Thursday, November 20, 2008


"For we wish to understand the spirit of an age to see into its heart and mind, and to acquire a feel for how those who lived in it responded to their world and coped with its dilemmas." - A. C. Grayling

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"The HISTORY of the past interests us only in so far as it illuminates the HISTORY of the present." Ernest Dimnet, 1866-1954, French Clergyman

To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful." - Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)




To read Part 1 click on Making Rizal Obsolete – Part 1 of 2 

Borrowed Defects 

One of the tragedies of our country today is that, though formally independent, our people can understand each other (though imperfectly at that) only by means of a language not their own. This is the result of centuries of colonial rule, and we are all victims. Rizal considered our need for a foreign language as our general medium of communication, both ridiculous and pathetic. he warned strongly about the dangers of a foreign language taking the place of our own. 

In Chapter VII of El Filibusterismo, Simoun in replying to the arguments of Basilio, who like other students was working for the adoption of Spanish as a common language, admonished the young man thus: ....Spanish will never be the general language of the country, the people will never talk it because the conceptions of their brains and the feeling of their hearts can not be expressed in the language --each people has its own tongue, as it has its own way of thinking. What are you going to do with Castilian, the few of you who will speak it? Kill off your originality, subordinate your thoughts to other brains, and instead of freeing yourself, make yourselves slaves indeed!....he among you who talks that language understands it, and how many have I not seen who pretended not to know a single word of it! ...One and all you forget that while a people preserves its language, it preserves the marks of its liberty, as a man preserves his independence while he holds to his own way of thinking. Language is the thought of the people...

Our language problem is still unresolved. The Basilios and Isaganis whose mission was to propagate the foreign language in order that Filipinos might out-Castilian the Spaniard still with us, this time pretending that their tongues trip over the long Tagalog words and are at home only in English. 

Without Defenses 

When Rizal gave utterance to his views on the national language, he was not speaking as a chauvinist or a sentimentalist. Being himself a linguist, he could not have been against our learning of other languages, but only after we had fully mastered our own. It is good to understand and be understood by other people but it is essential that we understand each other first. 

Some may think that this insistence on the use of our native tongue is merely sentimental and therefore an impractical notion. We need only consider a few of the many evil consequences of our acceptance of a foreign language as our common medium of communication to realize that Simoun's angry reply to the students was true then and is even more true today. 

Many have condemned our thorough Americanization but only a few realize the large part which our adoption of English has played in this development that we deplore. By using a foreign language as our basic means of communication, we lay open, without any defenses, to the incursions of a foreign culture. Where the language barrier has served to temper the flow of this cultural invasion, affording us the opportunity of intelligent, deliberate, and selective assimilation, the irresistible influx of foreign culture for which our use of the foreign language has opened the way, has swept aside our native traditions, manners, and values. 

We are an uprooted race with very tenuous connections to our past, and consequently, we have lost much of our national pride. We have adopted foreign standards and values which are perhaps appropriate for a country with a highly developed economy but certainly not for a struggling one like ours. We assiduously try to be Occidental in thinking and manners and this has distorted our policies especially toward our Asian neighbors. 

Needless to say, our fellow Asians do not have high regard for us.  Furthermore, because our command of this foreign language is inadequate, we imbibe only the most banal aspects of its culture

Its cultural achievements are beyond our comprehension. Instead of processing the best of both cultures as defenders of English like to claim, the majority of our people are acquainted only with the less edifying aspects of the foreign culture and have stifled the development of their native culture or influenced its meager development in a deplorable imitation of the foreign. 

Our native literature has not developed because we prefer foreign dime novels and comics. Our native theater was smothered in its infancy by our preference for American movies. On the other hand, the poor showing of Philippine films in competition with other Asian films may perhaps be traced to our loss of national individuality so that our films are only Tagalog versions of American movies, without distinct national flavor. Our native music has not had the chance to flower, because we are enamored with rock and roll. Truly, we have bartered our heritage for a mess of pottage and we are choking on it. 

Our Intellectual Captivity 

The predicament of our student population whose scholastic life is one of continuous struggle with the English language is one more case that bears out Rizal's thesis. Those who are honest among us will have to admit that our inadequate grasp of the nuances of the language is the greatest obstacle to our acquisition of knowledge. The hordes of semi-literate professionals that our educational system produces, year in and year out, are eloquent proof of the need for a change in our medium of instruction. Rizal was against the adoption of Spanish as the common language of our people. 

