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Dr. Jose Rizal (1861-1896)
by: Sir Felix O. Gonzales, KCR

Dr. Jose Rizal is the greatest hero of the Philippines. God has richly blessed Dr. Rizal with superb intellectual, moral, and physical qualities. His God-given talents, he highly consecrated, making him sacrifice his life for the redemption of his own people. He was born on June 19, 1861. Jose was the seventh of the eleventh child of Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonso Realonda.

When Jose was born, the delivery was extremely difficult. His mother almost died. Later Jose wrote, "my arrival in this valley of tears would have cost my mother her life had she not vowed to the Virgin of Antipolo that she would take me on a pilgrimage to that shrine." The boy was baptized by Rev. Rufino Collantes in the Catholic church in Calamba on June 22, 1861. The Rizal (Mercado) family was blessed with eleven children - two boys and nine girls. They were as follows: Saturnina, Paciano, Narcisa, Olympia, Lucia, Maria, JOSE, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad and Soledad. In 1849, Governor Claveria issued a decree that all Filipino families should choose new family names from a list of Spanish family names. Jose Francisco Mercado chose his own surname Rizal from the Spanish word ricial which means "green field" or "new pasture."

Jose was very frail when he was a little boy. He gets all the attention from both his parents, his aya (maid) and the rest of the family. At night, Mercado family would gather together the children to pray the Angelus. After the prayers, their mother would tell them stories of fairies, of buried treasures and other fabulous stories. But the death of Jose’s little sister Concha had hurt him so much. The death of his little sister was his first sorrow.

Before Jose went to Binan, Laguna for formal schooling, he has been proficient in the brush, chisel, penknife and the pen. He wrote a poem, entitled Sa King Mga Kababata (To My Fellow Children). From 1870 to 1871, Jose attended the private school of Maestro Justiniano Aquino Cruz. The school was a nipa house which is also the house of the teacher, not too far away from Jose’s aunt. He excelled in Spanish, Latin and other subjects. Time came when Jose learned all the things that Maestro Justiniano could teach him. He should be sent to college in Manila.

On June 10, 1872, Jose took the entrance examinations at the College of San Juan de Letran, and passed them all. His father changed his mind about sending Jose to Letran, instead decided to send him to Ateneo. On his first day in class, Jose was placed at the bottom of the class. After the first week, the frail boy progressed rapidly. At the end of the month, he was the brightest in the whole class. At the end of his second year in Ateneo, he received excellent grades in all subjects and a gold medal. Jose topped all his classmates in all subjects and won five medals at the end of the term. He graduated with the highest grades in all subjects. Jose received from Ateneo, the degree of Bachelor of Arts.

Jose Rizal finished his first year with a course of Philosophy and Letters, then he transferred to the medical course at the University of Sto. Tomas. The primary reason why he wants to enroll in medical school is to cure his mother’s failing eyesight and the Father Rector of the Ateneo recommended that he take a course in medicine.

Jose is very fortunate to be able to go to school in Manila. He studied at the Ateneo de Manila and the University of Sto. Tomas. In 1879, Artistic Literary Lyceum of Manila, a society of literary men and artists held a literary contest. Jose Rizal at that time only eighteen years old, submitted the poem, A La Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth) where he earned first prize. This was the first poem ever written by a native Filipino and it arose the nationalistic concept among the Filipinos.

Jose Rizal finished four years in a medical course at the University of Sto. Tomas. He was expecting to have gotten higher grades, but due to discrimination of the Dominican friars, Jose did not gain what he expected. Against the will of his parents, he left for Spain on May 3, 1882. After several weeks passing different towns and cities in France, Dr. Rizal arrived in Barcelona. He wrote the essay Amor Patrio (Love of Country), the first he wrote in Spain. He sent this essay to Manila to be published by the editorial staff of the Diariong Tagalog. He used the pen name Laong Laan.

On November 3, 1882, Rizal enrolled in the Universidad Central de Madrid in two courses - Medicine and Philosophy and Letters. He did everything to learn different skills while he was in Madrid. He knew that he has to prepare himself for service to his fatherland. He strictly budgeted his money and time. It was in Spain where he became a Mason. He adopted the Masonic Name Dimasalang belonging to the Masonic Lodge Acacia. On June 21, 1884, Rizal was awarded the degree of Licentiate in Medicine. The next academic year, he passed all subjects leading to the degree of Doctor of Medicine.

