A national hero of the Philippines and the pride of the Malayan race, José Rizal is a historical figure admired by many. He was born on the 19th June 1861, on the picturesque island of Luzon to an affluent family. His parents were well educated and his mother, who was his first teacher, greatly influenced his intellectual development. He grew up to be quite studious and received a bachelor of arts with the highest honors when graduating from university.
Rizal’s life took a complete turn in 1882 when he boarded a ship to Spain without his parents’ consent. In Spain he enrolled at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he became leader of a small community of Filipino students and committed himself to reforming the Spanish rule in his home country. In addition, he began contributing ideas to the newspaper La Solidaridad, published in Barcelona. Rizal’s political program, as expressed in the newspaper, included integration of the Philippines as a province of Spain, representation in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), freedom of assembly and expression, and equality of Filipinos and Spaniards before the law.
Spain, to Rizal, was a venue for realizing his dreams and it was here that he penned his first book, Noli Me Tangere, a passionate exposé of the evils of Spanish rule in the Philippines. He dedicated this novel to his fellow countrymen whose experiences and sufferings he wrote about. However, as word spread of the scandalous nature of the novel, Rizal became a target for the Filipino police and his trip back home was forcibly cut short in 1887.
Rizal’s insatiable thirst for knowledge later took him to Paris and Germany. In Germany, he completed his studies in ophthalmology. In 1891, he published a sequel,El Filibusterismo,which further established his reputation as the leading spokesman of the Filipino reform movement.On his return to the Philippines in 1892, Rizal founded the nonviolent reform society,Liga Filipina(Philippine League). It was a progressive organisation that sought to directly involve people in the movement. As a result, Rizal was exiled to Dapitan, an island south of the country where he remained for four years. However, during this period he continued his scientific research and even founded a school and hospital.
In 1895, Rizal asked for permission to travel to Cuba as an army doctor. His request was approved but at the same time, Katipunan, a nationalist secret society launched a revolt against Spain. Although he had no connections with that organization, and disapproved of its violent methods, Rizal was arrested shortly thereafter. After a show trial, Rizal was convicted of conspiracy by the military and sentenced to death by a firing squad. On the eve of his public execution, Rizal wrote Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell). And at 7am on the 30th of December, the 35-year-old patriot was shot in the back, with his rosary clutched tightly in his right hand.
José Rizal’s death had the unintended consequence of adding fuel to the fire of Filipino resistance to Spanish rule. Spurred on by his martyrdom, the revolution grew with fervour. In 1898, with assistance from the United States, the Philippine archipelago was able to declare its independence, thus becoming Asia’s first democratic republic.
In the freedom struggle of the Philippines, José Rizal played a vital role. He was
a man of incredible intellectual power who travelled extensively throughout his life and mastered 22 languages in total. Undoubtedly, he was a versatile genius who in addition to being an ophthalmologist, was also an architect, cartoonist, businessman, economist, farmer, historian, inventor, journalist, musician, psychologist and theologian.
Today, José Rizal is hailed as a martyr for the nationalist cause. He is remembered for his brilliance, his courage in trying times, his peaceful resistance to tyranny, and his compassion. To this day, Filipino school children study his literary works and nearly every town in the country has a street named after their national hero.
As he wrote in his poem A Mi Musa (To My Muse), ‘He who would love much has also much to suffer.’ Throughout his life and until his dying breath, José Rizal suffered and endured for the Philippines- the country that he loved more than life itself.