A perspective on Rizal’s birthday

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Today is the birth anniversary of national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. As expected, celebrations will mark this day in Calamba City in Laguna, the hero’s birthplace.

For many, the occasion is for Laguna alone to celebrate, since there is Rizal Day in December when the nation itself marks Rizal’s martyrdom in the hands of the Spanish colonial authorities in what was then Las Islas Filipinas.

This editorial, however, is about remembering Rizal not so much about his birth, but about the lessons he taught through his writings and through his actions in his time, and if his lessons have been learned by contemporary Filipinos.

Ever the peaceful person that he was, Rizal was against an all-out armed uprising against the Spanish colonial rulers. The best strategy at asserting national interest, Rizal stressed, is for the people to resort to education first, before opting for war. For the hero, education is the key to obtaining national independence.

That observation was beyond doubt in Rizal’s time, inasmuch as the independence obtained from Spain by the Katipunan revolutionaries under General Emilio Aguinaldo crumbled after a new colonial power took interest in the islands. Independence, at least in the symbolic sense of it, came in 1946 after years of diplomatic maneuvers by an educated class of Filipino leaders.

Having established the importance of education, how much importance is given to it by Filipinos today?

Many Filipino families covet an education for their lot, as seen in the ever increasing need to expand educational infrastructure all over the archipelago. The Constitution itself mandates that the lion’s share of the budget shall go to public education.

Sadly, the Filipino’s high regard for personal education is not reflected in the way he chooses most of the nation’s leaders, particularly those he elects to the Senate. Film and television personalities, television newsreaders, prize fighters, relatives of national celebrities, and popular personalities charged in anti-graft cases often stand good chances of getting elected senator. In fact, that observation applies, with greater intensity, to congressional and local government elections.

Take the example of film actor and Senator-elect Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. After serving time in detention at Camp Crame during the pendency of a criminal case for gross misuse of public funds, he was eventually exonerated by the Sandiganbayan in a very controversial and even questionable ruling — controversial and questionable because despite his acquittal, the anti-graft court required Revilla to return the public funds which were supposed to be in his custody.

During the election campaign, Revilla’s television advertisements emphasized his acquittal, but conveniently kept silent about his legal obligation to return public funds which, as the anti-graft court said, were not legally Revilla’s to keep.

Despite all that, Revilla still managed to get elected.

Rizal also exposed the abusive Spanish friars of his time, and the political power they enjoyed and misused. He also exposed the wicked ways of the friars, including their lust for sex and money. Through his novels, Rizal emphasized the importance of the separation of Church and State.

Unfortunately, that is one lesson our people have failed to learn.

Although the Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State, Roman Catholic church leaders in the Philippines, particularly those based in Manila and highly urbanized areas in the country, have always wanted to control and influence politics.

In the 1950s, senators identified with and supported by the Catholic church opposed the proposal of nationalistic legislators to make Rizal’s novels mandatory reading in all high schools, both public and private. Just imagine that! Senators influenced by friars, opposing any attempt to make the national hero’s novels required in the school curriculum! Holy smokes!

Under the presidencies of Corazon Aquino, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, the Catholic clergy enjoyed immense power, privilege and influence in the affairs of the government. Now that they are powerless and insignificant under President Rodrigo Duterte, they are at the forefront in the attempts of a misguided minority to topple a democratically elected president who currently enjoys unprecedented public support.

That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are a number of Filipinos who allow themselves to be tools of the friars to undermine democracy.

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