in his 1887 letters, the Filipinos had long wished for Hispanization and they were wrong for it; it is colonial Spain and not the Philippines who ought to wish that the country were to be assimilated.

He further added that colonial Spain will never learn from her South American colonies; cannot learn what England and United States have learned. Colonial Spain would always win if she gives the Filipinos what they had been asking for hundreds of years: better education, representation in the government, greater security for the masses and their properties, and just officials serving the country. You know, fair social and economic rights and justices. A peaceful struggle would had always been a dream under their current circumstances as they did not want separation from colonial Spain since the fear of having the country being occupied by another powerful imperialistic country was undeniably inevitable. But alas, the considerable needs of the natives weren't given, those that they had been continuously asking for for three centuries.

Of course, Rizal knew that there were the tiniest of chances for these to happen in their versions of reality. So he and some of his colleagues wished for the success of their reforms, and eagerly tried to make pass through the hurdles in the most pacifist ways they can. This inadvertently highly destabilized the internal politics of the colonizers, creating rifts of divisions between those who supports Philippines' independence and those who cling on to it due to strategic, political, and economic reasons. Nonetheless, if colonial Spain wouldn't adhere to their reasonable demands, then it will lead to more unintended consequences: more unnecessary deaths and a full-blown revolution, one way or another.

The Reformists became divided: those wanting assimilation, and those wanting separation. The more colonial Spain denied the Reformists reasonable request, the more powerful they had to become. And the more people willing to join in the revolution movement, now more than willing to have their own life taken to obtain liberation.

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 intellectuals, the blissful denial of the oppressors' atrocities towards their fellowmen, and the inherited oppressive ideals from the Spanish regime to which they do to their own countrymen.

The books covered a plethora of satire, irony, sarcasm, horrors, and influence the Filipino people have suffered throughout the entirety of more than three hundred years under the colonial regime. And while others didn't care at all and continued to ride the subsequent tidal waves, some even supported the colonial regime because of their affiliated personal and economical 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 utilizing written pieces of literature. He became an enlightened one that shed light on the consciousness of his fellowmen. He delved into the ills of his country to become a democratic Reformist, struggled to make compromise colonizers for his and his fellowmen's equality within the society. He then became from assimilationist to separatist. Until, in the end, he had enough and gradually became radical in his ideals and beliefs, eager to pursue his vision for a better Philippines. He did not wish for the proliferation of bloodshed and violence and denounced the revolutionary movements in the first place, but he would then support the actions towards independence when pushes came to shoves.

There's a common subtle trait among Filipinos that they can take whatever mud is thrown at them because they can be strong and resilient in any form of adversaries. They can be your best of friends or the worst of your enemies. But just like Rizal, there's always a specific minimum threshold to anything for them to finally snap and let loose.

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


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 death. 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 first light of December 30, 1896, saying his last words, those of Jesus Christ: "consummatum est," – it is finished. Today, Rizal's insignia (his head right-faced turned) can be seen on the one peso coin of the Philippine currency. This is important since the one peso coin of the country is the most circulative currency within the economy, landing from the poorest of the poor up to the richest of the rich. A day dedicated to his influence and heroism is also commemorated every year (the same day he died). His birthday is sometimes celebrated, as well, and often wrongly interchanged with the day of his death. He is also widely known in several countries as one of the smartest, exemplary role model, and most influential Filipinos that ever lived. He also has his own statue in the Philippines (The Rizal Park in Luneta within Manila) and more monuments and plaques about him erected across multiple countries like Spain, Argentina, Germany, China, USA, Hong Kong, UK, and Australia. A Japanese light novel was also made in his likeness and by inspirations of his heroic acts, which is not a shocker since Rizal's a huge fan of Japanese culture and a bronze statue of him can be seen erected in Hibiya Park within Tokyo.

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 the numbers of people who want to change something 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. 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 norm.

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. Idealists and intellectuals are what authoritarian figures often try to dispose of because they see them as a threat, and one way as an act of rebellion against such oppressive systems is to pick up a pen, read a book, with violence coming to last when all bureaucratic and diplomatic options are exhausted.

The Filipinos of today do not dwell on the past, but they do like learning from it. The lessons incorporated in them were not used as tools and weapons of hatred towards one another but to have them never repeat once more as they bear minimal to no grudges towards those that had wronged them, domestic and foreign. Their past colonizers (the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese) will always remain in the back of their heads and acknowledge their contributions in both positive and negative ways of how modern Filipino society works. What's disheartening is the barely noticeable identity that came after the colonial period, the proliferation of intrinsic cultural identity crisis, and its subsequent and inherent loss. It was such a waste for a country to never connect when and where it started because such possibilities for the acquisitions of their roots seem minimal and bleak.

Nevertheless, they are appreciative of some of the critical influences that changed their culture and society and have already forgiven their colonizers for their past atrocities. They accept anyone who will love and respect them for who they are, for they are not their ancestors from the past, and will remain vigilant for as long as they feel they are threatened. They also continue to acknowledge the sacrifices made by their fallen heroes, celebrated their contributions for the voices they've shouted out of their lungs, and vowed to never be as significantly low as the people who wronged them in war and colonial times.

Forgive, but never ever forget. Any resentments toward what had happened in the past will only bear grudges that'll surely create unintended consequences. We look at the past for guidance, but we do not try to dwell as much from it for it will only open up unhealed wounds. And despite the tragedies we've culminated throughout history, we hold on to a strong sense of having hope for brighter futures.


  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.
  6. Quibuyen, Floro. “Towards a Radical Rizal."; Philippine Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, 1998, pp. 151–183.
  7. Sumsky, Victor V. “The Prophet of Two Revolutions."; Philippine Studies, vol. 49, no. 2, 2001, pp. 236–254.
  8. Craig, Austin (1914). Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Philippine Patriot. Yonker-on-Hudson World Book Company.
  9. Fadul Jose(ed.) (2008). Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Press. ISBN 978-1-4303-1142-3
  10. Valdez, Maria Stella S. (2007). Doctor Jose Rizal and the Writing of His Story. Rex Bookstore, Inc. ISBN 978-971-23-4868-6.
  11. "José Rizal > Quotes". goodreads.

Further Reading

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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