For this year’s Rizal Day, I wanted to write something different from the usual. Possibly a review of Felice Sta. Maria’s book on The Foods of Jose Rizal.

While reading the first chapters of Felice’s book, I also checked Facebook for updates.

Clicking a link to Sonny San Juan’s article on Rizal, I found some quotations from Rizal that I have not read before. They are refreshingly different in tone from the better known quotations from Rizal. The word that came to mind is “poignant.”

Why not make a poster with some excerpts that speak to me, I thought. That would be a good way to remember Jose Rizal today. Here it is:

A few minutes after posting it, a number of Facebook friends “liked” the poster, but also asked: “Are these really Rizal’s words? Where and when did he write them?”

Unfortunately, the article of Sony San Juan did not have footnotes. But thanks to Google, I eventually found the source. Yes, the words are Rizal’s own. They are from a letter he wrote during his exile in Dapitan to Fr. Pastells S.J. It is dated November 11, 1892.

The time and setting of the letter partly explains the tone of Rizal’s message. He was in exile in Dapitan, but he was not yet faced with the prospect of being put on trial or condemned to death. It was not a situation calling for a heroic stance. The more immediate challenge must have been how to make full use of his considerable skills and energies in such limited circumstances.

In that context, I can understand the provocative impact of the note scribbled by Fr. Pastells on the first page of Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, which the priest had sent to him:  “What a pity that such an excellent young man had not lavished his talents on the defense of better causes!”

Rizal’s measured response is directed to Fr. Pastells, but it is also reflection of the struggle within himself. That is the source of the poignant tone.

” It is very possible that there are causes better than those I have embraced, but my cause is good and that is enough for me. Other causes will undoubtedly bring more profit, more renown, more honors, more glories, but the bamboo, in growing on this soil, comes to sustain nipa huts and not the heavy weights of European edifices. I do not regret neither the humbleness of my cause nor the meagerness of its rewards but the little talent that God has given me to serve it. If instead of weak bamboo I had been solid molave, better service I would be able to render. But He who has arranged it thus sees what the future brings, does not err in any of His acts, and knows very well for what use are even the smallest things.

” As to honor, fame, or profit that I might have reaped, I agree that all of this is tempting, especially to a young man of flesh and bone like myself, with so many weaknesses like anybody else. But, as nobody chooses the nationality nor the race to which he is born, and as at birth the privileges or the disadvantages inherent in both are found already created, I accept the cause of my country in the confidence that He who has made me a Filipino will forgive the mistakes I may commit in view of our difficult situation and the defective education that we receive from the time we are born. 

Besides, I do not aspire to eternal fame or renown; I do not aspire to equal others whose conditions, faculties, and circumstances may be and are in reality different from mine; my only desire is to do what is possible, what is within my power, what is most necessary. I have glimpsed a little light, and I believe I ought to show it to my countrymen.

Re-reading Rizal’s words, I think that they speak to our generation of activists, about the choices we made, and the consequences we accepted.

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  1. angela

    hello. i am doing online research on edsa tres and found this link
    to a “UP Forum on Understanding EDSA Tres and the State of Rebellion” that features you and three others. may i know when this forum took place? the only date mentioned is may 2001. can’t seem to get anymore info anywhere on the site. would you remember? would greatly appreciate a date, more or less, and any more links you think i should check out. maraming salamat.

    angela stuart-santiago

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