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March 29, 2009



hi torn. the man was brilliant and of course complicated. i'm still puzzled by those who reduce him to being a useless bourgeois reformist annointed by americans. surely there are many facets of life other than his politics.

Rizal's pacifism was way ahead of his time (half a century before gandhi emerged). friends and acquaintances of his kept his sketches and letters, all clearly dazzled by his charm and talent. simply put, he was "a gem of a man" (as remarked by his german host dr. rost of the britishm museum).

we'll be having our second Rizal Walk here in london soon (around June, close to his birthday). we just trace the places he frequented (mostly around primrose hill) and read excerpts from his letters when he was here. it was fun and well-attended last year (john sidel missed the group by a few minutes), we hope there will be a bigger crowd this year.

Bong P.

Radaic's essay is the shit me thinks.

In high school we were taught massive amounts of useless detalyes on Rizal's life (I mean who gives a shit if Rizal dropped a tsinelas in the river as a boy?). Everything you need to know about Rizal has been dissected and analyzed succinctly by Radaic, in a very readable form.

Stay away from the long-winding textbooks and the thick biographies by so called pre-eminent Filipino historians (Guerrero, Palma, Retana) and even modern historians like Ambeth Ocampo.

Everything you need to know about Rizal can be gleemed from Radaic.


Thank you Torn for another thoughtful piece. However, I never thought that Rizal was a man of indecision. From the very start of his political career, when he made that vow with his (historically) underappreciated kuya Paciano, Rizal was driven by a mission -- political rights for his fellow indios.

That meant proving that he and his compatriots were just as smart and capable as Europeans, hence his drive to excel in so many fields respected by Europeans: science, literature, art, languages, etc.

That could also explain why he never settled down with any of his romantic interests (until his exile in Dapitan) -- it would have diverted him from his mission.

At the same time, he was driven by a love of family, which explains why he became the Philippines' foremost eye doctor, with the goal of curing his mother's blindness. But that also dovetailed with his political mission of demonstrating Filipinos' intellectual mission.

Rather than indecision, he was a rational man, who prepared for life's battles. Looking back now, he seemed right about so many things, including religion's effect on a people's backbone.

His example convinces me that the country's current travails are just a speedbump on the road to greater things.


Hi Carla -- That tour sounds great. A friend of mine runs a small museum in Clapham dedicated the Japanese writer Soseki Natsume, who lived in London from 1900--1903, a period he described as "the most unpleasant years in my life". The Soseki Museum makes money from rich Japanese tour groups (if there are any rich Japanese left these days) and donations -- I suppose it would be very hard to make a similar Rizal Museum work -- if a way could be found, you could be the curator! This site has information about Soseki Museum:


I do agree that Rizal was a really unique man, with astonishing talents. The way he could just pick up languages is almost unbelievable. Guerrero refers to a speech he gave to some people Blumentrit had gathered together the first time they met -- no one could believe he had been learning German for only 6 months.

Bong -- Thanks for your comment. I haven't read the Radaic essay -- just Nick Joaquin's review of it. However, from that piece it is clear that Radaic adopts a psychoanalytic approach to biography, focusing on how Rizal's physique, in particular his small size and supposed weakness, spurred him on to achieve excellence in other fields. Perhaps I have oversimplified; as I said, I have not read the essay, although Joaquin does quote from it extensively, so I think I get the drift.

That sort of approach to biography can often provide insights, but it can never be the whole story. All of us are prisoners of our times; none more than Rizal and his fellow illustrados. I think we have to see how Rizal's personal qualities, whether his genius or his (possible) physical weakness, interact with the cards life dealt him. This is one of the strengths of the Guerrero biography I think -- although it could have done with a rigorous edit, Guerrero does position Rizal very well in end of the century Europe and the Philippines.

Howie -- Thanks for visiting but alas my lunchbreak is over. I'll respond to your interesting comments later.

Isagani R. Cruz

I linked this in my blog: http://literaturesotherlanguages.blogspot.com


Hello Howie – Certainly Rizal was right about most things and, as Carla points out, his pacifism foreshadowed one of the most important movements of the next century. I also agree with your assessment that his nationalism ”meant proving that he and his compatriots were just as smart and capable as Europeans.”

Still, humankind is made up thinkers and doers, with very few of us being able to straddle both stools. Bonifacio’s incredible achievement of building up the Katipunan membership to 30,000 people in a few years (100,000 if you believe James Le Roy) shows what can be done through single-minded determination and force of will. My impression of Rizal after finishing the Guerrero biography was of someone who was very different from Bonifacio, a man who was too good at too many things and whose life was characterized by impressive starts that were not brought to fruition.

