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Sa Aking Mga Kababata Rizal Analysis Essay

The first stanza speaks that Rizal wants us to love our own language and it is a gift from above that was given onto us to be grateful of. It is a blessing that like any other nationalities we were gifted of. We are aware that Rizal was motivated to write this poem during the time of Spanish supremacy because we were under their colony. He addresses us to love our language for it is our step towards liberty. As Rizal correlated it to a bird that can freely fly up in the sky, it has a will to fly wherever it wants to go and whatever it wants to do. But if this bird is in a howl like us, Filipinos, who cannot stand for what we believe is right, we will never experience independence.

The next stanza implies that a nation that loves a God-given language also loves freedom. “For language is the final judge and reference upon the people in the land where it holds and sway.” A Filipino who loves his native tongue will definitely fight for his freedom seemingly like a bird “lumilipad nang pagkataas-taas para sa mas malawak na liliparan”, a person who preserves the marks of its liberty, as man preserve his independence. Language is not merely a communication tool but as an expression of one’s identity, of one’s individual and social consciousness. Without a common identity, there could be no real sense of nationhood. Love and use of one’s native tongues was one of the badges of a true patriot .

In the succeeding stanza, Rizal compared the person who doesn’t love his native tongue from a putrid fish. Just like a fish which originally lives in water, stinks every time it goes out of its place. Like some of the Filipinos that we could observe, we could see that when they have reached a foreign country and adapted the foreign language and culture, they tend to forget their own. And as they have adapted that culture, they will be so haughty to despise and scorn their own fellowmen. They hide and cover their identity for being a Filipino even though it’s very discernible. They just make themselves look foolish and shameful. And with the last two lines from the third stanza, Rizal addressed to us that our own language must be cherished and should not be forgotten because it’s a very valuable possession of our own country.

Fascination when we discovered that Rizal was just an eight-year-old lad when he wrote this poem. At a very young age and a boy who grew up speaking several languages, it is very inspiring to hear someone say these lyrics with such great nationalism with great love of his own tongue. Reflecting our past, we saw ourselves unconsciously patronizing foreign languages. We wanted to be those whites who have slang tongues. Where have our native tongues has gone? We were gaining colonial mentality without our awareness. The bad news is, we allow it to happen. And what Rizal was trying to resound is that even our very own

Finally, the last stanza implies that we, just like the other nations existing, have its own exceptional characteristics that we can be greatly proud of, those distinct qualities of being a Filipino such that the blood itself that runs through your veins, the culture, and your innate YOU is a certified Filipino that you can never obliterate. Sad to say, the cornerstones established by our forefathers to come up with a better country is now into annihilation…Annihilation caused by the influx of challenges doomed to spoil what we have


Jose Rizal was then eight years old when he wrote this poem because he wanted to reveal his earliest nationalist sentiment. In the poetic verses, he proudly and pompously asserted that a people who trully love their native language will definitely srtive for liberty like the bird which soars to freer space above. Indeed, he is a great hero! was dedicated to the Filipino Youth.

Interpretation of “My first inspiration”

The word “inspiration” has two levels of meaning: the conventional one we use every day and the root meaning rarely used in modern language but always present as a connotation of the other: (1) Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity, and (2) The act of breathing in; the inhalation of air into the lungs.

This poem speaks to (2) in the first stanza: the breathing in of sweet aromas on what is declared to be a “festive day.” The second stanza moves to the sweet, musical sound of birds singing in the woods and vales on such a day. The third stanza, of course, begins to merge the two images in a subtle way: the birds “start” to sing (or are startled into singing) by the sound of the wind blowing. The wind would supply them breath for singing, but it also seems to “inspire” their singing, as in (1) above; that is, it stimulates them to a high level of activity. In the fourth stanza, the spring of water tunes its murmur likewise to the sound of the breezes (zephyrs) as it flows along among the flowers.

Hence, in this first half of the poem we have music of birds and brook “inspired” by the wind; that is, the very air we breathe. And also we breathe the fragrance of the flowers (among which the brook flows), for it is borne on the wind. The imagery of these first four stanzas is, thus, neatly tied together, giving us a sense of the festivity of a beautiful spring day in nature. The poem could be complete at this point; it would be a sweet little nature poem, a song.

But the poem moves in a different direction now. Why does this day seem so much brighter, more beautiful than others? Why is morning brighter today? The next two stanzas answer this question. The poem, it turns out, is addressed to the speaker’s mother, and it is her day of “blooming” (birthday, probably). The perfume of the flowers, the songs of the birds, and the sound of the bubbling brook all celebrate her day, they “feast” in her honor. They wish her all the best: “Live happily ever after.” Now the poem becomes more fragile, more understated. For one’s “dear mother” is also one’s inspiration–there at one’s first breath in life, there to move one toward creative acts or ideas. But to say that in so many words would be trite and sentimental. So in the last stanza the speaker acts out the feeling. Joining the music of the brook (and of the birds and the winds), the speaker will play upon a lute. The mother is asked to turn from Nature to Human art, from the birds and the brook to the sound of the lute expressing emotion wordlessly. And what is the “inspiration” that moves the lutist to play? Why, “the impulse of my love.”

