Rizal and his message to Filipinos today

A hundred and fifty years after his death, Jose Rizal is as much present today as he was when he was alive perhaps even more so.  The Philippine educational system mandates the study of his two revolutionary books, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, in both the high school and college curriculum.

Rizal was classified alongside Physical Education and Religion subjects taken for granted, and because such is the attitude there was no or little motivation to study the books or at least try to know the important details.  We failed to appreciate the messages contained in the books or see the relevance of the stories in our lives much less our future careers.  We were after all enrolled in the College of Commerce!

Cheating incidences were higher in these classes than in the more difficult subjects.  At exams, the professor recites his usual bored warning that it was OK to cheat as long as we were not caught which only served to motivate students to think of craftier devises.  Sad to say, Rizal and cheating went hand in hand.

On graduation day, the guest speaker reiterated Rizal’s famous words of young Filipinos being the hope of the mother/fatherland.  But inspite of two semesters and six units of Rizal, I didn’t feel or see myself as somebody on whom my country could pin it’s hope on.  I mean, what’s that?  What schools fail to understand is that the meaning of Rizal’s exhortation is vague to students whose life experiences are limited hence the need for concrete examples from teachers in order to grow in understanding.

The only thought I had while waiting for my turn on the stage was when I could already get out of the hall.  After four years tied inside classrooms what else do they expect?  So when the moment came for us to throw our caps upward as tradition warranted, I threw mine up in the figurative meaning of the word.  Rizal’s diligence and patience for academic study or his deep concern for fellow Filipinos did not rub off on me.

That was 20 years ago and things have taken a completely different turn since, in fact, and funnily enough, my life right after college has been one filled with encounters with characters similar to those in Rizal’s books.  These fateful meetings gradually opened my mind toward comprehension of what was happening in my environment and gaining that I became conscientious and critical about what I can contribute to the realization of the desired change.

On the day especially accorded to him, a movie of his life played to the public at a mall’s open theater.  My son and I were dining close to the spot and I distinctly heard every dialogue.  I discovered soon enough that our location was not conducive to eating well.  (I recalled an article on feng shui that advised against placing religious images in the bedroom as these dampen the creative spirit of procreation!  The same logic applied to our location.)  The words brought to my mind the images of many Filipinos who are still struggling with hunger.  Others would tell me to be grateful for my food and just eat up because “that’s not your problem”.  But that is exactly the frame of mind that Rizal asks of Filipinos then and now to change in themselves because the country’s problems are our problems and who will solve these if not you and me?

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