Jose Rizal (1861-1896)
Rizal was born on June 19, 1861, in Calamba, Laguna, the seventh child and the second son of the 11 children of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso. Rizal’s parents were not only well-to-do, but also well educated, a rarity among Filipino families then. His father, a sugar planter and landholder, attended a Latin school in his native Binan town, also in Laguna, and a college in Manila. His mother, who had a good business sense managed some small enterprise, also studies at a Manila college. Rizal was a precocious child. At the age of two, he could already recite the alphabet and, at four write sentences in Tagalog as well as Spanish. Rizal had his first formal education, which consisted of Latin and arithmetic, with a private tutor. He was about seven when his parents enrolled him at a school in town. But after only a few weeks, he told his parents that his teacher had nothing more to teach than that he already knew. He was thereupon allowed to study by himself at home. Virtually the same home-study arrangements was made after his father sent him to a Latin school in Binan, where he stayed with his relatives, except that the reason he did not last there was tow-fold: the schoolmaster was unimaginative and sadistic, and his relatives kept sloppy household. Rizal was at that age, or a little younger, when he started writing poems in Tagalog. He also wrote a short Tagalog comedy which was well received when it was staged in Calamba. His fascination for Tagalog poetry inspired him to write a poem on Tagalog itself, extolling it as an equal Spanish and other advanced languages. Sensitive and quite observant, Rizal, while still young, was already aware of the arrogant and condescending attitude of the frailocracy towards Filipinos, whom it often humiliated and maltreated. In June 1872, aged 11, Rizal started attending the Jesuit-run Ateneo Municipal in Intramuros, Manila. It was the best school in the country. At the Ateneo, his varied intellectual and artistic gifts began to develop and mature all at once. His command of Spanish also vastly improved, no doubt aided by his wide readings and his conscious effort to improve his already retentive memory. With new-found confidence, and encouraged by one of his teacher, he started writing in that language. Bemedalled and with a record of scholastic achievements that was unprecedented and, since then, unsurpassed, he finished his bachelor’s degree at the Ateneo when he was 15. Shortly after Rizal graduated from Ateneo, his father decided to send him to the University of Santo Thomas (UST), a Dominican institution, for further studies. He initially enrolled in metaphysics to humor his father, but as a practical alternative, took up land surveying at the Ateneo at the same time. Only on finding out, upon returning to Calamba for the Christmas vacation, that his mother was getting blind from a cataract-a condition her imprisonment could have brought on, did he make up his mind to study medicine, along with philosophy and letters. He did so starting in 1878, when he was 17. He did not excel in his medical studies, but in philosophy and letters, particularly poetry, he distinguished himself even outside campus. In 1879, his poem, "A La Juventud Filipino" ("To Philippine Youth") won first prize in a contest sponsored by Manila’s Liceo Artistico-Literario. In 1880, in another Liceo-sponsored literary contest, held in observance of the Spain’s most famous writer, Miguel de Cervantes, Rizal again won top prize-and national prominence, beating even peninsular Spaniard, writing in their own language. Even while he was at the Ateneo, the idea had occurred to Rizal that, to fulfil his mission, he would have to go abroad. Toward the latter part of his stay at UST, this idea-in confidential consultations with his brother Paciano, who shared and encouraged his emerging political attitudes and convictions - had firmed up. It is said that around 1876, the brothers had entered a...
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