When I googled "Dr. Jose Rizal celebration" on the Internet, I was surprised to find a large number of entries of Philippine embassies and consulates hosting official events on December 30, with programs featuring the obligatory recitation of Rizal's classic poem, My Last Farewell ('Mi Ultimo Adios').
The Philippine entries involved perfunctory wreath-laying ceremonies at the Rizal Park in Manila and other places of interest around the country. There were also references that this year President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through Administrative Order No. 166, had directed embassies and government offices to commemorate the martyrdom of Dr. Jose P. Rizal with the theme "Rizal: the Nationalist in Thought, Word and Deed."
The scheduled Rizal Day events seemed mechanical and routine, with virtually no celebrations exalting Rizal's life, at least not in the Philippines. It seemed, as retired Justice Isagani A. Cruz observed, "Remembrance of Rizal is fast disappearing when it ought to be cherished and honored by all Filipinos."
Why should Rizal be honored? Because, as Justice Cruz noted in his column, "it was he who, more effectively than any one else among his compatriots, unified the disparate inhabitants of our archipelago into one nation. It was he who made them share a common rage against the foreign intruder and a common aspiration for the freedom of their land."
"Without him," Justice Cruz added, "our people may still be under the yoke of some alien ruler. Consider that we were oppressed by Spain for more than three centuries and it was only when Rizal protested its villainies that Bonifacio's armed revolution began to smolder. It was the execution of Gomburza, to whom Rizal dedicated the 'Noli Me Tangere', that ignited the spark of resistance against the Spanish government. But it was Rizal who fanned the flames into a bright conflagration."
What was conspicuous by their absence in the googled events I reviewed was the participation of the schools. There were none because there aren't any classes during the Christmas break. This is such a pity because it is the students who would have the most to learn from the life and death of Dr. Jose Rizal.
Students could read Rizal's essay, "The Philippines a Century Hence," and realize that he is just as relevant today as he was more than a century ago. Read Rizal's words: "All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So they all failed." Do they not also refer to the attempted coups that have destabilized the country for the last 20 years?
How should we celebrate Rizal Day? The immediate solution is actually quite simple. We should move Rizal Day from celebrating it on the date of his execution, December 30, to the date of his birth, June 19. This would be perfect timing as it would occur just as the Philippine school year begins in the first week of June. Instead of laying ritualistic wreaths, there should be programs celebrating Rizal's life.
There should be new ways to give meaning to the Rizal Law, Republic Act No. 1425, enacted on June 12, 1956, which required that courses on the life, works and writings of Rizal, particularly his novels, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, be included in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities.
In celebrating Rizal's life on June 19, instead of his death on December 30, students could do what the prescribed college curriculum expects its Rizal course students to accomplish:
1. Understand the life, works and writings of Rizal particularly his moral and intellectual legacies to the Filipino youth.
2. Know the relevance of Rizal's teachings to contemporary situations.
3. Gain inspiration and insight from the experience of Rizal as a son, student, patriot and nationalist.
4. Imbibe the spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
We should urge the Philippine Congress and President Arroyo to enact a new law moving Rizal Day to June 19.
As to what should happen on December 30, we should follow the decree of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippine Republic, which was enacted in Bulacan on December 20, 1898, which stated as follows:
"Article 1. In memory of the Filipino patriots, Dr. Jose Rizal and the other victims of the past Spanish domination, I declare the 30th of December as a national day of mourning.
Article 2. On account of this, all national flags shall be hoisted at half-mast from 12:00 noon on December 29, as a sign of mourning.
Article 3. All offices of the Revolutionary Government shall be closed during the whole day of December 30."
Complying with a decree of the Philippine Revolutionary Government connects our present Republic back to the founding of the first Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898.
Before the Philippine Revolution, before the American occupation, before the Japanese invasion, before the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote in 1889 in his essay, the Philippines: A Century Hence:
"Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. With the new people that will spring from their soil and with the recollection of their past, they will perhaps strive to enter freely upon the wide road of progress, and all will labor together to strengthen their Motherland, both internally and externally, with the same enthusiasm, with which a youth falls again to tilling the land of his ancestors who long wasted and abandoned through the neglect of those who have withheld it from him."
Happy Rizal Day to you.