The speaker’s love for the mother. The mother’s love reflected in her child. This is the first sound of music, which is inspired by the mother/child love; but, indeed, the whole poem–the music of its verses–has already been inspired also in the same way. I think you should be warned, however, that is not THE interpretation of Rizal’s poem (indeed, it is an interpretation of a translation, which may or may not accurately reflect the original–especially with its carefully, but somewhat laboriously rhymed stanzas, ABBA). Therefore, this is MY interpretation. There will be as many as there are readers, and one’s written interpretation never adequately conveys one’s experience of the poem–which will always be beyond words. It is, furthermore, merely AN interpretation. There will be as many others as there are readers. I am curious: what is YOUR interpretation. That’s what’s important to you. I hope mine may have been helpful to you, but it cannot be definitive.


Mi Primera Inspiracion (My First Inspiration)-was dedicated to his mother on her birthday.He was delighted to see his mother, Doña Teodora Alonso, released from prison that same year so he dedicated the poem to her.

Interpretation of “My last Farewell”


The first stanza speaks about Rizal’s beautiful description of his Fatherland. He used the biblical Eden to describe the Pre-Hispanic Philippines which is an imaginary time of purity and innocence. He adores the beautiful country that he and others are fighting for. He said that he is glad to give his life to Filipinas even though his life was brighter, fresher, or more blest than it is now – pertaining to the time when he wrote the poem.

The second stanza speaks about the men who gave their life to his beloved country. Rizal said that their dedication and patriotism to the country is without second thoughts. It doesn’t matter how one struggles, that all struggles, all deaths, are worth it if it is for the good of the country.

The third stanza speaks about Rizal’s love of liberty. The image of dawn that Rizal used in the first line signifies the liberation that he adores. In the third and fourth line, he says that if the colour of liberation lacks his blood, he must die for the country to attain freedom.

The fourth stanza presents the flashback of Rizal’s love for the patria that started when he was young. He was young when he saw the martyrdom of the GOMBURZA and promised that he would dedicate himself to avenge one day for those victims. His dreams were to see his country in eminent liberation, free from sorrow and grief.

The fifth stanza repeats Rizal’s dream of complete liberation. “All Hail!” signifies that he is positively welcoming the dawn of freedom after his death. He also repeats what he has said in the third stanza that it is his desire to dedicate his life to the Patria.

The sixth stanza describes the image of Rizal’s grave being forgotten someday. The grassy sod may represent the country’s development, the growth of liberty, and that with the redemption of the country, he becomes forgotten. Rizal does not say here that he wants monuments, streets, or schools in his name, just a fond kiss and a warm breath so he could feel he is not forgotten.

In the seventh stanza, Rizal says he wants to see or feel the moon, dawn, wind, and a bird over his grave. The moon’s beam may represent a night without its gloom like a country without its oppressors. The imagery of dawn has been repeated here and its radiant flashes represent the shining light of redemption that sheds over his honour. Only the wind will lament over his grave. The bird does not lament him but sings of peace, the peace that comes with liberation and the peace with which he rests below.

In the eighth stanza, the metaphor of the sun drawing the vapors up to the sky signifies that the earth is being cleansed by the sun like taking away the sorrows and tears that has shed including his last cry. Line 3 reminds us to remember why he died – for the redemption of the country. And he wants to hear a prayer in the still evening – evening because he may also want to see a beam of light from the moon which he stated in the stanza 7, and that it is before the dawn. Prayers he stated that will make him rest in peace in God’s hands.

Rizal said in the ninth stanza that he also wants his fellowmen to also pray for others who also have died and suffered for the country. Also pray for the mothers, the orphans and widows, and the captives who also have cried and have tortured, and again, for his soul to rest in peace.

The tenth stanza says that Rizal’s tomb is on the graveyard with the other dead people. Rizal says that in the night, he does not want to be disturbed in his rest along with the others and the mystery the graveyard contains. And whenever we hear a sad song emanating from the grave, it is he who sings for his fatherland.

In the eleventh stanza, Rizal says a request that his ashes be spread by the plough before it will no longer take significance. His ashes represent his thoughts, words, and philosophy making it his intellectual remains. The symbolic ashes should be spread all over Filipinas to fertilize the new free country long after he is forgotten.

