EVERY YEAR, at seven o’clock in the morning, people in the sleepy little town of Dapitan in Mindanao gather to witness the “execution” of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero.
Unfortunately, only a handful of government workers and students, who were required to attend the activity, and a sprinkling of curious townspeople, were present this year.
Yes, unfortunate because more people, especially the young should be there, not only to mark the death of Rizal but to learn about the life of the exemplary young man who once lived in Dapitan.
Unfortunate because the absence of people in activities like the reenactment of Rizal’s execution, which changed forever the country’s history, only shows the way Filipinos, including Dapitanons, appreciate their past.
(Well, many Filipinos still think Dapitan is a street in the district of Sampaloc in Manila at the back of the University of Santo Tomas, and foreigners think the Philippines is a haven of terrorists and karaoke-loving people.)
Dapitan of course is not a town anymore, although it still looks like one and earns less than several municipalities in the country. Thanks to Rizal’s four-year stay here. Dapitan is now a sixth class city in the province of Zamboanga del Norte with a population of 77,441 people.
Rizal was exiled in Dapitan by the Spaniards in 1892 after he was accused of publishing anti-Catholic and anti-friar books and articles; for having in possession a bundle of handbills, the Pobres Frailes, in which advocacies were in violation of the Spanish orders; for dedicating his novel, El Filibusterismo to the three martyred priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and for emphasizing on the novel’s title page that “the only salvation for the Philippines was separation from the mother country (referring to Spain)”; and for simply criticizing the religion and aiming for its exclusion from the Filipino culture.
He arrived in Dapitan aboard the steamer Cebu at seven o’clock in the evening of June 17, 1892. From that day until July 31, 1896, the sleepy little town witnessed the most fruitful years in the national hero’s life.
He focused on serving the residents through his civic works, medical practices, land development and the promotion of education. He wrote most of his best literary pieces, mostly poems and letters, in Dapitan.
Lawyer Edwin Bael, former consul general to Los Angeles California and a leading Rizalist, cited Rizal’s “Himno a Talisay,” a poem that uses the talisay tree as an allegory of the Philippines, during the annual Rizal lecture this year.
Bael noted that the poem focuses on “the innate strengths and capabilities of Filipinos in dealing with life’s challenges.”
Here is Bael’s English translation of the poem:
From Dapitan’s beach and shore of sand
and the craggy rocks on mountain high
are your throne, O sacred sanctuary!
where I passed my tender childhood times.
In your valley gilded with blooms grand,
and shade and fruiting trees growing nigh;
our fully formed minds there do tarry,
with our own body and soul betimes.
We are children who, though born quite late,
have souls with vigorous character;
strong men we shall be in the future
who’ll know how to guard their families.
Children who, none can intimidate:
not waves, nor hurricane, nor thunder;
with speedy arm and serene feature,
we can fight when in difficulties
Our games stir up and scramble the sand,
caves and shrubs we scrutinize in time,
on big solid rocks our houses stand,
our arms reach anywhere, anytime.
There is no darkness, no pitch black night,
nor fierce storm or typhoon that we dread;
and should Satan himself come to sight,
he shall be captured alive or dead.
The people call us Talisaynon:
great soul in less large constitution,
that in Dapitan and its region
Talisay has no competition.
Our pond or lake has no contender;
our dive is a very deep abyss;
rowing, the world has no outrigger
that instantly can pass us with wiss.
We study exact science challenges
and the history of our country;
we talk in three and four languages,
making both faith and reason agree.
Our arms wield with skill and fine accord
the knife, the pen, the gardening hoe,
the pickaxe, the rifle, and the sword -
companion of the strong fellow.
Live, live, Talisay rich with verdure!
In chorus all our voices thee praise:
bright star, precious and valued treasure,
of childhood’s true learning and solace.
In fights and struggles awaiting man,
subject to sorrow, grief, unease -
your mem’ry shall be his talisman;
and in the tomb, your name, his peace.
“Be safe, Talisay!
Firm and constant,
always forward you shall march.
every element -
sea, land, and air:
you shall master!
Bael urged his audience: “We might want to start with embracing, implanting in our hearts, nurturing, and constantly repeating Rizal’s grand ideas in his Hymn to Talisay.”
“We might be surprised to find something great as a result: such as the true liberation of the Filipino from fears and craven attitudes, enabling him to stand free, respectful of himself and of fellow Filipinos, and respected by others precisely because he knows how to fight when it is right, and forges on,” he added.
He reminded that “Himno a Talisay” was viewed as proof of Rizal’s “supposedly subversive and disloyal character as a colonial subject of Spain.” It was submitted as evidence by the prosecutor in Rizal’s military trial that led to his Dec. 30, 1896 martyrdom.
Here in Dapitan, they still “execute” Rizal.
They used to do it in the town plaza, in front of the now-abandoned and decaying city hall building that used to be the seat of the Spanish government in the town during Rizal’s time, in front of the centuries-old church, beside the relief map of Mindanao that Rizal built.
They shoot Rizal (so I thought when I was a little child) to remember his martyrdom and to remind people of his sacrifice for freedom.
The city’s police force used to fire their rifles over the head of the Rizal monument in the middle of the town square (It was supposed to be a gun salute). This year, a platoon of Army soldiers did it at Rizal Park, a 16-hectare piece of land that Rizal bought from his lotto winnings more than a hundred years ago.
Yes, they are still shooting Rizal in Dapitan, nay, unfortunately executing, killing him. Dapitanons, like many Filipinos, are doing it in their hearts and minds, by forgetting.