By Rudy A. Arizala
Santiago, 19 June 2010
Today, 19 June 2010, is the 149th birth anniversary of our national hero, Jose P. Rizal. He was born in 1861 at Calamba, Laguna. His parents were Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso Realonda. The birth of Jose Rizal, who, according to a Spanish philosopher “Unamuno”, was the “Tagalog Christ”, was not heralded by a star, or marked by natural phenomena such as earthquake or typhoon. However, if there was anything supernatural about the birth of Jose, the image of the Virgin of Antipolo was said to have aided in his birth. It was said that when Rizal's mother was undergoing difficult labor, she made a vow to make a pilgrimage to Antipolo some 25 kilometers East of Manila, should her delivery prove successful. Barely three days since baby Jose was born, that was on 22 June 1861, he was baptized by Fr. Rufino Collantes at the Calamba parish church with Fater Pedro Casanas as his godfather.
It may be asked why Jose carried the surname “Rizal” and not “Mercado” like his father, or his elder brother Paciano and his sisters?
It may be recalled that in conformity with a Decree issued by Spanish Governor General Claveria on 21 November 1849, the native Filipinos could choose the family name they like from a list of surnames provided for that purpose. The father of Rizal, Francisco Mercado applied for the surname “Rizal”. Such application was rejected by the Spanish authorities. However, despite such rejection, the Mercado family used the name “Rizal” as second family hame. Young Jose was the first to adopt the family name “Rizal” in 1872 when he went to Manila and enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal. This is what Jose himself explained in a letter to his friend Blumentritt re his use of the family name “Rizal” instead of the surname “Mercado.” He said: “ After the sad catastrophe of 1872, Paciano had to leave the university because he was disliked by the friars for having lived in the same house as Burgos. I had to go to school in Manila at that time and he advised me to use our second surname, Rizal, to avoid difficulties in my studies. My family never paid much attention (to our second surname) but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child. . .”
While young Jose used the surname “Rizal” when he enrolled at a school in Manila, nevertheless, years later in connection with his trip to Europe for further studies, in his application for a passport, he used the surname “Mercado”. Accordng to our national hero, his parents, other members of the family and relatives preferred and have always been known as “Mercado.”
How was Jose as a child?
Jose, as a child grew up in the house of his parents in Calamba surrounded by orchards or fruit-bearing trees such as atis, santol, orange, macopa and guava trees. Such kind of environment had influence in the molding the mind, character and heart of Rizal. It is said that at the young age of four, he could already recognize different kinds of bird such as the martin, walak-walak, kulyawan and many other birds. And in the afternoon, under the shadow of the towering Mt. Makiling, the young Jose contemplated about the birds and the beauty of nature.
Young Jose befor attending a regular school was taught by her mother at home how to read and write. She also inculcated in him a sense of duty, courtesy and respect to elders. She corrected Jose's faults, especially his obstinacy. To accomplish this, his mother used parables which young Jose, like other children of his age, loved to hear. It may be recalled Jose's mother explaining the meaning of symbolism in the story about the two young moths which were attracted to the bright flame of an oil lamp. The mother moth told the baby moths not to get near the light. But one of the baby moths disobeyed the mother moth's warning and was burned to death. Said story left a deep impression in young Jose's mind.
It is said Jose, while still a young boy developed the feeling of “melancholy” and being “obstinate”. Some historians attributed such feelings of our national hero to his male nurse who loved him very much but used to frighten him to make him eat his food when still a young boy. Little Jose had very poor appetite. So, his nurse frightened the young boy with stories of “asuwang” and at times imaginary ghost called “Bu”. Consequently, because of such upbringing, it is claimed that young Jose developed “a certain tendency toward depression.” And such depression would continue to haunt him even when already an adult. For example, it was pointed out that when Rizal arrived in Barcelona on 15th of June, according to biographer Fernandez, “his (Rizal's) homesickness and loneliness had again given rise to depression.” And later on when in 1886, Rizal was thinking of going backt to the Philippines, in a letter to his friend Blumentritt why he was not sending him a photograph, but instead a sketch of himself in crayon, he apologized as follows: “When I made the sketch, I was depressed because I was entirely alone and sick and was nostalgic for my home.”
Another aspect of Jose's personality was “his obstinacy” even before he was at the age of three. Rizal alluded to this by telling of the many tears that it cost him. This emotional character often led him to uncertainty and, on occasion, to outright regidity. Thus, when already exiled in Dapitan and there were emissaries from his friends convincing him to leave or escape from Dapitan because he would certainly be arrested by Spanisih authorities. he did not pay attention to suh advice.
Ordinary mortal Rizal as he was and despite his seldom-known or forgotten human foibles mentioned above, to his credit, through firm determination, hard work and personal sacrifices, Rizal emerged out of a hosts of other Filipino heroes as the “First Filipino”, according to Philippine diplomat and writer Leon Ma. Guerrero, who was able to consummate the birth of nationhood among his people. He is, indeed, not only the pride of our people but of the “Malay Race.”
Rizal's birth was not heralded by a star, nor was it marked by natural phenomena, yet his birth and accomplishments changed the destiny of a nation.