Maligayang kaarawan, Ka Pepe!  

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It's June 19 once again... the 148th anniversary of the birth of the Pride of the Malay Race--- Dr. Jose Rizal. While the NHI had his house painted green in his memory (the surname Rizal is after all derived from "ricial" meaning "green field") to the great consternation of many Calambenyos, Congressman Jaime Lopez sought to have him honored by moving Rizal Day from December 30 (his death anniversary) to June 19.

What can we say, really, about a man whose life and death have become the stuff of legend? Stories abound about him... his childhood prophecies about his own fate, childhood anecdotes that later on were pointed out as exemplification of his unique character, his experiences in foreign countries (and with foreign women), his writings, and ultimately his execution.

As I helped with the creation of the companion video to the Asuncion Lopez Bantug book Lolo Jose last year, we talked to many of the Rizal relatives, who recounted some of their family lore about their illustrious forebear (Bantug is herself the great-niece of Rizal, the granddaughter of one of his sisters).

Among those we interviewed was Francisco Rizal Lopez, a spry nonagenarian who was the grandson of Paciano, Jose's only brother. He recounted stories about being brought up by Paciano in a house by Laguna de Bay, and of hearing Paciano talk about his younger brother Jose.

He told us about Rizal's ill-fated love for Leonor Rivera, whose mother thought Jose "was not very stable" for her daughter. So Mrs. Rivera made her daughter marry another. Leonor agreed because she thought Jose had forgotten her. Both Leonor and Jose did not know that Leonor's mother had been intercepting all their letters to each other. On the eve of her marriage, Leonor was told by her mother about the letters. When she asked for them, she was told that she could not have them, because it was unseemly for a married woman to keep the love letters of another man not her husband. Leonor negotiated a compromise: the letters would be burned, and she would be allowed to keep the ashes. She put them in a box tied with a ribbon. Because of her mother's perfidy, Leonor vowed never to play the piano again-- one of her major accomplishments was that she played the piano beautifully. And she never played the piano again. She died in childbirth less than a year after her marriage.

When Rizal, then in Dapitan, heard of Leonor's death from one of his sisters, so Lolo Francisco said, it was as if he had been struck dumb. He went out to his little house in the garden and stayed there for a long time. He would not talk. He would not eat. He mourned for Leonor. It was only after Leonor's death that he married Josephine Bracken.

Stories like this made me realize that Rizal was a hero, yes, but he was also human. He was just better at many things than most other people, but he was also a son, a brother, a lover and a husband. Unfortunately he does not have any direct descendants, barring the urban legends floating around that Mao and Hitler were his offspring. I wonder what would have happened had his son by Josephine lived. Would he have been cherished by the nation as his father's memory is, and would he have grown up to bring more honor to that memory?

Whatever. All I know is, the nation and the world were definitely all the richer because there once was a Dr. Jose Rizal.

Happy birthday, Rizal. May the people you gave your life for, not disgrace your memory.

This entry was posted at Friday, June 19, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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