The twelfth stanza again speaks about being forgotten but Rizal does not care about it anymore. Oblivion does not matter for he would travel far and wide over his beloved fatherland. He keeps his faith with him as he sings his hymn for the nation.

Rizal says goodbye to his adored Fatherland in the thirteenth stanza. He gives goodbye to his parents, friends, and the small children. He gives everything to Filipinas. Now, he satisfies his death by saying he will be going to a place where there is peace – no slaves, no oppressors, no killed faith. He is going to a place where God rules over – not the tyrants.

Finally, in the last stanza, Rizal cries his farewell to all his fellowmen – his childhood friends, and his sweet friend that lightened his way. In the last line, he repeats that “In Death there is rest!” which means that he, being ready to be executed, is happy to die in peace.


As the name (which Rizal himself did not give) suggests, this patriotic poem was Rizal’s final farewell to the land he so adored before being executed by firing squad. Since he arranged to have it delivered to his sister Narcisa he did intend that it should be published. Presumably it was intended to serve as a rallying cry to his fellow patriots who opposed the Spanish subjugation.

Rizal dedicated this poem to his dear fatherland

Jose Rizal talks about his “Goodbyes” to his dear Fatherland where his love is dedicated to. He wrote it on the evening before his execution.

Interpreation of to “the Filipino youth “

In the poem Rizal praises the benefits that Spain had bestowed upon the Philippines. Rizal had frequently depicted the renowned Spanish explorers, generals and kings in the most patriotic manner. He had pictured Education (brought to the Philippines by Spain) as “the breath of life instilling charming virtue”. He had written of one of his Spanish teachers as having brought “the light of the eternal splendor”. In this poem, however, it is the Filipino Youth who are the protagonists, whose “prodigious genius” making use of that education to build the future, was the “Bella esperanza de la Patria Mia!” (beautiful hope of the motherland).

Spain, with “Pious and wise hand” offered a “crown’s resplendent band, offers to the sons of this Indian land.” In the poem Rizal praises the benefits that Spain had bestowed upon the Philippines. Rizal had frequently depicted the renowned Spanish explorers, generals and kings in the most patriotic manner. He had pictured Education (brought to the Philippines by Spain) as “the breath of life instilling charming virtue”. He had written of one of his Spanish teachers as having brought “the light of the eternal splendor”. In this poem, however, it is the Filipino Youth who are the protagonists, whose “prodigious genius” making use of that education to build the future, was the “Bella esperanza de la Patria Mia!” (beautiful hope of the motherland). Spain, with “Pious and wise hand” offered a “crown’s resplendent band, offers to the sons of this Indian land.”

“A la juventud filipina” was written by Rizal when he was only eighteen years old, and was dedicated to the Filipino Youth.

Dr. Jose Rizal composed the peom, To The Filipino Youth, to the youth of the Philippines. He wanted the Filipino youth to use their abilities and skills to excel not only for their success but also for the success of the country. Dr. Jose Rizal wanted us to develop our talents and use them to help those who are in need.

Interpretation of “They ask a verses”

He wrote this because he was actually asked for verses. He reminisced his childhood days. It can be seen in the poem how he missed the Philippines very much and how painful it is for him to leave his motherland.


NAGA CITY, 1980 [with 2011 Author’s Notes] — “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” (“To My Fellow Children”) is known as the first poem of Jose Rizal. It was written in 1869, when Rizal was only eight years old. Unlike most of Rizal’s poems which were originally written in Spanish, this one was originally written in Tagalog. This was but apt as its message is love of the native tongue. This message is clearest in the oft-quoted first two lines of the third stanza (English translation by Frank C. Laubach):

Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita
mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda.

(Whosoever knows not how to love his native tongue
Is worse than any beast or evil smelling-fish.

The other points made in elaboration of this message shows a profundity amazing for an eight-year-old child. These are the same points Rizal makes and develops in later and much more nature writings. Take the first and second stanzas of the poem:

Kapag ang baya’y sadyang umiibig
sa kanyang salitang kaloob ng langit,
sanlang kalayaan nasa ring masapit
katulad ng ibong nasa himpapawid.

Pagka’t ang salita’y isang kahatulan
sa bayan, sa nayo’t mga kaharian,
st ang isang tao’y katulad, kabagay
ng alin mang likha noong kalayaan.

(Whenever people of a country truly love
The language which by heaven they were taught to use,
That country also surely liberty possesses
as does the bird which soars to freer space above.)

For language is the final judge and referee
Upon the people in the land where it holds sway;
In truth our human race resembles in this way
The other living beings born in liberty.)

