Rizal as teacher and pupil
Ambeth R. Ocampo
Last weekend I accompanied the Reading Philippines on a pilgrimage to Dapitan. Since most of the members were teachers, I advised them to soak in the atmosphere of the place and appreciate being able to literally tread the ground Jose Rizal walked on during his exile there from 1892-1896. To me as a teacher, the most relevant artifacts on display were the original table and blackboard (actually just a slab of Philippine hardwood) that Rizal used in his makeshift school for boys there. Everything else in Dapitan is a reconstruction of the original structures that once stood there. Thus, Dapitan, like Emilio Aguinaldo’s eccentric mansion in Kawit, is one of my favorite historic sites because it has not changed much since our heroes lived there.
Dapitan was a social laboratory where Rizal put most of his ideas into action: he improved the town plaza and landscaped the ground with a relief map of Mindanao—a map that exists to this day; he taught the Dapiteños how to fish with a net and gave them their first taste of fluffy bread; he opened a sari-sari store, a school, and learned more about mangkukulam and herbal medicine in his effort to improve public health; he built a water supply system, tried his hand at the abaca- and brick-manufacturing business; he tilled the land and tended fruit-bearing trees on an estate bought from his winnings from the lottery.
This is the Rizal that people have to re-discover in order to make him relevant to modern times. Rizal did not just write the “Noli me tangere,” the “El Filibusterismo,” and the “Ultimo Adios,” he wrote much more for a nation that does not read. Each time I go to Dapitan I re-read his letters to his family for here we see a plain Rizal, a Rizal without the overcoat, a Rizal who is heroic, although at the time those letters were written, he was yet to be executed to become a “National Hero” later.
Anyone who reads the Rizal family correspondence will discover his nine sisters like Narcisa Lopez, his favorite, whose nickname Sisa is immortalized as a tragic character in the “Noli.” Sisa wrote him on Feb. 27, 1886, saying: “I suppose you don’t know yet that I’m now the mother of six children. In this letter you will see the names of the three older ones (in their own handwriting), and of the last ones, the older was Isabel, the deceased one, and the two, one girl and one boy, are called Consolación and Leoncio López, who is as fat as a melon. The children of Sra. Neneng are three: They are called Alfredo, Adela and Abelardo. Olimpia’s shortly will be three, like Sra. Neneng’s. The two who are not here are called Aristeo and Cesario; the older one called Aristeo, what a lively boy he is! His godfather is Sr. Paciano. He will be a useful boy when he gets older. At the age of two, he already knows a great deal. He is the only consolation of our parents, I tell you, because when you see this child, even if you are angry, you will be obliged to laugh, he is so funny.”
Based on the above and the fact that Rizal came from a brood of 11 children, one can only wonder what his stand would be on the RH bill had he lived today. His large family was a constant ray of sunshine when he was homesick in Europe, and we can only imagine what joy Rizal got from letters. Another sister, Lucia Herbosa, in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1882, described a son born to her in 1882, whom they named Jose: “I amuse myself with José’s ear, which is like yours. I tell you that it is really like yours, but I pray that the likeness does not stop there, but that he may have your disposition, your goodness and diligence in good works.”
In July 1886 Lucia’s husband wrote Rizal about their daughter Delfina who was suffering from “a little inflammation of (the) eye, which is the cause of her absence from school. What a pity she did not become a boy! She is bright and very studious. Her mother is always telling her not to read because her inflammation might worsen, but she is so hardheaded.” Imagine, a child insistent on reading! Twelve years later, in 1898, Delfina would assist Marcela Agoncillo in Hong Kong in the sewing and embroidering of the first Philippine flag.
Even Paciano, Rizal’s older brother, was concerned about education, asking Rizal in July 1886: “Furnish me with information of the best schools there. We have many nephews, most of them promising. It is a pity that these ones should fall into the hands of teachers who teach unwillingly and do so only for show. It is true that they inculcate in children very sane principles, such as fear and humility, the first being the beginning of wisdom and the second of apostolic and civic virtue, but it is also true that fear and humility lead to dullness.” Rizal replied that “children are not allowed to be themselves, to make noise or to play. Instead, they are made to recite the rosary and novena until the poor youngsters become very sleepy and understand nothing of what is going on. Consequently, when they reach the age of reason, they pray just as they have prayed when they were children without understanding what they are saying; they fall asleep or think of nonsense. Nothing can destroy a thing more than the abuse of it, and praying can also be abused.”
We must not forget that the Philippines’ National Hero was not born great, he evolved over time, developing as a hero amid interaction with his family.