Take the novels: parts of the Noli and the Fili are literature and social commentary of the highest order, yet taken as a whole they are rather cumbersome and disjointed works (the Fili in particular). That should not surprise us, since the same could be said of many writer’s first books, but it fits with what seems to me to be a pattern of unfulfilled promise.

Of course it is easy for me sitting in my comfortable office over a century later to criticize Rizal’s novels for being disjointed, when their author faced significant hardship throughout his life. The Fili in particular had to be printed in installments and had to be significantly shortened because Rizal could not pay his printing bills, so it is a wonder it was completed at all.

I would also repeat something I said in the original post, that to argue that Rizal was not a man of action is not to belittle him. I find people who know what they want to do at age 15 and who never veer from that path to be quite scary – give me the hesitant intellectual any day.

Finally, I do so much agree with your last paragraph and hope to use it as a jumping off point for a subsequent post.


Isagani -- Many thanks for visiting and for linking to this story. We have met actually, and even worked together on a project, but in another life -- I will leave a clue on LOL ...




We do have to remind ourselves that Rizal died at 35. Who knows what else he could have done if he lived as long as the Marcoses. Surely, more mature novels, at the least. So an early death, more than character, was to me the reason for his "unfulfilled promise."

Rizal didn't organize the masses the way Bonifacio did, but did he have to? Is that what his role should have been? Movements are driven by people doing what they're good at. Rizal with his novels and example gave Bonifacio a moral vision. The plebeian from Tondo was actually a literate man who carried Rizal's novels around and sought out Rizal, and that's how they met.

As "disjointed" as the novels are, they weren't meant to be art for art's sake. They were intended to inspire his countrymen. On that score, the novels' promise and the young author's were very much fulfilled.

Mike Arroyo

"Who knows what else he could have done if he lived as long as the Marcoses.
Posted by: howie | April 06, 2009 at 05:25 PM"

My guess is, burnt out from too much studying and fame, he takes the assignment to Cuba, on a transit journey to Hongkong, he discovers the joys of opium, and tells himself "this is the best shit ever", becomes addicted, spends all his money in whore houses for a year, contracts syphilis and dies with a smile on his face, having more pussy in that fateful year than he ever had in his 35 no good "pussyless" wasted years as an ilustrado.


I agree with Howie that it wasn't necessarily his role to organize the masses or write better novels.

I think what he did was a lot more meaningful -- he awakened people and gave them a stronger sense of identity. To change the way a nation sees themselves and to give them hope that things could change is a lot more powerful than organizing 30t people. My opinion. That was his role and he fulfilled it.

Mike Arroyo

In the realms of historical speculation, I like better the idea of Rizal having never been born at all.

Imagine a world where there is not a Philippines. We'll be spared of all the existential dramas brought about by the confusion of ethnic identity. We'll be free to be Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Ilocanos, Zambalenos, etc. No more artificial nationalism imposed by elitist nation building constitutional architects such as Marcos.

And more important, no more geography challenged foreigners misspelling or mispronouncing your nationality as Philippinian, Filipinese, Philippino, etc.

Just imagine.


Uhm, mike arroyo, Rizal probably got more p---y than what you're getting now. How else do you think this rumor started that he was Hitler's father? It was that one-night stand in Vienna, one of perhaps other encounters with Aryan cheesecake. But our hero sampled delicacies from multiple nationalities.

In Paris he fell for Nelly Boustead, a tisay babe whom he later visited at her family's romantic seaside villa in Biarritz. The equally smitten Antonio Luna almost challenged Rizal to a duel over Nelly (a fellow fencing fanatic btw who got to know the two during fencing sessions in Juan Luna's backyard).

And how about that teen-age sex kitten Josephine?

(By the way, when Hitler was conceived, Rizal was not in Austria (H's birthplace) but in London, where he was snuggling up to Gertrude Beckett.)

Mike Arroyo

Wow, that's four pussies (Nelly, Josephine, Gertrude, Vienna chick) in the course of 15 years (assuming the decent fucking age starts at 20 years old). So there might still be some unaccounted ones. Let's triple, even quadruple 4 white pussies (and not so pretty ones judging from the pictures), that's 16 pussies Rizal tapped in 15 years, a batting average of 1.067 pussy per year. Dude, I get a pussy every week, so Rizal has nothing on me.

And I reckon your national hero is a bad lover, to surmise from Radaic's psychoanalysis of the frail hero. Why the hell would he be opting for one night stands when he could be getting repeats or threepeats? Because his performance, and maybe his dick size, is so bad the ladies didn't bother "calling him again".

And what the fuck is the deal with having a still born child with Josephine? Bad sperm is what caused that. Josephine was able to have a child with a subsequent lover.