Rizal points out the relationship between love of the native tongue and love of freedom, and the role played by language for a people. There is a dialectical, reciprocal or mutually reinforcing relationship between the native tongue and freedom. On one hand, it is only under freedom, more precisely national freedom, that the native tongue can flourish. On the other, use of the native tongue helps preserve national freedom. [2011 Author’s Note: And more so for minority than for majority peoples. At present, among the internationally recognized human rights of minorities are the right to preserve and develop their own culture, religion, and language. This is of particular relevance to the Mindanao peace process.]

As Rizal’s character Simoun put it in El Filibusterismo (1891): ”…while a people preserves its language, it preserves the mark of its liberty, as a man preserves his independence while he holds sway to his own way of thinking. Language is the thought of the people.” It is precisely the last point that is Simoun’s basis for saving that “Spanish will never be the general language of the country, the people will never talk it, because the conceptions of their nrains and the feelings of their hearts cannot be expressed in that language – each people has its own tongue, as it has its own way of thinking.” The same may be said of English which is presently one of the official languages and is the principal medium of instruction.

In “Our Task: To Make Rizal Obsolete” (in his book Filipinos in the Philippines), Renato Constantino notes: “One of the tragedies of our country today is that, though formally independent, our people can understand each other (though imperfectly at that) only by means of a language not their own. This is one result of centuries of colonial rule, and we are all its victims. Rizal considered our need for a foreign language as our general medium of communication, both ridiculous and pathetic. He warned strongly about the dangers of a foreign language taking the place of our own.”

Constantino notes what is perhaps the greatest danger and in the process shows why use of the native tongue helps preserve national freedom: “By using a foreign language as our basic means of communication, we lay ourselves open, without any defenses, to the incursions of a foreign culture. Where the language barrier would have served to temper the flow of this cultural invasion, affording us the opportunity of intelligent, deliberate and selective assimilation, the irresistible influx of foreign culture for which our use of the foreign language has opened the way, has swept aside our native traditions, manners and values.”

Take the last two lines of the third stanza of “Sa Aking Mga Kabata”:

kaya ang marapat pagyamaning kusa
na tulad sa inang tunay na nagpala.

(To make our language richer ought to be our wish
The same as any mother loves to feed her young.

Rizal showed here a very positive attitude about the development of the native tongue. Positive not only in desiring its development but also in recognizing its capacity for development. [2011 Author’s Note: The mention of “ina” (“mother”) supports the current educational advocacy for Mother-Tongue Based Instruction or Multilingual Education. And “mother tongue” or “native tongue” is not necessarily the national language, the currently mainly Tagalog-based Filipino, but it could be any of the regional languages like Bikol.]

This brings us to the fourth and fifth stanza of “Sa Aking Mga Kabata”:

Ang wikang tagalog tulad din sa latin,
sa ingles, kastila at salitang anghel,
sa pagka ang Poong maalam tumingin
ang siyang nag-gawad, nagbigay sa atin.

Ang salita nati’y huad din sa iba
na may alfabeto at sariling letra,
na kaya’y nawala’y dinatnan ng sigwa
ang lunday sa lawa noong dakong una.

(Tagalog and the latin language are the same
And English and Castillian and the angel’s tongue
And God, whose watchful care o’er all is flung,
Has given us his blessing in the speech we claim.

Our mother tongue, like all the highest that we know
Had alphabet and letters of its very own;
But these were lost – by furious waves were overthrown
like bancas in the stormy sea, long years ago.)

Rizal puts Tagalog on par with such world language as Latin, English and Spanish. His basis for doing so is given in the first two lines of the fifth stanza. This is similar to what Father Pedro Chirino wrote in his historical book Relacion de las Islas Filipinas (1604) about Tagalog: “I found in this language four qualities of the four greatest languages of the world – Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Spanish.”

Of course, at eight years of age, Rizal had not yet read Chirino. He would read Chirino as part of his historical research for his Annotations (1889) to Morga’s historical book Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (1609). But by eight years of age, Rizal was already exposed to Latin and Spanish though not yet to English (to which he would be exposed to only after his first departure from the Philippines in 1880).

What is more amazing is that at such an early age he was aware of the ancient or pre-colonial Filipino syllabary. The last two lines of the fifth stanza could very well be an allusion of the fact that “the friars had burned and destroyed the artifacts of pre-colonial culture as the handiwork of the devil” (to use a formulation from Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution). Although it is doubtful that, at eight years of age, Rizal knew about this. He would know more about the ancient Filipinos syllabary and the destruction of pre-colonial artifacts in the course of his historical research for his Annotations to Morga. The destruction of pre-colonial artifacts was part of cultural subjugation that was in turn a part of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. [2011 Author’s Note: In the contemporary age, cultural subjugation is done more subtly and effectively, because often done through the sub-conscious with the use of information technology, through globalization, particularly its cultural aspect characterized by Western hegemony and especially Americanization which impinges on the cultural and religious identities and customs of many peoples of the world.]

