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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rizal's death was no trigger

As an historiographer, let me correct the popular perception that Rizal's execution on the thirtieth of December 1896 sparked the 1896 Revolution. Far from it.

Rizal's execution was not the trigger that led to the August Revolt. No. It was his arrest and detention that Filipinos interpreted as a sign that there was no other recourse but to fight foreign aggression.

Had the Spaniards allowed Rizal to live, history would have been different. Rizal, for many people, was the symbol of compromise, of a reformist whose thoughts were about assimilation, not independence. Political independence was farthest from Rizal's mind when he went back from Hongkong. Rizal came back upon the prodding of his Masonic brothers in Manila to unify the disparate Masonic lodges who were at odds at each other.

There was the National Katipunan War Society led by Arellano and Bonifacio who were for independence. And there were the Compromisarios led by Ilustrados such as Apolinario Mabini and others who see salvation not thru arms but thru compromise and reformism.

Rizal had just been given the honor of being the spiritual icon for reform. His arrest justified the use of aggression against aggression, and totally threw the entire Reform Movement into disarray. 

For all its worth, Rizal's death was meant to stop further Filipino resistance against Spanish rule.  The Spaniards thought that by repeating the brutality they so inflicted against Filipino reformists in 1872, that would quell the revolt. What the Spanish did, instead, was inflict upon themselves the final death knell. 

Rizal's sacrifice was meant to justify the use of arms. Filipinos never stopped their revolution after his execution. His execution justified the use of arms. His death unified the various forces of Filipino society to rally behind the banner of revolution.

As we commemorate Rizal's great sacrifice today, let us also not forget the extreme sacrifices of other Filipinos, especially those who belonged to the masses, who fought, and died before the altar of the Revolution. These men, most of them faceless and nameless, fought not just for themselves, but for their fellow Filipinos. 

How many of us would actually sacrifice our lives so that others may live?