Who Made Rizal Our Foremost National Hero, and Why?
BY: ESTEBAN A. DE OCAMPO
Dr. Jose Rizal Mercado y Alonso, or simply Jose Rizal (1861-1896), is unquestionably the greatest hero & martyr of our nation. The day of his birth & the day of his execution are fittingly commemorated by all classes of our people throughout the length & breadth of this country & even by Filipinos & their friends abroad. His name is a byword in every Filipino home while his picture adorns the postage stamp & paper money of widest circulation. No other Filipino hero can surpass Rizal in the number of towns, barrios, & streets named after him; in the number of educational institutions, societies, & trade names that bear his name; in the number of persons, both Filipinos & foreigners, who were named "Rizal" or "Rizalina" because of their parents’ admiration for the Great Malayan; & in the number of laws, Executive Orders & Proclamations of the Chief Executive, & bulletins, memoranda, & circulars of both the bureaus of public & private schools. Who is the Filipino writer & thinker whose teachings & noble thoughts have been frequently invoked & quoted by authors & public speakers on almost all occasions? None but Rizal. And why is this so? Because as biographer Rafael Palma (1) said, "The doctrines of Rizal are not for one epoch but for all epochs. They are as valid today as they were yesterday. It cannot be said that because the political ideals of Rizal have been achieved, because of the change in the institutions, the wisdom of his counsels or the value of his doctrines have ceased to be opportune. They have not." Unfortunately, however, there are still some Filipinos who entertain the belief that Rizal is a "made-to-order" national hero, & that the maker or manufacturer in this case were the Americans, particularly Civil Governor William Howard Taft. This was done allegedly, in the following manner: "And now, gentlemen, you must have a national hero". These were supposed to be the words addressed by Gov. Taft to Mssrs. Pardo de Tavera, Legarda & Luzurriaga, Filipino members of the Philippine Commission, of which Taft was the chairman. It was further reported that "in the subsequent discussion in which the rival merits of the revolutionary heroes (M. H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Gen. Antonio Luna, Emilio Jacinto, & Andres Bonifacio—O.) were considered, the final choice—now universally acclaimed a wise one—was Rizal. And so history was made."(2) This article will attempt to answer two questions: 1) Who made Rizal the foremost national hero & 2) Why is Rizal our greatest national hero? Before proceeding to answer these queries, it will be better if we first know the meaning of the term hero. According to Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, a hero is "a prominent or central personage taking admirable part in any remarkable action or event". Also, "a person of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger". And finally, he is a man "honored after death by public worship, because of exceptional service to mankind". Why is Rizal a hero, nay, our foremost national hero? He is our greatest hero because as a towering figure in the Propaganda Campaign, he took an "admirable part" in that movement w/c roughly covered the period from 1882-1896. If we were asked to pick out a single work by a Filipino writer during this period, more than any writer writing, contributed tremendously to the formation of Filipino nationality, we shall have no hesitation tin choosing Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (Berlin, 1887). It is true that Pedro Paterno published his novel, Ninay, in Madrid in 1885; M. H. del Pilar his La Soberania Monacal in Barcelona in 1889, Graciano Lopez Jaena, his Discursos y Articulos Varios, also in Barcelona in 1891; & Antonio Luna, his Impresiones in Madrid in 1893, but none of these books had evoked such favorable & unfavorable comments from friends & foes alike as did Rizal’s Noli. Typical of the encomiums that the...
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