Rizal described this cultural subjugation in the first part of his essay “The Philippines A Century Hence” (1889-1890): “Then began a new era for the Filipinos. They gradually lost their ancient traditions, their recollections, - they forgot their writings, their songs, their poetry, their laws in order to learn by heart other doctrines, which they did not understand, other ethics, other tasks, different from those inspired in their race by their climate and their way of thinking. Then there was a falling-off, they were lowered in their own eyes, they became ashamed of what was distinctively their own in order to admire and praise what was foreign and incomprehensible; their spirit was broken and they acquiesced.”

With this we are back where we started: the dialectical relationship between the native tongue/culture and freedom. But have we over-interpreted “Sa Aking Mga Kabata”? We are well aware of Leon Ma. Guerrero’s word of caution in his excellent biography of Rizal The First Filipino regarding over-interpretations of Rizal’s “To the Filipino Youth” (1879) and “Along the Pasig” (1880): “In truth, we must not read too much into the effusions of our young poet or seek in his casual rhymes a premature ripening of his ‘race jealousy’ and still embryonic nationalism.”

If Rizal’s nationalism was still embryonic in 1879 (when he wrote “To the Filipino Youth”), then one can expect it to be more so in 1869 (when he wrote “Sa Aking Mga Kabata”).

But one can hardly describe as embryonic a nationalism that clearly links love of the native tongue with love of freedom. Either Rizal hit by chance (natsambahan) the points made in the poem or his nationalism was the not as embryonic as Guerrero made it out to be. [2011 Author’s Note: Matinik talaga, or in Bikol terms, oragon si Rizal. [1]



NAGA CITY, 1981 [with 2011 Author’s Notes] — “Mi Ultimo Adios” (“My Last Farewell”) is Jose Rizal’s last, best and most popular poem. It was written on 28 December 1896 or two days before Rizal’s execution. Leon Ma. Guerrero, in book The First Filipino, writes that one of the two voices speaking this farewell is “the voice of the patriot, innocent but guilty, who now makes his own the Revolution he has discouraged, deplored and condemned.” What is relevant for our purposes are the second and third stanzas of the poem (English translation by Charles E. Derbyshire):

En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio,
Otros te dan sus vidas, sin dudas, sin pesar.
El sitio nada importa: cipres, laurel o lirio,
Cadalso o campo abierto, combate o cruel martirio,
Lo mismo es si lo piden la Patria y el hoger.

Yo muero, cuando veo que el cielo se colora
Y al fin anuncia el dia, tres lobrego capuz;
Si grana necesitas, para tenir tu aurora,
i Vierte la sangre mia, derramala en buen hora,
Y dorela un reflejo de su naciente luz!

(On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of light,
Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;
The place matters not – cypress or laurel or lily white,
Scaffold or open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,
“Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need.

I die just when I see the dawn break,
Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;
And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,
Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,
To dye with its crimson the waking ray.)

Guerrero elaborates on his point:

"[For Rizal] It is too late for worldly wisdom, “others are giving their lives on battlefields, without regrets or doubts, but it is not too late to join them, “gibbet or open field, combat or cruel sacrifice, place matters not, “ nor does it matter if the end be “laurel” of victory, “lily” of defeat, or “cypress” of martyrdom. When it is required by the Nation, it is beautiful to “fall that she may rise,” to “die that she may live.” Now, though not perhaps in the past, he is certain of final victory; the poet turns prophet on the brink of the grave; he dies “when day breaks at last after gloomy night, “ and the blood he is to shed will be “gilded by her rising light.”

Guerrero’s point is well taken. It would not be stretching things too far to say that, at the last moment, Rizal embraced the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

“On the field of battle . . . Others have given their lives . . .” – who else could these “others” refer to but the Katipuneros? As of the writing of the poem, the Revolution, which broke out with the Cry of Pugadlawin on 23 August 1896, was spreading to many provinces and was being met by the Spanish authorities with a reign of terror. Indeed, many were giving their lives – not only in “combat” in the “open plain” but also in “martyrdom’s plight” at the “scaffold.” [2011 Author’s Note: Or to put it in more contemporary terms, there was then revolutionary armed struggle but also other forms of struggle, including peaceful forms like Rizal’s, that just the same resulted in martyrdom.]

“ . . . I see the dawn break, through the gloom of night, to herald the day . . . “ - what else could this “dawn” refer to but the imminent victory of the Revolution that would overthrow Spanish rule? [2011 Author’s Note: In fact, no less than the Declaration of Philippine Independence on 12 June 1898 noted that prophecy in this way: “… the redemption of this unfortunate country as foretold by Dr. Don Jose Rizal in his magnificent verses which he composed in his prison cell prior to his execution, liberating it from the Yoke of Spanish domination.”]

