To expound on “Rizal and the Philippine Culture” as I am privileged to do so on this commemorative occasion, is for a Filipino, to speak with a sense of national dignity and pride. For José Protacio Rizal y Mercado, who staunchly identified himself with his countrymen and invariably proclaimed his status as Filipino, is the unparalleled epitome of Philippine culture at its best. Truly “a pearl of a man” before the eyes of the world, he exemplified the vast potentialities and capabilities of the Filipino which, in turn, reflect the cultural climate of his country.
There has been, to this day, no exponent of Philippine culture as remarkable as Rizal. Dedicating his life to the supreme ideal of national redemption and progress for his fellow citizens, he preached the gospel of the people’s solidarity as a basic prerequisite to an independent, sound and strong statehood, and recognizing the unifying and galvanizing power of a national culture, he spared no effort to ascertain, make out and distinguish the main features and characteristics of the Philippine culture, stressed its imprint as our common heritage, and imparted thereto the spirit of his versatile and universal genius.
Rizal’s genuine concern and regard for our native culture – either as “a particular form or type of intellectual development,” or as “the intellectual or artistic content of civilization,” or as “the total pattern of behavior and its products embodied in thought, speech, action and artifacts and dependent upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations….” or “the body of customary beliefs, social forms and material traits constituting a distinct complex of tradition of a racial, religious or social group…” as the term culture is often described – was manifest and incontestable. Indeed, a nation that would give up its cultural patrimony in favor of one of alien vintage cannot but be doomed to become, as Rizal had aptly put it, “a people without a soul.”
Thus, he strove zealously to awaken in his countrymen a meaningful awareness of their indigenous culture and to develop in them a suitable appreciation thereof. He undertook, for instance, to annotate Morga’s “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas” for the purpose – as he revealed it, in an intro0ductory note addressed “to the Filipinos” – of making “our past known so as to better judge the present assess our movement in three centuries.” He did everything he could to preserve and promote the cultural advancement of his countrymen. Thus, not only did he write in then Tagalog dialect, now – Filipino language. He, likewise, engaged himself in serious studies of that language in order to develop it and establish or give thereto its scientific basis. The fundamental nature of his commitment to this task is made more obvious by the circumstance that, even while only eight years of age, he said, in a poem dedicated to his fellow children:
Whoever knows not how to love his native tongue is worse than any beast or evil smelling fish. To make our language richer ought to be our wish the same as any mother loves to feed her young
It is however, a well-known fact that Rizal was not a blind, bigoted and intolerant nationalist. He stood not only for the preservation and development of Philippine culture, cleansed of its imperfections. He also favored the freest possible assimilation of the best there is in the culture of other lands. And, the wisdom of such course of action found a living proof in his superb personality. In fact, it is difficult to subdue my sense of elation and pride as citizen of the Philippines whenever I recall that Rizal, who was prouder than anyone else of being a Filipino, had so many sterling qualities in a superlative degree that one unwittingly wishes he had, at least, some of them.
As the Austrian scholar, Ferdinand Blumentritt – a good friend and great admirer of Rizal – had...