Page last updated at 08:01 Asia/Manila, Thursday, 12 January 2012 PH
As my small contribution to celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of our National Hero Jose Rizal, let me speculate on what could have happened if he had not been executed on December 30, 1896 and had lived long enough to influence the development policies adopted by the American regime in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Revealing my bias for rural and agricultural development, I would venture to say that he would have been very active in bringing development to the small farmers and to the rural dwellers. We would have avoided the lack of inclusive growth (to use today's parlance) and the technological dualism in which advanced technology was employed in the large plantations for export-oriented crops while the rest of the agricultural sector (especially rice, corn and coconut) stagnated at the carabao-and-plow stage.
On what do I base this speculation? First, on my personal knowledge of the history of the Rizal family. From childhood, I had always heard of how the Rizal family was very much involved in farming and trading of agricultural commodities. The eldest brother of my mother, Bernabe, married a daughter of Soledad, the youngest sister of Rizal. My maternal grandfather, General Miguel Malvar, was a close business associate of the Rizal family in a number of agricultural undertakings. As I had written several times in this newspaper, Miguel Malvar was a consummate farmer before the revolution and after the revolution. After he surrendered to the Americans in 1901, he spent the rest of his life developing orchards in the Sto. Tomas, Batangas and Calamba areas. One of the orange varieties for which Batangas was famous until a blight destroyed the industry was named after my grandfather. I had always heard of the great interest of Jose Rizal in agricultural endeavors.
That is why I am not surprised that the newest and thoroughly researched book on Jose Rizal just published in 2010 by Luis Lisa and Javier de Pedro, entitled Romance and Revolution, showed documentary evidence of the passion that Rizal had for agriculture. The book is a "look into the lives and times of Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken", exploding all sorts of myths about the British girl that Rizal married. For those interested they will find all the strongest evidences from original documents that the authors found in Barcelona and Hong Kong that, contrary to calumnies that have circulated like urban legends for decades, Josephine Bracken was not a mistress of her adopted father nor a bar girl nor a spy of the friars. The book also mustered sufficiently strong evidences that Rizal married Josephine before he was executed and that she was recognized as "Rizal's widow" by both members of the Rizal family and the revolutionaries after the death of Rizal. But I am digressing from my original intention to write this essay.
On page 124 of the book Romance and Revolution, we can read a testimony to Rizal's penchant for agriculture which reached a peak during his four years of exile in Dapitan. Let me quote: "The most compelling proof that Rizal wished to stay in Dapitan with Josephine was his immediate purchase of a piece of land in a barrio in Dapitan. He rhapsodized on his new acquisition trying to lure his mother and father to come south. In one of his Letters to the Family, dated January 15, 1896, Rizal wrote: "I bought here a piece of land close to a river that reminds me much of one of Kalamba but broader and with greater and more transparent flow of water. How much it reminds me of Kalamba! The land has 6,000 plants of abaca and if father and other would like to come here, I will build a big house for us to live together until we die. I'll convince father to come, and by my side he will always be cheerful. My beautiful property is towards the interior, separated from the sea for around half an hour walk. The place is truly scenic and the land very fertile. Aside from the abacas, there is enough space to plant 2 cavans of maize. Gradually we could buy the surrounding lands. There is plenty of dalag (fresh water fish), pako (edible ferns) and small rounded stones: the river bed is all pebbles."
Unfortunately, this dream of Jose Rizal never came true because shortly after he wrote this letter, the Spanish authorities tried to send him back to Spain and then summarily recalled him to Manila in order to face the charge of rebellion which culminated in his execution at what is now the Luneta. If things had turned out otherwise and his "agribusiness plan" had been realized, Rizal could have been, like the King of Thailand, a rallying point for agricultural development. His creating another "Kalamba" in very primitive Dapitan would have been a model of the development of Mindanao. Through Rizal's example, inclusive growth would have been more possible in the decades that followed. Farming would have been the choice of more people from the middle class instead of being considered a lowly occupation. The State would have devoted more resources to building farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities and other infrastructures direly needed by the small farmers to be more productive.
Rizal would have become a hero in another way: redeeming the rural folks from abject poverty. He would have been true to the name adopted by his family whose real surname was Mercado but who added the name Rizal at the suggestion of a provincial governor who was a family friend. As Leon Maria Guerrero wrote in his biography of Jose Rizal entitled "The First Filipino," "Rizal" in Spanish means a field where wheat, cut while still green, sprouts again. If our leaders had committed themselves to creating new "Kalambas" in remote areas like Dapitan very early on in our development efforts, even the political threats of the muslim rebellion and the NPA would have not been an insurmountable obstacle to eradicating rural poverty. The plants that would have been cut while still green would have sprouted again and again. In fact, true agricultural development would have actually minimized these political threats since it is poverty that mainly explains social unrest. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.