But Rizal does not stop at recognizing the “dawn”. He goes further – he offers his blood, soon to be shed, that it may add color to the dawn of freedom. Indeed, it may be said that Rizal embraced the Katipunan and the Revolution not only in word but also in deed. This makes him a revolutionary. A revolutionary leader, Mao Zedong, once said: “Whoever sides with the revolutionary people is a revolutionary . . . Whoever sides with the revolutionary people in words only but acts otherwise is a revolutionary in speech. Whoever sides with the revolutionary people in deed as well as in word is a revolutionary in the full sense.”

The poem was, in effect, a retraction of Rizal’s previous repudiations of the Katipunan and the Revolution, the latest and heaviest of which was his Manifesto of 15 December 1896, or about two weeks before the poem was written. Indeed, it may be asked, could Rizal have made such a volte-face (about-face) after only two weeks? Yes, it is possible. Talking about retractions, there is Rizal’s more famous Retraction (of his religious beliefs) of 29 December 1896, which Guerrero convincingly argues to be genuine. If Rizal could retract his religious beliefs at that moment, could he not do the same with some of his political beliefs? Or, perhaps Rizal was only being consistent in his political beliefs – in other words, not really retracting these beliefs. [2011 Author’s Note: Not really rejecting but instead actually reaffirming these beliefs, to again use more contemporary terms.]

Rizal had opposed the Katipunan and the Revolution because he believed that the Filipinos were not yet ready for freedom and they were not yet ready for freedom because they were not yet deserving of it, in particular they had no sense of national community. Perhaps, Rizal belatedly realized that the Filipinos were deserving of freedom after all.

Renato Constantino points out in his main critical aessay on Rizal, “Veneration Without Understanding” (in his book Dissent and Counter-Consciousness): “A people have every right to be free . . . People learn and educate themselves in the process of struggling for freedom and liberty. They attain their highest potential only when they are masters of their own destiny.” The Filipinos who rose in revolt were making themselves deserving of freedom in the process of struggling for it. In that process, the Filipinos were beginning to develop a sense of national community.

As Cesar Adib Majul asks in “A Critique of Rizal’s Concept of a Filipino Nation” by way of commenting on the lines ” . . . I see the dawn break, through the gloom of night, to herald the day . . .”: “Could it be possible that Rizal was led to believe that the Filipinos were beginning to develop a sense of national community as partially demonstrated by the Katipunan uprising?” Rizal would not have used “dawn” and “day”, if he did not believe that a truly new society – one in which the slaves of today will not be the tyrants of tomorrow – was incipient. This, in the final analysis, was why Rizal offered his blood that it may add color to the dawn of freedom.

All these underscore the complex and developmental character of Rizal’s beliefs in general and political beliefs in particular – beliefs which are not to be simplified by such convenient labels as “reformist” or “assimilationist.” [2011 Author’s Notes: And so it should be with contemporary labels like “nat-dem” and “soc-dem,” “reaffirmist” (RA) and “rejectionist” (RJ), and so on.]



NAGA CITY, 1986 [with 2011 Author’s Notes] — Reading Jose Ma. Sison, especially his essays of the Sixties, one is struck by his frequent references to Jose Rizal, his works and characters. This can be readily seen in Sison’s first book Struggle for National Democracy (New Edition 1972), a collection of his essays of the Sixties and messages for the Seventies. Incidentally, the Introduction to the New Edition was made by current celebrity Antonio Zumel, then Chairman of the Amado V. Hernandez Memorial Foundation which published the edition.

The very first article in SND is “Rizal the Social Critic”, originally entitled “Rizal the ‘Subversive’.” As for the rest of the articles, including messages, there are references to Rizal, his works and characters in 11 out of 29 selections. These are Kabataang Makabayan Founding Speech, “The October 24th Movement,” Message to the Third National Congress Kabataang Makabayan, Message to MAKIBAKA on the Women’s Liberation Movement, “The National Democratic Movement and the Political Activist,” “On the Standard Issues of the Day,” “Land Reform and National Democracy,” “The Sophism of the Christian Social Movement,” “The Need for a Cultural Revolution,” “The Tasks of the Second Propaganda Movement,” “Towards a National Democratic Teacher’s Movement,” and “The Mercenary Tradition in the AFP.”