After completing his studies in Spain, Dr. Rizal went to Paris and Berlin to specialize in ophthalmology. In Paris, he worked as an assistant to Dr. Louis de Weckert, leading French ophthalmologists. On February 8, 1886, he arrived in Heidelberg. It was in Heidelberg, Germany where he finished his novel Noli Me Tangere. The sequel, El Filibusterismo followed soon when it was printed in Ghent on September 18, 1891. He later moved to the home of Pastor Karl Ullmer, in Wilhelmsfeld. In Heidelberg, he worked in the clinic of Dr. Javier Galezowsky, a Polish ophthalmologist and studied under Dr. Otto Becker, a German authority on ophthalmology. While in Berlin, Dr. Rizal was in deep financial trouble, Paciano could not send him enough money for his crop failed. Dr. Rizal’s health broke due to lack of proper nutrition.

Dr. Jose Rizal was about twenty-four years old when he wrote his first novel, Noli Me Tangere. He wrote the first half in Madrid and another quarter in Paris. It was finished in Germany on the 21st of February 1887. The Noli as it would be affectionately called, was printed in the Imprenta Lette, In Berlin. Two thousand copies were printed by March 1887 with the help of a loan of 300 copies form his friend Dr. Maximo Viola. Dr. Rizal dedicated his novel to his country. He himself explained that he wrote the Noli "to awaken the feelings of his countrymen." Proof of the success of his aim in writing the novel was the reaction to it by the friar and the Spanish government in the Philippines. It was pronounced heretical and subversive by the Church and State. Those who were caught in possession of it were subject to arrest and imprisonment. The Philippine government later purchased the manuscript for the Birth Centennial of Dr. Rizal, for the sum of twenty five-thousand pesos. It is presently stored in a vault on the National Library.

On August 6, 1887, he arrived in Manila. He reached Calamba on August 8 and was received by his family with great joy. He established a medical clinic in Calamba and he operated on his mother’s double cataract. News of the success of the operation spread far.

Dr. Rizal was forced to go abroad for the second time in February 1888. The reason why he left the Philippines was because he was hounded by a lot of his enemies. His novel, Noli exposed the deplorable conditions of tenancy in Calamba. The friars also want to eliminate Dr. Jose Rizal. During his stay in Hong Kong, he wrote to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt where he expressed his bitterness and frustrations in the Philippines. He went on with his journey and stayed in Japan for one and a half month. Her arrived in Yokohama and proceeded to Tokyo the next day. He was favorably impressed in the Japanese customs and culture of the people. He was particularly impressed by the beauty of the country, the cleanliness, politeness and industry of the Japanese. It was in Japan where Dr. Rizal met O-Sei-San. Dr. Rizal’s love for O-Sei-San was attested in his diary. On April 13, 1888 he boarded the English steamer, the Belgic bound for the United States.

The steamer arrived in San Francisco on April 28, 1888. After a week of quarantine, Dr. Rizal was allowed to land. Dr. Rizal registered at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on May 4, 1888. On May 6, 1888, he left San Francisco via a ferry to Oakland. He boarded a train on May 7 passing through Reno, Ogden, Denver and Salt Lake City. He passed through Omaha, Nebraska before reaching the Missouri River. On May 11, 1888, he passed by Chicago. He then proceeded through Niagara Falls, Canada. On May 13 he reached New York ending his trip across the United States. He left New York on May 16, 1888 for Liverpool, England on board the City of Rome.

In London, Dr. Rizal stayed at the home of Dr. Antonio Ma. Regidor, a practicing lawyer. Later, Dr. Rizal was a boarder of the Beckett family. Rizal spent much time in the British Museum concentrating over the pages of Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas and other historical works in the Philippines. He moved to Paris in March 1889. He found it difficult to find a place to live in for all the rates are beyond his means. He shared quarters with two other Filipinos - Capitan Justo Trinidad and Jose Albert. Dr. Rizal continued to study French and could speak and write it like a Frenchman. At the end of March, he organized his paisanos into a society called Kidlat Club. It was in Paris that he finished the annotated edition of Morga’s Sucessos and printed by Garnier Freres. The idea of establishing a college for Filipinos in Hong Kong was conceived in Paris. Unluckily, the idea never materialized. However, Dr. Rizal was able to establish a school for boys in Dapitan.