I too quite agree with what Howie wrote and in the original post I wrote, Rizal “was a true intellectual who valued ideas above everything.” I made the comparison with Bonifacio only in the context of our debate about decisiveness, not to suggest that Rizal should have been out leading the people to revolt. A movement also needs someone to provide a “a moral vision”, as Howie suggests.

This discussion began because after reading the Guerrero biography I didn’t feel I had made much progress in answering two related questions: (i) why did Rizal return to the Philippines from Hong Kong, and (ii) knowing that his life was in danger, why did he not try to save himself before it was too late?

If it could be shown that he was engaged in important political work between his arrival from Hong Kong in June 1892 and his execution in December 1896, that could provide an explanation, but Rizal was already somewhat divorced from the independence movement. After drawing up the statutes of La Liga, he had very little to do with the organization (although his role as one of the “organizers” of La Liga was one of the offences he was charged with). Nor were his four years in Dapitan very productive from a writing point of view. Of course Rizal had an incredibly lively mind, so he engaged in lengthy correspondence with Blumentritt, caught butterflies for European collectors, and learned Malay, but these are not substantive activities toward building up a body of work.

It was when I was pondering Rizal’s actions (or lack of them) at this stage of his life that I came across Radaic’s theory of his “Hamlet disposition.” As I said in the original post, I don’t think Radaic provides the whole explanation to this incredibly complex individual, but I think there is something there.

Reading about the last part of Rizal’s life knowing how it all ended, there is a sense of inevitability about the tragic denouement (as there always is when you read a biography knowing something about the subject). It seems Rizal himself felt this sense of inevitability about his life even while was living it. His letters are full of allusions to death (even when he was not faced by an immediate threat). Although the famous walk to his execution site actually started from his cell in Fort Santiago, in fact he had begun the walk long, long before.

To summarize, like many of us, including Hamlet, Rizal felt himself a prisoner of his destiny. His sense of will and his decision making were not strong enough to enable him to assert himself over this onrushing destiny, even though options lay before him.


Torn, that's certainly food for thought. Maybe Rizal really didn't think the Spaniards would kill him? Speaking of fatal (non)decisions, what was Ninoy really thinking when he decided to return to the lion's den?

As for the four years in Dapitan, I'm not so sure it was as unproductive as you implied. Rizal not only learned Malay, but he set up the first school in the archipelago to teach English, foreseeing that it would become a much more important language; developed new irrigation techniques for his farm; and introduced modern medicine to that part of the islands, among other non-political activities that kept him busy.

Rizal may have tired of politics, or just felt that it would lead nowhere in his lifetime, but I think he was trying to create an example of ways to live that would make for a more lasting legacy.

Also, in Dapitan, Rizal became among the first Filipinos to appreciate scientifically the country's biodiversity, discovering at least four species that were named after him:
Draco rizali, a small lizard popularly known as a flying dragon;
Apogonia rizali, a rare, small beetle
Rhacophorus rizali, a toad
Spathomeles rizali, or "Handsome Fungus Beetle"

Mike Arroyo

Torn and Howie, in all seriousness though, I think Rizal is emblematic of Filipino's predilection for appearances and for the Filipino's tendency to drumbeat any Filipino who makes a smidgen of an achievement.

Sure his calling in life was to create the Philippine Republic (in his imagination) and he had imagined grand schemes as can be gleamed from his writings on how to improve the education, government, infrastructure, etc of the Philippines. But the fucking problem is he didn't make that effort to live and see to it those plans fall through. His mentality was "die, become a martyr, be immortalized" from the get-go. And I don't see why Filipinos should be inspired by such vanity when there are other people who may not be as well-rounded, even full of flaws, as Rizal but nevertheless have impacted greatly on People's lives.

An example would be a compatriot of yours torn: Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Guy was mid-19th century chain smoking boor but my what grandiose projects he schemed and realized that the Philippines bridges, tunnels, rails, etc still pale in comparison even more than a hundred years later.


You might say that Rizal was not an architect or engineer by trade (he dabbled) but as many pointed out, Rizal was a jack of all trades master of none. Let's just focus on two things that Rizal was very good at - being a novelist and being a doctor. In the world of medicine, he hadn't contributed any original knowledge as, say, Alexander Fleming (another one of you Pommy compatriot) who invented penicillin. Rizal was a fuckin' eye doctor that is all. And as for being a novelist who inspired the revolutionaries Mabini and Aguinaldo, I don't see why he gets more cred than the latter two. I'm sure Simon Bolivar and George Washington were inspired by novelists , but nobody knows who those novelists are and nobody talks about the books they've written. But still Filipinos would rather put the novelist Rizal amongst the likes of Bolivar, Washington, Che Guevara, when we should be putting more emphasis on Mabini and Aguinaldo-men who organized shit and made things happen.