The briefest reference is in “Sophism” which mentions the Noli-Fili Law. The lengthiest reference is in “Land Reform” which relates the story of Cabesang Tales, Juli, Tano/Carolino, Tandang Selo and Matanglawin. Sison, in fact, is at his best when alluding to Rizal’s characters. Perhaps the most controversial reference to Rizal is that found in Sison’s Message to the Third National Congress Kabataang Makabayan: “What has come to be known as the Second Propaganda Movement makes its antecedent – that of Rizal, Lopez Jaena, del Pilar and the Lunas – a mere dinner party of exiles….The incarceration of Nilo Tayag is richer in implications than the exile of Jose Rizal to Dapitan.” [2011 Author’s Note: But what may be the unkindest cut is the very closing phrase in Sison’s above-said main article on Rizal: “…he was led like a lamb to Bagumbayan to be killed.” To the extent that the lamb is a symbol of meekness, this passage is unfair to Rizal, not to mention his supreme sacrifice.]

The other book attributed to Sison is of course Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero, founding Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Shortly after Sison’s capture in 1977, the Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas reported that “Sison had signed earlier an affidavit identifying himself as chairman of the CPP.” Shortly after his release in 1986, he admitted having been chairman of the CPP. In fact, MIDWEEK magazine asked him why he revealed this. In PSR, Rizal was treated in only one paragraph of the Review of Philippine History. The last word on him there was that “he betrayed it (the Philippine Revolution of 1896) by calling on the people to lay down their arms a few days before his execution.” [2011 Author’s Note: Such “betrayal” would be premised on one’s being part of the revolutionary movement, the Katipunan at that time, but all indications are that Rizal was not, notwithstanding the findings at his trial, “the tragic farce,” as J.C. Orendain put it.]

In Amado Guerrero’s “The Correct Orientation on the Constitutional Convention”, there is this passage: “The political intervention of the clergy is but an ingredient in the rise of fascism in this country. It is but another camouflage for the social cancer and reign of greed.” The allusion is, of course, to The Social Cancer and The Reign of Greed, Charles E. Derbyshire’s translations of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, respectively. Then, in Amado Guerrero’s “The Treachery of Taruc: A Negative Example”, two of the five footnotes are references to Rizal’s characters, the first regarding Pilosopong Tasyo and the second regarding Capitan Basilio and Capitan Tinong.

During Sison’s imprisonment, he wrote not only his more famous poems but also essays and messages. Many of the essays of the Eighties were written under noms de plume, or if you will, noms de guerre. In his Tribute to Edgar M. Jopson, Sison compared Jopson to Rizal, after noting that both were outstanding alumni of the Ateneo:

"Rizal contributed much to the emergence of the national democratic revolution and died for it. Jopson has also contributed much to the resurgent national democratic revolution and died for it.

But I think Jopson surpasses Rizal in certain aspects. Jopson had the advantage of coming into a later era, learning from lessons of the past and grasping more progressive ideas for the realization of the national democratic revolution… Jopson was able to reach a higher level of revolutionary theory and practice than Rizal."

In another tribute, this time to “Aquino: Martyr and Patriot”, using the pen-name Alma Rason, Sison again made a comparison to Rizal:

"Aquino was like Rizal. Despite the threats to his life by the enemy, he returned to the country with the honest desire of working for the improvement of the political, economic and social conditions of the people.

Aquino was reformist and was for non-violent change. He held the idea that the fascist regime could be persuaded to depart from its evil ways and reconcile with the people.

x x x

Like Rizal, Aquino while alive could not realize his noble objectives under the shadow of the enemy but was persecuted and finally martyred. By his martyrdom, however, his name has become a battle-cry for the entire Filipino people."

Then, in an outline “On the Possibility of Restoring Democracy”, using the pseudonym Bayani C. Aquino, Sison argued:

“The Christians under Imperial Rome ceased to be massacred every fifty years only when they got the sword of Constantine. Rizal would not be honored today as a hero and martyr had the Filipino people not achieved success in the Philippine revolution. Even Gandhi merely represented a complement to the readiness of the Indian people to wage armed revolution against the British. The Holy Scriptures is one with Marxism- Leninism in upholding the principle of just war against tyranny.”

After his release, Sison undertook a series of lectures on “Philippine Crisis and Revolution”. The first in the series of ten dealt with the “Historical Roots of the Philippine Crisis”. Here Rizal is referred to as among “the best of the reformists” for his role in the reform movement.

It is evident that Rizal the reformist has had quite an impact on Sison the revolutionary. So, when and where did Sison learn his Rizal? In Sison’s own life story to Sunday Inquirer Magazine, he narrates that: “In Grade IV, I became very receptive to stories about our national revolutionary heroes in social studies. Those stories found fertile ground in my mind which had been impressed by stories at home about the revolutionary struggles against Spain, the US and Japan.” For high school, Sison went from Ateneo to Letran. Even in narrating his life story, he cannot avoid a reference to Rizal: “I transferred to Letran, comforting myself that I was doing a Rizal in reverse. He had transferred from Letran to Ateneo.” Sison would “devote myself to reading books outside the curriculum.” His formal as well as self-education most certainly included Rizal.