Dr. Rizal moved to Brussels on January 28, 1890 due to two reasons. The cost of living in Paris is very high and his social life hampers his literary works. Rizal was busy writing the El Filibusterismo and still finds time in writing articles for the La Solidaridad. He took a part time job in the medical clinic. He received sad news regarding his family and so he made the decision to go back to the Philippines. By early August 1890, Rizal arrived in Madrid to try all legal means to seek justice for his family and the Calamba tenants. He asked the help of the Association Hispano-Filipina and the Spanish newspaper La Justicia, El Dia, El Globo, La Republica and El Resumen. Nothing came out of Rizal’s efforts to seek justice for his fellow men back home. His frustrations turned him back to Briarritz, Belgium to stay for a while with the Boustead family. However, he decided to go back to Brussels to finish his second novel.

He began writing the El Filibusterismo in Calamba. While in London, he made some changes in the plot and revised some chapters. He made more chapters in Paris, Madrid and Briarritz. He finished the manuscript on March 29, 1891 and had it printed in Ghent. The El Filibusterismo came out of the press on September 18, 1891. On October 18, 1891, Dr. Rizal boarded the steamer Melbourne for Hong Kong. During his voyage he started to write his third novel in Tagalog. This novel was intended for the Tagalog readers but never finished the work. He arrived in Hong Kong where he was joined by his family who was in exile due to persecution from the Spanish authorities. Dr. Rizal conceived the establishment of a Filipino colony in Borneo. He planned to move the landless Filipino families in that virgin wilderness and call it "New Calamba." In April 1892, Dr. Rizal went to Borneo to negotiate with the British authorities and his mission was a success. He planned to settle at Bengkoka River in Maradu River. The British government was willing to give the Filipino colonist 100,000 acres of land free of all charges for 999 years.

On June 26, 1892, Rizal arrived in Manila. A week later, he founded the Liga Filipina. Four days later, he was arrested and exiled to Dapitan. He wasted no time during his deportation where he even enriched his life there by practicing medicine, conducting scientific researches, engaging in business and farming. In February 1895, Doña Teodora returned to Manila. Upon her request, he wrote a poem in Dapitan entitled Mi Retiro. Josephine Bracken arrived in Dapitan on February 1895 with a blind man named Mr. Taufer. They came all the way from Hong Kong to get medical help from Dr. Jose Rizal. Dr. Rizal and Josephine fell in love with each other but were refused by Father Obach without the permission of the Bishop of Cebu. Since no priest would marry them, Dr. Rizal and Josephine held hands together and married themselves before the eyes of God. Josephine had a miscarriage to an eight-month baby boy, who lived only for three hours. Dr. Rizal named his lost son Francisco in honor of his father. The baby boy was buried in Dapitan. On July 31, 1896, Dr. Rizal’s exile was over.

Dr. Rizal left for Cuba where he hoped to contribute his medical skill to combat the yellow fever epidemic. He was arrested and was brought back to Manila and imprisoned at Fort Santiago. His trial by court-martial on December 26, 1896 was a farce. Dr. Rizal was given the only right to choose his own counsel. He chose Don Luis Taviel de Andrade who is the brother of his own bodyguard in Calamba in 1887. He was accused of three crimes: rebellion, sedition and illegal association. The verdict was death by firing squad and was executed on December 30, 1896 at Bagumbayan. On the eve of his execution, he wrote his Mi Ultimo Adios which he hid in an alcohol cooking stove (other authors claim it as a lamp) and gave it to her sister Trinidad. The following morning he was marched to Bagumbayan. He was dressed elegantly in black suit. His arms were tied behind from elbow to elbow. The Spanish captain was in strict orders to shoot Dr. Rizal on his back. Dr. Rizal with all his might, turned sharply to the firing squad his bullet riddled body and fell dead facing upward to the rising sun. It was exactly 7:03 a.m. when he died. He died a traitor to Spain. Dr. Rizal lives as a martyr to fighting for freedom. As his famous words we quote Non Omnis Moriar (Not Everything In Me Will Die).


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