In the words of Simoun, which I quoted previously, Rizal clearly states his belief that the use of a foreign tongue as our common language would result in our intellectual captivity. We have not heeded his warning. Instead, our patriotic lawmakers have even imposed 24 units of Spanish on our already bewildered student population.  The social problems of Rizal's times are still our problems. It is not surprising that the people of Rizal's novels still live in our midst. Rizal drew them from real life; they are as real today. 

The Dona Victorinas who belittle the Filipinos and pretend to be Occidentals, the Capitan Tiagos who fawn upon and cringe before the powers that be, wining and dining them, and suffering their contempt so long as their businesses continue to prosper, never giving the plight of their fellowmen a moment's thought, the Senor Pastas who persist in a life of compromise and conformism --these are only a few of Rizal's gallery of characters who still inhabit the world our hero left so many years ago. 

Foreigners' Paradise 

We exhibit the same attitude toward Westerners which Rizal sought to expose in his works. In our country today, the foreigner out to make his fortune has the best chance of success. Many doors of opportunity are open to him. because we have gotten used to regarding the white man as our superior, we have accorded him more privileges than he would enjoy elsewhere.  Rizal must have seen many instances of this same attitude during his time, for many inhibits in his novels are good examples of this defect in our character. 

There was the case of the Spanish tax collector who was accidentally killed by Don Rafael Ibarra. here was an illiterate Spaniard who was given a fairly responsible job for which he has not the slightest qualification simply because he was a Spaniard and must therefore not demean himself with manual labor. Then there was the case of Don Tiburcio de Espanada who was accepted as a physician and charged high fees only because he had come from Spain, where, incidentally, the sum total of his medical experience had consisted in dusting off the benches and lighting the fires in a hospital. 

However as in the case today, too, this lame, toothless but white man was considered a better marital catch than any better-educated native.  Many of the important foreigners in our society today are prototypes of Don Custodio de Salazar y Sanchez de Monteredondo, a character of Rizal's El Fibusterismo who was considered learned and influential in this country, but who was a small and insignificant person in his native land.

The Custodios of today wield great power in the economic, social, and political life of our country, but like Rizal's Don Custodio, it is doubtful if these personages, had they remained in their homelands, could command a second look in the side streets of their neighborhood. 

A Broken People 

In the current move of the nationalist elements to instill the Filipino First ideal among our people, Rizal's words on the subject are most applicable. Those elements in our country who are still resisting the resurgence of nationalism should read Rizal's "The Philippines A Century Hence" and "The Indolence of the Filipinos" for in these essays he tried to show that centuries of systemic brutalization had transformed the proud, free Filipinos into a servile slave without individuality and pride. 

Rizal describes our degeneration in these words: ...They gradually lost their ancient traditions, their recollections, --they forgot their writings, their songs, their poetry, their laws in order to learn by heart other doctrines, which they did not understand, other ethics, other tastes, different from those inspired in their race by their climate and their way of thinking. Then there was a falling off, they were lowered in their own eyes, they became ashamed, of what was distinctly their own, in order to admire and praise what was foreign and incomprehensible., their spirit was broken and they acquiesced.  Rizal did not want us to acquiesce. he sought to instill in his countrymen a sense of pride in their past so that, proud of what had been, they would want to make the present and the future worthy of the past. 

When we try to re-establish our roots, when we try to rediscover our culture today, we are accomplishing what Rizal wanted his contemporaries to accomplish.  In "The Indolence of the Filipinos," Rizal rebuked his countrymen for their lack of nationalist sentiment by stating that "A man in the Philippines is only an individual. he is not a member of a nation."

Many Filipinos today, like the Filipinos Rizal was referring to, are working merely for their own interests, hardly taking into consideration the common good. Little men preoccupied with the pursuit of their petty personal goals, their apathy towards national questions spring from their circumscribed perspective and from their fear of arousing the powers that be.
  Like the people of Cabesang Tales' town, many of our compatriots would rather be on the safe side, protecting their own interests, even though this would mean acquiescing to some injustice perpetrated on their fellowmen. 

Conditioned to submission, resigned to foreign domination, their timidity, their vacillation dissipates the efforts of their more resolute countrymen to regain for all Filipinos the control of our national life. 

