ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines – More than a century after Jose Rizal tried to create his ideal society in the remote lonely town of Dapitan here, Dapitanons are being challenged to reflect on the relevance of the national hero in their lives today.
“I believe this year’s theme ‘Jose Rizal: Huwaran ng Pilipino sa Ika-21 Siglo (Jose Rizal: Model in the 21st century) is very much relevant as it is an admission that nothing much has changed in our society since he died,” said Rex Angelo Hamoy, an official of the Dapitan Historical Society.
In an interview, Hamoy explained that “during (Rizal’s) time as it is today, there was discrimination, inequality in the application of the laws, rampant corruption that placed the indios in a very deplorable situation.”
Indios refer to Filipinos who occupied the lowest social classification in the country under Spanish rule.
Hamoy, a history professor at the Jose Rizal Memorial State University here, added that it was because of these inequalities that Rizal wanted to change our society “the way President Rodrigo Duterte wants it changed.”
But Hamoy insisted that reforms should not be done through bloody means, but through education, as Rizal wanted.
Asked how Rizal can be a model for Dapitanons and Filipinos in general, he said, “First we can pursue quality education so that we cannot be fooled or blinded by others.”
He cited Rizal’s letter to the women of Malolos where he advised them that “God, fountain of wisdom, does not expect man, created in His image, to allow himself to be fooled and blinded.”
In today’s age of social media, Hamoy asked how many Filipinos have always been victims of “fake news.”
“How many of us accept as Gospel truth the rantings of media personalities who glorify one and degrade the other?” he said, adding that this has deeply divided Filipinos, a modern-day factionalism that also plagued Philippine society under Spain.
“But if we have quality education, we would be capable of recognizing fact from fiction so that we can move forward without being tangled in the snags of factionalism,” he added.
Hamoy said Rizal has taught Filipinos “how to give the best of ourselves in the worst circumstances.”
Rizal was a cosmopolitan, educated in the Philippines and in Europe and traveled to other countries, but was suddenly exiled to Dapitan.
Yet in his exile in Dapitan, Rizal was able to live the final years of his life to the full. Hamoy said it was in Dapitan where Rizal used his knowledge and talents in ophthalmology, engineering, arts, agriculture, and teaching, among others.
It was like Rizal was thrown to hell, but managed to find paradise, Hamoy said.
“And it came to his mind to make Dapitan his ideal society – a society whose people are educated, have great love for their country, having a sense of civil service, are economically advanced, and taking care of each other,” he said.
Hamoy said that Filipinos should also learn from how Rizal engaged with people from all walks of life.
“When in Dapitan, Rizal was always the first to greet the people he met,” Hamoy said. “Asked why he did so, Rizal answered it is up to the more educated to lead and give an example so others may learn.”
Today, Hamoy said Filipinos are still far from attaining Rizal’s ideals of what our society should be because the social evils he fought before persist to this day.
“While there are no more Spaniards who take advantage of Filipinos, it is sad to know that it is now Filipinos who are taking advantage of their fellow countrymen,” Hamoy said. “I hope we can still change ourselves, the way Rizal wanted us to be.” – Rappler.com