How then does Sison rate Rizal? While categorizing Rizal as a liberal reformist, Sison, in “Rizal the Social Critic”, refers to him as “a leading representative of the enlightened stratum or ‘left wing’ of the middle class and “a progressive and radical of his own time”. Sison further stated: “When we consider the anti-colonial and anti-clerical writings of Rizal, we immediately perceive that national democracy of the old type, that is to say, of the now outmoded liberal cast, developed in the process of struggle.” So, in a manner of speaking, Rizal was a national democrat in the sense that he objectively contributed to the advancement of the national democratic revolution, albeit of the old type. [2011 Author’s Note: Filipino social-democrats or “soc-dems” would surely contest this “nat-dem” characterization of Rizal.]

Sison continued, focusing on Rizal’s two novels and the question of reform or revolution: “When Rizal wrote his masterworks, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, he explored the possibility of reform first and, upon exhausting that possibility within the colonial framework, he also explored the possibility of revolution…

In the Fili, Rizal exposes thoroughly and systematically the decadence of the system as the beginning of a revolutionary situation.”

Sison, however, does not go as far as categorizing Rizal as a revolutionary as does Jesuit historian John N. Schumacher. Schumacher, in his article “Rizal the Revolutionary and the Ateneo” in the academic journal Philippine Studies, says “what makes Rizal a revolutionary is the fact that he wanted not only to reform, repress, do away with, the abuses from which his people suffered; he wanted to change the Filipinos themselves, the very structure of the society in which he lived.” That Rizal “looked…to the creation of a just society in which the rights of all would be respected”, according to Schumacher, “is another reason why Rizal was a revolutionary, and one can even say a radical revolutionary… Rizal’s thoughts will continue to be subversive of all societies which fail to bring justice and freedom to the Filipino people.” Indeed, the debate whether Rizal was a reformist or a revolutionary also depends on one’s definition of revolution, as in the EDSA Revolution.

Sison the radical revolutionary is surprisingly not as harsh on Rizal the liberal reformist as is nationalist historian Renato Constantino. Constantino’s two major essays on Rizal are “Our Task: To Make Rizal Obsolete” in his book The Filipinos in the Philippines and “Veneration Without Understanding” in his book Dissent and Counter-Consciousness. The titles are indication enough of Constantino’s critical attitude towards Rizal. “To make Rizal obsolete” is not as irreverent as it sounds and, on the contrary, is actually a compliment to Rizal: “When a new generation of Filipinos will be able to read Rizal as a mirror of our past and not as a reproach to our social present, only then can we say that we have truly honored Rizal because we have made him obsolete by completing his work. . . . .A reorientation of our ways and of our thoughts along nationalist lines will fulfill the dreams of Rizal and at the same time make them obsolete as goals because the dream will have become a reality.”

In “Veneration Without Understanding,” Constantino excoriates Rizal for having repudiated the Revolution. He does not mince words: “those words were treasonous in the light of the Filipinos’ struggle against Spain. Rizal repudiated the one act which really synthesized our nationalist aspirations, and yet we consider him a nationalist leader… The exposure of his weaknesses and limitations will also mean our liberation, for he has, to a certain extent, become part of the superstructure that supports present consciousness… for Rizal repudiated real decolonization... His class position, his upbringing, and his foreign education were profound influences which constituted a limitation on his understanding of his countrymen.”

Sison is also critical in his evaluation of Rizal. His main criticisms of Rizal, other than betrayal of the Revolution, are failure to state categorically the need for revolutionary armed struggle to effect separation from Spain, putting his trust in the enemy and the naïve hope that he would work for the cause of the nation in the open and in the city. [2011 Author’s Note: Sison’s holding Rizal up to the standard of Maoist protracted people’s war is anachronistic and thus unfair. The author has a separate reading of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios” as finally embracing the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution of 1896 [see above].]

Like Rizal, Sison’s career is not only political but also literary. Both are thinkers, organizers and writers, in varying degrees. In a post-release interview with Midweek, Sison was asked about literature and revolutionary politics. His answer: “And you know, I think it is a requirement for revolutionary leadership to have a literary imagination. The scientific mind is important in analyzing given facts. But to be able to anticipate what will happen next, you need literary imagination. . .With imagination, you create something new.” If Rizal is required reading for Filipino students, more so should it be for Filipino revolutionaries, going by the example of Jose Ma. Sison. [2011 Author’s Note: But Rizal’s novels do not appear to be “required reading” in the CPP, unlike they were in the Katipunan, at least they were in the book list and collection of its Supremo Andres Bonifacio.]


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