Basilios in Our Midst 

Rizal's Basilio is the prototype of these weak men. Basilio forgot his past, the murder of his brother Crispin, and the death of Sisa, his mother. These personal misfortunes were not enough to motivate him to work so that others would not be victims of the injustices his family has endured. he refused to join Simoun, not so much from disapproval of the latter's methods as from a personal indifference toward what he termed "political questions." 

His rationalization and this is a common one today, was that he was a man of science and therefore it was not his job to concern himself with anything more determined than the healing of the sick. Instead of making him more determined to defend his fellowmen from oppression, Basilio's personal experience with cruelty and injustice turned him into a timid man who wanted only to be left in peace in his little corner of the earth, enjoying a modicum of success. Only when this personal ambition was thwarted by his imprisonment after the incident of the pasquinades did Basilio decide to join Simoun. And even then, his aim was to avenge himself and not to help his fellowmen. 

From Asocial to Anti-Social Behaviour

If we read Rizal carefully, we will soon realize that his dream for our country can be attained only by a dedicated, hard-working, socially responsible citizenry. It is tragic, therefore, that there are so very many Basilios among us today. Basilio was essentially good. He was hard-working, did no one any harm. In an already stable and prosperous country, such citizens as Basilio might be desirable; but in Rizal's Philippines as well as in ours, where so many reforms are still needed, we should have men with a social conscience who will consider it their obligation to do more than just obey the laws. 

The Basilios will never move mountains. Instead, their desire for the fulfillment of their personal ambitions will make them temporize with tyranny, compromise with oppression, cross the street to avoid seeing injustice, look the other way to ignore corruption. Our students, our professionals today, often exhibit the qualities of Basilio. At best, they try to do their jobs competently but are indifferent to the issues and the problems that face our country. Those who start like Basilio but who do not possess his essential goodness degenerate from asocial individualism to definitely anti-social behavior in pursuit of their individualistic goals.

 They may hoard essential commodities and sell them at exorbitant prices, unmindful of the misery they are bringing to their countrymen. They may become dummies for foreign interests, corrupt government officials, servile mouthpieces of alien groups, ten percenters, influence peddlers, and cynical racketeers whom our corrupt society rewards with material wealth and even prestige. 

A Nation of Rizals 

Rizal was never like Basilio. He too suffered injustice early in life when he saw his mother unjustly imprisoned; but far from making him timid and afraid, it spurred him to work for justice and freedom, not for his family but for all Filipinos. Not only his death, but more importantly, his whole life gave evidence of his constant preoccupation with the problems of his country, his involvement in the movement against oppression, ignorance, poverty, and degradation.

 Rizal's personal goals were always in accordance with what he considered to be the best interest of the country. It is in this sense that we can say we need a nation of Rizals. But we do not need a hero to die for our country. We need a nation of heroes who will live and work with patriotic dedication to realize Rizal's dream. 

As long as we can still marvel at the contemporaneousness of Rizal, at his "timeliness," we must admit that many years after he has presented the problems, we have not yet taken the basic steps towards their solution. When a new generation of Filipinos will be able to read Rizal as a mirror of our past and not as a reproach to our social present, only then can we say that we have truly honored Rizal because we have made him obsolete by completing his work. 

From Dream to Reality 

We are still backward, ignorant, and to a great extent, unfree. That is why Rizal can still speak to us with the same sense of urgency and immediacy that he produced among his contemporaries. When he is no longer valid, we shall have become a truly great nation and Rizal will no longer be read for the social truths that he revealed. 

But to make him obsolete does not mean to forget him. On the contrary, only when we have realized Rizal's dream can we really appreciate his greatness because only then will we realize the great value of his ideals.  

When Rizal becomes obsolete, our society will no longer be infected with Dona Victorinas, because the triumph of nationalism will make us proud of our race. There will no longer be any Basilio because each and everyone will consider his manhood to be concerned only with personal, material success. We shall have no more Simouns motivated by personal revenge. Philippine society will frown on the Pasta and the other fawning and obsequious minor officials whose only interest is to retain their sinecures. 

A reorientation of our ways and our thoughts along nationalist lines will fulfill the dreams of Rizal and at the same time make them obsolete as goals because the dream has become a reality. 

  Source: The Filipinos in the Philippines and Other Essays by Renato Constantino, Malaya Books 1966

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