And he doesn't even get cred for being a novelist. In the ranks of world literature, his two novels don't contribute much in terms of originality or style. Some even say these two novels are "mediocre" by the standards in his time.

I hope die-hard Rizal fanatics don't see this as Rizal or Filipino bashing, seeing that I've mentioned foreigners who are better than Rizal. But Rizal was inspired by foreigners too, and I would rather have for my inspiration a person who is the best and most innovative in his field, regardless of his nationality, than the best Filipino that was ever born, but who, in the ranks of supermen the world over, is really just an ordinary, even mediocre, person.

Mike Arroyo

Another proof of Jose Rizal's vanity and messianic complex was his mind-boggling, idiotic diskarte to cure his mother's blindness.

Explain this:

It was around 1878 and 1882 that he took he pre-meds. His mother went blind 1880. So what was your national hero's solution to getting his mother cured? A rational human being would probably get his mother to a Hong Kong eye specialist the moment he knew of the debilitating eye condition. They certainly could afford it as they were a very well to do family at the time. But oh no, that would just fuck up his plans of immortal greatness, knowing it wasn't he cured his mother. So what does the "loving son" Rizal do? He studied opthalmology himself from 1882 to 1887, waiting a full five years so he could operate on his mother himself! While his mother was blind the whole time and his family was scraping any money they can pay for spoiled Joey Rizal's European college education, when that money could very well have been used to operate on his mother.

Such vanity and messianic complex. I truly believe Rizal is no more decent than the like of Marcos or any trapo politician out there who would like gullible Filipinos to believe their well intentioned and do-gooders when in fact they're just elevating their own ladders to historical immortality at the expense of even their own family members. Buti pa nga si Marcos and trapos, at least they support their family at the expense of Filipinos. Rizal made his mother go blind for five years to feed his own vanity.


You put down Rizal yet idolize Aguinaldo, the man who ordered the killings of the Bonifacio brothers and Antonio Luna, sold out the revolution for a cushy vacation in Hong Kong, then was duped and captured by a couple of Americans pretending to be prisoners of war. He was a lousy general, probably a worse writer. You can have your hero, dude. At least Rizal didn't sell out, he died like a man.

Mike Arroyo

Aguinaldo surrendered on the advise of Mabini, knowing full well the inevitability of defeat and American military superiority. And they were right. The people who didn't listen to them paid a great cost-200,000 to 1,000,000 lives were lost. These people didn't have to die.

Being of the front line of the theatre of war, Aguinaldo saw first hand the disregard for "asiatics" of the typical American soldier. Even as the Filipino revolutionaries was being civilized with American captures, he heard reports of American atrocities toward civilians. Knowing there's no way to defeat a rabid animal armed to the teeth, Aguinaldo had to make a choice-"lose face" and save lives or "be a man" and feed more soldiers and civilians to the lion's den.

I think he made the right choice. Unfortunately, his underlings didn't listen to him.

Kevin Punzalan

Mike Arroyo:

Your cold "pragmatism" and your dimunition of Rizal reveal to me the sad loneliness of a man who has been alienated from his roots and cuts others down to size just so he can reaffirm his own ego. Its absolutely silly for you to compare his sexual prowess with yours, not to mention sexist.

"We'll be spared of all the existential dramas brought about by the confusion of ethnic identity. " - This statement indicates to me that you have no idea of what being a Filipino is truly about, and instead of figuring that out for yourself, you blame the country for not providing you with a ready-made identity to be proud of.

Countries become great because of the continuing heroism and sacrifices its people make. No country has a ready-made identity. If you must compare our Philippines with other countries, at least compare it with nations with similar histories and experiences. Europe has had hundreds of years to get its act together, so its unfair to compare us with them. Our neighbors in Southeast Asia can't even begin to compare in terms of the suffering and travails they've endured compared to us, so don't cite Malaysia or Singapore either.

Stop putting down Rizal to explain our country's weaknesses. Those have other causes, and many have nothing to do with Rizal.

On to more positive things:

"That meant proving that he and his compatriots were just as smart and capable as Europeans, hence his drive to excel in so many fields respected by Europeans: science, literature, art, languages, etc."

Excellent point Howie. I don't see his pursuits as aimless or directionless. He had a goal, and that was to prove that Filipinos (and Asians) were just as capable as Europeans, which is a theme repeated over and over again in his works. Its true that he lacked the focus of Bonifacio, but his books brought a different element to the revolution that was just as important as Bonifacio's: Bonifacio provided the arms, Rizal provided the heart and mind.

They are both deserving of adulation and respect, and I think its silly to put down one for the sake of the other.


im just asking for the essence of the dog in rizals execution

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Wonderful collection...Its very interesting article.Its useful to know the biography of such greta people and their historical events.I'm amazed to see such different character of Rizal.Feeling good to know about such complicated people.

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